28 December 2007

Neighbour in turmoil as Benazir Bhutto is assassinated!

Benazir bhutto seconds before the attack Bhutto seconds before the blast
There are somethings which seem inevitable but somehow still feel impossible.Who could have imagined, despite repeated warnings and threat calls, that Benazir Bhutto, can actually be killed.But that is exactly what happened yesterday, as Pakistan's' most powerful lady was assassinated point blank as she was returning from her last rally.
The blast which happened seconds laterseconds after...
It is come as a shock to not only Pakistan but also to the entire International community.What has followed the killing is near civil-war circumstances in the entire country.Buses, trains, stations have been set ablaze, as people of Pakistan mourn the loss of their beloved leader.

Benazir Bhutto's coffin been taken away for burialThe last journey
What this means for India?
This assassination surely does not makes things easier for India. India does not want a radical anarchical state equipped with a Nuclear bomb as its neighbour .The more Pakistan moves away from democracy, the more dangerous it becomes for India.This turn of events will give a huge setback to the democratic process of Pakistan and completely overthrow the somewhat confidence building process the two sides had undertaken in the past few years.

25 December 2007

Taare Zameen Par movie review

It was only a few days ago that I saw 'October Sky' and wondered why our films could not be like that....
And then came Taare Zameen Par...

I follow a rule,'never miss an AAMIR movie', and I'm glad I follow it!!The film scores on all fronts. Not only does it strikes your emotional chord, it has been shot wonderfully with diverse sceneries and backgrounds.Darsheel hardly speaks but talks a lot through his eyes. The film itself does not talk much, it just lets you understand and fell what you want.Aamir as usual is outstanding.The music is soothing and lyrics excellent.

Another thing to notice is the animation, I think the movie has the best and the most realistic animation we've ever had in Indian cinema.You are reminded of a 'Da Vinci' when those numbers go around!

It is probably a must watch for Parents, teachers, and young students. Some of the college junta might not relate to the movie in a big way, but the inherent message and narration of the film is strong enough to pull you into it.

Taare Zameen Par, minus 30 minutes and 1 song can be our potential winner at Oscar.It should win many here.It can't be compared to an Om Shanti Om or welcome,it would be like apples and oranges.

One really has to give it to Aamir for the following reasons:
  • To put his faith and money in a film like TZP which may not seem to be an out an out commercial entertainer catering to the so called 'multiplex audience'.
  • For Acting,Producing and later Directing the movie himself, and pulling it off so wonderfully.
  • To have extracted such powerful and moving performances from 8-9 year old children.
  • To have the guts to put a 9 year old in Lead and push himself to second lead!The entire movie belongs to Darsheel, Aamir is actually the supporting actor!!
My suggestion is that DO NOT go for this movie with your friends,it might just take away the mood of the film.Go alone, or best, with your parents for a change!!
Go on, buy back row seats, sit back, and absorb. Don't be disturbed.

A movie like Taare....comes once in a while.After Lagaan, Rang de Basanti and Iqbal, TZP captures your heart like no movie has ever done before.
I hope SRK sees the film and learns that Cinema provides entertainment,yes, but has the power to change people as well.

NO RATINGS,just go on and watch it!!!

18 December 2007

'KNOL' news gains momentum...


Question: Do you find something similar in the picture above and the post below this post?

can't guess??


Click the image and compare....
get it....???
..
It was pleasant surprise when I accidentally bumped into knolstuff.com and started reading the article on the front page, and I realized that it sounded very familiar!!!!
It was actually my post which I had written two days before on this very blog!!!

A little more search and I found that it had also made its way to the google official blog and more than 50 blogs had posted a link to it!!

This will surely push me to write atleast a post a day (which was asking too much from a lazy man like me :)

16 December 2007

Google puts up 'KNOL' against Wikipedia

The days of our beloved, 'AD-FREE', one spot knowledge source for all our questions, Wikipedia, might be numbered.
Google, the giant search and advertising company, has announced 'Knol' ( "which stands for a unit of knowledge") as an alternative to Wikipedia.

Udi Manber's official Google Blog post says:
There are millions of people who possess useful knowledge that they would love to share, and there are billions of people who can benefit from it. We believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is not easy enough to do that. The challenge posed to us by Larry, Sergey and Eric was to find a way to help people share their knowledge. This is our main goal.

Before you think whats google is upto this time,have a look at some important facts about googles' Knol:

  • A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.This is a sure move to push the top ranking,Ad-Free Wikipedia results down on google rankings in order to increase publishing space and boost ad-revenues for google.

  • Google will offer a revenue share from each page: “If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads,” although we don’t know at this stage how much.

  • Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing. This contrasts with Wikipedia, where the original contribution is basically anonymous then gradually gets replaced by thousands of edits.

  • Google is moving away from simply indexing the worlds content to being a content provider itself. Of course Google in response would argue that it is simply facilitating user generated content (like with Blogger), that ultimately they are the host as opposed to the creator, but it still competes with existing content providers, many of whom rely on Google search results for their living.

Some points to ponder here are:

Why did'nt Google takeover 'Wikipedia' or 'squidoo'??

As we have seen in the past with youtube,blogger etc. google must have thought hard before deciding to set up a new knowledge hub.Though the decision goes well with its revenue model.Not only will it give huge advert publishing spaces, but top-ranks in google search results wil ensure that these pages are frequently visited.The model will fit very well with its Adwords,Adsense formula.

So is this the end of Wikipedia??

I seriously think NO.Simply beacuse its a one spot knowledge source where all authors edit the same page,i.e. there is only one comprehensive page for a particular topic, and the user does no have to visit ten different pages on the same topic , which seems to be the case with google's KNOL.Also the fact that wikipedia is adfree gives it huge advantage ove google.

Given these facts, It would be interesting to se what shape does KNOL take up, in any case, students are'nt complaining.Google is now making more provisions for hepling them to complete that assignment!!!

A whole New BALL Game...!!

What you see above is not a new MARS ROVER developed by joint collaboration of NASA and Adidas but the new adidas intelligent football.Yes...you saw that right!
The football, Teamgeist II, features a new intelligent technology designed to assist the referee’s decision in determining when and if the ball has crossed the goal line, making it the most accurate football ever produced.
How it works:
The intelligent technology implemented in the Teamgeist II uses a magnetic field to provide real-time feedback to a central computer, which tracks the location of the ball on the field and sends the data directly to the referee. By using a magnetic field and more stabilized and robust components within the ball, the new system is more precise and is not influenced by in-game factors, adverse weather or nearby technical systems.

Phew!!!!thats' technology for you....what do we have next,balls with digital displays showing the angle,swerve and velocity of hit in real time!That would be keep us instrumentation engineers busy for while for sure :)

That was Football....but we have a change in BALL in our beloved cricket too!Yes, as you might have heard,the ICC is coming up with a new 'PINK' coloured ball.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), custodian of the game's laws is introducing pink balls in an effort to solve visibility difficulties often associated with the white ones.
"Paint tends to flake off whiteballs and we have asked Kookaburra to produce a batch of pink ones because these show up so much better,"said John Stephenson, MCC's head of cricket in London on Tuesday.
"The challenge is to produce a ball which retains its colour I doubt it will be any more expensive to produce or buy."
I have no idea how Pink balls would avoid the problems faced by the whiteball,does anybody of you have any idea??
Interestingly, when Darren Gough was asked about it,his reply was:

"I can't imagine playing with a pink ball. If people had said when I started playing that we'd have pink balls I'd have said, 'No chance'.

12 December 2007

How SFX relived past in OSO

Though I am still cursing myself for watching OSO, I thought as an engineer I should comment on the only logical part of an otherwise highly illogical and a pointless movie.

For those who were too keen in watching Deepika's latkas and ghatkas and have no idea what I am talking about, the song 'Dhoom Tana’ in Om Shanti Om presented Deepika Padukone with the actors of the yesteryears. If you also wondered how it was done, here's the Red Chillies’ VFX team explaining the process...

Stage 1
The team had to locate the original footage of the films they had short listed. The three song sequences appeared in Amrapali (1966, Sunil Dutt and Vyjayantimala), Saccha Jhutha (1970, Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz) and Jay-Vijay (1977, Jeetendra and Jayashree T). Not always in the best condition, the original footage had to be scanned, carefully restored and cleaned up to the best possible quality on the computers.

Stage 2
Keeping in mind, the set of the films, the camera angles and the lighting, Deepika Padukone was shot in present dressed in similar costumes as the yesteryear actresses to further enhance that ‘70’s look. She pretended to dance with the actors by romancing an imaginary hero.

Stage 3
The original actresses, i.e. Vyjanthimala, Mumtaz and Jayashree T. were removed from the sequences. All this of course, was done with the help of the Red Chillies’ VFX (visual effects) team. Sequences where the camera was moving and the actors were in contact were specially chosen, so as to provide opportunity for Deepika to dance along with them as opposed to posing. Things to note were the eye contact between the actors, physical touch, lighting continuity, perspective matching, skin tones matching, color matching, etc.

Stage 4
Deepika’s footage was pasted in place of the actual actresses’ footage. The technical term for this is ‘compositing’. Thus, it seems that she has been locked in the same frame as legends, Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna and Jeetendra. The song truly was a treat to watch. And now some of our wonder and amazement has been satisfied. Keitan Yadav, COO of Red Chillies VFX asserted that the idea was to give a feel of the era and is glad that they seemed to have succeeded.

He adds that “there are about 200 additional shots in the film where VFX is used like the snow-flakes in the globe, SRK and Deepika turning real and dancing in the globe, the Mother India fire sequence, Shantipriya’s death sequence and the climax sequence.”
what is SFX?

Image Courtesy: 'The Making of Om Shanti Om' published by Om Books International
(source:Screen India )

10 December 2007

Does Lalu Owe credit for Railways Turnaround??


Philosophically speaking, the real driver of rail reforms is not Lalu, though he must get credit for executing them. The real driver is competition – from roads in freight and from airlines and cars in the passenger business.

The operationalisation of the various strategies over the past two years depended significantly on the leadership style of Mr Lalu Prasad. It was a common sense based approach, showing an astute understanding of the market reality, the asset base of the IR and the expertise and capability of the IR’s management and systems. Consequently, he followed this up with the principles of leveraging the assets (“milk the cow fully”) and empowerment and delegation. With whatever has been achieved in the ‘turnaround,’ Mr Lalu Prasad has demonstrated that good economics is good politics.

Non Interference
“Mr Lalu Prasad is a non-interfering, yet aware MR, who sets the goals and expects results.” Many think that his non-interference in crucial matters was actually one of the major positives.

Image Building: Media
Given his penchant for wit and one liners, Mr Lalu Prasad was sought after by the media. Whenever there was an opportunity to highlight an initiative or an achievement, advertisements were released.

Identifying Right People: Choice of OSD
In this tenure, in all the dealings of the MR with the IR, a nodal person has been the OSD, Mr Sudhir Kumar. He was specially chosen by the MR for this position, based on earlier interactions when Mr Sudhir Kumar held different positions in Bihar as an IAS officer.

The OSD understood that the IR officers themselves were a source of ideas for innovation, that would be in line with the MR’s thinking. He made it a point to be open to ideas from within the IR, so that they could be examined by the concerned functional departments and appropriate action finalized and implemented quickly. Given his unique position, he could cut across the hierarchy of the IR.
Whenever initiatives were taken up, he was relentless in follow up. The initiatives related to axle load increase, market oriented tariffs, reducing wagon turnaround, innumerable freight incentive schemes, passenger profile management, upgradation of passengers, zero based timetabling, leasing of parcel capacity, catering, are among the many which have been followed up for execution.
Mr. Lalu Prasad is neither an engineer nor an economist. The formula for success was so simple that only the rustic wisdom of a leader like Mr. Lalu Prasad and his supporting staff could devise.

His robust common sense has made the Railways a success story, which attracted students of Harvard and Wharton universities to study the phenomenon, and which made the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, start a chair for railway study in this prestigious organization.

The Great Indian Railways Turnaround !!!!

Most people have no concept about how prodigiously rich the Railway system in India is in terms of its assets - land, the permanent way (the tracks), the station and station buildings, the rolling stock (locomotives, coaches and wagons) and the overall goodwill.

But the financial sheets always said otherwise. With its revenue slipping further and further, it was a pain for every govt. in office.

That’s where Lalu took charge. In two years, he has tripled the revenue to Rs 14293 crore – the highest ever rise. To put this number in perspective, it is India’s second highest profit maker, after ONGC’s Rs 15,143 crore. WHAT A TURNAROUND!!


WHAT LALU DID??

“Milk the cow fully”.

Yes this is the LALU mantra for success. So simple, isn’t it?? Have a look…

What Lalu did was to plan exploitation of the railway assets to their optimum level and thus effectively "milking" them for the benefit of the society.

For example, let us consider the case of a superfast express trains hauled by an electric locomotive. Normally, the 5000 Horse Power WAP-4 electric locomotives haul these trains which are capable of hauling 23 or even 24 coach trains at speeds of even 140 kph. So far, 21 coaches were considered to the maximum load for these locomotives. For various reasons, including the absence of long enough platforms at stations where these trains halt, the loads of these trains have been kept down.

ACTION:
Orders were issued to lengthen the platforms. So, a train of this type would carry three more coaches per train meaning almost 200 more fare-paying passengers per train and making it more paying.
Some excess expenditure has to be incurred for higher fuel consumption - electricity in this case - but the extra earnings would far outweigh this small increase in investment.


The decision taken in 2006 to convert a large number of ordinary express trains into superfast express trains did help the Railways garner more money because fares for all classes in these trains are higher.
The Domino effect: Higher speed meant lesser time to traverse distances, leading to higher availability of coaches. So, without spending money on building new coaches - this is proceeding as per plan of course- the Railways got more coaches to run additional services or run longer trains with 23 or 24 coaches.


Lalu gave the mantra of his success at his Budget speech –



“This record breaking performance has been possible through reduction in wagon turn round time and through additional loading of 4 to 6 tonnes per wagon. This is the foundation of our financial turn around".
That is,

With two axles each per bogie, wagons now have four axles, which determine the maximum loads these eight-wheeled "bogie" wagons can carry.

The load per axle has been of the order of 18 tonnes so far.

Lalu has decided to increase the load per axle by one to two tones resulting in additional loading of four to eight tones per wagon, leading to overall increase in loading without incurring much additional expenditure. The same principle of reducing unit cost of operations.


This has enabled an increase of 100 mt. (metric tonnes) in our loading capacity and generation of over Rs.5000 crores in freight revenues. So simple!!!

However, he and the Railways are aware that wagons designs have to be changed with higher axle load capacity for sustaining this incremental carrying capacity. So, he has introduced
23-tonne per axle capacity wagons and work has already started at the Amritsar workshop.

(sources:G. Raghuram,IIM A, report on Indian Railways)