Friday, December 12, 2008

It should have had been the first post ..

Although highly irregular, this Blog came into existence way back on 21st of June, 2008. It has been 6 long months since then, and I thought an introduction to it and why I chose to call it what I call it was necessary. And hence here is the article which should ideally have been the first article to be posted here. But then, you never heard anyone saying that things need to happen in a fixed order, did you?


I am neither (completely) here nor (completely) there.

While I am a Bihari present physically (for the time being at least) in Maharashtra, I am also present back home in Bihar, at least mentally.

While I write this blog on a computer (and am increasing growing uncomfortable at writing with my pen on a piece of paper), I still read newspapers and story books and novels in the paper edition (and am really uncomfortable at reading these on the electronic version). So, while I belong to a great extent to the 21st century, I cannot let go of the things that date a couple of centuries back.

While I am educated in India, given a chance (and a good standard of living) I would love moving back to Bharat and use my Indian education for Her betterment.

So, I do not exist at one single location or in one single time frame at any given time. I am always partly here and partly there. I am omnipresent.

For this situation, we have a saying in Hindi – Dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghat ka – meaning a washer man’s dog belongs neither to the banks (of a river or any other water body, where 21st century India still washes a great majority of Her clothes) nor to the (washer man’s) house. My situation being very much like this, I become a dog, a washer man’s dog. And since, I still get to retain my thinking faculties; I call this blog - ‘Blog: Of a Thinking Dog.’


Having said that, I must admit that I am not a writer or anything of that sort. Neither all my views here may be correct (as per you) always, but then this is how I think and what I think. So, I hope that despite all our disagreements, you will read this space and keep coming back. So ..

Welcome. To the Blog: Of a Thinking Dog.

Welcome. To my Blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making Earth a Better Place.

I came to know about Better Place through an article in today’s The Indian Express. When the price of crude had reached an all time high of more than $100 per barrel a few months back, I got interested in alternative technologies that are going to power our transportation in the times to come.

So, when I came across this The Indian Express article titled “We don’t need Detroit” by Thomas L. Friedman, I read it at once. In the article, Friedman argues how the recent attempts of the US Government to bail out the American automobile giants from bankruptcy might be a case of ‘pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC.’ He points out towards Better Place, an Israeli start up, trying to create a transportation service model based on electric vehicles and robust enough to free the human kind of its dependency on oil.

The world is afraid both of its energy security (due to the fast depleting fossil fuel reserves) and worsening climatic conditions; and the transportation industry being one of the biggest culprits, the most workable solution is to shift to the vehicles powered by electricity (preferably generated from renewable resources like wind and sun, to which Better Place claims to be committed). While the vehicles and high power lithium based batteries already exist, it is the infrastructure required to support such transportation on a large scale that is lacking. So, while a person willing to reduce his carbon footprints may switch over to electric vehicles, he continues to depend on the conventional transportation, as his vehicle has a limited electricity storage capacity that cannot last after a certain distance, thus reducing his mobility.

It is here that Better Place comes into picture. Its business model is simple. In fact it already exists, but in a different sector - in the sector of mobile phones. The mission of Better Place is to modify and apply this business model in the field of transportation. It envisions a system where electric cars replace mobile phones, battery recharge stations replace cell towers and electric recharge grid replaces cellular networks. While in the mobile phone system, the consumer pays for the minute-by-minute access to cell towers connected together in cellular networks, in the Better Place model, he pays for miles.

There are basically two important ingredients in this business model –
i) Charging Spots, and
ii) Battery Exchange Stations.

Charging Spots:

Located all over the places such as parking garages, retail spaces, street curbs and the homes, these will keep the batteries topped off. All the vehicles in the BP network will have the same kinds of plug points. Vehicles that do not belong to the network will be allowed to charge themselves as guests with the help of suitable converters.

Battery Exchange Stations:

These are the replacements of Gas Stations (or Petrol Pumps) in the BP model. An electric vehicle will go to these Stations and exchange its exhausted battery with a fully recharged one and pay for the same, the driver all the while sitting comfortably in his driving seat. The company claims that the time needed for doing all this will be a flat 3 minutes.

The model obviously is not only good for the nations, who eventually free themselves from their dependency on oil (a large chunk of which comes from Middle East) and for the vehicle owners (as electric vehicles cost much less per mile than those run on fossil fuels), but also for the development of the non-renewable energy sector - Better Place envisions that all the vehicles under its fold will run on electricity generated from renewable resources and as the model expands in its reach, it will open up a vast market for the renewable energy, thus persuading the sector to find out more innovative and cheaper methods to produce the same.

International Collaborations:

Israel has fixed the year 2020 to free its economy of its dependency on oil, thus becoming the first country all over the world to set up such a target. While Israel and Denmark have become the first two country partners for Better Place, Australia, California and Hawaii (as Better Place site mentions) are also committed to deploy electric car networks. Moreover, very recently Japan also invited Better Place to build Battery Exchange Stations in the country and to participate in a government pilot project to encourage the use of green cars, thus making it the only foreign company invited to participate in the project in which major Japanese automobile giants are going to participate.

What India should do?:

India can also reach out to Better Place and ask it to start a similar pilot project here. We have a well developed electric vehicle segment that comprises not only four wheelers but also two wheelers. While the home grown Reva is the highest selling electric car all over the world (performing far better in European nations than in India due to the lack of adequate infrastructure and incentives here), even groups such as Ajanta (surprised?), one of India’s leading manufacturers of compact fluorescent lamps and vitrified tiles, besides large players such as Tatas, are also going to enter this segment not very far in the future. Moreover, India does need to get rid of its oil dependency not only because importing crude creates a huge hole in its foreign exchange (most of which comes from highly volatile and unreliable Middle East), but also because some of our cities are some of the most polluted the world over. Besides, why should we not tap aggressively into our highly abundant solar energy resources (Remember, we are a hot country with a great amount of sunshine) and wind power (of which we are one of largest producers the world over)?

Human race, it seems (if one believes the still highly debated scientific reports), has very less time left to battle the ever worsening climatic situations. There is not much time to experiment, but to start putting up all the available resources and working towards making our planet a more livable and Better Place. Initiatives like Better Place can help us tide over a lot of problems that are our own creations, given they get proper support and start operating profitably as soon as possible.

P.S. –

A. Jews and Israelis are no doubt one of the most brilliant races and have contributed a lot towards the development of Sciences and Human Knowledge. What is truly refreshing about this Indian Express article is that it appears at a time when India is still trying to chart out ways to deal with the new age terrors and the newspapers are still covered with news regarding the Mumbai Attack, in which Jews were specifically targeted.
B. The article also points to the fact that Israel is a country in the pursuit of Science and Scientific solutions to the problems of the human race, something which the rest of the Middle East seems to have completely abandoned. It may be one of the main reasons why Israel may succeed despite being in a perpetual state of war with its immediate neighbours.

Suggested Readings:

The Long Tailpipe – Blog of Shai Agassi (Founder and CEO, Better Place)
While Detroit Slept – This is the article published in The Indian Express (and published earlier in The New York Times). Since I could find it on The Indian Express website, I am providing the link of The New York Times.

Some Indian electric vehicle companies:

Ajanta Manufacturing Limited


Friday, December 5, 2008

The Mumbai attack.

Day before yesterday I went to the Taj, one of the sites of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

My office used to be (It shifted this Monday to Andheri) just outside the Churchgate Station, which is at the max 15 minutes walk both from Colaba (the location of Taj and Leopold) and Marine Drive (the location of Oberoi-Trident). On the day of the attack, I had left the office quite early, walked all the way down to the CST Station and had taken a bus to my hostel around 7:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., completely unaware of what was going to happen at that very place (CST) an hour or two down the line.

When Brajesh called to give me the news and ask about my well being, I was in the hostel in the room of Vincent with Santosh. He told that some terrorists were on a shooting rampage down there and suggested me to stay where I was and not to move. I could not understand and argued that it must be gang war between the rival gangs and not the terrorists. Terrorists, after all, do not act this way. Their modus operandi, I argued, is to plant bombs in places and melt back into the larger society from which they emerge. Little did I know that this time, they intended not only to kill a few people, but to attack directly at the very financial hub of India and take the whole nation of 1 billion people hostage.

This was Wednesday, 26th of November.

For the next two days all the offices, including mine, in and around Colaba were closed. Till Saturday night, I was in the hostel more or less completely glued to the television in the hostel canteen, watching the battle going on between the Indian Security Forces (NSG, Army and Mumbai Police) and the handful of terrorists, who had taken a good number of people (mainly foreigners) hostage.

By Sunday morning, the forces had killed all the terrorists (and captured one alive) and taken in control all the three buildings.

On Monday, the offices opened as usual.

Although the life has started to return to normal, there is a rage in the common man through out the country about the repeated failure of the Intelligence and lackluster attitude of the government. Protest marches have been going on through out the country against the failure of the government machinery in protecting its people. So, when I got an SMS from a friend about the protest march going to be held at Gateway of India, I decided to go. Moreover, since my office has shifted to Andheri, I did not have the chance to visit these places after the attack.

So, day before yesterday, just a week after the attack started, I was at the Gateway – to participate in the protest marches and pay my respect to the persons who had died. I had come directly from the office.

What I had expected was a peaceful long candle march of people full of silence. Instead, to my disappointment, what I found was a large number of people divided into a large number of groups walking all over the place in no order and discipline at all. They were all shouting slogans against the government and politicians, calling them names and urging people to use their right of not to vote and show the politicians that enough is enough, that the country is frustrated of them and that it needs a positive and decisive change.

Then there were people who were shouting slogans against Pakistan and were urging India to go to a direct war with the troublesome neighbour. Little do they understand that the government in Pakistan itself is very weak. There, it is the ISI and the Army who are stronger than the government. And although there are evidences about the role of Pakistan based elements in these terrorist attacks against India, I genuinely doubt that war is any solution to the problem. After all, is Pakistan not itself one of the worst victims of terrorism?

The anger that is there in the masses right now must be channeled in the positive direction and a healthy debate must be started as to how the government of this country can be made more accountable and the country more secure and livable. One thing that this attack has definitely shown, apart from giving us the opportunity to discus and debate, that whatever come, India, at the end of the day, is one single country, united both in pain and pleasure. This was a highly needed reminder to the politicians of the ilk of Raj Thackeray. What is sad is that it was an incident of such a high negative magnitude that had to happen to make it amply clear.

P.S. – On a personal front, I have dropped reading the Times of India and Hindustan Times and have graduated instead to The Indian Express. Shifting from the multi-colour pages of ToI and HT to a serious newspaper is no doubt an uphill task. However, I hope I will be able to manage the same. Let’s see.