Carbon emission by mode of transport

I’ve often try to remember how much each mode of transportation costs the environment. Data published by UK government has good numbers. Here in India, the buses are likely to emit more carbon and almost certain to carry many more passengers; same goes with trains. I could not find such numbers published for any Indian city.

Let’s assume that

  • A plane carries 100 passengers.
  • A train carries 1000 passengers.
  • A car carries 4 passengers.
  • A bus carries 100 passengers.
  • A bike carries 2 passengers.

Following is the value of cost per person per kilometer (roughly, rounded up for easy to remember).

1 flight = 10 cars = 20 bikes = 50 bus = 100 Trains!

It means, “If you travel in a fully occupied flight for a kilometer, it costs environment equal to 10 car kilometers (with 3 co-passengers), 20 bike kilometers (with 1 co-passengers), 50 bus kilometers (with 99 co-passengers), and 100 (diesel) train kilometers (with 999 co-passengers).

The most environment-friendly mode of traveling is train. Bus is good choice for inter-city travel. If cars are fully occupied, they are as costly as a bike.


The state of science reporting in our media

Barring few publications, the quality of science section in our newspapers, given that it exists, is abysmal. Some might even add the quality of any section in most newspapers is abysmal. Probably this has to do more with the quality of the training of journalists than the ability or willingness of papers to find spaces in science section. Since the public sympathy is on the side of science and newspapers — who seems to be for the educated class and by the educated class –, newspapers are somewhat obliged to find space for science in its pages.

What I find more disturbing than this lack of appetite for science is the kind of science reporting is being encouraged by readers. First, we don’t expect a common reader to appreciate the significance of basic research. Without proper initiation, they won’t understand how improvements made in graph theory or Boolean function optimization will make their communication more reliable and their digital electronics faster and efficient. Or how better understanding of ‘calcium signaling’ in cells help making better medicines.

In the past I used to think, after a fashion, that a poor country like ours should not invest much in pure research. Later I noticed that how money invested in semiconductor research some 80 years ago by a country far far away have replaced the kerosene lamps in my village by rechargeable LED bulbs. Even though electricity supply is still as bad as it used to be, the house are lit for much longer and much better. This is something we need to remind ourselves again and again.

I don’t understand — actually I do but don’t want to shout it out — our narcissist obsession with “Indian born scientist who did A and B in US/Europe” over “a scientist who did A and B” in science. The most read stories in science section seems to be about some Indian guy who is doing something in US and Europe. What they do, I believe, must be fancy and very important both for their host country and science and technology in general. And given the conditions here and support of society and institutes there, it is most likely that one can do such things only in EU and US. Given that, it makes work done by our scientists is more worthy of our attention – even when we find it bit lacking. It is depressing to note that even the best of the work done our scientists at home were ignored. If you don’t trust me just check how much coverage was given to AKS primality test. This is one of the few examples I can think of. I often asked student who come from Delhi University if they have heard of Andre Beteille, and almost every-time they draw a blank.

Over the time, I have become more inclined to believe that main problem besetting our research and teaching community is more of morals and than of money. And if our media can improve the former a little, that would be a great deal of service to science in this country.

Rally against sexual harassment @NCBS Bagalore

wp-1465880241389.jpgPhoto credit: Priyanka Runwal

Some 150 Students, staff, and some faculty member of NCBS Bangalore recently held a silent rally against sexual harassment in the  neighbourhood of  NCBS Bangalore. The aim of the rally were:

  • Safe public spaces. Freedom for everyone to walk around at any time in day and night.
  • Encourage people to report incidents when they are happening and to take a security escort to do so.
  • Awareness that such incidents are happening around us and will not be tolerated.
  • Involve local community. Get more and more people involved so that they support victims when witnessing such incidents.
  • Encourage people to use public spaces so that anti-social elements do not monopolize them.
  • Popularise measures that are already in place at NCBS.
  • Inform civil authorities. Maintenance of public spaces such as improving street lighting and increased police patrol in sensitive areas.
  • Continue to work on a safer neighbourhood:
  • Organize martial arts courses at NCBS that are open to public.
  • Remove garbage in the streets to make this place look well maintained.

We covered some neighbourhood of NCBS Bangalore where most of the incidents were reported. We also took signatures to be handed over to local police to increase patrolling. But most importantly, we also get the local community to get involved. As it is well know, the harasser is usually a person who does not have deep roots in the community, not easy to track or identify, often does not commit his acts in own neighbourhood.

If this helps more people to speak up and report, intervene and stop harassment when they are happening in our neighbourhood, I’ll call it a success. In any case, one aim was to instil confidence and reduce the fear among the people that we stand with them and ready to help them should the need arise. They are not alone. Our sympathies are with them. This won’t be much, but it will be something.

NOTE on media coverage:

Various newspaper covered the rally. There were various distortions in coverage. Rally did not march to police station. We only did it in the neighbourhood of the campus. Also there is no case of sexual harassment on the campus. People who are involved in these incidents were not drunk either etc. etc.. The Hindu did least distorted reporting on the issue; and managed to get the basic point of being a “awareness rally” to the foreground.

Admission interviews at NCBS Bangalore

Every year, last week of May, NCBS conducts interviews for admission to our Ph.D. and Integrated Ph.D. program. If you are invited to the interview, this post is for you. This is not an official post, I am writing it as a student who went through it.

You should report at the campus by 7:45 am (I know this is too early and cruel). To reach the campus, you can use auto/cab. There is shuttle service between IISc and NCBS but it won’t be of any help in early morning. Food is not a problem for you or your parents. If you can’t report at campus by early morning, do contact people given in your brochure/information sheet/email. 

There will be volunteers to help you throughout the interview process. You’ll get to know them during your orientation. Catch any of them, ask anything; they will sort most of your problems.

Interview process consists of two stages for both Ph.D. and Int. Ph.D. candidates. Results are usually announced post dinner at the end of last interview day. Try to be calm during the process, it helps your chances.

Interviews will be in your area of expertise. You really don’t have to prepare for it. People are interested how you think about scientific problems and not how much you know (which is always useful). The interviewers will not have access to your marks-sheets etc, you won’t be judged according to grades or your performance in written test. They will start afresh; it all based on interview from now on.

If you are from different background such as physics, computer science of engineering, they will ask you general question which is easy to understand (why plants have flowers/fruits?). For goodness sake, don’t just say random things if you don’t know the answer.  Do not throw any jargon at them in guise of an answer. Try to answer logically and in simple terms — from the first principle . Or ask them to ask another question if you feel clueless.

Rule and Person

To a bird’s-eye view, different human societies look similar in some aspects and different in some others. A closer look can reveal some similarities and differences to be more  stronger while others to be more superficial than they appear to be on the surface.

Institutions are of fundamental importance to all societies: a simpler and small scale society has fewer, joint-family, panchayat or some equivalent, temple or a small religious shrine; while a complex one have many, hospital, school, university, court, parliament, temples/mosques/churches etc. To have a closer look at differences and similarities, one can compare how social life is organized around institutions in different societies.

In the extent to which societies are governed by rule or person, in traditional societies based on agriculture, personal factors counts for almost everything. People are able to take finer personal distinctions in their businesses and other day-to-day work. In these societies, personal links can be used (or misused) for practically any purpose; and a certain sense of security is provided by the existence of such links. Now there are whole areas of life in complex industrial societies where such links are in principle irrelevant.

In complex industrial societies, social life is influenced greatly if not mainly by institutions. Here institutions are organized around impersonal rules. The treatment in hospital, admission to schools, services from police and courts are few examples of such arrangement. In these institutions, if someone needs to get something done which he is entitled to, there should not be any need on his part to have any personal links with people in these institutes.

In Indian villages based on agriculture, people are accustomed to getting thing done through persons rather than rule. To say this is not necessarily to pass a moral judgement. When society is small and everyone knows everyone, such arrangement is both proper and expedient. A lot of problems, related to both corruption and efficiency, can appear without any tangible solution when these links are used in places where norms are defined differently.

Those who live in large cities depends on many public utilities and services. And in principle, they are so organized to serve each citizen irrespective of personal consideration. There are rules of procedure according to which any citizen is entitled to make claim on certain service. But in practice, nobody seriously believes in rules alone. In cases when rules do not work for him at all, or do not work quickly enough, he tries to reach out to someone in right quarters through relative or friends, or friends of a relative. Those who have no relative or friends (‘connections’ as they are called) felt left out in cold. But it is just amazing, how just almost everyone in our society is able to activate ‘connection’ of some consequence.

It should be obvious to all of us that we are in a period of transition. Though majority of people still live in small agrarian societies, they are increasingly coming in contact with different sort of institutions they are not accustomed to, where personal connection should or ought to count for little. In such phase of transitions, people often suffer the worst of both systems: he can not be sure if personal ‘connections’ will be sufficient, nor he can trust the appropriate system of rules.

In cities, especially for young people, the moral universe associated with it is both confusing and intractable. This could cause a sort of psychological stress which is rarely seen in villages. When an old person (not only in rural India) pays a bribe or uses his family connections to get something done, he is not burdened by moral questions involved related propriety of following rules and norms. For him, such is the way of life — an ordinary and normal thing to do. He would give you a lecture about “art of living” if you point out the impropriety on his part. Younger people, and perhaps some among old too, do not always pay bribes or use family/friendly connections for their personal gain at the cost of someone else without a sense of moral ambivalence and indignation. The “queue” is one such place where such behaviour can be easily observed: when someone gets a cut from a friend or relative, he takes it, often with an embarrassing smile or a show of arrogance, but the same person turn self-righteous and morally indignant when he sees others taking “cut” at his disadvantage.

More than often, rules are defined vaguely which allows those who enforce them to use their personal discretion rather freely if not arbitrarily. Different rules or different interpretations of them are applied on “case to case” basis. And many times rules are bypassed all together. Many wonder how people in a country where substantial population is still illiterate get things done in a system with a plethora of rules. In the face of confusion, people get accustomed to bypassing or breaking the rules, especially when a person of some consequence is available at their disposal. Those who are responsible for making rules simpler or less confusing rarely loose sleep over it. Perhaps they believe the people are used to such situations and have ways to deal with it.

Problem of corruption or inefficiency can easily grow to alarming proportion in such environment for it is easy for people in position of power to manipulate the system for their own personal gain by colluding with others. One can always find someone in Indian offices who really mastered the art of manipulating rules and finding loopholes in them. Such people are seen with both envy and admiration.

No doubt that a system is bound to be efficient when rules and procedures are followed by most, if not all.  The personal favours which we are so used to receiving and granting can not have the same moral right in modern institutions as in the traditional order. Moreover, a typical Indian overvalues his convenience above most things, and following rules always cost some convenience. He would not mind doing his part in undermining rules as long as it is convenient to him.  A large proportion of our people do not, or perhaps can not, appreciate  what rules are for. But there are many among us who probably know what they are and why we need them. It is doubtful that over the time, as we progress more towards a modern society, even they will develop a moral commitment towards them?