Rohit Mishra

Thoughts which don’t fit in 140 characters.

VIT University Is Now on Google Calendar

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As the number of student events and alumni meetings keep increasing, it is no longer viable to share all the posts on VIT’s facebook page without spamming the news feed of people who like the page. So, we have decided to share all the events using Google Calendar. You can subscribe to the VIT calendar by going to this link and clicking on the subscribe button in the bottom right corner. If you use any other calendar app like iCal, you can subscribe to the VIT calendar by using its iCal address -

All event organizers are henceforth requested to send their event information at If you have any queries, you can send me an email or facebook or twitter for any clarification.

One more thing, one of the major attractions of Google Calendar is how well it works on mobile. Do try Google Calendar on your phone.

Vaastu Is Not Science.

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This post was originally shared by Sandhya Pentareddy, Executive Director, VIT University on her facebook page. Follow her for a daily dose of language and science tips. 

I hate superstitions. I think they are the easiest way to shy away from your fears. The general assumption is that only the old believe in them. But sadly, as the post below shows, the younger generation, here in India, believes more and more in these superstitions. I will never be able to reason as well as Sandhya Ma’am does here, so am sharing her post and comments. For complete discussion, you can go to the post here.

Are we going backwards? I see pseudo-sciences like Vastu gaining more popularity these days as compared to 20 years ago. We often hear things such as “If this corner protrudes more than a certain other corner, the head of the family will suffer severe losses, the children won’t study well etc.” What correlation is there between the facing of the house to the personality of individuals as Vastu claims? Have there been any studies? Is there any scientific data to prove these baseless theories?

Beware that you are being deceived in the name of ‘Science’. ‘Science’ deals with body of facts or truths. To call something a fact or truth, one has to prove it. I often hear the pseudo-scientists defend themselves by saying “All that you can’t prove is not necessarily untrue”. While there is truth in that statement, we also can’t accept all that is not yet proved as ‘truth’. Vastu is a superstition and not science. It may have started as an attempt at science to lay down some basic guidelines for construction but educated people like us have to question those rules and use our common sense and knowledge and decide whether to believe those rules.

A huge portion of our population is gullible when it comes to pseudo-sciences. Insecurity is the root cause. The attitude of “Why take a chance? May be, what they say is true” is killing us. I think we are knowledgeable enough to question, verify and accept / reject the statements made. Have faith in your own knowledge and don’t give into the feeling that ‘Elders have stated these for generations. So, they must be true’. It’s possible that those elders may not be that wise after all. There was a time when people thought that the earth was flat. If we always believed our elders without looking into the substance or the proof, we would be still thinking that the earth is flat.

Today’s Vastu has gone beyond the basic rules that prevailed before. Ridiculous concepts such as ‘if the bathroom faces this way, there will be more fights between husband and wife’ are extended. There are remedial suggestions by the so-called ‘Vastu experts’ such as put these spices, money or twigs in that corner and the fights will lessen. These quacks are deceiving many people and are making a fast buck.

Please don’t believe something just because it is popular or because your grandparents did. Please don’t put your ‘faith’ in dumb things such as these. You have a brain. Use it. Don’t believe quacks. I’d trust your common sense more than the Vastu consultants.

Comments (edited)

(To a comment that knowledge of science is incomplete)

If you don’t want to refuse something based on incomplete knowledge, I can live with that. But how can you (or others) accept something based on incomplete knowledge? Also, let’s use common sense. You can’t possibly believe in things such as “If this corner protrudes, the head of the household will die soon”. Well, I guess it depends on how ‘soon’ is soon :) Eventually, any outcome may happen. Eventually, I may pass a subject I have failed in many times. That may be due to my hard work and may not be due the vastu remedy I have done.

(To a comment that Vaastu is a traditonal Civil Engineering)

Vastu seems to be an ancient attempt at Civil engg. However, we can’t blindly follow the rules. I don’t think you’d follow the rules in your civil engg texts blindly even tho’ they have been vetted by various scientists. I’d love it if there is an explanation for the Vastu rules. A lot of it is BS. You need not be a scientist to see that there is no correlation among most of those theories. Even worse, there is no agreement among the various Vastu scientists.

(To a comment that north-east direction, supposedly held good, in Vaastu has been proven in success of the eastern part of US)

It is also found that as one progresses towards the North-East in the United States of America the land becomes richer and richer”… Some statements like these are confidently made misguiding the readers. The richest tycoons of America are found in Seattle, California, Arkansas etc. They are not north-east. Besides, the north-east land is not richer. Wallstreet happens to be in the north-east but mind you that wallstreet’s investments are all over America and even around the world.

(To a comment that Vaastu is traditional knowledge and must be revered)

Knowledge is grown through generations. Our grandfathers and grandmothers have taught us so many good things. They have imparted knowledge to us through generations. Among our grandfathers are scientists and quacks also. Our forefathers are not always 100% right. But they have given you common sense to judge what is correct and what is not. We need to use that sense. I agree with you that we have to analyze, discuss, prove or disprove something if we can. All I’m saying is that don’t take it at face-value. Analyze it, experiment with it, verify it and accept or reject if you believe it is something worth while. But use your common sense first as that will tell you what’s worth experimenting with and what’s not.

– end –

Before calling something science, lets go back to grade 1 and study what is science.

View Science and over 3,000,000 other topics on

Goodbye Palm !

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Techcrunch is reporting that HP has decided to kill the webOS phones and tablets. I am sad, but not surprised considering headlines like Best Buy asks HP to take back its TouchPads have been hogging the limelight. I remember being  super excited when I saw the Pre with the webOS for the first time. As for webOS,  it is just so beautiful and functional.

But, Palm slagged off and the might of iOS and Android pushed it into obscurity. Palm ran into financial woes and then was acquired by HP.  There was a lot of positive energy and everyone was optimistic what webOS will do with the financial backup of HP. In hindsight, they didn’t do much. I wonder how HP can use webOS now. Windows 8 is itself moving into touch territory so there is no room for another touch-friendly OS alongside it. Apparently, HP will push webOS into appliances and cars. I am not very hopeful.

There are two things I wonder about:

  • HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion. This experiment failed and they have no foothold at all in the mobile market. Every other desktop manufacturer is invested in Android and/or Windows Phone. Pretty smart management huh !

  • There were rumors that Palm will be bought by Nokia. They desperately needed each other. Only if Nokia would have fired CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo earlier.

Photo: Flickr/o2ukofficial

Apple’s 30% Cut Is Leveling the Field

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Apple’s decision to claim 30% price of all content sold on the iOS devices forced many companies including Amazon and the Wall Street Journal to make web apps, in addition to the native apps which no longer have links to their online stores. (The webapps have) Now, Apple’s biggest advantage over Android (and every other platform) has been the quality of apps for iOS compared to the other OSes. Even Android enthusiasts generally agree that apps on iOS are better than those on Android. (Hello Facebook). By pushing apps to the web, Apple is making it easier for the competition to catch up. All that Google, RIM and Microsoft need to do is to make their mobile browsers compliant with the HTML 5 standards. For sure, the majority of apps don’t sell content and will remain native, but making more users familiar and comfortable with web apps is a good, if not intended, consequence of Apple’s move.

Nokia N9 Is a Great and Confusing Product

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Nokia has finally made a successor for the N900 - its first Maemo device, the N9. It seems to be a great device and although it runs in dated hardware, the new Meego interface called “Swipe” seems good. This is also the first device which doesn’t has a button. N9 is not like Nokia’s other phones. It has some character.

[caption id=“attachment_124” align=“aligncenter” width=“610” caption=“Nokia N9”]Nokia N9[/caption]

The N900 was a popular device among developers and many ardent linux fans pinned their hopes on Maemo to take linux mainstream. Somehow Nokia fumbled on Maemo and then collaborated with Intel, which was running its own Mobile Linux project called Moblin. Maemo and Moblin code-bases were merged to form Meego. To many’s surprise though, Meego is no longer a main-stream project. Nokia’s new CEO Stephen Elop has taken the company in the direction of Microsoft and Nokia will be a ‘special among equals’ hardware manufacturer of Windows Phone 7. Maego has been relegated as a research platform.

In  this context, the N9 is confusing.

a) Because it runs on a Texas Instruments processor based on an ARM A8 chip - the precise reason why Intel conjured up the Moblin and Maego projects is to push its processors on mobile phones. That is not happening here. So what is Intel’s role in Maego then? Maybe they are not as interested after having found love from Cupertino.

b) Why does a company dump a platform like Maemo for another platform like Windows Phone 7 when both are unproven in market. Maybe Nokia believed that sustaining OS development on Meego and competing with iOS, Android, RIM and Microsoft was not a viable option for them. Anyone who has seen the N9 must think that Meego needs more respect than a research project for future user interfaces.

c) Samsung, who recently surpassed Nokia as the world’s largest smart-phone manufacturer doesn’t has its eggs in one basket. They have a huge number of models available both for Android and Windows Phone. Apart from that, they have their own OS called Bada which has generated decent sales numbers. Why couldn’t Nokia go for a dual-OS strategy and shift Symbian out faster and use Meego in its place. They can keep using the S40 on its feature phones.

For the sake of Nokia, I hope they are onto something. N9 shows that Nokia can come up with a fresh and attractive UI - till now, their biggest weak-point. If they build up from the mostly positive press that N9 has garnered, they will finally have a good and competitive OS of their own.

SRCC, 100% and Academic Inflation

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What do you do when a joke turns into reality. You get confused. When a friend scores highly in an exam, we tease him or her by saying you can only get a 100%. What will you do after that? . This is a problem now. 100% is no longer a joke. One of India’s famous colleges Sri Ram College of Commerce wants students coming from a non-commerce stream to have 100% marks to be eligible for a BCom course. This prompted the education minister Kapil Sibal(St. Stephens’, Harvard) to say how he would not have got admission in any good Indian college today. Lets not all start blaming SRCC. They are not the first.

The IITs have for a long time made a 6 hour entrance examination the universe-shaking moment for most of the under-20 youth in India. We Indians don’t want to study engineering. We only want to go to an IIT. Colleges like SRCC are equivalent to IITs and IIMs, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they also felt the need for something equally irrational.

In his famous TED talk in 2007, Sir Ken Robinson talked about academic inflation - how something that needed a masters degree at a time, now needs a PhD and something that needed a PhD now needs a double PhD. Sir Ken also says that the entire public education system is a protracted process of university entrance. I will like to add job entrance to that. When I was in middle school, there was so much talk of learning and understanding. They were the end-goals. Today, even if we learn and understand, it is not for the thrill of learning but for the task of scoring high in the next examination.

[ted id=66]

As the SRCC story played across the media, a huge number of Indian parents must have shaken their head in despair that their child is only getting a 96%. Darwin would be elated.

USA Takes Down Osama, but When Will India Act ?

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Osama Bin Laden is dead. Bin Laden has represented the face of evil for the past decade and everyone must thank USA for getting rid of him. Things will change now. Hopefully, USA will ask strong questions and exercise restraint before it doles out another multi-billion grant to Pakistan. There most-wanted man was living outside one of the biggest training facilities for Pakistan Military.

But as an Indian, this event is an eye-opener. It goes on to show that how far behind we (and for that matter, most other countries in the world) are behind USA in terms of our strategic abilities. The man who led the commemorative ceremony for Osama in Pakistan is Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released by India in the IC 814 Hijacking and has been responsible for most terrorism activities in India including the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks. Why can’t we conduct similar operations and get rid of these terrorists? I doubt that we lack on military expertise, but at the same time I don’t expect an honest, but nevertheless weak 78 year old to lead India into such high-risk acts. Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, there has been no major incidence of terrorism inside the United States. After 10 years of pursuit, they did get Osama Bin Laden. USA didn’t bother to keep us in loop. It was acting out of self-interest. Instead of depending on or expecting USA to solve our problems, we should take concrete actions.

As for President Obama, the US, White House spokesman Jay Carney prefaced Brennan’s briefing by reading his (Obama’s) campaign promise: ‘’If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will. We must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.’’

Obama fulfilled his promise. When will our promises get fulfilled ?

The Indian Love for Jugaad

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Anna Hazare has taken India by storm with his quest for the Jan Lokpal Bill - a bill that will establish a central and state authority to investigate into the charges of corruption in public offices. To put it subtly, the entire country has shown tremendous support to Anna Hazare’s movement. Anna is topping Twitter trends and Facebook is full of stories on this subject. Many have decided to fast and participate in candle-light marches to show their support to Anna Hazare. I strongly encourage everyone to keep displaying their support for this great man, who has given this country a voice against corruption. Although it may seem trivial, a simple tweet or a Facebook update has a lot of value. Look at what happened to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for example. But, I do believe that there is an inner devil that we are ignoring in this fight against corruption - our love for the wrong kind of _Jugaad. _

Jugaad literally means an arrangement or a work around, which has to be used because of lack of resources. It is from this meaning that Jugaad is associated with frugal-engineering and low-cost innovation like the locally made motor vehicles used in rural India. The super-innovative Tata Nano and the unique approach of Indian mobile networks are other examples for Jugaad. But, there is another meaning of Jugaad which refers to solutions that bend the rules. It is this Jugaad that is at the root of India’s corruption.

At any Indian queue, you will find someone trying to join the queue in middle or getting his work done before his chance comes. He may pay a bribe to get what he wants denying that resource to someone who is trying to get it fairly.  Instead of being considered as a mistake, this kind of jugaad is hailed as an ability.  There are historical reasons behind it. Until 1991, India was under License Raj, where everyone needed tons of permits from lousy and corrupt bureaucrats and politicians to do his work.  Dhirubhai Ambani, the charismatic founder of Reliance Industries, was famous for his jugaad, where he exploited the corrupt system in India to take Reliance ahead. Dhirubhai needed to do it to cut through the red-tape. Unfortunately, a person breaking a queue to get a train ticket wrongly justifies his actions by attributing it to his jugaad. The same person will board the train and argue about the politician-corporate nexus which leads to things such as the 2G spectrum scam.  He does not know, that even in the 2G scam, the mobile networks are also doing the same thing as a common man does - get his opportunity before his turn. The common man and the mobile network operator are equally guilty.

Jugaad, of the right kind, benefits everyone, not an individual. In our race to inclusive prosperity, we need jugaad. Lets bring jugaad to innovation in our research, our business ideas and not to find loop-holes in the law. There is a very thin line that separates good jugaad from bad jugaad. The 2007 Mani Ratnam movie, Guru), has a great scene where Abhishek Bachchan who plays Guru Kant Desai (modeled on the late Dhirubhai Ambani) explains his actions.

This jugaad, of the wrong variety, is prevalent everywhere from a college cafeteria to a traffic checkpoint to the corridors of power in Delhi. Anna Hazare is taking on the problem in Delhi. Let us take on this problem inside us.

Patents and CS

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Google is bidding $900 million for the patent portfolio of Nortel in the company’s bankruptcy auction. On its official blog, Google says

The tech world has recently seen an explosion in patent litigation, often involving low-quality software patents, which threatens to stifle innovation. Some of these lawsuits have been filed by people or companies that have never actually created anything; others are motivated by a desire to block competing products or profit from the success of a rival’s new technology. The patent system should reward those who create the most useful innovations for society, not those who stake bogus claims or file dubious lawsuits. It’s for these reasons that Google has long argued in favor of real patent reform, which we believe will benefit users and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Google goes on to add that the best defense that it can currently seek is by building its own patent portfolio. This will allow it to develop new products without any fear. I do wonder how many technology companies can build this patent war-chest. Any major company can stifle off smaller competitors by engaging them in a patent law-suit. Intellectual Property Rights must be given their due respect, but it can’t come at the cost of risking innovation.

For the record, the most baffling patent that I have seen till date is by Google itself - its home screen is patented.

[caption id=“attachment_117” align=“aligncenter” width=“500” caption=“Google Patents its Home Page”]google homepage patent[/caption]

The New York Times Becomes Paid

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The New York Times - arguably the best newspaper in the world has decided to go behind a paywall. After March 28, anyone reading more than 20 articles per month on New York Times will need to pay.

$15 - Web access + Mobile app

$20 - Web access + iPad [Tablet] app

$35 - Universal  access

_All prices are for 1 month. Subscribers to print edition of NY Times as well as its international version - International Herald Tribune - will get free universal access. _

The price plans are comparable to what other websites like Britain’s Financial Times have, which charges $20 a month. More importantly, NYT will not apply the paywall for readers coming via Facebook, Twitter or Google. Google users can see a maximum of 5 articles per day, whereas Facebook and Twitter users have no such restriction.

Although this move will let people link to New York Times articles without the fear of the paywall, I am sure at some point NYT will try to put a limit on the number of articles that someone can read via FB and Twitter also. With 600 million users, Facebook is a very strong distribution medium, and Times will try to monetize it. Even they don’t seem very clear about how this will work. The NYT Digital Subscription FAQ page says -

Can I still access articles through Facebook, Twitter, Google or my blog?

Yes. We encourage links from Facebook, Twitter, search engines, blogs and social media. When you visit through a link from one of these channels, that article (or video, slide show, etc.) will count toward your monthly limit of 20 free articles, but you will still be able to view it even if you’ve already read your 20 free articles.

When you visit by clicking links in Google search results, you’ll enjoy up to five free articles per day.

I am not very sure how the Times will monitor the usage. I may read one article via Google, then leave the site and return via a link from Twitter. Tracking activity of a user will be a tough task. Probably, everyone will need to have a New York Times account, because otherwise, the task seems tough.

Also, in the mobile world, there is another problem. How will families share their subscription? Thankfully, it seems NYT is working it out.

If you’re a digital-only subscriber, you can create only one account (with one e-mail address and password). If you’re a home delivery subscriber, you’re also currently limited to one digital account, but you’ll soon be able to link additional digital accounts to your home delivery subscription. We’ll notify home delivery subscribers as soon as this option is available.

A digital family plan will make a lot of sense.

I am a big fan of NYT, and believe that it is the first place where you should go to read news. I will happily pay for the high quality content that NYT gives and its brilliant apps. (I am in love with the Chrome web Store NYT app) But even $15 is too high a price, here in India where you get a print subscription at around $3 per month. $15 may be great relative to the $55 that NYT charges for print subscription in USA, but I hope they lower their rates for other countries. On a similar complaint that NYT is limiting access to the wealthy, an NYT reader responded that

“The ‘wealthy?’ It’s two lunches at McDonalds. For a month of reporting. I’m happy to support the NYT for such a low price.”

NYT is a global organization, and they should know, that here in India $15 will easily get you 10 lunches at McDonald’s.