Friday, January 28, 2011

The oil mafia

On January 25 2011 Yashwant Sonawane, Additional District Collector of Malegaon was burnt alive by the oil mafia, specifically the kerosene stealing arm of the mafia. He was killed because he was doing his duty.

Right after this there has been some knee jerk reactions from both the state and the central government. The state government is cracking down on the oil mafia and has arrested over 180 people, more like saying “we knew you existed, we knew where to find you, we let you thrive and succeed but you killed a government official and that is why please become governments guests (go to jail for a few days) and we will let you go for we do not find any evidence against you”.

The other reaction I found ridiculous was from our honored central government petroleum minister who said that all trucks will be installed with GPS to track their movements. Mr. Minister, here is a guy who got killed for capturing evidence against the oil mafia and from the way state government has “cracked down”, everybody knows where to find these people and where these things happen. What we need a stronger police protection and a good judicial system, not your fancy GPS for every truck. The other suggestion from our esteemed minister is the reintroduction of blue dye for kerosene. Dear Mr. Minister your blue dye could not prevent Swami Nityananda from using the kerosene (supposedly meant for public distribution) during his recent “purification act/gimmick”, how do you expect the underground mafia to come under control with this measure?     

To top this all, CNN-IBN managed to air the video shot by Mr. Sonawane that captured the business of petrol adulteration and the state minister has said that it can be used as evidence in court. First thing, if Mr. Sonawane shot the video right before he was burnt alive, won’t everything that is found in and around where he died become part of the crime scene (too much CSI). If the police had secured the phone and locked it as evidence, how did a private channel got hold of the footage?. The reaction from the minister is really cracking me up.     

Besides this is not the first time, one of my juniors from my undergrad days was killed by the oil mafia for doing his job. There was a big hue and cry over the matter when it happened and then business was back as usual.           

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Flonase or Nasonex

Both are steroid based nasal sprays, both are administered only through prescription and both are prescribed for cedar pollen related allergies, but for me Nasonex seems to work but Flonase does not.  

Austin is sometimes called the allergy capital, one of the main reason for this title is the obscene amount of cedar pollen in the air during months of December and January. It is fairly common here for people to live here for a few years and then start developing allergies towards the pollen. Cedar pollen bug caught me some time in January 2009. When it started I thought I was catching cold but there was no congestion that accompanies common cold, all I had was sneezing and in a few hours the nose got blocked so bad that I could hardly breath. I went to the doctor in 2009, he formally declared that I am a victim of cedar allergy. My condition was so bad that I had to take a corticosteroid shot. The good doctor also prescribed me Nasonex and even gave me a free sample that he had. The free sample and the prescription helped me survive the 2009 and 2010 cedar season.

Come 2011, I was out of nasal sprays and the ones I had were expired. I had to make a trip to the hospital. This time around the good doctor asked if I will be interested in generic Flonase nasal spray, I just wanted something to get relief and I said yes. After a week of spraying twice into each nostril once a day I didn’t get the relief I was looking for. I ran back to the good doctor again and this time he asked me “Are you ready for a steroid shot” and I replied “Not yet, but I want to change to Nasonex”. He gave me a prescription for Nasonex and told me to come back if the allergy symptoms gets worse.

After I switched to Nasonex, the allergy symptoms are gone and I have rarely sneezed. I do not want to be a spokesperson for Nasonex but figured there may be others like me who are struggling with cedar related allergies and can benefit from the switch. One can argue that the cedar pollen levels were the highest in the beginning of January and the levels have subsided since then.  

One thing to note is that my allergy symptoms were mostly itchy eyes, sneezing, blocked nose and tiredness (there is no way you cannot be tired when you are sneezing 10-15 times a minute). Others have more complicated symptoms and a steroid/allergy shot may be a better working option. Also, insurance covered both the drugs but out of pocket expense for Nasonex was higher than Flonase.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

If it is random, it is fair

Disclaimer: I am happy for my friends and relatives who got recognized for their achievements during the 10th grade examination. I am not writing this to belittle their achievements nor because I missed out (I was never close to be in contention).   

Every year in the state of Karnataka on an average 600000 students write the 10th grade examination, and the government announces  top 20 scores and the students who scored them. They get their 20mins of fame when their names get published in leading news papers and they get honored at a few ceremonies here and there. All is well, the students who achieved studied hard and got what they truly deserve. The argument I have against this is, it is more of a game of statistics and the 100s of students who missed the top 20 scores by a few 10s of marks deserve the same honor and respect as the top 20 rank holders. Here is why I believe I am right.

Ranks are declared based on sum total of marks scored for six subjects,  3 of which are languages and the other 3 are Science, Mathematics and Social Sciences. The exams are offered in 2 languages of instruction, English and Kannada. Students in rural areas mostly write the exams in Kannada and most of the semi urban and urban areas use English as the medium.

Students have to pick a first language (worth 25%-50% more points than other subjects), a second language (worth same as other subjects) and a third language (usually worth same as others or sometimes 50% less than others). Typical first language pick in most urban areas is either Sanskrit or English and in rural and semi urban areas it is usually Kannada. For second language it is either English or Hindi and for third language it is either Kannada or Sanskrit or Hindi. The other 3 subjects carry equal weight and the question paper is same across both mediums of instructions.   

As typical for any language examination, the grading is relative and the valuators want to keep 15-20% of marks in hand to give it to the next best answer paper they will encounter (which they may never reach during their course of valuations for the year). Combine the 15-20% of marks across the 3 languages and you are looking at some serious numbers. To top this off, for reasons unknown to me, on an average students with Sanskrit as first language typically outscore those of other languages by a minimum of 15-20%.    

Now to the rest of the subjects, other than Mathematics in which there cannot be relative grading there is an element of relative grading in the rest ( I agree, it is not to the same extent as languages). But when you are aiming for the top, every bit counts.  Also, all of the 600000 students answer papers is not valuated by the same teacher. The evaluators vary from the best doing the 100% type to the worst who just would like to be done as soon as possible.   

In the end I feel it is a random process, those who become successful are honored.

I am not a genius and neither I am in the education field but a few days of thought on this subject has made me realize the system is flawed to a large extent. I wonder how come the government hasn’t done anything to fix this. I guess they rely on the random processes so much that they believe being random is being fair.        

Friday, January 07, 2011

The price of free shipping

Most of the times when I buy things online, I consider shipping cost and the reliability of the store to make my decision. So far, most of the times I have used the free shipping and have gotten it shipped to a place where there is somebody to receive (office or home) and sometimes they have left it at the door step of my apartment. I haven’t lost anything so far but the incident I witnessed yesterday has made me think twice on leaving at the door step.

Yesterday when I was heading to office, I noticed a trashed box right outside my door. The box had logo on it, first thought was that my wife must have left it there for me to throw it into the dumpster on the way to office. Another glance at the same I saw words “Nikon VR 70-300” on a box sitting inside this  big box. I do not own anything remotely Nikon and nor have I ordered the same. So, second thought was that one of the neighbors must have left it outside their apartment and wind flew it to mine, but there wasn’t any gusty wind the previous night.  Upon further observation, it wasn’t trash after all, the box at some point contained a Nikon 70-300mm lens, it was addressed to my neighbor who lives downstairs and it had been vandalized. I took the package to my neighbor and handed him what was left of the Nikon lens.

The funny part is, those who vandalized left all the packing back and took only the lens and had left the hood and the pouch that came in the box. They probably could have made more money if they had taken the rest of the things along with the the lens. The other question, why leave it in front of my apartment when the trash is a block away?, I do not know the answer.

It taught me the lesson that it is not worth the free shipping if the shipping only entails leaving at the door step, if nobody will be home to receive the package. Come to think further, who is responsible for these lost shipments?, I am sure both the carrier and the shipment owner will deny responsibility. There used to be a time when the carriers used to either leave a note at the apartment door or leave the item at at the apartment office, they no longer seem to do it. I like USPS better in that sense for they would either leave it at the package box near mail box or will keep it with them for us to go and pick up. “long live USPS”.