Archive for January, 2013

Rules of Indian Traffic

January 10, 2013 1 comment

Pune Traffic

I’ve blogged before about Indian traffic; if you read through the link in the picture above you’ll see this is a serious matter here.

However on the lighter side, I came across these rules of Indian traffic:

Highway Code of India

Article    I:     The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.

Article  II:     Indian traffic like Indian society, is structured on a strict caste system. The following precedence must be accorded at all times.  In descending order, give way to: cows, elephants, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, camels, light trucks, buffalo, jeeps, ox-carts, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, pigs, pedal-rickshaws, goats, bicycles (goods-carrying), handcarts, bicycles (passenger-carrying), dogs, pedestrians.

Article III:    All wheeled vehicles shall  be driven in accordance with the maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail: to stop is defeat. This is the Indian drivers’ mantra.

Article  IV:     Use of horn (also known as the sonic sender or aural amulet.)

  • Cars: Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, i.e. in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path. Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, i.e. to oncoming trucks “I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die” In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic).
  • Single blast (casual) means: “I have seen someone out of India’s 870 million whom I recognize", “There is a bird in the road which at this speed could go through my windscreen", or “I have not blown my horn for several minutes.”
  • Trucks and Buses: All horn signals have the same meaning,  “I have an all-up weight of approximately 12.5 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could”  This signal may be emphasized by the use of headlamps.
    (Article IV remains subject to the provision of Order of Precedence in Article II above.)

Article   V:     All maneuvers, use of horn and evasive action shall if be left until the last possible moment.

Article VI:     In the absence of seat belts (which there is) car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept fastened at all times.

Article VII:   Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from the left has priority. So has traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle. 

  • Lane discipline: All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel shall occupy the centre of the road
  • Article VIII:  Roundabouts:  India has no roundabouts. Apparent traffic islands in the middle of crossroads have no traffic management function. Any other impression should be ignored.

Article  IX:    Overtaking is mandatory. Every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you. Overtaking should only be undertaken in suitable conditions, such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends at junctions and in the middle of villages/city centers. No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing — one inch in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.

Article   X:      Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.

Article  XI:     Reversing: no longer applicable, since no vehicle in India has reverse gear.

Article XII:    The 10th incarnation of God was an articulated tanker.

I feel compelled to add my own article:

Article XIII: Your driver’s diligence in adhering to these articles shall be directly proportional to the steepness of the road, narrowness of the road, frequency of blind hairpins, and/or road’s proximity to a 100 meters or more vertical drop.


The original rules come from here:

Categories: Expat life

Growth & Robots

January 6, 2013 3 comments

Robert J. Gordon: Is US economic growth over?
What is shown here is a graph of per-capita GDP growth, starting in the year 1300 and projecting to 2100.  Neat, huh?  This is projecting the possibility that for my kids and their kids, they will be living in a static time where things pretty much stay the same generation to generation.  No problem, if by then we finally all have flying cars and universal health care – not so great if we don’t.

Paul Krugman has lately been writing about this, and another really interesting and related idea, the role of robots in future growth.  At IBM where I work I’m a member of the IBM Academy of Technology, which does a yearly internal survey of members on business, technology and social trends for the coming year.  In answering the survey Krugman’s recent observations were much on my mind – however the predictions play out I think these are critical challenges for the next 20 years.

Here’s the substance of the two ideas.  On growth, the seed is a paper by Robert J. Gordon, entitled Is US economic growth over? Faltering innovation confronts the six.  Gordon observes that the Western world has had three periods of growth: The first started in the 18th century, lasted roughly 100 years and introduced steam power and railroads – this is what is typically termed the Industrial Revolution.  The second was a technological revolution, running from around 1870 to the Great Depression; this phase brought electricity, internal combustion, chemicals, petroleum and control of infectious disease.  The third phase, shortest and most recent, started in the 1960s and is all based on information technology and communications.

Moore's LawThis arc of technological progress is familiar to everyone in the developed world and it’s central to our implicit belief that things will always get better.  The narrative goes like this: My grandparents as kids had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing; then my parents had both but no information technology; and now we have online banking, digital entertainment and hybrid automobiles.  Can the technological singularity not be fast approaching?

Gordon’s thesis however is that the growth brought by the IT revolution is far less fundamental than the growth of phase #2.  Phase #2 included numerous major innovations that created new economic baselines but were not repeatable.  For example air conditioning was a great advance in that it allowed people to live and be productive in times and places they could not before; but now that we have those productivity gains AC isn’t adding any more new benefit.

So, growth may not be a permanent state: Many of our major innovations were 1-time things, with no expectation their performances will be repeated.  And our current phase of growth has run its course in terms of productivity and now focuses on areas like entertainment.  In his paper Gordon proposes this thought experiment:

A thought experiment helps to illustrate the fundamental importance of the inventions of IR2 compared to the subset of IR3 inventions that have occurred since 2002. You are required to make a choice between option A and option B. With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002.

Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse.

Which option do you choose?

Not much of a choice, is it?

It’s hard not to be suspicious of the sticking-power of today’s IT driven growth, especially when you consider there are probably 1 billion pictures of cats on the internet.  Anyway what Gordon is saying is that phase #3 has a great many incremental improvements, but in the larger scheme of things few game-changing innovations.  Thus, phase 3 brought us a flare of intense growth but is diminishing as the world quickly becomes saturated with PCs, phones and software.

Wages vs. GDP

Now let’s turn to the robots notion.  Krugman’s first post on this was titled (in a nod to Asimov, I suspect) Rise of the Robots.  In that post he observes that labor’s portion of GDP – i.e., wages and direct payments to employees compared to total production – has been dropping steadily since the early 1970s; this is after staying mostly steady through the 40s, 50s and 60s.  In a way that is to be expected – since we are becoming more productive, each $1 paid in wages should be producing more and more goods (although I suspect socially and politically there’s more going on here than just productivity improvement).

The question is, where will it end?  A telling event is Asian tech manufacturer Foxconn’s announcement to deploy 1 million robots.  Foxconn currently employs 1 million workers.  While the company states the purpose of the robots is to enable “advanced manufacturing”, no one doubts that a great many workers will be displaced.  And this is in a region where wages are amongst the lowest in the world.  On the other hand, automation may enable the return of manufacturing to the developed world, just as Apple has stated it is investigating.

Regardless of where it happens this trend in automation could lead to even greater economic inequality.  More and more profit will go to those who own the means of production – i.e. the robots – and less and less to people who work.  Machines displacing workers is nothing new – that is how the term sabotage was invented after all – but in the recent past we have had growth to reduce the impact: Workers got less of the pie, but the pie was growing really quickly.  Now pie-growth is slowing and may even stop.

After all this I have no big conclusion – certainly not today.  Questions on my mind:

  • Are there real, move-the-needle innovations yet to come from the IT revolution?  Or will we be just using algorithms and machine intelligence to make our existing stuff incrementally smarter?
  • What kind of opportunities are there for individuals or small teams in the upcoming automation revolution?
  • Do we need to re-examine our ideas of growth?  Maybe Stiglitz is right, that we need a better GDP, that includes externalities and quality of life and not just raw production.

Like I said, don’t know.  Maybe this is the future:

Categories: Economics, Technology

The Newest Punekars*

January 1, 2013 1 comment

Alex, Morgan and Kim

Here are Alex, Morgan and Kim, outside our flat with Westin Hotel and Koregaon Park in the background.  After Christmas in the US, we all arrived in India early morning of New Year’s Eve.  We all were pretty tired and slept well last night – New Year’s fireworks not withstanding – but the jet-lag is still there and will take a few days to get over.

This week will be mostly for the girls to get their bearings; there’s some tourist spots we have on tap to visit.  And Morgan needs to start thinking about school; Jan. 7 she will start at the Indus School of Pune.  Indus has international schools in Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad; going there Morgan will have a chance to meet and study with kids from 22 countries.  I’m sure my daughter’s experiences there will give me – and her! – a lot to write about in the coming months.

All in all, it’s good to be back.  The US time was a nice rest, but all of us were impatient to get on with things and get over to India.  And I’m happy to have my bachelor life here come to an end – homemade roti (of which Kim made some last night) beats microwaved paratha any day.


* For US folks, “Punekar” is the Marathi language term for “someone from Pune”, just as Mumbaikar is someone from Mumbai.

Categories: Expat life