Kalam’s failings

The dangers of elevating humans to superhuman status

Over on his blog, Manoj Joshi posts his Mail Today article on how the legend of APJ Abdul Kalam resulted in poor technological choices and ultimately, as sub-standard missile arsenal. Excerpts:

Whatever may have been his successes as SLV-3 project manager, his tenure as DRDO chief has been something of a disaster.

Because of (diversions caused by Kalam’s dogmatic insistence), India’s long-range missile deterrent has been delayed by about a decade and even today it depends on aircraft dropped weapons, not missile borne, for its credible minimum deterrent

Kalam’s very prestige became his, and his country’s, worst enemy. He had attained oracular status by 1998, and the result was that the governments of the day blindly accepted what he had to say. He was not willfully dishonest, but his fixations and whims led to diversions and delays for which the country has paid a huge price. Perhaps his greatest, and in a sense forgivable, weakness was his obsession on “indigenous” development.

But the argument that India’s missiles are “indigenous” and Pakistan’s are based on Chinese, American, North Korean or someone else’s technology is a meaningless one. Military acquisitions are not about the “purity” of solutions, but time-urgent answers to a problem. And who will deny that Pakistan has got more than enough “solutions” in the nuclear weapon delivery area, to any threat India can offer. [Mail Today/Manoj Joshi’s blog]

Sunday Levity: The mystery of the missing nuts

Where are the acorns?

Photo: Randy Hausken

Courtesy of longtime reader Chandra Dulam comes this intriguing mystery of a botanical kind. Several American states can’t find the usual nuts this year. CNN‘s Marsha Walton reports “Even though this acorn shortage has not risen to the level of a crisis, scientists say it is important to watch closely. If the shortage continues for several years, other forces might be at work.

Weekday Squib: Pray to ward off the plague

Religious diversity is the side effect of…increased threat of infectious disease

From the British Psychological Society’s Research Blog comes a rather startling conclusion: religion was established for the “avoidance and management of infectious disease” (linkthanks Rajeev Mantri):

Fincher and Thornhill used the World Christian Encyclopedia and the Global Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Network to compare the spread of infections and religions across 219 countries. Their results were clear: in regions with a greater variety of infectious parasites, the diversity of religions also tends to be greater. This association held strong even after exploring the impact of other potential factors, such as differences in democratisation and histories of colonisation.

The researchers say the association between religion and parasites occurs because reducing contact with outsiders can help protect against disease. In turn, when cultures fragment and groups avoid making contact with each other, more religions are likely to spring up.[BPS Research Blog]

Reality, it appears, mirrors satire. Or the Proceedings of the Royal Soceity:B Biological Sciences mirror The Onion. Now unless journals of learned societies mistake correlation for causation (the world’s oldest professional mistake), one should wonder why God created disease.

Weekday Squib: When those hadrons finally collide

Six pints of bitter. And quickly, please because the world’s about to end.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans. And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever. [Prologue, H2G2]

No Vogon spaceships, but hadrons are about to collide…and it’s not even a Thursday. “It’s at times like this…that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”

Update: It’s been turned on. But the hadrons haven’t collided yet. “Over the next few weeks, as the LHC’s operators gain experience and confidence with the new machine, the machine’s acceleration systems will be brought into play, and the beams will be brought into collision to allow the research programme to begin.”

Weekday Squib: Shooting in the air

The physics of celebratory gunfire

Those watching television news might have wondered: what happens to all those bullets they fire into the air when they are celebrating this or that?

The Grandpa’s physics looks robust: The bullet comes down, at a speed lower than that at which it left the gun, but still fast enough to kill.

And in one study conducted over a New Year’s day celebration in Puerto Rico, it turned out that most of those (36%) hit the head. The International Action Network on Small Arms has reports from across the world of people dying due to celebratory gunfire. UNDP Macedonia ran a campaign to encourage people to practice safe celebration.

UNDP Macedonia via IANSA

Before you ask…it’s unlikely that you can hit a satellite, even one in low-earth orbit (LEO). [With apologies to readers who are in change of ballistic missiles.]