Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Theory of Everything (TOE)

Neither am I sitting on my toes nor writing about them. This write-up is about the theory of everything (TOE) in physics. The time when I was called upon to write(my college magazine) coincided with something I was reading about this. Most of the books I have read on physics are on similar lines. They all talk about Galileo's discovery of planetary orbits being elliptical. They speak about newton’s ideas on inertia and motion. Then fast forward a century and a half, they talk about faraday’s laws of electromagnetism. Some thirty years later Maxwell explains the propagation of light waves and their speed. My narrative follows on similar lines. 
This post might even qualify as a book review since the book i am reading "Trouble with physics" by Lee Smolin has influenced it a lot.
Max Planck gave a formula about the energy of radiation E=hν in 1900. This started the quantum revolution and soon Einstein came up with an explanation of the photoelectric effect. In the next thirty years great progress was done in explaining the atomic spectra(Niels Bhor), Wave nature of matter(De-Broglie) and the bending of light around gravitating matter(special and general relativity). Ervin Schrödinger wrote down an equation explaining the group velocity of matter waves. He extended it to a general equation of motion of wave functions (Ψ). Max Born interpreted the wave function as the probability of finding a particle in a particular region. Hiesenberg placed a limit on the accuracy of finding the position and momentum of any particle. These developments drove a nail in the coffin of determinism that Lorentz had propounded.
Attempts to reconcile the geometric nature of space-time due to gravity and the quantum nature of matter proved difficult. Physicists were of divided opinion when it came to interpreting quantum mechanics. Some were downright skeptical (eg. Schrödinger, Einstein etc) criticizing the born interpretation with the now famous “cat in a box” paradox. In future the field would get murkier with the introduction of multidimensional space-time.
Efforts to unify electromagnetism with quantum mechanics led to quantum electrodynamics (QED). This quantum field theory was integrated first with the weak nuclear force called the electro-weak theory and then with the strong nuclear force. It was discovered in particle collisions that protons and neutrons had finer structure. You might still find books that speak of basic particles like mesons and baryons without any mention of the quark model or the standard model which has come to describe particle physics now.

The Standard model(Image:Wikipedia)

In the standard model all particles are composed of seventen basic building blocks. twelve of them are fermions obeying fermi-dirac statistics and the other four are bosons, particles that obey Bose-Einstein statistics. Two types of fermions are quarks(6) and leptons(6). A few years after the standard model was put forward Steven Weinberg and Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam independently discovered that a combination of the gauge principle and spontaneous symmetry breaking could be used to construct a concrete theory that unified the electro-magnetic and weak nuclear forces. This electro-weak theory predicted the existence of three particles W+ , W- and Z that carry the weak nuclear forces. In the early 1970s the gauge principle was applied to the strong nuclear force, the force that binds the quarks, and it was found that a gauge field is responsible for that force too. The resulting theory is called Quantum Chromo Dynamics (QCD).
A new theory SU (5), a code for the five particles (3 quarks and two leptons), predicted that protons would decay but this was not observed even after a lot of experimentation. One of the big ideas in unification is super symmetry which tries to unify the fermions and bosons. It predicts that every known particle has a heretofore unseen super partner. It also predicted that you can replace one of the fermions by a boson in some experiment and the probabilities of the various possible outcomes will not change.
Neither have the super partners been observed nor have the energies needed to observe super-symmetry been realized. If the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN had not suffered the problem of magnetic slack and the consequent leakage of liquid helium in September last year we would have by now conclusively observed (or disproved) the existence of Higgs boson (the massive particle predicted by the standard model to exist).(Plz note this article was written in 2010)

String Theory
In the fall of 1984, a branch of particle physics called string theory received a shot in the arm. It explained the existence of particles as vibrations of one dimensional string. Shcwarz and Green proved that string theory was a finite and consistent theory. They proved That infinities were absent in supersymmetric string theory in ten spacetime dimensions. It was known that a theory called super gravity would hold only upto eleven dimensions. So scientists were trying to incorporate one more dimension into string theory to make it consistent with quantum gravity. The number of dimensions was increased by one by proposing an emergent dimension due to the movement of branes in nine spaces and one time dimension.
String theory is based on two important dualities called T-duality (Topological) and S-duality (Strong-Weak). It was proposed that forces are due to the vibration of closed strings and particles are vibrations of open strings. Strings can join and break. They move in such a way that the area covered by them is minimal. The string theory got extended to the M-theory, Then D-brane theory came along. The field got support when it explained the geometry of extremal black holes using the brane system.
An alternative in the form of loop quantum gravity developed that treated quantum theory and relativity in a background independent manner. The starting point was Indian scientist Abhay Ashtekar’s revolutionary reformulation in 1986 of general relativity. It formulated Einstein’s theory in a form very close to gauge theories- the theories that underlie the standard model of particle physics.
Scientists now believe that space-time is an emergent property something like temperature which is fundamentally due to vibration of atoms held together. Another example would be sound. They also believe that space time is discrete i.e. there is a smallest unit of space called Planck’s length and a smallest unit of time called Planck’s time.
There have been corrections to special relativity called Doubly Special Relativity (DSR) in which observers in two systems agree on the Planck’s length being smallest even if they are moving with respect to it, along with the constancy of speed of light. By treating the relations of causality as fundamental Roger Penrose has formulated the Twistor theory. This holds in a special space-time called Twistor space. Loop Quantum Gravity has been applied to black holes and it has been found that they contain internal structure and not a singularity where time stops. This has solved the black-hole information paradox.
A young Australian physicist recently published a preon model of elementary particles. A preon is a ribbon like structure and the various kinds of preons correspond to the ribbon being twisted in different ways. Three ribbons can be braided together, and the various ways to do this correspond precisely to the various particles of the standard model.

Exciting observations

Recent observations have suggested that cosmic microwave background radiation is not uniform. It had been found to be coming from all directions of the sky. At the level of a few parts in 1, 00,000 there are fluctuations in it. The inflation model of the big bang predicts that there was no one point from which matter was created and spread out. It says the universe started from small volume and due to rapid expansion grew to the enormous size it is now. We still see evidence of this inflation in the form of red shift between galaxies. If there is a preferred direction it might point to the center of the big bang (some call it the “axis of evil”).
Another observation has been with some stars orbiting galaxies which don’t seem to obey the newton’s laws of gravitation. The dividing line seems to be their rate of acceleration. After about 1.2x10-8 cm/s2, the acceleration of stars seems to be decreasing rather than with the square of the distance, it decreases only by the distance. This is called the milogram’s law and such motion is called Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND). Ordinarily Newtonian force is proportional to the mass of the body causing the acceleration times a constant (g-on the surface of earth). MOND says that when acceleration is small the force is proportional to the square root of the mass times Newtons constant.
NASA had sent several spacecraft out of the solar system. Two of these- pioneers 10 and 11 have been tracked for decades. The velocities of both the pioneers seem to be less than anticipated. They seem to be attracted to the sun by an additional acceleration of around 8x10-8 cm/s2 (bigger than the anamolous acceleration measured in galaxies). Some experiments have tried to measure the velocity of light since big bang to see if it had changed. There is evidence that the fine structure constant (ratio of the charge of the electron squared, divided by the speed of light, times Planck’s constant) alpha was smaller by about 1 part in 10,000 about 10 billion years ago.
Another experiment named AGASA designed to measure the energy of protons in the cosmic rays found them to be having more energy than allowed. This points to a breakdown of special relativity wherein the protons are travelling with higher energies.

The Final Word

The possibility of nature’s constants themselves changing with the age of the universe seems tantalizing. My intension of writing on such a topic was to make students aware of the recent developments and my purpose will be served if you search for these topics I mentioned and learn more. Many people consider the development of a successful TOE to prove the non-existence of god. We all should be hoping to hear the final word within our lifetime.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Swacch Bharath Abhiyaan

I got an earful from papa just a while back so i have decided to clean the table of dust. He said cleanliness starts from our body, then our home, then the outside world. Once upon a time i was carrying chocolate covers in my pocket until such time as i found a dustbin. I was shy and feared that people will laugh at me. Why would i throw chocolate wrapper only in the dust bin when the entire world throws it on the streets.
Since then, I have thrown plastic bottles out of the train window, i have urinated in public places, i have spit on the road and gone without bathing for a couple of days. In short i have done everything that disqualifies me from preaching about cleanliness. Still with loads of hypocrisy i appeal to my fellow Indians to heed to the prime minister. I think this time it is different. I think this abhiyaan will pick up pace. Broom was a symbol of the AAP but this week it was given a new meaning. Let us keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.

Friday, September 26, 2014

One Rupee Taught me a very Big Lesson

My tryst with computers and video games started in my childhood.

I had gone with my friends to a video parlour in the supermarket near my sheikh sarai residence in New Delhi. It was probably 1987. I was all of 8 or 9 years old. There were several game consoles. They were big. Had a television at the top for display and joysticks to move characters on screen. They made huge noises and those noises had drawn me to them when I had walked past the parlour.
With my friends I learnt several things in one shot. Biggest shock was that you had to pay one rupee to play. Second, you had several chances or lives. This I learn’t later. My knowledge about money matters until that point were limited to prices of eggs (20 paisa in Karkala and 80 paisa in New Delhi) and chewing gum(25 paise medium quality,50 paise good quality as u could blow big baloons out of them) and parle-G biscuits. Parle-G biscuits were about 3.5 rupees and I had never carried such a huge sum of money. May be my parents considered my elder brother a more reliable person to buy that. He used to take a commission of one biscuit as the packet had 13 biscuits and I used to get a raw deal in the division. It still costs near to 5 rupees if I am not wrong.
I was a lean, thin built boy. Starved of proteins… may be I yearned for eggs. At a very young age I was denied an egg by a shop keeper as I had twenty paise only and the prices had risen by five paise to 25 paise per egg. I did not bargain or was not adamant that he give me the egg. I was allowed only one egg at a time. They were considered heat. In New Delhi I had ventured out to buy an egg all on my own. With one rupee in hand I had gone to a shop managed by a Sikh Sardar and he did not cheat a boy of seven years. He had promptly given a twenty paise coin as change. Back at home I had instructed my aunt Vidya to boil it for 5 minutes. It did not matter that we were a Brahmin family. It just tasted so good. I broke open the egg from the little end and dipped the spoon in salt and chilly powder and then took out a portion of the gooey half boiled egg in a scoop.
Back to the video parlour I saw my friends play Prince of Persia and PacMan. There were other games which I didn’t know about like Doom. They made huge noises when they shoot guns. My friend Ravi was very good in fighting the five levels of Prince of Persia. In the second level comes the “genda”(Big monkey, probably gorilla) and in level 5(fifth floor) comes the magician. That is all I remember of the game. I went home that day feeling on top of the world. I had just uncovered a magic potion for unlimited enjoyment. I developed a secret desire to play Prince of Persia. Just the other day I had eaten one puri(pani which is called “gol gappa” in delhi) which cost 33 paise each. For one rupee you get three. They too tasted like heaven. Of course Ravi was benevolent in getting me that one puri. I will be grateful to him lifelong for that. I adored him. He played cricket nicely. He used to bowl me clean several times.
Days passed by and I waited to bring up the matter of one rupee with mom. I really wanted to play Prince of Persia and never thought even once that the one rupee I would get could be used to buy chewing gum or pani puri or eggs. I had gone mad. I succeeded in getting the one rupee. My mom didn’t know that I would play a game with it. This was the second time I had ever asked for money from mom. The first time was for the egg. I went straight to the parlour. I saw a few familiar faces on the way but did not engage with them. I was possessed. I wanted to play as long as possible and over estimated my capabilities. In the parlour I paid the one rupee and got a big coin. I inserted the coin into the machine. It made some sounds and the game started. This bit of trivia I had missed. I tried my best to play but could not go beyond the ground floor. All three lives were lost. The joystick was new to me. It was the first time I had played. I repented having blown away a rupee on something which was not worth it. I didn’t ask for a refund or I didn’t cry. I owned full responsibility for what had happened. I walked out of the parlour never to return. I walked past it on several other occasions but never ventured into it. I knew it was not for me. Of course I got scolded for having wasted a rupee. I would not open my mouth as to where. My mom still does not know.
My life changed a lot after that incident. A rupee had taught me a big lesson. But I was fascinated by the game. That was the only fascinating thing in my life but I never indulged in the money hogging passion. There was loose talk about computers in school. Schools got compared based on number of computers. Delhi Public School had ten. Up until that time number of books in the library was what I thought mattered. I was too young that time to realize importance of availability of books or computers. I read only the Guinness book of records and I understood very little of it anyhow.
My life revolved around cricket, hockey played with plastic ball and badminton racket and “Pittu”(lagori in kannada) and riding bicycle.
The horror returns every time i walk past gaming consoles in multiplexes now. More about my childhood memories some other time…

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why is Aadhaar an Important Document?

Among the problems with the aadhaar project, one is that a vast number of people who enrolled have not received the number via post or had their enrollment packet rejected and hence an aadhaar number was never generated in their name. In both cases the solution is simple. Visit the website and enter details of enrollment and download e-aadhaar. In second case just enroll again.

Yet, a vast majority of people are unable to do these things and hence criticizing the project unnecessarily.

What does a common man needs to know of the aadhaar project? Why is aadhaar an important document? I will try to answer these questions in a moment but let me give a brief on how this project came into being.

After Kargil war it was felt that citizens need an identity document which they need to carry on their person to prove who they are. Such a document was necessary, it was felt from the security point of view. Hence a project called Multi-Purpose National Identity Card(MNIC) was conceived. Indeed a project to give identification to every Indian was the brain child of Atal ji's government. This project would have rolled out had the BJP come to power in 2004. But when congress took power they never bothered to continue any of the projects of the previous government. Someone in the Ministry of Information Technology came out with a proposal to Uniquely Identify BPL families. The project Unique Identification for BPL Families was to have collected biometrics of the poor people in a family and give them a unique number. This was meant to identify them and serve as a way of authenticating them so that the Public Distribution System(PDS) could rid itself of fake/duplicate ration cards and real beneficiaries could be identified.

This idea found resonance among ministers of UPA-I and they kept discussing the project for nearly three years from Feb,2006 to Jan,2009 when UIDAI was formed. All these years could have been used to merge the Unique Identification project into the MNIC project but the ministries involved engaged in turf wars. Everyone knew they were going to do something fundamental using technology and hence wanted to be in the drivers seat and take credits. MNIC turned into National Population Register (NPR) a project which was started in 1965 and never pursued seriously by congress.

After congress won the elections in 2009, they appointed Nandan Nilekani as head of UIDAI. This brought vigour into a project that could have met the same fate as other projects. UIDAI was created with a sort of start-up gusto and patriotic fervor. Nandan called himself a pro-Bono mercenary. Fresh after writing a book on imagining India he got his hands full, on an important assignment given to him by none other than the prime minister himself.

Several important decisions were taken early into the design of the scheme. Voluntary enrolment, national roll-out and universal coverage. Twelve digits. Fingerprinting all ten fingers, iris and face biometrics. Private agencies to do enrolment. Registrars to hire agencies. Enrolment kits.

They kept their heads down and kept working conducting studies, documenting processes, testing and certifying hardware, proof of concept and preliminary cost benefit analysis and many more things which I would never know of.

Enrollments started on 30th September,2010. They stand currently at 750 million and aadhaar's generated for 676 million.

Several arguments have been made justifying the project. Lack of universal birth registration being one of them. Cost benefit analysis showed humongous benefits to the government and people too. The aborted DBTL scheme of the congress showed that DBT works at scale. The Modi government has decided to continue enrolments and may restart DBTL. The Jan Dhan Scheme fits into the DBT project like a much needed spoke. Other pillars for successful launch of DBT will be ubiquitous telecom connectivity, high tele-density and penetration of 3G/4G and also the success of the NOFN project. Another enabler will be electricity in the villages. I am sure the Modi government is working on all of these.

Now comes the answer to why aadhaar would be a very important document. It has all the properties of a good identity document. National Recognition. Mobility. Use on any mobile/handheld. Aadhaar will be a financial address of the masses. A killer application of aadhaar would be its use as a bridge in money transfers. In a short time wallet companies would be linking the wallets with aadhaar so that money could be transferred from one wallet to another. Then there will be aadhaar based mobile banking. Then an aadhaar based money transfer within the net banking facilities of banks. Once these things stabilize it would be the time of mobile contact-less swipe at POS machines which would really be the ultimate in electronic cash transactions.

So to take part in all of the e-cash transactions you would need an aadhaar linked bank account which makes it necessary for you to have aadhaar in the first place. All this needs time but the initial tremors are being felt and a shakeup is in the offing.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Aadhaar Roundup-3

Aadhaar project is well on its way to completion. Nearly 730 enrollments have happened and 650 million aadhaar numbers have been generated as of 28th July,2014. Nearly 45 million enrollment packets were rejected as duplicates. The project has crossed several hurdles till now and faced the litmus test several times.
The first and foremost is that the new NDA government has chosen to complete the enrollments into aadhaar. They have sanctioned nearly 2000 crore for enrollments of nearly 10 crore more people in this fiscal year 2014-15. This is higher than what the UPA provided in its last year in office. There was an important meeting of the prime minister, finance minster and various cabinet secretaries where all issues regarding aadhaar were discussed. The finance minster Mr. Arun Jaitley has been told to sort out the legal issues surrounding making aadhaar mandatory. Also it has been decided that the NIAI(National Identification Authority of India) bill pending since 2010 will be passed as soon as possible.
The turnaround in the NDA stance on aadhaar came after a crucial meeting of prime minster with Mr. Nandan Nilekani(Ex-Chairman,UIDAI) on July 1st where he gave a presentation on aadhaar. The new government appears to be in no hurry to foist a half baked solution on the people. So aadhaar enrollments continue but its linkage to DBTL or PDS is kept in abeyance. The aadhaar would purportedly be used to only eliminate duplicate and ghost identities in beneficiary lists. Its use as a bridge in sending benefits to bank accounts may need other pillars like financial inclusion in place which may take some more time. This cautious approach is not only wise, this is brilliant and pragmatic.
After having travelled so far the aadhaar project is now getting rolled out in hard to enroll places like eastern UP, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. It has faced maoist threats. Lawlessness pervades in these areas where mafia rules. It would be difficult for the enrollment agencies to enroll people at the same cost that they did in safer areas of the country. Enrollments are at 10-12 million levels per month as of july,2014. They are expected to accelerate to normal rate of 30 million per month. Several state governments such as AP, Karnataka and Maharashtra have decided to use aadhaar to eliminate bogus ration cards.
Out of respect for some aadhaar related blogs and sites I am giving a link to them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What makes us unique – A few Statistics

Some stats from my memory, which you will find interesting, in case you didn’t know. I divide them into two categories viz those stats that are likely to improve and those that will worsen. I am sure there are a million other ways of looking at things and that many other stats. These are some i know about.

Improving and likely to improve further:-

These statistics are showing improvement and are likely to improve further.

While agriculture provides the largest source of employment its share in economic output as a percentage has reduced to 18% employing nearly 50% of the labour force. Agricultural growth is needed to increase income. As lesser and lesser number of people depend on agriculture per capita income of agriculturists will increase. Prices of food items has risen several fold in the past few years and many farmers have become rich overnight.
Energy Deficit
Non-renewable sources of energy are expected to exhaust soon. Our present energy deficit where we import nearly 80% of our petroleum requirements might cease to exist in four to five decades as petro stocks dwindle. We are endowed with large renewable resources such as solar and wind energy.
Electricity T&D among highest in the world
Most state electricity boards have reported improvement in T&D losses which are at a high 20-25%. The reduction in losses is being aided by modern methods/devices of electricity distribution and slow migration to smart grids. Per capita consumption of power has increased and is now at nearly 800 units per person per year.
Giant strides in education are being taken and literacy would soon reach eighty to ninety percent in another decade. We are losing our uniqueness on this dimension fast. People are recognizing the importance of educating their children.
Low Telecom and Internet Penetration
A large percentage of consumers have wireless as a means of connectivity in the last mile. Rural tele density which was very low before the advent of mobile phones has reached nearly 40%. Urban areas have nearly 100% tele-density and almost everyone in cities now owns a mobile phone. Smartphone sales have started picking up and the trickle is turning into an avalanche. Internet penetration has reached 200 million users in which a majority access through their mobiles. Internet user base is increasing at a rate of 6 million every month at this time (July,2014). Mobile data consumption has doubled in the last one year. There are a large number of students using the internet as a learning tool.
Cash heavy economy
The number of credit and debit cards is slowly picking up. The number of ATMs has crossed the figure of 1 lakh and is set to cross 5 lakh in five years. The figure of Per capita ATM machines in India is among the lowest in the world. Financial Inclusion is the new mantra. There are nearly 400million debit cards and 24 million credit card users. Computerization in banks has made it easier to give better service to customers. Internet banking, mobile banking and branchless banking have made it a very different playfield.
Caste and Religion hold sway
Slow progress in cutting away divisions of caste and creed is apparent. There is improvement in the orthodox thinking of the earlier generation and the newer generation is more open minded. There are more and more inter caste and inter religion marriages. Reservations even though not a good step to reduce inequities is working at reducing poverty among dalits. People esp the lower castes suffered as a consequence of the rigid structure of the society. Beliefs and value systems in the society are changing. Wealth is a new parameter of class and caste is losing its hold. Modern thinking youth are thinking differently than their elders and questioning unfair practices, taboos, traditions and rules.
No proper town planning
Our cities and towns lack proper planning of roads and other civic amenities. We are losing an opportunity to plan our cities by improper laws and restrictions. Most towns have controls over FSI (Floor Space Index) and this has a bearing on the rental rates which are among the highest in the world. Most towns have controls such as in Bangalore where development cannot happen in the green belt. Such restrictions have caused illegal and unregulated development in the green belt. This is a lost opportunity at development with proper planning.

Worsening and likely to worsen further:-

Environmental degradation
Water scarcity and desertification are a reality we are staring at and this seeming worsening of matters should be turned into sustainable equilibrium by determined action. River interlinking can be a solution to problems of excess and shortages. Stricter implementation of pollution standards and zero tolerance for law breakers needed. Government should work with the industry to take our businessmen into confidence. It is not necessary that Industry partake with the profits and benefit citizens. They should at-least take measures to not harm their health as a consequence of their operations. Those industries that draw resources such as water, electricity and minerals and those that exploit labour such as mines should implement steps to mitigate the impact of their operations.
Low rates of divorce
While divorce rates are very low in our country there is a gradual increase in the numbers. This shows that couples are no longer willing to put up with unhappy marriages. While this development looks to be a worsening from the past it also correlates with increasing incomes and greater financial freedom of the female. Hence increasing divorce rates seem to be a natural consequence of development.
Sex Ratio
This is a statistic which is a cause for concern. There are only 930 females for every 1000 males.

Indian Market Overview

Comparing India and China, we don’t have censorship of the internet. We go with the flow and accepted facebook and twitter as our own. We use Google for searches. We read from the same news sites that the world reads from and there is no censorship of that. In India foreign companies are free to set up 100% owned units in most of the sectors and engage in business and repatriate 100% of the profits.
Facebook has a target of having 1 billion users from India. This means pretty soon Indians will overtake the Americans as the biggest chunk of Fb users from any country. Americans and their multinationals on their part have been less than helpful, treating India as just another market. To them China is the place to be, a place to locate their factories and India a place to sell their produce. This world order will change very soon.
India has been exporting its human resources to USA since ages and at a great loss. Many US organizations have a high percentage of Indians. Things are changing slowly and lesser number of students have opted for higher studies in the US this year than last. India relinquished its first position in sending the largest number of students for higher studies, to china. 100 thousand Indian students take admission in US varsities every year.
India is undergoing a revolution in the Internet and Mobile sphere. Internet penetration which was less than 10 percent has risen fast, mostly due to Internet access through smart devices. Now we have more than 240 million users and expected to rise to 360 million internet users by the end of 2015.
Mobile operators have seen revenues from Data double in six months. ARPUs have started rising and this has raised earnings. There has been a rapid rollout of 3G across the cities. Consumers have turned from being petitioners to being aspirational. I have many things to say on this but i cut short the talk and continue some other day.