Veganism

Over the past few years, the concept of veganism has become largely popular. Many famous personalities have also started switching into veganism. According to Wikipedia, “Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.” There is a specific pattern of eating involved in it which includes only plant-based food items. Vegan people replace dairy products with plant based milks like soy, scrambled eggs with scrambled tofu, honey with maple syrup and similar other options. They also refrain from using other animal products like clothing from animal products and leather. It is a lifestyle which attempts to decrease animal exploitation as much as possible.

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The term “vegan” was first coined by Donald Watson in 1944 when he founded the Vegan Society with a small group of vegetarians, who broke away from the Leicester Vegetarian Society in England. It is said that the term “vegan” was constructed by combining the first and last letters of “vegetarian.” At first it was used to mean “non-dairy vegetarian” and by May 1945 vegans started abstaining from “eggs, honey; and animals’ milk, butter and cheese”. They chose to not consume dairy or any other product of animal origin along with abstaining from meat like vegetarians. In 1951, the Society changed its definition to “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals”. It is currently defined as “a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it from food, clothing, or any other purpose.” Interest in Veganism started from the latter part of 2010s as more and more vegan stores opened increasing vegan options. These have started to be increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants across the world.

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Reason behind going vegan

Vegans generally choose to avoid animal products for reasons like Ethics, Health and Environment.

People who support the ethics of the practice are called Ethical Vegans who strongly agree to the belief that all creatures have the right to life and freedom. So, they oppose killing a conscious being to simply consume its flesh, drink its milk, or wear its skin — especially when alternatives are available. They also oppose the psychological and physical stress that animals may endure as a result of modern farming practices. For instance, the small pens and cages in which many livestock animals are forced to live between birth and slaughter, the farming industry’s practices of the grinding of live male chicks by the egg industry or the force-feeding of ducks and geese for the foie gras market. Ethical vegans also protest against animal cruelty and raise awareness about ending all forms of cruelty towards animals.

Some also choose veganism due to its health benefits. Plant-based diets may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and premature death. Lowering the intake of animal products may likewise reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dying from cancer or heart disease. One can also avoid the side effects linked to the antibiotics and hormones which are used in modern animal agriculture. Studies show that there is a relation between vegan diets and lower body weight and body mass index (BMI).

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Vegan diets are high in dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and phytochemicals; and low in dietary energy, saturated fat, cholesterol, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12. There is also the possibility of nutrition deficiency because elimination of all animal products may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Some of these can only be prevented through the choice of fortified foods or the regular intake of dietary supplements. Vitamin B12 supplementation is considered to be very important in some cases.

Some people avoid animal products and shift to veganism for the environmental impacts. It is widely known that animal agriculture is a very water intensive process. The UN report of 2010 suggests that animal products need more resources and produce a higher percentage of greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based options.

Vague strategies lead the race for COVID vaccine

Vaccines are dummies that work by tricking your immune system into thinking that it’s being attacked by a virus. The immune system then churns out antibodies that are honed to that virus. That way, if someone is exposed to that virus in the future, the body can quickly squash it out before it makes them sick. Triggering such immune response takes two main components: a bit of the virus so the body knows what it’s looking for and some kind of irritant to stir the immune system into action against that viral bit. If someone just put purified protein under your skin, nothing would happen. You have to get the immune system kicked up that’s where irritants come into play. Some basic approaches scientists are throwing at the virus are:

  • GENE-BASED VACCINES- Gene-based vaccines are the much-hyped underdog in the race to create a coronavirus vaccine. Most of the vaccine candidates that grabbed headlines or sent the stock market soaring are gene-based. Gene-based vaccines instead of directly delivering bits of the virus to the immune system for target practice, give the body tools to make them on its own. The vaccines are made up of pieces of genetic material, either mRNA or DNA, that encode the instructions for making the protein which when enters cells, read the instructions and churn out copies of the protein for the immune system to rally against. These types of vaccines are relatively easy for companies to make once they know the genetic sequence they’re targeting But despite their simplicity and decades of work, gene-based viruses are still largely experimental, at least for people. Moderna and Pfizer have gene based vaccine.
  • INACTIVATED VIRUS- Scientists take a virus and kill it with heat or radiation thereby rendering it harmless, but still recognizable by the immune system. A handful of Chinese companies are developing coronavirus vaccines using this method. One company, Sinovac, showed that its vaccine could protect monkeys from COVID-19. Human trials are ongoing. Because these types of vaccines have been around for decades, therefore scientists understand them well. Because these vaccines contain the whole (but non-replicating) virus, they’re good irritants for the immune system. Unlike gene-based vaccines, though, inactivated virus vaccines are hard to make. Manufacturers have experience with them, but they have to grow and then zap massive amounts of virus. Therefore it’s a slow process.
  • ADENOVIRUS VECTOR VACCINES- A whole, live vaccine is one of the best ways to create long-lasting immunity. That’s the strategy used to make vaccines for the measles and the chickenpox. They’re made from live but heavily weakened versions of the viruses. The viruses are so weak that they don’t make you sick, but they still make your body think it’s infected and set off the immune system. But it takes a long time to alter a virus so that it becomes weak and safe enough to be used as a vaccine, therefore to speed things up, vaccine developers aren’t even attempting to do that with the entire coronavirus. Instead, some teams are inserting sections of the coronavirus gene into weakened, live versions of other viruses. These viruses are called adenoviruses, Because this vaccine is based on a weakened, but a living virus, the immune system mounts a strong response against it. Even though live virus vaccines are regularly used, the adenovirus platforms are still experimental. Also, some people might have seen the adenovirus before so the vaccine wouldn’t work for them. University of Oxford is working on Adenovirus vector.
  • PROTEIN SUBUNIT VACCINES- Protein subunit vaccines directly deliver the specific bit of the virus scientists want people to develop antibodies against (rather than the gene for the protein). For the coronavirus, in most cases, that’s the spike protein. These vaccines contain copies of the spike protein and a bit of something to stimulate the immune system. Scientists are familiar with this approach, and it’s worked well for other diseases. Because these vaccines only use a piece of a virus, they sometimes aren’t able to push the body to generate a strong enough immune response, even with a good irritant built-in. Therefore people often need multiple shots to build up enough immunity to the disease which is a challenge during this pandemic. Because creating enough vaccines to give each person one-shot is already a challenge.

There’s a long history in vaccinology of trying multiple approaches to the same end goal because no one knows which strategy or which vaccine candidate will work best. You can’t speed that the process of testing vaccines. Because tests have to be conducted on a large group of people and researchers have to wait to see if someone actually develops immunity to disease after they’re given a trial vaccine They also have to watch for any safety concerns, either short-term side effects or long term. Speeding up the authorization process of a vaccine is a dangerous task because there are no guinea pigs to experiment on. It is a gamble with too much on stake. Rather we should cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Are online classes being able to replace traditional classrooms?

With the rise of the pandemic and the extended lockdown, educational institutions have been prompted to shift towards online teaching. While initially digital classrooms seem to be a great alternative, whether it can successfully replace traditional classroom teaching is a question yet to be answered. Online teaching has also posed a threat to students belonging to the economically backward sections of the society. In a country like India, a great percentage of students do not have the access to such means or find it difficult to avail those options.

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According to survey findings there is a noticeable change in behavior and habits following the forced lockdown among the school goers. The sleep cycle and sleeping pattern of nearly 50 per cent children have been disturbed. It also indicates that 13 per cent of children have no regular pattern of sleeping. As a result, 67 per cent of parents think that their child’s screen time has gone up by at least 50 per cent during the lockdown. Increased screen time is known to severely affect concentration levels and leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders. The fear of pandemic has affected children in the worst way, nearly 40 per cent of the children who were surveyed, have been known to have mental health and unaddressed anxiety issues.

Schools and Colleges have set timetable in such a way so that there are breaks in between classes but because of network connectivity issues, students have started logging in earlier, which have lessened the break times. A teacher said in an interview, “In the first month, things were fine but with time students are losing interest and a kind of boredom is setting in even for the bright kids. For students in senior classes or those who will appear for board exams there is pressure from teachers and parents which is taxing.” After attending classes online, many students are also sitting for online tuition or extracurricular activity classes.

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Teachers of many schools have reported that students have become “more subdued” in class and their energy levels have decreased than before. According to psychiatrists and teachers, months of being inside and attending classes from within the screen has made students “fatigued” and “demotivated.” Even students who are academically strong have not been responding in class like before, teachers said. They have observed that the “naughty and mischievous” ones who would always be up to some mischief in classrooms have become “quiet and subdued” during online classes.

Psychiatrist Jai Ranjan Ram said to a newspaper, “Teachers are trying but online classes are not the same as what school was for children. No wonder they are feeling demotivated and fatigued. They have to attend continuous classes on the screen, at times not on laptops but on phones. All this while there is monotony of the same environment. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of well-being. In an online class the nuances of non-verbal communication are completely lost.”

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Sneha Priya S, Co-Founder & CEO of SP Robotic Works, has said, “Covid has proven to be the turnstile for education in India. The current situation has unearthed the immense potential of platforms with experiential and interactive learning which engage children in practical tasks and logical reasoning.”

In a physical classroom, students and teachers would even discuss things not related to academics and eagerly share their experiences. While there are downsides, there are also some positive aspects to it. Educational institutions have been closed for months at a stretch. With online classes there is the possibility to catch up with studies. Many students feel that at least in an online mode there is some form of interaction which helps them in these trying times. Online classes have made possible for students and teachers to get back to their routines within safe conditions. They also provide students with something to look forward to everyday. But amidst the current social conditions, students long to go back to their campuses. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’ many young people who are at the beginning of their career are also uncertain of what challenges they might face in the future.

Exoplanets

Exoplanets are planets that orbit a star other than our sun. The prefix “Exo” comes from the Greek and means outside; these worlds are far, far outside our own solar system. For long they have existed only in fiction and theory. It was thought it is impossible to detect planets light-years away since the relatively tiny worlds would appear billions of times fainter than their parent stars. But with the advent of newer technology and some scientist who were ready to take risks the searches for exoplanets began in the 90s and thereafter the pace of discoveries has been excessively fast. In 1992 astronomers reported the first planet-size masses around a dead star, the pulsar PSR1257+12, which sits 2,000 light-years away. Three years later came news of the first known exoplanet, a Jupiter-like gas giant orbiting its star closer than Mercury circles our sun. That world was detected around the sunlike star 51 Pegasi, a mere 50 light-years from Earth. As of 2020, more than 4000 exoplanets have been discovered and the number of known exoplanets has doubled every 27months. Looking for exoplanets directly into a planet seems implausible because of the luminosity of the parent star. The star is so bright makes it impossible to look for the planet directly. It is like observing an ant on a glowing bulb. A Jupiter-like planet would make a dip of 1%, i.e. blocks 1% of the light coming from its parent star. Also, the distance between the planet and the star also affects the fraction of light getting obstructed by the planet. In the visible range, it is impossible to observe any planet. Also, the planet must be located near the Earth and should be far away from its star in order to distinguish light from the planet and glare of its star. Thus it has many limitations, capable of holding back many discoveries. Almost 10-30 planets have been discovered using Direct imaging out of 4000 discovered.
There are two ways to observe exoplanets, direct, and indirect further there are two ways to indirectly observe exoplanets namely, Doppler and Transit. The Doppler method is a good method for discovering exoplanets. It uses the Doppler effect to analyze the motion and properties of the star and planet. Both the planet and the star are orbiting a common center of mass. This means that the star and the planet gravitationally attract one another, causing them to orbit around a point of mass central to both bodies. It is so because planets don’t revolve around its star rather the center of mass of the binary (planet-star). The transit method, another popular technique, looks for periodic dips in a star’s brightness as an orbiting planet passes in front of—or transits—its star, as seen from Earth. By measuring the amount and frequency of a star’s dimming, astronomers can estimate the orbits and masses of its planets. Additionally, researchers can calculate a planet’s surface temperature from the world’s orbital period and its star’s temperature. Another efficient method is that of Gravitational microlensing, it occurs when one star passes directly in front of a background star, as seen from Earth. The gravitational field of the foreground star acts like a lens, magnifying the light of the background star. If the “lens” star has an orbiting planet, the extra mass amplifies the magnification in a telltale way. AI has become a wonderful partner in finding exoplanets, miraculously confirming 50 exoplanets by sifting through the old data sets that too in the first attempt. With the advent of technology, things have certainly become easier and efficient. The search for exoplanets also helps satisfy the quest for Earth-like planet that could sustain life thus relieving earth from the burden and improving living standards.

Unlock 4 : New Covid Rules

The Government of India had announced a lockdown over the last few months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A lockdown was imposed on the whole country from the month of April. The lockdowns were imposed as a preventive measure for the pandemic. Since rates of infection have still not gone down, these measures are being continued. Recently there has been a change in the guidelines and a new system of “Unlock” is being introduced in the country. Today, a new set of guidelines were announced regarding the unlock. The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a new guideline about the opening up of more institutions and activities. Metro train services and open air theatres are to be allowed in areas other than Containment Zones. A new set of lockdowns is being extended in the country and the rules will apply to zones where there are active cases and places labelled as containment zones. Other zones will have less strict Unlock rules. These guidelines will be extended in the country till 30 September.

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The Centre has said,”The new guidelines, issued today, are based on feedback received from States and UTs, and extensive consultations held with related Central Ministries and Departments.” After issuing the guidelines, the Home ministry also announced opening up of more activities, like the resumption of Metro train services and open air theatres. Closed theatres have not been permitted to be kept open. Until further notice they will be closed. The re-opening of activities rule will only be applicable in areas outside the Containment Zones, said the Ministry. The Centre has allowed the states and Union Territories to permit up to 50 per cent of its teaching and non-teaching staff to be allowed to go to the schools for online teaching and other official and related work. States will also be allowed to permit students of classes 9 to 12 to visit their schools, but only in areas which are not included under the containment zones, said the government order. The Centre, however, has allowed reopening of higher education institutions. But this is only for research scholars and post-graduate students of technical and professional programmes which require necessary laboratory or experimental works in labs or other institutions. The previous Unlock 3 guidelines which were issued on July 29 had allowed the opening up of yoga institutes and gymnasiums. It had also removed restrictions on movement of individuals during night curfew.

School, colleges and other educational institutions will continue to remain closed for students, said the Centre on Saturday as it issued guidelines for the fourth phase of easing down the COVID-19 restrictions – “Unlock 4” – beginning September 1. This will be continuing for a month. The Home Ministry, issuing the guidelines, announced opening up of more activities, such as restarting of Metro train services and open air theatres. According to the Ministry, the re-opening of activities will only be allowed in areas outside the Containment Zones.

The Unlock3 guidelines issued on July 29 had allowed opening of yoga institutes and gymnasiums and removed restrictions on movement of individuals during night curfew. In its latest order, the States have also been asked not to impose any local lockdown restrictions in places outside Containment Zones. According to the government data, India’s COVID-19 numbers rose to 34,63,972 with a single-day spike of 76,472 new infections, while the death count climbed to 62,550 in 24 hours.

Free Press?

Democracy is a system of the government in which the people of the state or the citizens have the power to directly select their representatives amongst themselves and form a governing body such as a parliament, senate, or a body that can be called by other names. It is a system where eligible members of the state elect the government. Although it is flawed still it is the most preferred form of government because it assures that government caters to every person’s need unlike autocracy and if the government fails to do so, it can be changed after completing its tenure or even before if people would like to. India, the world’s largest democracy adopted it in 1947 after gaining independence from the British regime. Like every other thing, democracy lies on some foundation namely,  legislative, executive, judiciary, and most importantly media. But media is independent unlike the rest of the three pillars. It functions outside the government ensuring the ruling body has no control over it.  Because the Press is the voice of people, it is considered to be the voice of the voiceless. The Press existed even before independence and it certainly proves that any sort of media or press is by the people of the state not by the ruling body.  Democracy may be very powerful in its own terms and conditions but is not fully efficient in working without media, especially the free press. The media acts as a bridge between the government and the people as it tends to inform people about the functions performed by the government. It also informs the government officials about the problems faced by people in their respective constituencies. Hence, the democratic system is only fully efficient when the state enjoys a free press. It stands for the civic rights, political rights, and religious rights of the people. Media plays a vital role in forming opinions and influencing decision making by the people, comparing present and past experiences, actions, works, etc. done by different governing bodies. It also helps in giving feedback, exposure, and conduit mechanisms by the people to the government, so that the representatives can work according to their needs and requirements. Citizens receive the information about the new policies, projects, schemes, laws, amendments, etc. through media, by which they can assess the working of the government and analyze if the deeds are beneficial for them or not. The Press also acts as a crucial instrument for accounting. A person can forget the promises made by their leaders but a printed newspaper, video, or audio recording will act as a piece of reminding evidence for both citizens and the government after all the elected government is accountable to the citizens of the state. The people who work in the press must be unafraid. Some brave journalists do perform string operations, do investigations, and find out the reality. It tends to fight against corruption, unfulfilled promises, disloyal behavior, or misuse of power in public or private life. But due to its immense power several times it was hindered from functioning. History tells about many circumstances when the press was not allowed to function smoothly. Indira Gandhi during emergency choked the print media by not giving them advertisements cutting off their revenue. Also, electronic media was controlled by the government and therefore it easily hid that emergency has been declared. Even the British did not spare the Indian media. Press worked so vigorously during the regime in promoting the idea of freedom that they had to bring the Indian Press Act 1910. Today Indian Press has been ranked 140 out of 180 countries which participated in the index. This is extremely saddening and frightening since India being the world’s largest “democracy” is now trying to undermine its own foundation. The audacity with which many Indian news channels spread hate is deeply terrifying, people should gain consciousness because a lie told a hundred times becomes the truth. We should ask ourselves, “Is our Press really free?”

Cultural Heritage Sites in India

India is a country which has a host of spectacular sites, ranging from glorious historical monuments to diverse natural heritage sites. UNESCO World Heritage Convention has recognised many sites across the world for their cultural heritage. India has the 6th largest number of world heritage sites with 38 such sites. Here are some sites among those, which one shouldn’t miss while exploring the country.

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Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal is a funerary mosque, built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Begum Mumtaz Mahal. Set against the Mughal Gardens, it is a pristine architectural monument made of white marble. It was built in 16 years by thousands of artisans under the Chief Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and is considered as a masterpiece.

Khajurao, Madhya Pradesh

The Khajurao is a group of monuments located in Madhya Pradesh and is attributed to the Chandela dynasty. It is known for its unique artistic architecture which has survived since the 10th century. Out of the 85 temples built originally, only 22 temples are there at present.

The PInk City, Jaipur

Jaipur is a fort city in Rajasthan, built according to grid plans of Vedic architecture. The urban planning of the city shows influence of ancient Hindu, modern Mughal and western cultures. Originally built as a commercial capital, the city is an intersection of commercial, artisanal and traditional center.

Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra

The Elephanta Caves is a group of sculpted caves on Elephanta island, located in Mumbai harbour. It is dated to 5th century and it consists of 5 Hindu caves and 2 Buddhist caves. The architecture is characterised by rock cut stone sculptures.

Sundarbans, West Bengal

The Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forests in the world and is both a national park and a tiger reserve. It is situated in the Sundarbans Ganges river delta and is formed by the deposition of sediments from 3 rivers – the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. It consists of dense mangrove forests which is the home to the Bengal tiger, the salt water crocodile and various birds.

Fatehpur Sikri

Also known as the City of Victory, the Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar. It includes a set of mosques, monuments and temples built in Mughal architectural style. It was built as a city which had several monuments, buildings, palaces, public spaces and courts. The site has monuments like – the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza, the Panch Mahal, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti which are popular tourist attractions.

Monuments at Hampi, Karnataka

These are a group of monuments in the Hampi town in Karnataka. Located on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, it consists of Dravidian temples and palaces. It has been admired by travelers of the 14th and 16th century and is still a very important cultural and religious center for Hindus and Jains.

Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha

The Konark Sun temple is a renowned temple, located on the coast of the Bay of Bengal and built in the form of the chariot of Surya, the sun god. It is constructed with sandstone and decorated with beautiful stone carvings. It was constructed under the rule of King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty.

Telescopes

Telescopes are to astronomers what weapons to defense personnel and the lens size are comparable to ammo size. Larger the telescope better is the capability to capture light and make images. Galileo used the telescope which was small but still was able to spot the phases of the moon, moons of Jupiter, as those were the days, without digital imaging; therefore he drew whatever he saw. But today telescopes store whatever they capture and as the sizes of lenses grow, amount of data also increases posing a threat to the storage of data as no data can be marked bogus since the universe is not known to us, thus we can’t discard or forget whatever we see cause they are pieces of a bigger puzzle. Galileo made the first telescope just 400 years earlier. Galileo’s telescope had a major drawback that it was small thus images were not clear due to low angular resolution (low clarity). Increasing the size of the lens increased the size of the telescope and thus the possibility of bending due to self-load. The greatest Galilean telescope is Palomar 200inch, in fact, it was the biggest for 6 or so decades. But with the advancement in technology and the constraint that manufacturing, transporting, installation, maintenance of too big lenses would be cumbersome or near impossible and also would be uneconomical, innovative ideas were thought about like making clusters of lenses that would act as one. It is still expensive but easy to manage. Ground-based telescopes have seen drastic advancements in the last 2-3 decades but Larger telescopes have good resolution capacity as well as range. Owing to the large lens they are able to capture more light and produce more clear images. But ground-based telescopes aren’t feasible to install due to their large size and heavy maintenance. A slight error could lead millions of taxpayer’s money to go down the drain. Space-based telescopes have seen further fewer advancements since putting a telescope in space is a too risky and expensive task, thus one needs a good reason to do so despite all these astronomers to want to put telescopes in space despite their budgets being humongous because ground-based telescopes have some major drawbacks that no amount of money or technology can overcome. One is the blurring or twinkling of starlight due to turbulent motions in the atmosphere high above. The turbulence in the atmosphere leads to a distorted view of the objects, this turbulence is the reason for the twinkling of lights. Although this twinkling can be reduced by installing a secondary mirror that can fluctuate dozens time per second but still this doesn’t lead to that much clarification that can be observed through space telescopes. The primary mirror can’t be fluctuated due to its enormous size and money invested. And another is the opaqueness of the earth’s atmosphere to many of the wavelengths. Only some wavelengths like visible spectrum and a large part of radio waves and some of the infrared radiation are able to penetrate the earth’s environment. And since the light coming from distant heavenly bodies does not necessarily fall in one of the spectrums due to doppler’s effect that can penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, therefore, it is possible that much of the data we are just losing due the opaque atmosphere present. Also installing a large telescope on the ground requires structure to contain it, and those structures also have initial cost and maintenance cost thus resulting in the cost curve. The universe at every moment leaks loads of data in the form of X-rays, Gamma rays, and Infrared rays just we have to study it that is only possible through space-based telescopes. Thus the curiosity to understand how the universe works, the curiosity to know our origin leads to astronomers putting heavy telescopes in space.  

Lockdown effect: Diesel sales in August 14% lower than in July

Consumption of diesel in the first 26 days of August was 14.2% lower than the levels recorded in the same period in July, signaling that there – imposition of lockdown curbs in many areas has slowed industrial and commercial consumption.

While rural agricultural demand is now mainly driving diesel consumption, floods in Bihar and the northeastern states has moderated the speed of demand recovery. Muted sales of commercial vehicles is also not letting diesel sales rise.

On a year-on-year basis, diesel consumption fell 22.4% to 4 million tonne (mt) in the 26 days of August. Diesel sales alone contribute to around 40% of total consumption of petroleum products in India. The sales data for August is from retail outlets of state-run oil marketing companies, which run about 90% petrol pumps in India.

According to provisional data by the government’s Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC), consumption of petroleum products fell 22.5% y-o-y to 56.4 mt in the April-July period. Sales of LPG was the only major product to register growth in the lockdown period, due to a government scheme of free cylinder refills for poor households. But sources said LPG sales dipped 3% y-o-y during August 1-26.

CAPTAIN COOL SIGNING OFF – part 2

His life is indeed the desi version of the ‘American Dream’ or it’d be apter to call it the ‘Indian Dream.’ Growing up in a cricket fanatic country like ours, almost every other person would’ve wanted to be a cricketer. The ones that get there are not by luck, but by sheer sacrifice, hard-work and belief in one’s abilities.

Against all odds!

In the coming years the future of the Indian cricket is uncertain, But what’s certain is that there will never be a replacement for this Wk batsman from Ranchi.

His stand apart from others, is what dragged him closest to us. From his hairstyles over the years to his strategies, for a well orchestrated win. Putting the luck factor on the back seat.

This fierce finisher’s batting pattern made him land milestones, like over 10,000 runs in the limited overs format. Being the explosive batsman he is, Dhoni valued singles and doubles more; rotating the strike and making the scoreboard ticking. His humongous shots are often preyed upon weaker balls from the opposition.

A lesson that smaller steps can conquer mammoth scores. Teaches us that consistency is key.

MSD’s focus for the game will never be paralleled.

He stood by his principles and never let anything shake him. He did the unthinkable, and the success was certain.

He was a visionary above all, which explains how coolly he shook the wrath of the fans when he benched the legends, to pave the way for the youngsters.

This helped the lad to bag all the golds for the nation. From winning the ‘07 T20 WC within a few years after being assigned captain, to bagging the’13 WC and the champions trophy and also bagging the World number 1 rankings in the tests.

He’s my hero,” said Kapil Dev. One WC winning captain, legend, to another, what better credentials does Dhoni need to be the best.

Dhoni broke into the side because of his perseverance and grit.

Dhoni is a natural leader. He leads by example and has inspired people on the field and beyond it. His calmness and composure singing multitudes of life lessons to adhere to.

Most younger players look upto him for his in-depth knowledge and ability to read the game like a wizard.

Virat even after taking over the captaincy stated that ‘Dhoni will always be his captain.’

It’s no new news that Dhoni has a great eye for things, if put on the right chair, captain cool might end up making Indian cricket a force to reckon with.

As people bust their knuckles claiming that Dhoni should play a farewell match or coach India, no one really knows what will play out in the end. Surprise factor is what had made Captain cool, the king of cool.

this sheer unpredictability had set Mahendra Singh Dhoni a level apart. The whole world cheers on, as the captain walks off.

Above his game, the gentleman’s attitude has played a grave job in robbing the hearts of many. He served the side with utmost respect and professionalism.

Win or loss, champions or at the bottom of the table, nothing shook him.

Now the wait continues, to see thala put on the jersey in ‘Yellow,’ to take this IPL season by storm.

‘Whistle podu.’

Final Year Exams: Supreme Court to Announce Its Verdict Tomorrow

University Grants Commission’s (UGC) had passed on a circular on July 6, regarding the conduction of the final term university examinations during the novel covid 19 pandemic. The Supreme Court will pronounce its verdict on the pleas challenging the UGC circular.

UGC had earlier approached universities to view and get the status about the exams. It received responses from about 818 universities (121 deemed universities, 291 private universities, 51 central universities, and 355 state universities). Out of the 818 universities, 603 have either conducted the examination or are planning to conduct it in some time. While 209 others have already conducted examination on either on-line or off-line mode and 394 are planning to conduct examination in on-line or off-line or in a blended hybrid mode towards August or September.

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A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, R Subshash Reddy and MR Shah, had reserved its judgment for the matter on August 18. They will be pronouncing their judgement after a detailed hearing continuing for 2 days.

Last week, four states and Union territories – Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Odisha – had urged the apex court to give directions to the UGC to not impose examinations on lakhs of final year university students during the present condition. The court had concluded the hearing but deferred a judgement on the issue. Some states said they were not consulted before taking the decision regarding examinations and selecting the UGC guidelines. They have also said that the state governments have the power to take health related decisions in the interest of the people. The UGC Guidelines did not make sure of this and the opinion of the states were not taken into consideration while the guidelines were constructed.

A group of as many as 31 students from different universities across the country had approached the Supreme court and opposed the UGC circular dated 6 July. In that plea, the students have opposed the direction given to all universities in the country to finish taking the final year examinations before 30 September. The students have made a petition and requested for the examinations to be cancelled. They have suggested that the results of students could be calculated on the basis of their internal assessment or mid-term exams and past performance in previous years/semesters. In the petition it was requested that mark sheets of students should be issued before July 31. The petition was filed by students from across 13 states and one union territory. One of the students, among the 31 petitioners, who had tested positive for coronavirus have asked for directions from the UGC about the examinations. He has asked the UGC to adopt the CBSE model and conduct an examination at a later date. This is specially for the students who are not satisfied with their marks and the assessment of the papers. The plea suggested that previously planned examinations should be cancelled, keeping in mind the interests and health of the students in such a situation of the country, when the number of cases were rising every day. All educational educations across India were closed for the past few months due to the pandemic situation and the lockdowns. Most institutions have however started taking classes for intermediate students in the form of online classes/ lectures.

The Supreme Court will give its judgement and provide a verdict for the students, in a batch of petitions submitted for challenging the revised guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to conduct final year exams by September 30 of this year.

CAPTAIN COOL : signing off (part 1)

“Dhoni finishes off in style! A magnificent strike into the crowd. India lift the world Cup after 28 years. The party has started in the dressing room and it’s an Indian captain who has played an amazing innings on the night of the final,” this commentary by Ravi Shastri is bound to never leave us, even on our deathbeds; MSD winning us the WC with a six. One of the best moments that captured the finesse of our former Indian Captain.

It’s Saddening to say former, There was more to Mahi, than just being an Indian captain. He was the human embodiment of the hopes, aspirations and dreams of many. An emotion to the masses across the world.

Whistle podu,’ to the superstar. Thaliva, indeed!

The news of Dhoni’s retirement from the International level was a shocker. Throwing many a fans and even cricket enthusiasts in different parts of the world into an emotional dilemma.

The only words that one could gather was ‘did he have to hang his boots this early?’ A testament of the perception, that people had of Dhoni wearing the jersey in blue at least for the next few years.

Like always, he left us all awestruck and taken aback. Accustomed to putting us by the end of our seats, Mysterious like always, Dhoni bowed out from the major leagues. For old times sake right?

What could be adding to the trauma would be the fact that it marks the end of an era. The end of the dream team of India. Dhoni was the last one to leave, after legends like Viru, Zak, Yuvi, Bhaji and many more.

He was the man, the myth, the legend. Finding someone with true hate towards him would be something unattainable. He was committed to the game and nothing else, true gentleman who excelled in all his cricketing spectrums.

His on-field focus was impeccable.

He was the best finisher, wk and captain India has ever produced. The man’s focus to his is impeccable. He always looked deep in thought, always a couple of steps ahead the rest.

Captain cool was mostly a man of few words, if you think about it now, we never got much glimpses of him talking away on the telly.

Just like his words, he kept his emotions to himself too. Never letting them clouding over his judgements. Those piercing glances from within the helmet and charging down the 22 yards will never be forgotten.

Dhoni’s methods were unorthodox, but super efficient. From his batting style to just wearing one glove in tense situations to game changing bowler spell choices. A playmaker who steered the game of 22.

The story of a small time boy making upto the big leagues was beautifully portrayed in his biopic by the late star Sushant (RIP). I believe the movie just thickened our relationship with the man.

To be continued…

2000 Rupees Notes Not Printed By RBI In 2019-20, Currency is Still Valid

Rs. 2000 notes were introduced by the Government of India after the announcement of the demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupees notes in November, 2016. Currently, it is the highest denomination currency note of the country. According to the annual report of the RBI, the Rs 2000 denomination note was not printed at all during 2019-2020.

These notes were introduced after the government announced demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes 4 years back. At that time, those two denominations had accounted for 86% of the then total currency in circulation.

The number of Rs 2,000 denomination notes had peaked at 3.36 billion units in 2017-18. This number had dropped to 3.29 billion in the years 2018-19. It has again fallen to 2.73 billion in 2019-20. The currency note presses of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did not print even one Rs 2,000 note in the last year. This happened because the presses did not receive any order for printing those. This seems to indicate a conscious decision for starting the trend of decreasing the number of notes which are circulated. The 2000 notes under circulation was 50% in 2016-17 and it has come down to almost 22% in 2019-20. These figures are based on RBI’s Annual Report for 2019-20, which was released on August 25 2020.

It is also known that RBI has also disposed a disproportionate share of Rs 2,000 notes in the soiled category. This has raised many questions on the government’s plan about the 2000 denomination note. In January, 2019 the was an indication that the Rs. 2000 notes were not being printed any further because there was adequate supply.

A total of 176.8 million pieces, which is quite a high number, of Rs 2,000 notes under the category of soiled notes were disposed of in 2019-20 by the RBI. While in 2018-19, just 1 million Rs 2,000 notes were disposed of and in 2016-17 or 2017-18, no Rs 2,000 notes were disposed of. Both the 2000 and 500 denomination notes were introduced after demonetisation. In 2019-20, the share of Rs 2000 notes which were disposed of was 6.5% while that of Rs.500 notes was 0.6%. Out of the 22 billion currency notes printed in 2019-20, more than 50% of those were of the Rs 500 denomination. Due to these changes in currency composition, the Rs 500 notes has reached a very high share in the total currency under circulation.

The Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur had told the Lok Sabha on March 16, 2020 that, “Printing of bank notes of particular denomination is decided by the government in consultation with RBI to maintain the desired denomination mix for facilitating transactional demand of public. No indent was placed with the presses for printing of Rs 2,000 denomination notes for 2019-20. However, there is no decision to discontinue the printing of Rs 2,000 bank notes.”

A government official said that, “The Rs 2,000 notes were introduced in 2016 to quickly fill the gap created by demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. It was the need of the hour. Gradually, with increased supply of smaller notes, including new notes of Rs 100 and Rs 200, and with growing popularity of digital transactions, the urgency to issue new Rs 2,000 notes is no longer there. But this does not mean that there is any move to discontinue Rs 2,000 notes. Increasingly, commercial banks are also using more and more smaller notes because their customers often find difficulties in getting change for Rs 2,000 notes.”

WFH… A curse or boon?

For many of us, the coronavirus has been the most significant, and perhaps the most traumatic, experience of our lives. It will have a huge impact on us as individuals, as a society, and as a workforce. It might be hard to imagine right now, but the coronavirus crisis will end, and things will get back to normal. Well, some things will go back to the way as they were. For others, there will be a new normal. History has shown that whenever a major event happens that poses an existential threat, many of the norms of life change, some in the short term and some for the long term. In the future, entire treatises may be written on how the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the nature of work. Millions of people have already relocated to the living rooms and kitchen tables, pundits are already touting the death of the office, a new era of flexible timetables and mass exoduses from industrial cities. Whether these sweeping predictions prove true remains to be seen. Take those staples of modern office routine: meetings, emails, and time spent at work. According to a recent study by researchers at Harvard Business School, employees have been attending more meetings by video conference, rather than in-person sending more emails and putting in more hours since the widespread shift to work from home in March. Compared with pre-lockdown levels, the number of meetings an average worker attends has risen by 13%. The number of people in the average meeting has risen too, by 13.5%, perhaps because video conferences, unlike office-bound ones, are not constrained by space. One ray of hope is that meetings are shorter, by about 20%, or 12 minutes, on average. Surely, the lack of a commute at least should mean workers have more time to themselves? Alas, no, the researchers find. In a modern variant of Parkinson’s Law, working hours have expanded to soak up the extra minutes, and more. On average, people have clocked up an extra 48.5 minutes a day, more than the average commuting time. This is mainly because of a rise of 8% in the number of emails sent after normal business hours. Internal emailing during normal hours has risen too, along with the average number of recipients, presumably as a substitute for talking face to face. 
Although WFH could boost employee satisfaction, but only if a balance between work lives and personal lives could be found. With kids at home, people often find it difficult to manage both lives. Therefore employees need to be trained for work for home, Also man people like to work within the office campus. Since working from home needs a lot of discipline which is hard to find at home. Some employees operate better in a structured environment. Despite studies which show that work from home employees perform better, are more productive. but it doesn’t necessarily mean that all employees perform better. Also, office environment is structured to boost a sense of comradery with co-workers can be extremely difficult for full-time work from home employees.remote workers can make it difficult for management to monitor overtime. With the flexibility, many problems also arise due to WFH. We’ve have to make sure that we can get out most out of what is available. With such unprecedented and uncertain times, things ought to change and we should accept the change with positive attitude.

Black Man Shot by Police in Wisconsin, Protests Follow

Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man was shot in the back by the Wisconsin police in the city of Kenosha. The incident happened on Sunday, while he was walking towards his car and was shot several times in the back. His three young sons witnessed the shooting from the car and were screaming after seeing their father being shot. Video footage of the shooting was shared on social media, which was taken from across the street, it shows the father-of-three leaning into the car. An officer is seen grabbing his shirt after which seven shots were heard. It is unclear what had happened before the video recording begun. He survived the shooting and had a surgery. His father had told the newspapers that his son is paralyzed but the doctors do not know whether its permanent.

At night, groups of protesters defying a dusk-to-dawn curfew gathered outside the courthouse. They confronted law enforcement officers in riot gear outside the county courthouse which was blocks away from where Jacob Blake was shot. They were shouting and tossing water bottles after which they were responded with tear gas and pepper balls.

Despite the curfew, demonstrations erupted on Sunday night, which lead the authorities to close public buildings. Governor Tony Evers have ordered National Guard troops to be deployed in the city to maintain order. He has condemned the incident and “the excessive use of force” and called for a special legislative session next week in order to reconsider police reforms. Protestors marched on the streets from Monday night into Tuesday morning. Many commercial and government buildings and vehicles were set ablaze. The disturbances and protests had slowed down by early morning. According to a protestor, the police used tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs to disperse the crowd. Protestors were marching peacefully but a small group suddenly got violent and started setting fires and breaking glass. The instigators who were seen were reported to be white. After the demonstrations ended, the police and demonstrators had worked together to clean the debris.

The incident occurred three months after the death of George Floyd on May 25. The Black man was pinned to the street under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. The incident sparked protests, against police brutality and racism within the U.S. criminal justice system, across the country and abroad.

Black Lives Matter activists have demanded the arrest of the officers involved in it. Attorney Crump, who also has also represented Floyd’s family, said in a statement, “Blake had been trying to de-escalate a domestic incident when the officers first shot him with a stun gun. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point-blank range.”

Sunday’s shooting had been termed a “domestic incident’ which the police responded to. According to a police statement, they had immediately taken him to the hospital. Authorities have given no further explanation of the details of the incident or what had led to the shooting. The officers who were involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave. The Wisconsin Department of Justice said on Monday that the investigation is underway.

Testosterone

Testosterone… the holy grail of hormones for men. It is the reason why men are men. Often referred to as “male sex hormone” testosterone has a variety of functions to perform. It helps in a gain in muscle mass, bone density, body hair, and the change of voice during puberty. It also drives sex drive, muscle mass, fat distribution, red blood cell production, and development of male reproductive tissues like testes and prostate. It is biosynthesized in several steps from cholesterol and is converted in the liver to inactive metabolites. In humans and most other vertebrates, testosterone is secreted primarily by the testicles of males and, to a lesser extent, the ovaries of females. On average, in adult males, levels of testosterone are about seven to eight times as great as in adult females. In addition to its role as a natural hormone, testosterone is used as a medication in the treatment of low testosterone levels in men, transgender hormone therapy for transgender men, and breast cancer in women. Since testosterone levels decrease as men age, testosterone is sometimes used in older men to counteract this deficiency. It is also used illicitly to enhance physique and performance, for instance in athletes since athletes who crave for better performance and bodybuilders are constantly on the hunt to find easy ways to boost testosterone. Testosterone can lead to serious problems with the heart, brain, liver, endocrine, and mental health systems. Stopping testosterone may also lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Testosterone injections have also been linked to a condition called Pulmonary Oil Microembolism (POME), or a blood clot in the lung that can be fatal. Misuse of testosterone can cause dangerous or irreversible effects, such as enlarged breasts, small testicles, infertility, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, liver disease, bone growth problems, addiction, and mental effects such as aggression and violence. But besides taking potentially dangerous drugs or getting a prescription to inject testosterone to build up flagging levels, the only foolproof techniques to increase and maintain healthy levels are lifting weights and eating the right foods.

There are several exercises also that can help maintain your T-levels some are enumerated below:

  • squat
  • deadlift
  • bench press
  • row
  • pullups/ chinups
  • overhead press
  • pushup

These help to increase T-levels since they recruit a significant amount of muscle mass and the amount of muscle mass recruited during an exercise has been shown to be an important factor in the release of testosterone.
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet has been proven to increase T-levels. Constant dieting or overeating may disrupt your testosterone levels. Eating enough protein can help maintain healthy levels and aid in fat loss, which is also associated with your testosterone.

Carb intake also plays a role, with research showing carbs can help optimize testosterone levels during resistance training. However, research demonstrates that sufficient healthy fats are also beneficial for testosterone and health.
Research has always highlighted the dangers of long-term stress, which can elevate levels of the hormone cortisol. Unnatural elevations in cortisol can quickly reduce testosterone. These hormones work in a seesaw-like manner: as one goes up, the other comes down.
Research has shown Vitamin D has various health benefits, and may also work as a natural testosterone booster. A 12-month study found that supplementing with around 3,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day increased testosterone levels by around 25%. 

Getting good sleep is just as important for your health as diet and exercise. It may also have major effects on your testosterone levels.

Image by rawpixel.com

Hitman’s Khel Ratna

A man known for his humungous sixes and stepping down the pitch for taking charge at the bowlers, one after the other. It’d have been a far bigger injustice if the ‘hitman’ was not named ‘hitman’.

His cricketing career was reincarnated at the ‘13 ICC Champions trophy, when the middle order batsman was asked to open alongside his long time, still standing opening partner Shikhar Dhawan. This time he didn’t need much time to prove his salt; marked off his return by scoring an amazing Ton.

A cricketing genius, in whose capable hands lies the powers to get the nation of the mark. One guy for the aspirations of 136 crores. Setting the blood pressure levels at pleasant levels when he strolls off to the 22 yards to give the bowling side a beating. His story is one which draws similarities with that of the ‘God of Cricket.’

This Mumbaikar’s journey from humble beginnings teaches us a grave lesson, that if we put our heart to it, anything under the sky is doable, period.

Rohit was called upto the National team in ‘07 as a middle order batsman who also knew his way around at the bowler’s end.

After debuting for the Nation, the first few years of his career went under a bit of turbulence.

With 4 IPL titles’ and a champions trophy under his belt for Mi, is superfluous accolades to prove his capabilities to adorn the Captain’s cap. Proving that luck without execution is just a whopping ‘duck’. (in cricketing terms.)

The Hitman being awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Retna award on 22nd August came no shock to the rest of the countrymen. His stats in all 3 formats brought home the prestigious award as the 4th Cricketer after The God, Captain cool and VK47.

He’s the only cricketer in the world to have 3 double tons in limited over cricket against his name. With the mammoth (264 vs SL) being the highest runs scored by a batsman in an ODI innings. The hitman is also the Second Indian cricketer to score centuries in all three formats and also bagged ‘19 ICC WC ‘Golden Bat’ award for hitting 5 centuries in that WC. These are just a few feathers of his colourful blue cap.

Rohit Sharma attained a hat-trick of the most number of sixes internationally for 3 consecutive years, across 3 formats, which aided him to cross the milestone of 400 sixes last year. Making him the first Indian and fastest to cross the milestone.

He’s one of the best players of the Modern cricketing world and plays the game effortlessly, making it seem like child’s play.

A wholesome mixture of calmness and aggressiveness; composed like Captain cool and an angry young man with the bat like none other than Viru.

Rohit Sharma once got into trouble with the cops, while hitting one of his huge sixes in gully cricket, which ended up smashing the neighbor’s window. A couple of decades later, the very folks, who taunted him back then might be sitting in some corner, reciting his tales and cheering him on to hit one of those world class ‘sixes.’

Books on Indian History which You Must Read

Indian History has been the theme for many books. Whether its fiction or non-fiction, there are plenty of books which deserve to be on the list of must-read books written on the topic of history. These books give one a detailed understanding of India’s history.

Be it comprehensive historical books or fictional accounts of a historical incident, there are many options for you to choose from. If you are a person who loves both reading and history then the following 5 books are just the right choice for you.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen is an Indian Economist and writer who had won the Nobel Prize in 1998. This book is a collection of essays and it will help one understand the Indian polity. It focusses on the importance of public debate, argument and intellectual diversity in the Indian civilization of the past. Sen writes about his view on how and what will lead to the success of democracy in India.

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha is an Indian writer and researcher whose areas of interest include society, politics and history. India After Gandhi is a book describing the journey of modern India, from post-independence from the British in 1947 until the 1990s. The book will provide one with a thorough understanding of India’s social and economic spheres. It covers the country’s political history over the later part of the 20th century.

The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is a Scottish historian, writer, critic, art historian and curator. He has won several awards and prizes for his writings. The book is a comprehensive description of the time period when the Mughal empire started declining in India. It will be a treat for people who love reading history. It is about the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, and it provides an account of 19th century India with the tale of the emergence of the British Raj.

Another famous book by him is White Mughals which is his fifth major book, it tells the story of the love affair between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nissa Begum at the backdrop of nineteenth century Hyderabad.

The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister and he wrote this from 1942 – 1946. This book was written by Nehru when he was imprisoned by the British. It is a tribute to the rich cultural heritage and legacy of the country. It provides an account of all major developments in the subcontinent from the period of Indus Valley Civilization to the last years of the British rule.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, novelist and poet. The book is about the tale of the epic Mahabharata, written from the perspective of Draupadi (Panchaali). It tells the story of the woman who fights, endures a lot living in a patriarchal world. It is a historical fiction which traces the historical tale and the life of Panchaali.

Mindtree’s old guard makes a comeback… as VC investors

The founders of IT company Mindtree are returning in a venture capitalist avatar, with their early-stage fund Mela Ventures making its first close of Rs 130 crore. The overall size of the fund is targeted at Rs 200 crore.

Former Mindtree chairman KK Natarajan, NS Parthasarthy are the managing partners of the fund. Former Mindtree CEO Rostow Ravanan will be on the investment committee.

The founders let go of executive responsibilities at Mindtree soon after a hostile takeover by L&T last year.

Six of the ten MindTree founders, including the three mentioned above, along with Subroto Bagchi, Janakiraman Srinivasan and Kalyan Banerjee have invested in the venture fund, while also raising funds from external investors.

“We will look to invest in the B2B and the tech space, since that is where our expertise lies,” said Natarajan.

The fund has already made makes first commitment to a startup in AR-VR space, he said.

Mela Ventures is a SEBI-approved Category-2 AIF fund for early stage companies.

The fund is backed by institutional investors, global technology leaders and startup investors.

“We are on a mission to build next-generation entrepreneurs out of India. Towards this mission, Mela Ventures will support early-stage companies using cutting edge technologies to build B2B solutions targeted at global enterprises,” Krishnakumar Natarajan, Managing Partner, Mela Ventures, said.

“We are extremely excited to get such an overwhelming response from investors even during challenging times. This gives us confidence that we have a right mission and are here with the right strategy,” he added.

Parthasarathy N.S, Managing Partner, Mela Ventures, said: “Many of our investors are technology professionals, who share the same passion as much as we do, for meaningful technology, startup community and building Indian entrepreneurs. We look forward to this new and exciting journey.”

The fund will focus on building a portfolio in areas, such as AI/ML, AR/VR, IoT, cloud migration and deep learning technologies.

IIT students watch their 3D avatars get degrees as convocations go digital amid lockdown

a group of people standing in front of a crowd

New Delhi: The students’ names were called out and they walked on to the stage, where the director stood waiting to hand them their degrees. The director delivered his traditional address too. The ceremony had all the trappings of a regular convocation, but it was actually just the closest-possible alternative IITs could organise for students inspite of pandemic.

Final-year IIT students in Bombay and Gandhinagar — robbed of their precious last few months in college, like thousands of others, but covid 19 lockdown — found some measure of solace Sunday as they were “handed out” their degrees in a live animation ceremony.

The participants were 3D avatars of the actual students and the ceremony was beamed live to their computers. And it created quite a buzz among students, who took to social media to post glimpses from the ceremony. 

“Even in online mode, the institute made sure to retain the feeling of the graduation ceremony for its students, right from the academic procession by the faculty members to invocation, Convocation addresses by the director and the chief guest, award of degrees and medals to their digital self, and convocation pledge followed by individual congratulatory messages from the IIT faculty and staff in various Indian languages,” a statement from IIT-Gandhinagar said. “The entire event was streamed online on IIT’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.” 

Mining company Rio Tinto executives lose bonuses over destruction of ancient caves

 a canyon with a mountain in the background

Mining giant Rio Tinto has decided to cut the bonuses of three executives over the destruction of 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous sites  in Australia.

Rio Tinto’s chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques will be losing a total of £2.7 million. Chris Salisbury, chief executive of iron ore, and Simone Niven, group executive of corporate relations, will also lose payouts of more than half a million pounds each.

These executives will remain in their roles.

“It is clear that no single individual or error was responsible for the destruction of the Juukan rockshelters,” said Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson.

“But there were numerous missed opportunities over almost a decade and the company failed to uphold one of Rio Tinto’s core values – respect for local communities and for their heritage.”

In May, Mining company Rio Tinto issued an apology after blowing up a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site with dynamites to expand Australia’s iron ore mine.

This mining company is one of the largest with vast operations in Australia. The iron ore mines account for more than half of its total revenue, and these ancient sites were above about eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value at the time of £75 million.

The site they blew up was situated in Juukan Gorge, in Western Australia state’s resource-rich Pilbara region. It had two cave systems which consisted of artefacts indicating tens of thousands of years of continuous human occupation.

According to CNN, grinding stones, a bone sharpened into a tool and 4,000-year-old braided hair were among almost 7,000 relics that had been discovered at the site. 

The site was demolished despite a seven-year legal battle by the local custodians of the land, the Puutu Kunti Kurama and Pinikura People, to protect the site.

The CEO of Rio Tinto Iron Ore, Chris Salisbury issued a statement on Sunday, which read: “We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurama and Pinikura People (PKKP).”

“We are sorry for the distress we have caused. Our relationship with the PKKP matters a lot to Rio Tinto, having worked together for many years,” the statement said.

“We will continue to work with the PKKP to learn from what has taken place and strengthen our partnership. As a matter of urgency, we are reviewing the plans of all other sites in the Juukan Gorge area.”

“At Juukan, in partnership with the PKKP, we followed a heritage approval process for more than 10 years. In 2014 we performed a large-scale exercise in the Juukan area to preserve significant cultural heritage artifacts, recovering approximately 7,000 objects,” it added.

Australia’s Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt condemned the “destruction” and said that it should not have occurred and ensure that it does not happen again.

He said: “The West Australian State Government needs to ensure that their legislation and approvals processes protect our Indigenous cultural heritage. It seems quite clear, that in this instance, the legislation has failed.”

Diabetes

Diabetes is the most common word spoken across the globe. Fatal and contagious than any of the disease ever to be seen by humanity. It doesn’t affect directly but surely undermines the body such that various other diseases get a free pass. It is a major public health problem that is approaching epidemic proportions globally. Worldwide, the prevalence of chronic, non-communicable diseases is increasing at an alarming rate. About 18 million people die every year from cardiovascular disease, for which diabetes and hypertension are major predisposing factors. Diabetes is a number of diseases that involve problems with the hormone insulin, which occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Normally, the pancreas (an organ behind the stomach) releases insulin to help your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat. Diabetes can occur when the pancreas produces very little or no insulin, or when the body does not respond appropriately to insulin. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. Therefore weakness, dizziness are prevalent among the diabetic. As of yet, there is no cure. People with diabetes need to manage their disease to stay healthy. Different kinds of diabetes can occur, and managing the condition depends on the type. Not all forms of diabetes stem from a person being overweight or leading an inactive lifestyle. In fact, some are present from childhood.
Three major diabetes types can develop, Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

  • Type I diabetes: Also known as juvenile diabetes, this type occurs when the body fails to produce insulin. People with type I diabetes are insulin-dependent, which means they must take artificial insulin daily to stay alive.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes affects the way the body uses insulin. While the body still makes insulin, unlike in type I, the cells in the body do not respond to it as effectively as they once did. This is the most common type of diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and it has strong links with obesity.
  • Gestational diabetes: This type occurs in women during pregnancy when the body can become less sensitive to insulin. Gestational diabetes does not occur in all women and usually resolves after giving birth.

Less common types of diabetes include monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.
Since there is no cure, it doesn’t mean that you can’t live your life up to the fullest. Just a tight schedule can prove propitious. Some snacks to include in your diet to keep a close watch on the glucometer are-

  • Fresh fruit and cheese- There’s a reason why the French are known for their fantastic fruit and cheese boards! Cheese is an excellent source of protein and pairs well with carbohydrate-rich fruit to provide energy without spiking blood sugars. Good pairings include apples with cheddar, Gouda and pears, or fresh mozzarella with peaches.
  • Crunchy chickpeas- Gone are the days when chickpeas were only useful for making hummus! Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are an excellent source of fiber and protein and make for a nutrient-rich, mid-day snack. When roasted long enough, chickpeas become light and crunchy and make for a great replacement for potato chips.
  • Hardboiled eggs- Eggs are a low-calorie snack packed with valuable nutrients, such as B vitamins, zinc, calcium, and protein. Hardboiled eggs make for a healthy, portable snack that will keep you full between meals. Pair with a small piece of fresh fruit if blood sugars are dipping low.
  • Popcorn- Most popular for movie nights, popcorn is full of fiber and an excellent snack that won’t send blood sugars surge. However, not all popcorn is made with the same ingredients. Traditionally, microwaved popcorn can contain a ton of added sugars or partially-hydrogenated oils that take a toll on heart health. Look for brands that air pop their popcorn or use avocado oil, which is a source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Save the buttery topping or kettle corn varieties for special occasions.

There are several tips to fight diabetes. You can’t overcome this disease but surely could make peace with it. Diabetes is like an arduous trainer. He makes you do things that you should do to stay healthy and have a prolonged life.

  • Get moving – Exercise helps build muscle and lower blood sugars. If going to a gym seems infeasible then you can consider purchasing a few weights since the best way to control your sugars and your scale is to do both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Besides, adding a 15- to 20-minute post-meal stroll can help fight sugar spikes.  
  • Embrace your blood sugars, good and bad – No one likes to have high blood sugar. But even if you’ve had a few highs, don’t act crestfallen and abandon tracking your glucose readings. Along with helping your doctor determine if your diet plan and medications are working, a record of blood sugar readings will help you to assess how food, activities, and stress impact your body. Do you need to add five minutes to your walk after eating pepperoni pizza? Are your bedtime snacks keeping you from morning lows? Only your blood glucose knows.
  • Take a break – Consider yoga or meditation. Stress heavily affects blood sugars. Take time to read a book, take a nap, or talk to friends.  
  • Maintain cholesterol-  You have two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL and HDL. LDL or “bad” cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels. Too much bad cholesterol can cause a heart attack or stroke. HDL or “good” cholesterol helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from your blood vessels.
  • Refrain from smoking-  No smoking is especially important for people with diabetes because of both smoking and diabetes narrow blood vessels. Blood vessel narrowing makes your heart work harder. E-cigarettes aren’t a safe option either.

Was the Environment Healing During the Pandemic?

While the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic prompted lockdowns in many countries all over the world, the resultant decrease in emissions may have improved the health of our planet. Incidents where endangered animals have been spotted in certain areas were all around social media.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

The worldwide disruption caused by this has resulted in great impacts on the environment and the climate. Also, the considerable decline in travel has caused many regions to experience a large drop in air pollution. Carbon emission rates have reduced across countries significantly. There have been many instances where considerable changes in environmental conditions were observed. In China, lockdowns and similar measures have resulted in a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions and 50 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions. One scientist estimated that this may have saved at least 77,000 lives over the course of two months. When compared with indexes of last year, pollution levels in New York have decreased almost by 50% this year. Satellite images have shown that Nitrogen dioxide emissions have started to decrease in Northern Italy, Spain and United Kingdom.

As most people had to stay at home due to lockdown and travel restrictions, many animals have been spotted in several cities. Sea turtles were spotted laying eggs on beaches they once avoided. This was found in coasts of the Bay of Bengal due to the lowered levels of pollution and human intervention. In the United States, dangerous vehicle collisions with animals such as deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions were very common. These incidents have reduced greatly and the rates fell by 58% during March and April. Endangered animals were visible in urban cities. A group of Nilgai deer were spotted on the roads of Noida near New Delhi. Dolphins which were seen in the Ganges many years ago, were also spotted in the river during the lockdowns. Several migratory birds were spotted across cities.

Gabon, an African country, had decided to ban the human consumption of certain animals like, bats and pangolins. This was done to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases because the novel coronavirus is thought to have transmitted to humans through these animals.

According to a study published in May 2020, it was found that the rate of daily global carbon emissions during the lockdown in early April fell by 17%. This could possibly lead to an annual carbon emissions decline of up to 7%, which would be the biggest drop in emissions since World War II according to the study. Researchers suggest that these decreases are mainly due to the reduction of transportation usage and industrial activities. It is true that rebounding and returning to our previous routine and lives could diminish these reductions due to the more limited industrial activities. Due to the reduction in flights, air pollution levels have also dropped significantly.

Temporary changes have affected the environmental conditions. However, whether this pandemic will have a lasting impact on the environment is yet to be known. None of us would have wanted to lower emissions in this way, but it has shown us what we can do together in times of need. Covid-19 has shown us the importance of lives, health services, jobs and mental health. It has also shown us the difference that people and communities can make when they work together – this has given us hope that we can show the same zeal while dealing with climate change and saving our planet.

Unemployment in India

The unemployment rate in India jumped to 29% since the country went into lockdown from March 2020, says the report of CMIE – Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy. The lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak has forced many industries to shut down thus increasing unemployment across the country.

The unemployment rate in India rose to 7.2 percent in February 2019, the highest since September 2016, and also up from 5.9 percent in February 2018, according to the latest data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

What is Unemployment?

Unemployment occurs when a person who is actively searching for employment is unable to find work. Unemployment is often used as a measure of the health of the economy. The most frequent measure of unemployment is the unemployment rate, which is the number of unemployed people divided by the number of people in the labor force.

National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) defines employment and unemployment on the following activity statuses of an individual:

  • Working (engaged in an economic activity) i.e. ‘Employed’.
  • Seeking or available for work i.e. ‘Unemployed’.
  • Neither seeking nor available for work.

The first two constitutes labour force and unemployment rate is the percent of the labour force that is without work.

Unemployment rate = (Unemployed Workers / Total labour force) × 100

Types of Unemployment in India

  • Disguised Unemployment:
    • It is a phenomenon wherein more people are employed than actually needed.
    • It is primarily traced in the agricultural and the unorganised sectors of India.
  • Seasonal Unemployment:
    • It is an unemployment that occurs during certain seasons of the year.
    • Agricultural labourers in India rarely have work throughout the year.
  • Structural Unemployment:
    • It is a category of unemployment arising from the mismatch between the jobs available in the market and the skills of the available workers in the market.
    • Many people in India do not get job due to lack of requisite skills and due to poor education level, it becomes difficult to train them.
  • Cyclical Unemployment:
    • It is result of the business cycle, where unemployment rises during recessions and declines with economic growth.
    • Cyclical unemployment figures in India are negligible. It is a phenomenon that is mostly found in capitalist economies.
  • Technological Unemployment:
    • It is loss of jobs due to changes in technology.
    • In 2016, World Bank data predicted that the proportion of jobs threatened by automation in India is 69% year-on-year.
  • Frictional Unemployment:
    • The Frictional Unemployment also called as Search Unemployment, refers to the time lag between the jobs when an individual is searching for a new job or is switching between the jobs.
    • In other words, an employee requires time for searching a new job or shifting from the existing to a new job, this inevitable time delay causes the frictional unemployment. It is often considered as a voluntary unemployment because it is not caused due to the shortage of job, but in fact, the workers themselves quit their jobs in search of better opportunities.
  • Vulnerable Employment:
    • This means, people working informally, without proper job contracts and thus sans any legal protection. These persons are deemed ‘unemployed’ since records of their work are never maintained.
    • It is one of the main types of unemployment in India.

Related Terms

  • Unemployment trap is a situation when unemployment benefits discourage the unemployed to go to work. People find the opportunity cost of going to work too high when one can simply enjoy the benefits by doing nothing.
    • Description: While the purpose of social security and welfare systems is to provide relief to the unemployed, they end up providing them with an incentive not to return to work. An unemployment trap arises when opportunity cost of going to work is higher than the income received, discouraging people from returning to work and being productive.
  • Harmonised unemployment rates define the unemployed as people of working age who are without work, are available for work, and have taken specific steps to find work. The uniform application of this definition results in estimates of unemployment rates that are more internationally comparable than estimates based on national definitions of unemployment.
    • This indicator is measured in numbers of unemployed people as a percentage of the labour force and it is seasonally adjusted. The labour force is defined as the total number of unemployed people plus those in civilian employment.

Measurement of Unemployment in India

National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), an organization under Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) measures unemployment in India on following approaches:

  • Usual Status Approach: This approach estimates only those persons as unemployed who had no gainful work for a major time during the 365 days preceding the date of survey.
  • Weekly Status Approach: This approach records only those persons as unemployed who did not have gainful work even for an hour on any day of the week preceding the date of survey.
  • Daily Status Approach: Under this approach, unemployment status of a person is measured for each day in a reference week. A person having no gainful work even for 1 hour in a day is described as unemployed for that day.

Unemployment stats (based on findings from CMIE’s latest data):

  • The unemployment rate in India rose to 7.2 percent in February 2019, the highest since September 2016, and up from 5.9 percent in February 2018.
  • The total number of employed persons in February 2019 is estimated at 400 million against 406 million in the year-ago period and 407.5 million employed in February 2017.
  • The labour participation rate fell from 43.2% in January 2019 to 42.7% in February 2019.
    • Labour Participation Rate defines that section of working population in the economy which is currently employed or seeking employment.

Causes of Unemployment

  • Large population.
  • Low or no educational levels and vocational skills of working population.
  • Inadequate state support, legal complexities and low infrastructural, financial and market linkages to small/ cottage industries or small businesses, making such enterprises unviable with cost and compliance overruns.
  • Huge workforce associated with informal sector due to lack of required education/ skills, which is not captured in any employment data. For ex: domestic helpers, construction workers etc.
  • The syllabus taught in schools and colleges, being not as per the current requirements of the industries. This is the main cause of structural unemployment.
  • Inadequate growth of infrastructure and low investments in manufacturing sector, hence restricting employment potential of secondary sector.
  • Low productivity in agriculture sector combined with lack of alternative opportunities for agricultural worker which makes transition from primary to secondary and tertiary sectors difficult.
  • Regressive social norms that deter women from taking/continuing employment.

Impact

  • The problem of unemployment gives rise to the problem of poverty.
  • Young people after a long time of unemployment indulge in illegal and wrong activities for earning money. This also leads to increase in crime in the country.
  • Unemployed persons can easily be enticed by antisocial elements. This makes them lose faith in democratic values of the country.
  • It is often seen that unemployed people end up getting addicted to drugs and alcohol or attempts suicide, leading losses to the human resources of the country.
  • It also affects economy of the country as the workforce that could have been gainfully employed to generate resources actually gets dependent on the remaining working population, thus escalating socioeconomic costs for the State. For instance, 1 percent increase in unemployment reduces the GDP by 2 percent

Steps Taken by Government

  • Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) was launched in 1980 to create full employment opportunities in rural areas.
  • Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment (TRYSEM): This scheme was started in 1979 with objective to help unemployed rural youth between the age of 18 and 35 years to acquire skills for self-employment. Priority was given to SC/ST Youth and Women.
  • RSETI/RUDSETI: With the aim of mitigating the unemployment problem among the youth, a new initiative was tried jointly by Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Educational Trust, Syndicate Bank and Canara Bank in 1982 which was the setting up of the “RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND SELF EMPLOYMENT TRAINING INSTITUTE” with its acronym RUDSETI near Dharmasthala in Karnataka. Rural Self Employment Training Institutes/ RSETIs are now managed by Banks with active co-operation from the Government of India and State Government.
  • By merging the two erstwhile wage employment programme – National Rural Employment programme (NREP) and Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme (RLEGP) the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY) was started with effect from April, 1, 1989 on 80:20 cost sharing basis between the centre and the States.
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA):
    • It is an employment scheme that was launched in 2005 to provide social security by guaranteeing a minimum of 100 days paid work per year to all the families whose adult members opt for unskilled labour-intensive work.
    • This act provides Right to Work to people.
  • Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), launched in 2015 has an objective of enabling a large number of Indian youth to take up industry-relevant skill training that will help them in securing a better livelihood.
  • Start Up India Scheme, launched in 2016 aims at developing an ecosystem that promotes and nurtures entrepreneurship across the country.
  • Stand Up India Scheme, launched in 2016 aims to facilitate bank loans between Rs 10 lakh and Rs. 1 crore to at least one SC or ST borrower and at least one women borrower per bank branch for setting up a greenfield enterprise.

Way Forward

  • There are number of labour intensive manufacturing sectors in India such as food processing, leather and footwear, wood manufacturers and furniture, textiles and apparel and garments. Special packages, individually designed for each industry are needed to create jobs.
  • Public investment in sectors like health, education, police and judiciary can create many government jobs.
  • Decentralisation of Industrial activities is necessary so that people of every region get employment.
  • Development of the rural areas will help mitigate the migration of the rural people to the urban areas thus decreasing the pressure on the urban area jobs.
  • Entrepreneurs generate employments to many in a country; therefore government needs to encourage entrepreneurship among the youth.
  • Concrete measures aimed at removing the social barriers for women’s entry and their continuous participation in the job market is needed.
  • Government needs to keep a strict watch on the education system and should try to implement new ways to generate skilled labour force.
  • Effective implementation of present programs like Make in India, Skill India, Start up and Stand-Up India.
  • There is a need for National Employment Policy (NEP) that would encompass a set of multidimensional interventions covering a whole range of social and economic issues affecting many policy spheres and not just the areas of labour and employment. The policy would be a critical tool to contribute significantly to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The underlying principles for the National Employment Policy may include
    • enhancing human capital through skill development;
    • creating sufficient number of decent quality jobs for all citizens in the formal and informal sectors to absorb those who are available and willing to work;
    • strengthening social cohesion and equity in the labour market;
    • coherence and convergence in various initiatives taken by the government;
    • supporting the private sector to become the major investor in productive enterprises;
    • supporting self-employed persons by strengthening their capabilities to improve their earnings;
    • ensuring employees’ basic rights and developing an education training and skill development system aligned with the changing requirements of the labour market.

The future of Machine Learning

Machine learning is a trendy topic in this age of Artificial Intelligence. The fields of computer vision and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are making breakthroughs that no one could’ve predicted. We see both of them in our lives more and more, facial recognition in your smartphones, language translation software, self-driving cars and so on. What might seem sci-fi is becoming a reality, and it is only a matter of time before we attain Artificial General Intelligence.

In this article, I will be covering Jeff Dean’s keynote on the advancements of computer vision and language models and how ML will progress towards the future from the perspective of model building.

The field of Machine learning is experiencing exponential growth today, especially in the subject of computer vision. Today, the error rate in humans is only 3% in computer vision. This means computers are already better at recognizing and analyzing images than humans. What an amazing feat! Decades ago, computers were hunks of machinery the size of a room; today, they can perceive the world around us in ways that we never thought possible.

The progress we’ve made from 26% error in 2011 to 3% error in 2016 is hugely impactful. The way I like to think is, computers have now evolved eyes that work. — Jeff Dean

Now this achievement — made possible with advancements in machine learning — isn’t just a celebration for computer geeks and AI experts, it has real-world applications that save lives and make the world a better place. Before I blab about a life-saving application of computer vision, let me illustrate to you the power of computer vision.

Let’s say I give you 10,000 pictures of dogs and I ask you to classify them into their respective species, are you able to do that? Well, you can, but you have to be a dog expert and it’ll take days by the time you’re done. But for a computer (with a GPU), this takes mere minutes. This incredible capability of computer vision opens up a profusion of applications.

Application of computer vision

One quintessential application for computer vision given by Jeff Dean is in diabetic retinopathy — which is a diabetes complication that affects the eye. Now to diagnose it, an extensive eye exam is required. In third-world countries and rural villages where there is a paucity of doctors, a machine learning model that uses computer vision to make a diagnosis will be extremely beneficial. As with all medical imaging fields, this computer vision can also be a second opinion for the domain experts, ensuring the credibility of their diagnosis. Generally, the purpose of computer vision in the medical field is to replicate the expertise of specialists and deploy it in places where people need it the most.


NLP and Transformers

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 Language models are algorithms that help machines understand the text and perform all kinds of operations such as translating text. According to Jeff Dean, a lot of progress has been made in language models.

Today, computers can understand paragraphs of text at a much deeper level than they could before. Even though they aren’t at the level of reading an entire book and understanding it the way we humans do, the ability to understand a few paragraphs of text is fundamental to things such as improving the Google search system.

The BERT model, the latest Natural Language Processing (NLP) model that Google announced has been put to use in their search ranking algorithms, This helped enhance the search results for myriads of different kinds of queries that were previously very difficult. In other words, the search system can now better understand different kinds of searches done by users and help provide better and more accurate answers.

“Deep learning and machine learning architectures are going to change a lot in the next few years. You can see a lot of this already, where now with NLP, the only game in town basically is Transformer networks,” — Yann LeCun

These Transformer-based models for translation are showing spectacular gains in the BLEU score, which is a measurement of translation quality. So, Machine Learning architectures that utilize transformers such as BERT are increasing in popularity and functionality.


The problem with ML today

In the keynote, the Google Senior Fellow mentioned atomic models that Machine Learning developers use today to perform all kinds of unit tasks. He believes these models are inefficient and computationally expensive, and more effort is required to achieve good results in those tasks.

To elaborate, in the ML world today, experts find a problem that they want to solve and they focus on finding the right dataset to train the model and perform that particular task. Dean argues that by doing so, they basically start from zero — they initialize the parameter of the model with random floating points and then try to learn about everything that tasks from the dataset.

To elaborate on this matter, he gives an excellent comparison that goes like this:

“It’s akin to when you want to learn something new, you forget all your education and you go back to being an infant, and now you try to learn everything about this task”

He compares this methodology with humans becoming infants every time we want to learn something new and taking a brain out and putting in a different one in. Not only is this method computationally expensive, but more effort is also required to achieve good outcomes in those tasks. And Jeff Dean proposes a solution.

Epitome

Computer vision and NLP will continue to play a significant role in our lives. But there are adverse implications to this advancement as well, such as China using facial recognition to implement a rating system on the people (straight out of an episode from the TV show black mirror) and the proliferation of fake news. We must progress in Machine Learning while taking into account of algorithmic biases and ethics that remind us of our place, a creation of God and not creators.

As for the uber model, there is much evidence proving we are inching closer and closer towards it. For example, transfer learning — a way of reusing the model for a different purpose achieves good results with fewer data and multi-task learning — a model that operates at small scales of five or six related things all tend to make things work well.

Thus, it’s logical to say that the realization of an uber model is plausible by extending those ideas — transfer learning and multi-task learning — out and developing on them, it’s only a matter of when and not how.

Thanks for reading my excerpt on the future of ML and my synopsis of Jeff Dean’s keynote. I hope you got a glimpse of what is to come in Machine Learning and AI.

Blue holes

Black holes… sounds pretty cool, and scary. They have baffled scientists for long. But there are many places beneath the ocean that are still baffling scientists and researchers since we have not explored even 5% of the oceans. One of these places is the “blue hole”. Sounds descriptive and uncreative as well but they got this same because apparently, they are blue. Blue holes are basically sinkholes or caverns in the ocean. They are a geological phenomenon that occurs when carbonate bedrock is composed of limestone erodes and collapses below the level of surrounding rock. Many researchers believe that blue holes are formed when water floods a previously cavernous region. At the end of the Ice Age, for instance, rising sea levels flooded caves that had been carved out by environmental factors like acidic rain, Discovery reports. The process can take more than 100,000 years. And since the water in the hole is so much deeper than the surrounding water, it looks like a much deeper blue. Hence the descriptive if a bit uncreative name.  Blue holes take the mysteries of the deep sea even deeper. The massive holes can be hundreds of feet deep, which causes them to appear a darker blue, compared to more shallow surroundings. A blue hole is an oasis in an otherwise barren seafloor. The natural phenomena are biodiversity hotspots teeming with plants and animals, including sea turtles, sharks, corals, mollusks, and sponges. Analyses of water samples taken during the Amberjack Hole exploration have shown that isotopes of radium and radon are present in the water. Their water circulation is poor, and they are commonly anoxic below a certain depth; this environment is unfavorable for most sea life, but nonetheless can support large numbers of bacteria. Most blue holes contain freshwater and saltwater. The halocline is the point in these blue holes where the freshwater meets the saltwater and where a corrosive reaction takes place that eats away at the rock. Over time this can create side passages, or horizontal “arms”, that extend from the vertical cave. These side passages can be quite long e.g., over 600 meters (2,000 ft) in the case of the Sawmill Sink in the Bahamas. Well-known examples can be found in the South China Sea (Dragon Hole), Belize (Great Blue Hole), the Bahamas (Dean’s Blue Hole), Guam, Australia (in the Great Barrier Reef), Egypt (in the Red Sea), and Florida (Green Banana). Exploring blue holes requires an extremely high level of expertise in the diving field, hence the fact that very few divers have ever attempted it. In 2009, however, a team of scientists set out to study seven of these blue holes in the Bahamas.   Through over 150 dives, the scientists, led by Keith Tinker, investigated bacteria able to live in anoxic environments. This allowed them to make connections to fields such as astrobiology where organisms thrive without oxygen or sunlight. In 2018, another group of scientists set out to explore the Great Blue Hole of Belize using two submarines of the latest technology. One of the major scientific contributions to the result of this expedition was the first 3-D map of its interior. The researchers captured features such as stalactites, the hydrogen sulfide layer, and other details that cannot usually be seen by the naked human eye.
Nature is filled with surprises, but we must be careful with what we play. Last time someone ate a bat, and the whole world is now repaying now.

Sushant Singh Rajput hired a special team to achieve his list of dreams. Details inside

Sushant Singh Rajput had a list of 150 dreams and hired a special PRO team to achieve them. His flatmate, Samuel Haokip, was a part of this team and also used to help Sushant with his legal matters as well as handling finances. Sushant Singh Rajput wanted 5-6 people who could help him achieve his list of dreams

a man looking at the camera: Sushant Singh Rajput had a special team of people to help him achieve his dreams.

Following were the members of Sushant Singh Rajput’s PRO team:

Samuel Haokip

Samuel Haokip met Sushant Singh Rajput through common friends. Sushant was looking for someone who has knowledge of law, which is why Haokip, who is a lawyer, became a part of his team.

Samuel Haokip lived with Sushant Singh Rajput for almost a year and left his house in July 2019, since he got a job in a law firm. It was Sushant Singh Rajput’s sister, Priyanka and her husband, Siddharth, who helped Samuel in finding the job. He left Mumbai and shifted to Delhi in order to continue with his law practice. He used to majorly focus on the actor’s film contracts, negotiating with producers, drafting contracts for house helps,and used to manage other people who used to work for Sushant.

Kushal Zaveri

He was with Sushant Singh Rajput since the actor’s television days. In a telephonic interview with Aaj Tak, he had shared that he was with the late actor during the shooting of Dil Bechara as well. However, he went to Goa for a personal project in 2018 and his contact with the actor decreased.

Siddharth Gupta

He is Vikas Gupta’s brother and was also Sushant Singh Rajput’s roommate for some time.

Abbas

He worked as the editor in the PRO team.

Gradually, all members got busy with their work and left Sushant Singh Rajput’s PRO team. Samuel Haokip was the last one left.

Sushant then reached out to one of his friends as he wanted to hire more people. It was here that Siddharth Pithani entered the picture, upon a friend’s recommendation. Samuel Haokip trained Siddharth Pithani and it was in April 2019 that Rhea Chakraborty entered the actor’s life.

Earlier, only Samuel Haokip and Sushant Singh Rajput were staying together along with the house helps, the cook, Keshav and housekeeper, Neeraj. Gradually, Rhea, as well as Siddharth Pithani, also started living there. Sushant had also called Dipesh Sawant, a friend of Abbas, to stay with him.

South Korea closes nightclubs, beaches as Covid-19 cases surge

South Korea ramped up coronavirus restrictions on Sunday to try to contain a growing outbreak, as many countries around the world battled worrying surges in infections.

The pandemic has killed more than 800,000 people globally, and continues to unleash destruction with areas such as Western Europe detecting spikes in infections not seen for many months.

Infections have soared past 23 million globally, and some countries are still facing their first waves — such as India, which crossed three million cases on Sunday.

South Korea, which had largely brought its outbreak under control, tightened curbs to try to contain a new, growing cluster of cases.

“The situation is very grave and serious as we are on the brink of a nationwide pandemic,” warned Jung Eun-kyeong, chief of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nightclubs, karaoke bars and beaches have been closed, with tight restrictions on large gatherings and religious services, after hundreds of infections were linked to Protestant churches.

Face masks will be mandatory in the capital Seoul’s public areas from midnight.

Lockdowns, social distancing and face masks are among the few options available to governments with no effective treatment or vaccine available yet.

India, which imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, has relaxed it over recent weeks to help ease the pressure on its reeling economy.

But that has also led to a sharp rise in cases, taking its total past three million.

“We are seeing the virus spread across India,” said K Srinath Reddy from the NGO Public Health Foundation of India.

The World Health Organization, however, said Friday that the world should be able to rein in the disease in less than two years.

‘Don’t feel invincible’

Italy — once the European epicentre of the virus — said Saturday it had registered more than 1,000 new infections in the past 24 hours, the highest level since the end of a punishing lockdown in May.

The story is similar across Spain, Germany and France.

The Rome region also said it had recorded a record number of cases in the past 24 hours, a rise health officials blamed on people returning from holiday.

Most of those infected are young people who are not showing symptoms, the Italian capital’s health official Alessio D’Amato said, warning them to stay at home.

“Don’t feel invincible,” he urged them.

The virus lockdowns and social distancing measures have unleashed vast economic destruction and impacted all types of social activities, including sports games and concerts.

In Germany, a university has launched a series of pop concerts under coronavirus conditions, hoping the mass experiment with 2,000 people can determine whether large events can safely resume.

But with no vaccine yet, economies in hard-hit regions like Latin America are struggling to contain the staggering costs of the pandemic — with a rise not only in poverty but political turmoil and crime too.

US election crisis

The United States remains the worst-hit country in the world, with nearly 5.7 million infections and deaths approaching 180,000.

The run-up to the presidential election has been dominated by the coronavirus, with President Donald Trump facing intense criticism for his handling of the crisis.

The pandemic is set to impact the electoral exercise itself, with Americans expected to vote by mail in massive numbers instead of visiting polling centres.

But that has caused another political standoff, with the postal service warning most states it could not guarantee on-time delivery of mail-in ballots.

Trump — trailing his challenger Joe Biden in polls — has opposed more funding for the cash-strapped US Postal Service, acknowledging it would be used to help process ballots.

He has repeatedly and baselessly linked mail-in voting to election fraud.

Biden’s fellow Democrats in the US House of Representatives approved a $25 billion infusion for the USPS on Saturday, but it is likely to die in the Senate — which is controlled by the Republicans.

Claims over coronavirus vaccine availability in India false, will confirm once trial results are out: SII

The claim by certain media houses that Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine candidate COVISHIELD will be available in India in the next 73 days are “completely false and conjectural”, the Serum Institute of India (SII), the Indian partner of the AstraZeneca clarified on Sunday.

a close up of a bottle© Provided by Jagran EnglishThe SII said that the official confirmation on COVISHIELD’s availability in India will be confirmed only after the vaccine is proven immunogenic and efficacious in human trials which are currently underway across the country.

“The current claims over COVISHIELD’s availability in the media are completely false and conjectural. Presently, the government has granted us permission to only manufacture the vaccine and stockpile it for future use,” a statement from the Serum Institute of India shared by news agency ANI read. 

The statement further stated that the phase-3 trials for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate are currently underway and the vaccine will be commercialised in India only after successful trials and necessary regulatory approvals.

“COVISHIELD will be commercialized once trials are proven successful & requisite regulatory approvals are in place. Phase-3 trials for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are underway. Only once the vaccine is proven immunogenic & efficacious, SII will confirm its availability officially,” it said.

The clarification from the SII came after a report published by Business Today claimed that the Oxford University-Astra-Zeneca vaccine candidate will be commercialised in 73 days. The website cited a top official from the SII as there source of information.

“The government has given us a ‘special manufacturing priority license’ and fast-tracked the trial protocol processes to get the trials completed in 58 days. By this, the first dosing is happening from today in the final phase (Phase III) and the second dosing will happen after 29 days.

“The final trial data will be out in another 15 days from the second dosing. By that time, we are planning to commercialise Covishield,” an SII official was quoted as saying by the website in its report.  

4 Tips for Effective IELTS Preparation

To migrate or study in English speaking nations, one needs to give an IELTS test. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses the person’s ability to speak, write, listen, and read in English. The test is designed to understand how you will use English in your daily life such as in university, workplace, or other social situations.

Before providing the tips on how to do the preparation, here is the breakdown of the types of IELTS test. There are two types: Academic and General. The IELTS Academic test is for those willing to pursue undergraduate or post-graduation or join a professional organization in an English-speaking nation. Second, the IELTS General Training test is for those who want to train or study at below degree level, to work, or to emigrate.

The formats of these two tests are a bit different, but the test assessment will still be on four skills: Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking.

Reading Test: This will include a wide range of reading skills such as attention to detail, a general sense of the passage, meaning derived from it, understanding of writer’s opinions, attitudes, and how will you understand the development of the argument.

Listening Test: It assesses how well you recognize opinions, attitudes, the purpose of the speaker, and also factual information and general ideas.

Writing Test: The Writing test is designed to measure the wide range of writing skills including grammar, vocabulary, how you can write responses, organize ideas, and recognize mistakes.

Speaking Test: The IELTS Speaking Test assesses how fluently and accurately you communicate in English. You can be asked to speak on various topics and express your opinions.

Getting back on how to crack the IELTS exam, just like any other test IELTS to needs some preparation. These four tips can help you ace the IELTS exam.

  • First and foremost, Read! Read! Read! Whether it’s a book, newspaper, magazine, or any written material. While reading, always have a credible English-English dictionary with you. This way you will work out the meanings of the new words making sure you don’t translate back to your language. You can also read an English newspaper every morning and listen to English news channels. It will enhance your reading and listening skills as well as keep you updated about the happenings in the world. Sounds good?
  • Improve your vocabulary! The more words you are exposed to, better will be your vocabulary. Jot down the words you have heard recently or you don’t know and highlight them with a marker. Check out its meaning in the dictionary and then start putting these words into daily speech. Using new words frequently will help in making your English fluent. As a fact, it takes from 10 to 20 repetitions to make a word part of your daily speech. Do see its pronunciation online if not sure. Speak those words while talking to your parents, friends, or somebody on call. This will increase your confidence and you will be well versed on the day of your exam.
  • Listen to English radio, shows, or news channels. After that try to write them down and analyze. Also with that, separately write words or sentences that were appealing to you. Use them while you write essays or speak. Don’t watch videos online since you can pause or rewind them. This won’t help as it will break your flow of listening. Hear it once only. After you are done repeat whatever you recall from the show, use stress and intonation appropriately. Make sure you record it so that you can find out your mistakes and improve accordingly.
  • So far whatever words you have learned, phrase them into sentences and then into paragraphs. While writing always set a timer. This will keep you at pace and improve your speed during the exam. Check for comma mistakes, full stop, and grammar. See-through the sample papers and find out what is the word limit given in the writing paper. Accordingly, write if say the set limit is 200 words don’t write just 150 words. This will lead to losing marks. Generally, a person is ok reading, speaking, and listening but they have a hard time writing, in that case, while practicing start with your favorite topic. Start with as basic as possible. Suppose you like chocolate ice cream, write on that. Sooner or later, you will get used to and can start with difficult topics. When you plan your essay, always have some spare time in the end to check your work.

Taking the IELTS test can be stressful so don’t forget to put these helpful tips. It will equip you to be ready for the exam. Commit and practice thoroughly. With this, you’ll feel more confident and be able to tackle the test and get the desired score.

 

Food : the path to the Heart

Indians have always been heavy diners, be it at home or any place else. Going easy on the diet is often portrayed offensive in our culture. Our vigorously immense tummies, a testament of our love towards food. I guess it’s never too late to admit that the foods are not the ones to blame, but us, and our wicked choices.

The very idea of eating healthy is contradictory to the popular paradigm. We munch on especially all things that scream ‘fatty’. Subject to popular opinion, people around the globe, ‘eat to live.’ To sustain life. Except for us, we ‘live to eat.’ Food goes with every occasion, would seem indifferent if not.

The very idea about jotting down what food means to us is putting me into a fit. A rush of thoughts flow to the mind but reluctant to appear as I type it in. I believe this symbolises our relationship with food. It’s an emotion, or above and beyond it.

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Good food is indeed the key to the heart and will never go unappreciated. As George Bernard Shaw has brilliantly put it, “there’s no sincerer love than the love for food.”

It nurtures, comforts and sustains us. Might be the most subjective item in this world and the next. It’s amazing how a necessity is so necessarily personal, different from other necessities in more ways than none.

Food is definitely a jack of all trades. A vigilante with many names. The very thought about it makes me smile and I’m sure it’d make you too.

I guess we’ve all fancied eating out more than the food made with love at home.

‘Eating in’ is often dreaded for not being exquisite enough, if we dined out for a week, we’d be squandering for a homely meal by the end; for sure.

The major food ordering apps were an instant hit in our markets. It took the better out of our laziness by catering to our tastebuds economically at our doorsteps. Even though delivery options were always available, the costs made us think otherwise.

More or less we believed what made us eat out at every instance possible was the experience of planning ahead and going out to dine at a fine restaurant. But the arrival of the apps proved otherwise, it has only made us eat more of food at home.

The whole lockdown had affected our eating habits altogether, we were munching on some eatables and then woke up having to much on another, eating only what we had. Teaching us that, our food preferences and choices always lies to us.

When the cravings got the best of the whole waiting it out strategy, we took to reinventing all what we had a sweet tooth towards. We went onto making Dalgona coffees to instant bread pan pizzas that would make established eateries a run for their money.

We had the best of times cooking up all that we can in the kitchen, swearing to never turn to restaurant food ever; when you could’ve all the fun prepping and gulping it down too. Rekindling the family spirit, a fire that was on low flame for while, leaving the pot on it going colder by the moment.

The ease of restrictions paved the way to more experiments, from making steaming hot porottas to baking bread. Bringing out the masterchefs hidden deep within us. A wake up call stirred up by necessities. After all, “Necessity is indeed the mother of all inventions.”

The fire we rekindled is something worth holding onto, it brought us closer whilst indulging healthily. Having all the food you can have to yourself won’t matter I guess, if you can’t share it and have it with the ones you care dearest for, and that the very emotional aspect arises out of sharing it with the ones that really care. Above all, it goes easy on the wallet too.

College and University Admissions 2020

Students are very worried about their careers as all admission procedures have been delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Many have expressed concerns over the delay and cancellation of exams for they might lose an academic year. Final year students are suffering the worst. Many students of intermediate years in have started their classes in online mode for now.  

Delhi University has scheduled its entrance tests for admission to 10 undergraduate and 86 masters and MPhil/PhD programmes from the 6th of September. The exams will be computer based and will be conducted by the National Testing Agency. They will take place from September 6 to 11 in three slots from 8 am. There will be 24 centers across the country. 1.47 lakh students have applied to the masters courses, and 21,699 students have applied for MPhil and PhD programmes. The undergraduate course entrance tests will be held for 3 management courses, journalism, education and a few specialised disciplines. 

Students are also worried about sitting for exams in this condition. There is the issue of social distancing and also wearing a mask, gloves and shield for 2 hours while appearing for an exam is quite taxing. The centres are located in specific cities so there is also an issue about travel restrictions and hotel accomodation. Some exam dates have also coincided with others as DU’s joint admission test for management courses and Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is supposed to take place on the same day that is September 7. There is another problem about the masters aspirants as most of them have still not finished with their final year exams and yet to receive the degree. Students are waiting for the University to make an announcement and provide some clarification regarding the issue. JNUSU president Aishee Ghosh has expressed concern over the issue of students who are badly affected by floods and the pandemic. Many of them might not be in a position to appear for these exams in a specific centre.  

Jamia Milia Islamia has extended the dates of application for admission. The last date to fill the online application form has been extended to September 14. Students seeking admissions in any undergraduate course at the university can apply at the official website, jmi.ac.in or jmicoe.in.  

The applications for admissions under the sports category will end on September 16. This is applicable for students who play aports at the national, state, regional or university levels. Under the sports quota, students will be enrolled in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Sports including boxing, badminton, athletics, cricket, hockey, shooting, football, tennis, table tennis, volleyball, and wrestling will be accepted for the courses. 

The Jamia Milia Islamia University has been ranked amonf the top universities across india. Over 21,000 students are enrolled across 270 programmes in Jamia. This year, it has introduced 19 new courses including two MTech programmes, two MSc, and one MLib course. Among the undergraduate courses BSc aeronautics, four BVov courses, diploma in hospitality management, and three postgraduate diploma courses including entrepreneurship, innovation and design thinking.  

New sessions across colleges and universities have all been postponed due to the pandemic. The application deadline has been extended for almost all courses including free UPSC tutoring classes that are made to support candidates belonging to minorities, SC, ST community, and women as well as NRI admissions.  

World’s Overshoot day!!

Happy World’s Overshoot day!! Today we’ve exhausted all the natural resources generated by Mother Earth last year and as economists say, we are in a deficit, although not financial, but ecological. This could be quite shocking news to many, but interestingly this year World’s Overshoot day has been pushed by 3 weeks. In 2019, World’s Overshoot day was marked on July 29 as opposed to August 22 in 2020. In fact, this day has never been pushed so far since 2005. So, is it an achievement worth celebrating? Apparently not, cause it is not done by design, rather by the disaster. The World’s Overshoot day is calculated by GFN (Global footprint network), an independent think tank established in 2003 with its headquarters located in California, United States. Overshoot is calculated by ecological footprint, which is a measure of how much area of biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates, using prevailing technology and resource management practices. Researchers estimate that the planet equivalent has grown from 1.5 in 2008 to 1.6 in 2020, i.e. now humans require 1.6 planet Earth to sustain themselves and this doesn’t account for all other species in the world. However, this doesn’t mean that all countries contribute equally to the spectrum. Overshoot day varies from country to country due to the prevailing technologies in different countries. For e.g. a world would be enough for Indonesians to survive, but it would require approximately two worlds to sustain ourselves if we were to live like Qataris. The worst country to perform in this index is Luxembourg, which consumed all its resources by February 16. Even Australia, the biocapacity giant is seeing deficit for the first time in its history due to the devastating fires of 2019-20. This shows how fragile biocapacity can be.
But this year is not an achievement, all though the COVID lockdowns brought down the Ecological Footprint by 9.3% reduction as compared to the same period last year and put a remarkable dent on the global economy. Since this pushed date is a reflection of a lot of sufferings and the reflection of imposed changes to our lives. The irony is that these vast reductions that scientists had always been craving but through sustainable developments rather than sufferings. Now it would be foolish to presume that in order to reduce our carbon footprints and planet equivalent we require such sufferings since such reductions are discriminatory, they disproportionately affect people of color and caste economically. Climate skeptics have used the situation to say that lockdown is what “green campaigners want” and they cannot enjoy things like international travel and economic growth in the future. But it is foolish to fall for such beliefs. The goal should be having better economies and social outcomes with lower emissions.
Researchers reiterate that balance of humanities consumption and Earth”s produce needs to be restored. It would be wise to make such balance intentionally rather than facing such disasters that comes at such high and terrible human cost.

toll on MSMEs: 1 in 4 at below half capacity

Nine out of every 10 of India’s 63.3 million small businesses (termed micro, small, and medium enterprises or MSMEs) have restarted operations after the lockdown necessitated by Covid-19, but only one in four is producing at least half its capacity — largely on account of poor demand, logistical issues, and their own financial troubles (at least half said they faced a liquidity crunch as of August 1).Workers sit on cotton bales being transported to a factory on a truck during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. (Reuters)© Hindustan Times Workers sit on cotton bales being transported to a factory on a truck during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. (Reuters)

“85% of MSME units operate from households and as their exposure to formal banking is almost zero, they are not able to take the benefit of the Centre’s liquidity package, which is linked to outstanding bank credit. The government should come out with a separate fund or fast-track MUDRA [Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency Ltd] loan for these people. For bigger MSMEs, e-marketing should be strengthened and a special fund for technology upgradation is required as many MSMEs want to invest heavily in technology,” said Tamal Sarkar, executive director of Foundation for MSME Cluster.

And as of August 6, four million MSMEs had been sanctioned around ~140,000 crore under the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme announced as part of the government’s ~20 lakh crore relief package, of which around ~95,000 crore had been disbursed.

The numbers highlight the toll the pandemic and the lockdown imposed to slow its spread (while the national lockdown ended on May 31, localised lockdowns continue across many parts of India as cases continue to rise) has taken on what is popularly described as the backbone of Indian industry — MSMEs.

The numbers are part of a presentation made by the ministry of MSMEs this week, and based on a survey conducted by National Small Industries Corporation.

India’s small businesses employ around 110 million people and accounted for almost half of India’s exports in 2019-20. According to the presentation, they also account for around 30% of GDP.

“If the MSME can’t produce, big industries would not be able to survive in India. To give just one example, India is the world’s largest producer of bicycles and 98% of bicycle parts are made by MSMEs. They are also a cost-effective way of production as one MSME’s scrap is raw material for another. The government must do everything to turn it around to revive the Indian industry,” said Gurmeet Singh Kular, president of Federation of Industrial & Commercial Organization (FICO).

Global stocks, dollar rise with U.S. economic data

Reuters: A jump in U.S. business activity and home sales helped push global equities and the dollar higher on Friday, counteracting earlier stock declines in Europe. Oil fell about 1%. The Nasdaq and S&P 500 hit record highs and the dollar broke an eight-week losing streak, gaining as weaker economic data in Europe weighed on the single currency. The fresh impetus came from a preliminary purchasing managers’ survey that showed U.S. business activity in August snapped back to the highest level since early 2019, data firm IHS Markit said.

Global stocks, dollar rise with U.S. economic data

Services and manufacturing indices also rose, even though new COVID-19 cases remain high across the United States. U.S. home sales data for July showed deals rising at a record pace for the second straight month, providing another glimmer of growth in the U.S. economy.

Friday’s data counterbalanced a steep rise in U.S. jobless claims on Thursday and Federal Reserve minutes on Wednesday that suggested the economy was beginning to stall, prompting investors to seek safe havens, said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors in Boston.”It’s not surprising to see a pick-up in manufacturing as the economy has started to reopen, even though pockets of the country have pulled back on their reopenings,” said Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist at Ally Invest.

“It’s an encouraging sign and it supports the upside we have seen in the markets.”The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 190.6 points, or 0.69%, to 27,930.33. The S&P 500, which broke out of its bear market on Tuesday by recouping pandemic-related losses, powered up 11.65 points, or 0.34%, to 3,397.16. The tech heavy Nasdaq Composite added 46.85 points, or 0.42%, to 11,311.80. Among global shares, MSCI’s benchmark for global equity markets was off its lows for the day, rising 0.27% to 571.17.

Europe’s broad FTSEurofirst 300 index dropped 0.20% to 1,416.57. Meanwhile, the dollar index rose 0.63%.”Investors are exiting some of the more economically sensitive sectors of the market and going back to the old stalwarts of tech, where you get reliable growth,” Arone said of the rise in tech shares.

EUROPE DECOUPLED

Somber economic numbers earlier in the day in Europe, including eurozone data pointing to a faltering recovery, doused stock market gains in Asia overnight and also caused the euro to recoil further from recent peaks.The loss of momentum came after fresh numbers painted a muted economic outlook, with purchasing managers’ index releases from France and Germany as well as the wider euro zone falling short of expectations.

“The survey contains some strong evidence that the recovery has slowed in August, particularly in the services sector,” said Moritz Degler, senior economist at Oxford Economics. The euro fell 0.61% to $1.1787 and also ended down for the week, after seven weeks of gains against the dollar.U.S. Treasury yields declined for the week, showing the preference for safe-havens. The shift short-circuited last week’s rally and resumed the downtrend that has largely prevailed all year.

Analysts pointed to rising coronavirus infection numbers having tempered economic activity. On Thursday, France experienced a post-lockdown record in new infections, while countries across the region imposed fresh travel restrictions.Europe’s troubles weighed more heavily on oil, which lost about 1% on Friday on concerns about the global economic recovery, renewed coronavirus lockdowns and rising crude supplies.

Brent crude futures settled at $44.35 a barrel, down 55 cents, or 1.2%. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $42.34 a barrel, falling 86 cents, or 1.1%. Brent fell about 1% for the week, while WTI saw a weekly rise of nearly 1%.Spot gold dropped 0.3% to $1,937.69 an ounce. U.S. gold futures fell 0.12% to 1,934.60 an ounce.

WordPress developer said Apple wouldn’t allow updates to the free app until it added in-app purchases — letting Apple collect a 30% cut

  • WordPress is adding in-app purchases to its previously free iOS app after claiming Apple prevented it from making updates until the change was made, The Verge reported Friday.
  • WordPress’ founding developer said in a tweet Friday that Apple cut off developers from making updates to the app unless they started letting users buy domain names within the app — a service the app doesn’t currently include.
  • The Verge reported that WordPress agreed, meaning Apple effectively pressured a free app into monetizing itself, allowing it to take a 30% commission on future purchases.
  • Apple’s App Store policies, particularly its requirement that app developers use Apple’s payment systems and give the company a 30% cut, has frustrated developers for years — and recently, lawmakers who say it’s monopolistic behavior.
a close up of a wire fence: WordPress developer said Apple wouldn't allow updates to the free app until it added in-app purchases — letting Apple collect a 30% cut

Apple’s battle with app developers heated up again Friday after WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg claimed that the company locked developers out from making updates until it added in-app purchases to the free iOS app, The Verge reported.

“Heads up on why @WordPress iOS updates have been absent… we were locked by App Store. To be able to ship updates and bug fixes again we had to commit to support in-app purchases for .com plans,” Mullenweg tweeted Friday.

“I know why this is problematic, open to suggestions,” he added.

Mullenweg’s tweet referenced Apple’s policy requiring app developers to utilize the company’s own payment systems for any purchases made on iOS apps, of which Apple then takes a 30% commission.

The policy has drawn the ire of developers for years, but the crackdown on the WordPress app is even more controversial because the app doesn’t currently offer any purchases at all, and there’s not a good reason why it would.

WordPress, the hugely popular website builder that powers around a third of the internet, is open-source, meaning people don’t pay to create websites using it. WordPress.com, on the other hand, is a commercial entity that helps users create sites built on that open-source software, and it makes money by selling domain names and other paid website hosting and management services.

WordPress.com also develops the “WordPress” iOS app (that Apple took action against on Friday), which lets users create and manage WordPress-based sites for free — whether or not they pay WordPress.com for a premium domain name.

But because the app is developed by the commercial entity, Apple decided that WordPress.com needed to offer an option to purchase those premium domain names through the app — a 30% cut of those purchases would then go to Apple.

An Apple spokesperson told Business Insider that, per App Store policies, apps — including WordPress — operating across multiple platforms can let users access a service on their iOS app that they paid for on a different platform (such as a website), but the developers then have to offer the ability to purchase that service in the app, too.

That reasoning has angered the open-source community because the app itself is associated by users with the open-source WordPress project — not the paid services offered by WordPress.com — so they see it as unfair to force the developers to monetize a free app that isn’t designed to make money in the first place.

As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson put it in a tweet: “I am admittedly puzzled as to why Apple is denying me updates to the open source app for my open source web site because one user of that app happens to sell domains.”

Mullenweg told The Verge that WordPress has already agreed to comply with Apple’s demands and within 30 days will add in-app purchase options for the paid services offered by WordPress.com. Apple’s spokesperson told Business Insider the company approved WordPress’ latest update while they work on bringing the app into compliance.

Apple’s actions against WordPress come barely a week after Epic Games, the maker of the popular video game “Fortnite,” launched lawsuits against Apple and Google over the same in-app purchase policy (Google also collects 30% on purchases). The lawsuits have rallied several major app developers behind Epic, including Facebook, Spotify, and Match Group (which owns dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Match, and OkCupid).

The legal challenges thrust both Apple and Google back into the antitrust spotlight just weeks after their CEOs were grilled during a congressional hearing by lawmakers who argued the companies were unfairly using their size and market power to stifle competition and asked Apple CEO Tim Cook specific questions about how Apple treats developers.

Climate Change

The phenomenon of rising temperatures of the Earth resulting in change of climate, seasons, rainfall patterns etc. is called Global warming. Global warming and its effects are together referred to as Climate Change. While these changes have been seen before but the rate of change has increased rapidly from the middle of the 20th century. Findings from different recognized scientific organizations support these claims. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “human influence on climate has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century”. The emission of greenhouse gases as a result of human activities have been one of the largest causes for this. Fossil fuels, Chloro-fluro carbons (CFCs), deforestation, rise in different forms of pollution are all behind this.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Temperature change is also accompanied by loss of snow cover, melting permafrost, frequent natural disasters like cyclones. Land surfaces heat more quickly which have resulted in heat waves, forest fires, increase in desert area. These temperature changes are the highest in the Arctic region. Changes in environmental conditions have led to extinction of several wildlife species in forests, coral reefs etc. Rising carbon dioxide emissions lead to rising sea levels, ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. These changes bring in frequent droughts, extreme weather conditions affecting the equilibrium and natural balance.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Almost all countries have come together for climate change under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention aims to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. It has instructed policy makers that there is much greater risk to human and natural systems if the warming goes above 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris Agreement, nations have made climate pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but even after following those, global warming would still reach about 2.8 °C by 2100. To prevent this from happening and limit the warming to 1.5 °C, methane emissions need to decrease to near-zero levels and carbon dioxide emissions should reach net-zero by the year 2050.

Governments should act immediately and policies should be constructed to reduce fossil fuel emissions, increase reforestation, forest prevention, use of low carbon energy technologies, food preservation. All societies should work together towards dealing with future global warming problems in a scientific way. Development of more resistant crops, better disaster management should also be considered.

Several international movements have taken place like Fridays For Future where school students take time off from school to aware people and demand climate change action from governments. They demand action from political leaders of the world for the fossil fuel industry to convert to renewable energy and take immediate measures for climate change. This movement was publicised after Greta Thunberg started a protest outside the Swedish parliament with a poster saying “School strike for climate”. She is an environmental activist who has spoken at several internationally recognised platforms. She started her journey as an activist from the time when she had convinced her parents to change their lifestyle for reducing their carbon footprint. She is known for her straight forward manner of speaking at public platforms and criticizing world leaders for their failure to address climate change. She has participated in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (2018) and UN Climate Action Summit (2019). She has also got several awards and made it into the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (2019). Though her popularity at such a young age has made her a target of critics, but she continues to work and struggle towards her goal with indomitable spirit.

COVID spared South-East?

The Buddhist majority countries in South-East Asia, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, saw rather small-scale outbreaks during this coronavirus pandemic. Despite these countries sharing borders with the origin of the deadly virus, China and India, country with most number of daily cases how have these neighboring countries managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus?
The wonder case in this region has to be Vietnam. A country with a population of approximately 97 million people, the authorities claim no deaths from Covid-19. Thailand, with 70 million people, has seen just 58 deaths and no cases of local transmission have been reported in over 40 days. Myanmar claims just six fatalities from 317 cases. Cambodia reported 141 cases and the tiny country Laos only saw 19 cases. Both these countries claimed no deaths and no local transmission since April. Geographically speaking, they have it far better than their other neighbors such as Indonesia with some 68,100 cases and 3,400 deaths, and the Philippines with 50,400 cases and 1,300 deaths, India with some 2.91million cases and 54,849 deaths. It is almost as if the pandemic has spared these Buddhist majority nations. But does it have anything to do with religion though? It would not seem so, because, Vietnam’s communist dictatorship is an atheist. Meanwhile, China, the original epicenter of the virus, also has a majority Buddhist population although it is also a communist state. Vietnam’s handling of the crisis so far is commendable. Centuries of mistrust in its great northern neighbor, China, prepared Vietnam to be extra cautious of all the information China gave about the virus at the beginning of this year. Vietnam even initiated cyber-attacks to get more knowledge about the path of the outbreak. The country closed its borders and used repressive forces to keep the population locked. They monitored and separated any affected patients. That is kind of similar to what China’s communist regime was doing. In terms of having a powerful government that can make the people follow protocols, as well as having a strong medical sector, Thailand also makes the list. The country led by generals in the name of democracy has an incredible healthcare system which makes Thailand a popular medical tourist destination. Besides, the government was swift to create a robust task force for fighting Covid-19. Initially, more contact with the Chinese people must have been a prerequisite for transmission. Yet this didn’t happen in Laos, which is too low to withstand the flattery of China, Myanmar, which is awash with Chinese traders and traffickers, or Cambodia, whose strongman, Hun Sen, is China’s greatest supporter in the region. Such countries are being reshaped by Chinese development thanks to BRI, and all came under pressure not to close borders with China as the pandemic spread. In February, at the height of the Chinese outbreak, Hun Sen traveled to Beijing. Thailand is also quite closely knit to China, it seems, as the country welcomed Chinese tourists even in March. And Myanmar’s China border seriously lacks guard. Then, why did all these visitors from China not cause a bigger outbreak in South-East Asia? Many suspects that they have done so, but these have not been revealed. Tests in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are extremely restricted. But, Frank Smithuis of Medical Action Myanmar, a charity with many clinics around the country, says that his organization would have found out if there had been a large-scale transmission since a COVID-19 epidemic cannot be covered especially in Myanmar, the ” number one gossip country” in the world. Also, researchers in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam do not see signs of large transmission, like people rushing to the hospitals with symptoms. Even the poorest countries have taken steps which may have helped to control coronavirus spread. Researchers in Bangkok said that migrant workers coming back from Thailand to their Myanmar villages had to quarantine in a shack outside their village for 14 days. According to health experts, many factors may have come in helpful, like large numbers of people living in the countryside rather than cities; the region’s relative youth; and a pre-existing tendency to wear masks in public which could have been trivial in pre-COVID times. Many of these countries are third world countries, non-industrialized thus people live in rooms with open windows rather than relying on air conditioning. Also, there could have been a religious element to it too. Since the Buddhist way of greeting is called the wai, where they press their palms together, unlike the handshake or hugs or cheek kisses in other parts of the world, the wai is a way of physical distancing. The question now is whether the Buddhist achievements in South-East Asia will survive second or third waves. Researchers say, perhaps low transmission from China wasn’t quite a miraculous blessing. After all, the giant neighbor soon got on top of its outbreak. Now, China is not the only problem anymore, the whole world is. The outbreak has changed its course and is still changing. Infections from across the world are being introduced across Asia, seeding local transmission, most recently in Hong Kong.

Image by rawpixel.com

Digital Detox

It all started a few months back, spending time on my phone was making me feel sick to my stomach. The strive to remain connected was making me feel annoyed, distracted and detached than ever.

Ever since data charges got cheaper and cheaper, using social media platforms one after the other became a part of our day. A routine to be exact.

It started off with taking over our lives when we felt bored at first, time does fly when you’re having fun. The transition to a time when we grew bored of it often. We’re certainly overdoing it.

However it never felt like an addiction to me, but on contemplation it became rather obvious that the struggle was inflicted by the content I consumed. The connectivity was paying a one hefty fee.

As faith would have it, one day it finally hit me. A solution to my problem lies in plain sight. Simple but genius. ‘Why do I have to do it, if it’s not healthy for me?’

A grave moment of epiphany.

The pandemic has fuelled people to spend long hours on their phones. The amount of content consumption should be a reason for concern.

We fancy all that our brothers from the West preach. We try to dress like them, eat like them and when they went onto to discovering social media platforms, we accepted it wholeheartedly.

Now as more and more such brothers preach the need for digital detoxes, this can’t be more true. They more or less do have an elder sibling effect on us.

The solution was ever apparent, for the taking to the ones that seek. We’re all stressed, tensed and severely pumped up than ever before. We all do find it hard to manage time too, and our attention span is just a little more than that of a goldfish.

Above all, the lack of sleep has also been found to have it’s toll on a few. The trends seemed to have circulated a few years back, around the time when the data charges were dragged to the ground.

The very essence of us passing time, being the very reason behind the matter of concern. They say, “the best days are the ones that doesn’t make you check your phone,” so why not do it? Make it a reality.

Social media has helped us out immensely, letting us to be connected to our loved ones around the world. Helping relationships to sustain itself over geographical and time barriers.

However we fell short to draw the boundaries. Boundaries are necessary. Knowing where to draw the line can absolutely do wonders.

The idea of a digital detox seemed a bit paradoxical to me at first. Cutting out the use of any device that is electric, seems far too barbaric, now. Our lives are so entangled that getting rid of it is not an option. However, Striking a balance seems apter by leaps and bounds.

I believe radical changes can cause more bane than boon. Whereas baby steps can take you places. Rather than completely throwing it out the window, imposing restrictions can be the first step.

Reducing the screen time to a smaller periods and then slowly stepping up a notch every now and then.

If it gets better and better, do more of it. After all life’s more about doing things that sets One’s soul on fire right.

Why should one bicker from doing more of what makes you feel better.

I believe in preaching what I believe in, A couple of months down the line, following the following has made me feel so much better lately. I’m connected but disconnected. Life got so much better.

Live and let live, right?

Street Food Around the World

One of the best ways to know about the history and culture of a place is to try out its cuisine. Not only does it provide one with a delicious treat, it also speaks a lot about the place and its people. Local cuisines range from elaborate meals to roadside snacks. But I feel, to get the real taste of a place you need to try out its street food. While trying out various dishes from the streets you get to explore a place in the best way possible. Here are some amazing food items from all around the world!

Aloo Chat – South Asia

It is a dish which is made with boiled potatoes, cut into cubes and mixed with different spices and chutney. It is popular in Pakistan, parts of Northern and Eastern India and Bangladesh. Aloo chat is a snack or side dish and it varies from region to region in terms of spices and taste.

Crepe – France

Crepe is a popular pancake like pastry which is popular in France and Belgium. They are made with all kinds of fillings and flavours. There are two types of Crepe – ones that are sweet that are made with wheat flour and ones that are savory which are made with buckwheat flour. Sweet crepes are eaten with fruits, custards, whipped cream or chocolate and savory crepes are served with eggs, mushrooms, cheese and ratatouille.

Chuan – China

Chuans are a type of kabab served with spices like black pepper, cumin seeds, sesame and red pepper flakes. These meat kababs are roasted over charcoal or deep fried in oil. It originates from the Uighur and other Muslim communities of China.

Gelato – Italy

Often confused with ice cream, Gelato is an Italian dessert made with milk, sugar, cream, nuts, fruits and toppings. It is much low in fat than traditional American ice cream and has more flavors which makes it a rich and delicious dessert. There are a lot of flavors including vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio.

Hot Dog – United States of America

It is a classic American street food and you can find it in food trucks and restaurants across cities like New York and Chicago. A grilled sausage is served in between a steamed hot dog bun along with mustard, ketchup, onion, cheese and chilli. There are a lot of varieties which differ in shapes, taste and sizes.

Mango Sticky Rice – Thailand

Mango Sticky Rice, also called Khaoniao Mamuang is a popular Thai dessert. It is also eaten in Cambodia, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. A specific form of sticky rice is mixed with coconut milk and is served with Mango slices. The coconut milk is added so that the rice absorbs all the flavour and tastes sweet. It is popular during the peak mango season in Thailand during the summer months of April and May.

Naan – Central Asia and Middle East

Naan is a traditional bread which originated in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is made with flour, water and ghee. Additional ingredients like milk and yoghurt are also added in different varieties. Made in a tandoor oven, it is a flat bread which is served with other items like curries and fillings. It is served hot brushed with butter and ghee.

The curious case of Prashant Bhushan

Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer in The Supreme court of India. He is one of the founding members of ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ and ‘Sambhavna’ founded in 2015 after dissenting from the Aam Aadmi Party, where he played a key role in implementing the ‘Jan Lokpal’ bill alongside Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, and many others. He has been tirelessly working in the field of human rights, environmental protection, and accountability of the public servants. He is associated with various organizations including the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Transparency International (India). Due to his family background, he is able to take cases pro-bono and for paid cases, he charges only 5% of what other lawyers charge. He also claims that he does not take cases until he feels his client is “morally right”. Being “morally right” is objective but looking into his past activities one can feel he is being moral. He represented the petition which became the first one in which an IAS(Indian Administrative Service) officer was convicted of corruption charges. He criticized governments for waging wars against Naxals and is of the idea is that the hidden agenda behind “Operation Green Hunt” was to clear the tribal lands for mining and industrialization. In order to de-escalate the situation in the Red Corridor government should suspend arms in the /Naxals region and instead focus on providing foods and infra to the tribals. He assisted Narmada Bachao Andolan activists opposing the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Bhushan advocated revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Jammu and Kashmir and is of the opinion that the government should try to persuade people of the valley to align with India but should be allowed to separate if one wishes.

Recently he has been found guilty by the Supreme Court of India on contempt for derogatory tweets against the judiciary. Why? How one can find a tweet so offensive that in the midst of a pandemic the Supreme court of India arranges a bench to hear for a case so trivial when so many questions persist of state’s response to the pandemic, when crucial cases have continued to drag on for years like-

  • Challenges to Article 370
  • Electoral bonds
  • Citizenship Amendment Act
  • Habeaus corpus petitions
  • Fundamental rights of people of Kashmir

Acts like these reflect the growing intolerance in the top authorities. Even 1500 lawyers from across the country have spoken against the decision and urged the top court to “take corrective steps to prevent miscarriage of justice”. Even the Supreme court itself has said that “The ignition of contempt should be substantial and mala fide interference wit fearless judicial actions, not fair comment or trivial reflections on judicial process and personnel”. Fair comment has not been defined but could be implied by various judgments of the court that fair criticism is criticism by a person who is competent enough to speak on the topic, has a good record, and doesn’t has the intention of demean the office of CJI or judiciary. Top authorities should remember that criticism is the basis of democracy, anyone can stand against them, not to hinder the judicial process but to have their opinion. If people are to be punished for their tweets and comments over social media, then it is a warning alarm for a democratic country. People should realize the severity of the situation and try to bolster the democratic institutions and protect them from those who are trying to undermine its sanctity. Its high time to realize how our institutions are getting biased, for making derogatory and hateful remarks regarding a particular community the responsible have not been tried, but a person with so clear record is been found guilty within 12 days of making a tweet.

Explained: Why the Kerala govt has taken control of an 800-year-old Church

Early on Monday morning, the Kerala government took control of Marthoman Jacobite Syrian Cathedral Church at Mulanthuruthy in Ernakulam district, which has been in the focus of a dispute between Jacobite and Orthodox factions of the Malankara Church, a prominent non-Catholic Christian community.

Take over triggered by SC verdict

The takeover has brought to the forefront a decade-long dispute between Jacobite and Orthodox factions of Malankara Church. The Church at Mulanthuruthy, built in AD 1200, has been managed by Jacobite faction, but as per a Supreme Court verdict of July3, 2017, its ownership should go to the rival Orthodox Church. 

The Supreme Court had upheld the validity of the 1934 constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church to govern the parishes under the Church. Although the court verdict came on dispute over the ownership of two churches, it impacted over 1000-odd churches. The court verdict had given a clear upper hand for the Orthodox faction, which has been governed by the constitution of 1934.

Since the SC verdict, several churches under dispute have already been handed over to the Orthodox group despite stiff resistance from the bishops and laymen from the Jacobite Church. As the government delayed implementing the SC order due to political compulsions, the Orthodox Church moved various courts against the non-compliance of the order of the apex court.

Mulanthuruthy church

Established in AD 1200, the Marthoman Jacobite Syrian Cathedral Church at Mulanthuruthy is one of the ancient Churches in Kerala. The church is a fine example of Gothic architecture. The carvings, sculptures, symbolic icons and wall paintings, are a blend of Indian, West-Asian and European architecture. Most of the parishioners belong to the Jacobite faction.

Why a takeover now

In the case of the church at Mulanthuruthy, the Orthodox faction had moved a contempt of court petition, telling the Kerala High Court that their laity have been denied access to the church. The government cited the Covid-19 scenario and the monsoon havoc in the district as reasons not to take over the church as an action would demand mobilisation of force, now burdened by lockdown duties. After the single bench favoured the government stand, the Orthodox group moved a larger bench.

Rejecting the government contention, the division bench on August 12 issued an ultimatum to the Ernakulam District Collector that the church should be taken over within five days and submit a compliance report to the court. Hence, the takeover of the church in the early morning of Monday, when only a few hours have been left for executing the high court directive.

The district officials have to deploy police to remove the protesting bishops, priests and faithful of the Jacobite Church, who have been camping at the church premises since Sunday to resist the takeover. The church was locked from inside by the Jacobites, but police broke open the gates and evicted the protesting people.

Apple took just 2 years to add a trillion dollar to its market cap, but the next one won’t come easy

Apple Inc. has done it again. On Wednesday, just two years after becoming the first U.S. company to boast a trillion-dollar market valuation, it became the first to top $2 trillion. Getting to the next trillion may not be such a breeze. With its shares up roughly 60% this year, Apple is among the Big Tech winners that have benefited from a “safety premium.” Investors have piled in to the iPhone maker’s shares as well as those of other technology darlings – including Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. –  betting their business models, robust balance sheets and large cash balances would make them more resilient amid the economic fallout from the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Indeed, Apple did post impressive June quarter financial results last month on the back of strong sales, a perfectly timed lower-cost iPhone launch and a boost from government stimulus. But it faces a more uncertain road ahead. First, Apple’s valuation now embeds elevated future expectations. To illustrate, Wall Street’s current consensus for Apple’s fiscal 2020 sales ending this September is just 3% higher than its revenue two years ago. And yet, the stock price has more than doubled in that time frame, resulting in a heady valuation of about 33 times the next four quarters’ earnings.

Apple’s lofty valuation leaves little room for disappointment, but the success of its upcoming slate of products isn’t a sure thing. In contrast to the cheaper iPhone SE model that boosted its June quarter, the company is going to have to convince consumers to buy higher-priced $1,000 iPhones when it launches new 5G-enabled models this fall. And these more expensive phones may be a tough proposition with tens of millions of Americans facing job insecurity. Further, I’m still skeptical there will be new apps anytime soon that will need the faster fifth-generation wireless speeds, making phone upgrades less compelling. Finally, according to a Bloomberg News report last week, it doesn’t look like there will be much innovation coming from Apple on the services front either – just a new virtual fitness-class subscription and some modest subscription bundles.

On top of all this, Apple is facing increased regulatory scrutiny over its dominant position in the smartphone market. In June, the European Union announced it had opened two formal antitrust investigations into Apple, with one of the probes specifically looking into the requirement guidelines of its in-app purchase system. Last month, CEO Tim Cook also had to defend the company’s App Store policies and high fee structure before a landmark House antitrust hearing as well. Obviously, if either of these global regulators clamp down on Apple’s business practices, it could negatively impact its profitability. 

There is no doubt Apple’s stunning ascent to $2 trillion is impressive. The climb to $3 trillion may be even more so, because it will be that much harder.

Economic turmoil : corona courtesy

The corona effect on the economy in a nutshell.

As the country went into lockdown mode by the end of march, there were hopes that the country would beat the virus in a matter of few weeks. Almost 6 months down the line, we’re yet awaiting the silver lining; with the ever limbing economy, crippled.

Indefinitely blurring, the promise of a better tomorrow. Like a picture by an amateur photographer.

It is difficult times we’re living through, our tales would be recited someday, on how the world lived through a pandemic in the first quarter of the twenty first century.

As always, US leading from the front, with the highest toll of covid casualties. A testament that no superpower is indeed that ‘super’ a power. Uncle Sam bowing to a virus with Communist roots.

India on the third spot on the chart, showing little hope on cutting down the numbers whilst reviving from a stringent lockdown.

Following the trend of lockdowns to curb the novel coronavirus by the end of march, slowed down the pandemic by a few months rather than preventing.

Prevention would have been ideal.

As the end of the day, millions hope that the the worst has passed, with reviving the economy being a priority and curbing the pandemic being the top priority.

The lack of health infrastructure ever apparent. ‘Events being the greatest teachers of fools,’ hoping the future game-plan would be proficient in this aspect.

The sudden surge of covid clusters in certain localities, pushes the authorities to impose further lockdowns, affecting such local economies evidently. Throwing the business owners into a frenzy.

I believe it goes without saying that the worse hit by the lockdown was the daily wage earners and the poorer households. About 50,00,000 people have lost their jobs till date.

The loss of jobs would constrain the purchasing power and consumption for good. Further derailing the economy.

Basic economics I learned in grade 11th taught me that, ‘Production’, ‘Consumption’ and ‘Investment’ constitutes the major economic activities in an economy.

With the former two limited, economy revival any time soon seems like a far fetched dream. Investment fell to the lowest in the last two decades during the past year. With the new highly criticised policy reforms promised by the Union with regards to Investments and education; makes one wonder whether covid is really at the heart of all our problems. Strange.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Recovery does require reforms.’ Provided it addresses all the socioeconomic factors. Equality and freedom requested by popular demand.

The relief package of ₹20,00,000 crores promised by the Central Government fed the hopeless hope. But closer introspection made clear that such a generous financial aid can do nothing to crank up the economy. The relief sought after, delayed for the time being.

The current trends have shown us that the union does redress grievances; Mostly of industrialists and the people of a certain religion.

As the country is heading into the worst recession post independence, with the ones in power tolerating zero accountability and on the verge of striking down ‘the freedom of expression’. A ‘happily ever after’ seems like a far fetched dream than the reality

The Joys of Volunteering

Volunteering is a voluntary act of an individual of doing some work for the society as community service. It may include different forms of work. Some volunteers are specially trained in a particular field while some offer to help and join hands for a good cause freely. Volunteering has different sectors like medical, disaster management, education and upliftment of community. There are several NGOs and organisations which offer volunteering opportunities.

Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

It can help you to make new friends, advance your career, and feel better. Taking some time out of our busy schedules and finding time for volunteering can be difficult for some of us. But you can start small for the sake of trying it out. Volunteering lets you help and reach out to people from different backgrounds and create social change in your own little way. It provides vital help to individuals and gives you a chance to make lives better. Surely it makes people’s lives better but it gives you greater benefits. Give a little time to volunteering and you will get a lot in return!

It helps you feel happier and healthier. Once you start volunteering, you will meet a lot of new people from different communities. Working with underprivileged communities makes us more aware of our surroundings and feel grateful about our own lives. Also, when you start doing something new it gives you a fresh start and brightens your mood. Most of us love doing new things. Volunteering will also help you spend some quality time outside of work. It will bring both fun and fulfillment to your life. It will help you combat better with issues of mental health like depression and anxiety. It will also improve your mood and give you immense joy. Seeing the smile on the face of a child will surely brighten your day.

You will meet a lot of new people. Your fellow volunteers will either be from similar fields as yours, which will definitely be a positive side or they will be from completely different walks of life giving you a chance to know about a lot of new things. If you are a person who struggles with making new friends, it is a great opportunity for you to start new friendships. Once you start working as a team with others, you will share your ideas and share responsibilities for carrying out a task. While working and planning together it is most likely that you will become great friends. This will also make you a more social person and increase your communication skills. Volunteering helps you to network with a lot of people. Especially if your career path values societal issues, it will be really helpful for you to meet important people and make connections.

Lastly it will help you enhance your career prospects. Almost all companies or educational institutions value a volunteering experience. They will be glad to know that you have been a part of something so meaningful. Volunteering increases your chances of getting selected and helps you improve your resume. It will also give you experience of working with a team and make you a more empathetic and responsible person.

Rigged Facebook

Facebook, the most prominent and prevalent social media platform in India, with 346 million active users in India alone. But, Facebook who has previously been accused of meddling with the 2016 US elections, now has been accused of actively working with political parties of Brazil, the U.K, and India, allegedly using troll armies to spread misinformation and extremists ideologies. Under Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist, Facebook helped politicians across the world harness their digital tools to establish an online presence. Narendra Modi, the world’s most-followed leader on Facebook and Instagram, was one of the most famous politicians all thanks to social media. The Bloomberg report that revealed these details also alleged that after Modi’s social media reach grew, his followers began using Facebook and WhatsApp to harass political rivals. WhatsApp, which has approximately 400 million users in India, has been an influential tool in BJP’s election campaign, as admitted by union minister Amit Shah in his 2018 speech. This all came to limelight after on 14th August an investigation made by WSJ revealed that a top public policy executive at Facebook was allegedly ignoring controversial, often communal, content posted on the platform by politicians from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  WSJ spoke to current and former employees at Facebook and found that the social media platform’s Public Policy Director for India and Central and South Asia, Ankhi Das, was against “applying hate-speech rules” to at least four politicians from the BJP, despite them being “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence”. These include BJP leaders T. Raja Singh, who made communal statements on Rohingya Muslims and threatened to raze mosques, and legislator Anantkumar Hegde, who accused Muslims of intentionally spreading the novel corona virus as part of a conspiracy so called “Corona Jihad”. Now, this has led to a political beef in the country. According to what anonymous Facebook employees told WSJ, the social media giant showed a “broader pattern of favouritism” towards the BJP, and felt that punishing violations by their politicians “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, admitted to WSJ that Das, who is also the public policy director for South and Central Asia, was worried about the political fallout of restricting BJP leader Singh. Facebook employees had flagged Singh’s statements on social media under the “Dangerous Individuals and Organisations” policy, which is meant to ban any content that praises or supports “organized hate”, “mass murder”, “hate crimes”, or “terrorist attacks”.  But the WSJ allegations add weight to the findings of past reports by international and local media. Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor, who also heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, promised that the committee would look into the allegations made by the report. When the committee called for a probe into the matter, union minister of Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad hit out at Congress through a tweet, calling Gandhi a “loser”. He also brought up an old accusation from 2018, claiming that Congress had colluded with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to influence the electorate during the 2014 elections. Also, Privilege motion was moved against Rahul Gandhi and Shashi Tharoor alleging that Rahul Gandhi had “surpassed all limits of decency” while Shashi Tharoor is responsible for spreading “Fake News and hatred”. This is the usual blame game that BJP uses to play while facing allegations. In spite of answering the questions directly, BJP uses malicious ways to get around the question and indulge the proponent in trivial tasks. Whereas  Cambridge Analytica’s website declared that the company provided its services during the Bihar election in 2010 to a political party in India. Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), Cambridge Analytica’s Indian affiliate, named the BJP, Congress and the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar as clients. Claims are many but we must be responsible for what we see and how we react to the contents of social media. One should act responsibly and instead of spewing hate in the comment section, one should introspect and try to make judicious decisions. There is no tool that can counter fake news only us, we are the ones who spread fake news and can counter it.

5 Easy Lifestyle Changes That Can Improve Your Health at Any Age

5 Easy Lifestyle Changes That Can Improve Your Health at Any Age

As you get older, it can feel more difficult to adopt new habits or break longstanding old ones—especially when it comes to your health. You tell yourself that you’re too old to take up jogging or that you missed the boat on yoga. There’s often a tendency to stick to what you know, doing the things you’re used to whether they are good for your health or not. But while age can play a factor in your ability to engage in some activities, making healthy lifestyle choices isn’t one of them. In fact, there may not be a better time than right now to start changing your ways. It could even mean adding years to your life.

For example, the researchers at the Johns Hopkins Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis observed the behaviors of more than 6,000 men and women between the ages of 44 and 84 over a period of seven years. In less than a decade, the team found overwhelming evidence that making healthy choices later in life had enormous benefits. Doing things like quitting smoking, following a Mediterranean diet, and getting regular exercise actually decreased an individual’s risk of death during the course of the study by 80 percent, the researchers said. With that motivation in mind, it’s time to cut out the excuses and get to work on these five healthy lifestyle choices you can make at any age. And for more things you can do to improve your health, check out 50 Important Habits Linked to a Longer Life.

1. Get some sleep.

Getting a healthy amount of sleep is essential at every age. That’s because, according to a 2020 research article from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleeping restores and “fortifies virtually every system in the body.” And failure to get consistent and sufficient sleep has been proven to weaken the body’s immune system—and can even make some vaccines less effective, the NSF says. In other words, not exactly a risk you want to take during a pandemic. So, make sure you are getting the recommend seven to nine hours of sleep a night and talk to your doctor if you are having trouble. And for how your ability to rest changes as you age, check out 20 Ways Your Sleep Changes After 40.

2. Be more active.

While physical activity may feel like more of an uphill climb than it used to be in your younger years, it’s highly important that you don’t let your age prevent you from keeping active.

3. Keep your mind sharp.

It’s not only your body you have to keep in good shape, but your brain as well. And just like your body, your mind needs regular workouts. According to Harvard Medical School: “Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.”

4. Quit smoking.

When it comes to the dangers of smoking—and the life-saving benefits of quitting—the stats speak for themselves. As soon as 24 hours after you stop smoking, Johns Hopkins doctors say you start to decrease your risk of having a heart attack. What’s more, quitting decreased middle-aged smokers’ risk of dying early by almost 50 percent. And for more helpful heart habits, check out 20 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease This Summer.

5. Eat better.

According to Hillis, one of the best things you can do to help prevent dementia and lower several other health risks is to eat a Mediterranean diet. What does that mean exactly? Load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish, while keeping red meat, sugar, and processed foods to an absolute minimum. And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Joe Biden officially nominated US presidential nominee by Democrats

Democratic Party on Tuesday officially nominated Joe Biden as candidate for US Presidential Elections 2020. Confirming the news, Biden tweeted, “It is the honor of my life to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States of America.”

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie

Former Vice President Biden appeared on camera after he officially succeeded in garnering enough delegates to be declared the Democratic presidential nominee. “Well, thank you very, very much, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you all. It means the world to me and my family, and I’ll see you on Thursday. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Biden said in his address to his supporters.

Biden ended the roll call with a total of 3,558 delegates, compared to 1,151 which went in Bernie Sanders’ favour. Notably, Biden and Sanders were the only two candidates nominated on the ballot. During the roll call, delegations from 57 states and territories exercised their franchise to nominate candidates based on the results of the presidential primaries. 

According to the News, this year, the roll call includes delegates, parents, teachers, small business owners, essential workers, activists and elected leaders inside businesses, living rooms and in front of iconic landmarks.

Before the roll call, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton offered their support for Biden.

“When I ran for president in 1976, Joe Biden was my first and most effective supporter in the Senate. For decades, he has been my loyal and dedicated friend,” Carter said. “Joe has the experience, character, and decency to bring us together and restore America’s greatness. We deserve a person with integrity and judgment, someone who is honest and fair, someone who is committed to what is best for the American people.”

PETS AND US

Our unconditional support systems.

There’s something about those animals that makes us not resist the urge to stop and play with them a little. Maybe it’s those eyes, dreamy eyes, ‘they say the eyes don’t lie.’ The innocence. Serene smiles. The enthusiasm. Unparalleled.

We get drawn to them like moth to fire. Lures us in and makes us pour our hearts out for them. Makes us slip into a beautiful vibe, pushing all worries and troubles aside. Reminding us there are no things in this world that can elude us, of our cheerfulness, but us.

It’s hard not to budge and ogle at a stranger’s pet. As cliche it may have been portrayed in motion pictures, it’s true.

To vibe with your own tribe. To strike up a conversation with somebody who you wouldn’t have, if not for his little friend.

Coming across a person who’s not a pet person seems paradoxical. With the reason of such a peeve mostly from a traumatic experience in the past. Something that can be worked on effectively to eradicate.

They say Exposure is key, perennial for growth. To elevate the character of a person. Unknowingly or knowingly paving the way to learn a thing or two. Be it whatever the species, a bird, fish or Man’s best friend our beloved little hairy friends.

From dealing with responsibilities like catering to their needs- from feeding them to taking care of them. To learning a thing or two about giving and taking respect, on how to respect the boundaries of other beings. What little time spend with them is never wasted.

For we can learn or a thing or two from them. About compassion and the love for the family. After all home is where the heart is right? Life lessons at our disposal.

To live our lives carefree and free from the shackles of worries and self doubt. To live and let live. Being unconditional to the love you give out to the ones around us. To be full of life and a little mischievous, because you only live once.

Pets are synonymous for unconditional love. Even if you’re having the baddest of days, spending a little time with them elevates the mood to a higher level. It’s funny how they can totally read the situation and act aptly, when most of our two legged buddies fail to do so.

No matter whatever you have or who you are, their love for us never flutters.

A loyal comrade. What more do you need when you can live with your best friend?

People complain how deceitful and tragic the world is. I believe in doing and not complaining. “Being the change you want to see in the world,” the best way to live.

By adopting a pet, I believe it can have umpteen effect on making the people more compassionate and generous, like they say, little acts of kindness makes the world a place.

Adopting a pet could just be a part of one’s life, but for the pet it’ll be his whole world.

The Enlightenment Age

The Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason was an intellectual revolution which dominated Europe during the 17th and 18th century. Enlightenment was the emergence and creation of ideas which challenged the existing notions of the world. It questioned the existing set of ideas and conceptions about religion, society and politics. Before this period, Europe was essentially a land dominated by religion. This intellectual movement was carried out by the Enlightenment philosophers like Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, David Hume and Adam Ferguson.

According to some, the beginning of the Enlightenment was after the publication of René Descartes‘ philosophy of ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ (“I think, therefore I Am”) in 1637, while others belief the publication of Isaac Newton‘s ‘Principia Mathematica’ (1687) began the Scientific Revolution and the beginning of the Enlightenment.

The philosophers and intellectuals challenged the clergy men who supported the traditional view of society. These new ideas influenced cultural practices like writing, painting, printing, music, sculpture and architecture. There was also significant progress in technology and medical science.

The key ideas of the Enlightenment were Reason, Empiricism, Science, Universalism, Individualism, Secularism, Freedom and similar others. The thinkers stressed on the primacy of reason to establish rationalist ideas based on fact. The key to expanding human knowledge was shifted upon empirical facts and scientific experiments. This concept of scientific reason was considered universal and could be applied to all situations. Philosophers opposed all traditional religious authority and stressed on the importance of knowledge free from all religious biases. They pointed out the creation of a form of knowledge which was not influenced by any religious ideas or superstitions. A secular idea was born and this spread quickly throughout Europe. This led to the belief that all individuals are same and equal despite their religious and philosophical views.

It was the idea of Individualism which was the starting point of all scientific knowledge. Science was the supreme form of knowledge as scientific facts were based on observation and experiments. This led to an increase in objective ideas and decrease in belief of superstitions. The philosophers wrote in a very direct way and took clear positions. They wrote about important changes and transitions going on in the society. A traditional social order was replaced by a modern State. The formation of a political State took place and the powers shifted from the hands of the Church to the State. Society was no longer dependent on the traditional religious institutions. It was believed that the application of reason and scientific knowledge could remove the cruelty and injustice from social institutions. The works of Voltaire instilled a desire for new ideas and belief in progress among the Europeans.

Thinkers like Saint Simon greatly influenced the societal processes. According to him modern society was threatened by anarchy and disorder. To bring back social order a Science of Society would be necessary. He constructed a ‘Social Physiology’ to bring order and stability in the society. He believed that modern society would flourish if science and industry were used for the service of humans. A major social re-organisation would be necessary to bring about order and proceed towards a successful social change which would bring about societal progress. Although his ideas were neglected at first, as Europe became engulfed with disorder and war, these ideas started influencing people. Eventually Saint Simon became a key figure in the liberal political movements of Europe.

Militarization

Militarization is at its heart a problem-solving ideology, using violence to solve problems in front of you, using military-type weapons, and using the threat of that violence. Over the last decade, the number of CAPFs (Central Armed Police Forces) has almost doubled despite the major ministries, and departments of the central government have witnessed a decline in their personnel.The foremost function of a state is to ensure the safety of its citizens. And it is discharged through two principal instruments- The Army, to protect from external aggression and police, to ensure the safety of citizens’ properties. In federal systems, the former is controlled by the center while, latter by the states. While this has been the case with India that the army performing its tasks substantially better than the police. India is rare in having a third paramilitary instrument controlled at the federal level, not by the armed forces but rather by the Ministry of Home Affairs. While the CAPFs perform a range of functions, from riot control to VIP duties, overseas deployments, and disaster relief, they have two principal functions: guarding the country’s borders, and internal security. The largest CAPF, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), has been deployed principally in the two most vexing internal security challenges facing India — the strife in Jammu and Kashmir, and Left-wing extremism in central and eastern India. About 118 battalions of the CAPFs have been deployed to combat the Maoists using the Indian state’s “elephant” approach on dealing with insurgencies – throw tens of thousands of men (and now women as well) at the problem, and the sheer weight gradually crushes the opponent. More worryingly, this expansion has proceeded much more rapidly than that of the other security-providing instruments of the state, the army, and the police. In 1998, CAPFs were less than 58 percent of the size of the army and by 2015, this had increased to 82 percent and the number is climbing. The size of CAPFs relative to the civil police has increased by nearly 15 percent over the last two decades, which means that basic law and order which is the first line of defense and is already under severe stress is being neglected at the cost of a more militarized approach to policing. Organisationally, there are hard questions regarding the overall effectiveness of these forces, stemming from weaknesses in training, poor equipment, and ineffective leadership. Rapid expansion has meant that recent inductees have not gone through as much rigorous training as needed. But perhaps the biggest lacuna is leadership. The political leadership incessantly misuses them in activities like “VIP duty”. Also the officer: soldier casualty is too low as compared to the army.The results have been all too painful in the severity of casualties of the rank-and-file of the CAPFs. Suicide rates in the CRPF are at least as high as among Indian farmers, but there is little anguish in the media about that. Data indicates that far more perish from malaria and stress-related heart attacks than combat. Feeble leadership also underlies a weak esprit de corps in the units, with bodies not always recovered after ambushes, and weapons of dead soldiers looted by the Maoists, which would not happen to army units.There are fiscal implications, not just of relative priorities of public spending, but even for the CAPFs themselves, as pension and healthcare bills will sharply rise in due course and cut into much-needed spending on better equipment and facilities. This is happening to the army, where one can see the crowding-out effects of rising pensions bills on military modernization. But there might be an even more disturbing implication. The use of lethal force by organs of the state against its citizens requires utmost vigilance. The state needs to be extremely careful that the rapid growth of the CAPFs does not end up creating more problems than what it is trying to solve through this expansion.

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Binge watching and Mankind

We humans are the masters of our domain. At times, us, the masters go berserk by certain pursuits. We do go overboard with things, from petty tasks to pursuits complex.

I believe the quote, “Nothing to extremes, everything in moderations”, from the remarkable book ‘The monk who sold his Ferrari’, by writer Robin Sharma is something we all should adhere to. In all aspects of life.

We humans are masters of passing time.
It doesn’t matter where we’re, or what we have, we’ll inevitably find ways to destress or to chill.

We’re the lords who have mastered the art of passing time. Everyone’s a Picasso or your own ‘unique being’ for this matter.

But when the phenomenon of ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out) kicks in, beings scramble to ‘fit in’. To find a firm ground to socialise with fellow beings. Gradually paving the way for losing bits and pieces of oneself.

The recent trends of passing timeBinge watching has proven the point well.

It has united the world, that was once divided. Surveys have shown that almost all the generations; especially ‘generation z’ and ‘millennials’, have been ‘swept off their feet’ by a plethora of content to stream and chill.

For the ones that were living under a rock, the ones unaware, binge-watching refers watching far too many episodes of a tv series at one go. It’s funny I guess tv series’ are a thing of the past now. Web series’ being the new black.

Netflix was the catalyst for such a mammoth change in the lives of many. By releasing the entire season of a series to watch all at once. Doing away with the process of having to wait out a new episode every week.

This fast paced life has made such anticipation seem surreal or nerve wrecking to be aptly put. Killing the beauty of waiting.

I guess sometimes you do have to give it time. If not, you lose sight of the whatever’s beautiful in this world in the process.

A true testament that change is part of nature’s way. Embrace the change and go with the flow, or get drowned in the process.

The struggle was real earlier. A few years back, privileged were the ones that had umpteen storage facilities and a high speed internet connection. But the transmission of life into digital has made the struggles fade.

The struggle now is settling on what to watch and finish it before any spoilers. With traditional cable tvs’, cinemas and movies taking the hit in the process. Transforming the entertainment world by a few hundred steps stcsdym a time. The changes are abysmal.

The ‘work from home’ culture just fuelling the way for major streaming platforms to sow millions in this times of crisis. With too much time in hand, people going frenzy to fit in something or the other into their lives to pass time.

Like I mentioned earlier, not adhering to moderations has its own antagonising effects. The binge watching culture has made several beings vulnerable to numerous health conditions.

Having a toll on the body and the mind. Two spectrums of well-being, taking severe hits by the 4G and 5G spectrums, causing many a imbalances in the lives of mankind, as a whole.

Experts have commented that the new culture of bingeing has adverse impacts on health, as the excessive indulgence has thrown the dopamine levels of the body off the charts.

Dopamine being a chemical produced naturally in the body, is a neurotransmitter, which regulates many a actions of our bodies.

The health problems involving both physical and mental. Ranging from severe medical conditions like insomnia, chronic boredom, apathy to depression. The physical effects ranging from cardiovascular diseases, thrombosis and other vision related diseases.


The excessive snacking whilst bingeing also affecting the tummy areas too. Transforming generously the packs into a vast ‘single pack’ in the process.

All this rambling might make me sound like a boomer trying to bully the younger generations. But in all honesty, if you don’t care to stop and analyse what’s happening, then whole of life will slip away before you take notice.

Periodic reality checks should be squeezed into the equation of life. For a better and beautiful tomorrow.

For “Tomorrow has no reality, since every day is experienced as today”, excessive indulgence today might fade out all our realities amidst a global pandemic.

Succulents

Succulents are indoor plants which can grow with very little water. They are ornamental plants and are used to decorate spaces for their interesting shapes and colours. If you are in search of house plants which can thrive with little care succulents are for you. Over the last few years succulents have grown very popular. There are hundreds of unique varieties and one doesn’t need gardening skills to care for them, anyone can grow them. They have special water storing tissues which help them to grow even in very dry conditions which is not favorable for most other plants. So, they are ideal for growing in your living room. They are also very easy to find in nurseries and shops.  

In botany, succulent are plants which are thick and fleshy to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions. The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning ‘juice’, or ‘sap’. These plants may store water in various structures, such as leaves and stems. The natural habitats of these water preserving plants are in areas where there is high temperatures and low rainfall, like deserts. Having the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, succulents are equipped to survive in an ecosystem with scarce water sources. In horticulture, the term succulent regularly excludes cacti. However in botanical terminology, cacti fall under succulents.  

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Some easy to grow succulent varieties are –  

Burro’s tail – It is a trailing succulent that looks good in a hanging basket or container so it can drape over. The stems can reach up to 3 feet long and have gray-green leaves which looks like the grains of rice. Although it rarely blooms, pink or red flowers might be visible at the end of the stems in summer.  

Christmas Cactus – It has flat segmented stems like crab claws which gives it the nick name crab claw cactus. It also prefers a bit more moisture so you can water it whenever the top inch of soil in the container is dry. Keeping it in bright light near a window, can make it bloom in winter.  

Hens and Chickens – It is a very common type of succulent and is characterised by flower like structures with round edges. They are actually two different plants which look very simmilar. They have star shaped flowers.  

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Aloevera – It has long slender leaves with sharp teeth like edges. It’s well known for its sap which is used to treat skin diseases and heal wounds. Aloevera is a easy to grow houseplant and is tough to kill.  

Snake Plant –  They have thick, stiff and pointed leaves which grow straight up to 3 feet long. Having a patterned marking makes it look like a snake and hence the name. It will multiply and grow leading to filling the whole pot. It might require you to divide it in different pots.  

African Milk Tree – It is capable of growing upto nine feet tall in natural habitat, and it isn’t actually a tree. As a houseplant, this succulent reaches up to three feet tall, producing upright, triangular, branched stems bordered with short sharp thorns. The tips of the green stems have small leaves with a reddish tinge. 

Zebra Haworthia – It has striking stripes and spiky foliage which makes it look like a rare and exotic plant, but it’s often available at plant shops and is very easy-going when it comes to taking care of. It will stay small within 5 inches.  

Social Media surveillance

In the past decade, social media has gone from being extra entertaining to a fully integrated part of our lives. Social media is a good way to keep in touch with friends, families, and acquaintances, especially in the contemporary world. But it is not only being used by us but governments as well to keep in touch with its citizens. Governments are increasingly purchasing cutting edge technology to keep an eye on its citizens’ behavior on social media. This form of mass surveillance has made its way to a range of countries, from authoritarian powers to smaller and poorer countries. Coupled with an alarming rise in the number of countries where social media users have been arrested for their legitimate online activities, the growing employment of social media surveillance threatens to squeeze the space for civic activism on digital platforms. For e.g. in 2017, at least 7 people were arrested for posting ‘objectionable’ posts on social media against newly elected Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. As quickly as social media has insinuated into politics, the workplace, and elsewhere it continues to evolve at lightning speed making it a conundrum to guess which way it will morph next. Social media is not a utility, where people care about whether it works or not, rather people look for new hot things especially the younger generation.

Social media surveillance refers to the collection and processing of personal data pulled from digital communication platforms, often through automated technology that allows for real-time aggregation, organization, and analysis of large amounts of metadata and content. Governments have long employed people to monitor speech on social media, including by creating fraudulent accounts to connect with real-life users and gain access to networks. With the colossal amount of personal data people willingly release on social media, government agencies can easily collect and analyze populations of people as they please. Authorities in Iran have a legion of volunteers who monitor online speech. Any citizen can report for duty on the Cyber Police (FATA) website. Similarly, the ruling Communist Party in China has recruited thousands of individuals to sift through the internet and report problematic content and accounts to authorities. In India, various political parties have IT cells, although BJP has allegedly the strongest IT-cell. These groups not only monitor social media platforms but also are responsible for hate comments, cleaning some one’s image, or spread fake news. The market for social media surveillance has grown by large, giving intelligence and law enforcement agencies new tools for combing through massive amounts of information. Justifying their efforts in the name of enhancing security, limiting disinformation, and ensuring public order, governments have effectively co-opted social media platforms. While these platforms typically present themselves as social connectors and community builders, state agencies in repressive countries see them as vast storehouses of speech and personal information that can be observed, collected, and analyzed to detect and suppress dissent. Often the explanations leading to the arrests are stated that “the material was provocative and could lead to communal clash”, but it reflects the incompetency of the state to maintain harmony, and increased intolerance.China is a leader in developing, employing, and exporting social media surveillance tools. Its agencies work closely with leading companies to monitor individuals online. A complex web of regulations gives the Chinese state access to user content and metadata, allowing authorities to more easily identify and reprimand users who share sensitive content. Freedom of Net 2019: The Crisis of Social Media, examined 65 nations worldwide to find out, China topped the list of “World’s worst abuser of internet freedom” for 4 years in a row. In contrast, Iceland was “The World’s best protector of internet freedom”. India scored 55 out of 100 and was declared “partly free”. With the Internet restrictions closing in, it is a warning call to wake up to your rights.

What’s most alarming is how populist leaders and far-right groups have grown adept not only at creating viral disinformation but also at harnessing networks that disseminate it. The majority of the disinformation, wrote the authors, are from domestic sources rather than foreign interference.

Strong protections for democratic freedoms are necessary to ensure that the internet does not become a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression,as technology advances to greater heights, the protection of our citizens must be greater as well.

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B. R. Ambedkar

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was an Indian economist, politician and social reformer. He was also known as Babasaheb Ambedkar. He campaigned against social discrimination against the lower castes or Dalits of the country. Completing his doctorate from Columbia University and The London School of Economics, he gained reputation as a scholar for his research in economics, law and political science.

In the early phases of his career, he was an economist, professor and lawyer. Towards the later phases, he was actively involved in campaigns for India’s independence. He published journals and advocated for political and social rights for Dalits. He made a significant contribution to the establishment of the state of India. He was the first Minister of Law and Justice of India and the chief architect of the Constitution of India.

He had a Marathi family background and was from the town of Ambadawe in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. Ambedkar was born into a poor Mahar (Dalit caste), who were treated as untouchables and faced a lot of socio-economic discrimination. Although he attended school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated from the rest of the children and given little attention by teachers. They were not even allowed to sit inside the class. He had to sit on a gunny sack which he took home after school. When they needed to drink water, someone from a higher caste had to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch the water vessel. It was usually the peon who did this for him and on days when the peon was not available, he had to go without water. He had later described this as “No peon, No water” in one of his writings.

During British rule, Ambedkar’s effort for the political representation of the oppressed untouchables of India bore fruit in the 1920s. The colonial state was forced to include two members from among the Dalits in the Round Table Conference in 1930. This eventually led to the framing of the Government of India Act, 1935.

From 1927, Ambedkar launched active movements against untouchability. He began public movements and marches to open up public drinking water resources for all. He led a satyagraha in Mahad to fight for the right of the untouchable community to draw water from the main water tank of the town. He also began a struggle for the right of Dalits to enter Hindu temples. In a conference in1927, Ambedkar publicly condemned the Hindu text Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), for ideologically justifying caste discrimination and “untouchability”. He ceremonially burned copies of the ancient text. On 25th December 1927, he led thousands of followers to burn copies of Manusmrti. Since then 25 December is celebrated as Manusmriti Dahan Din (Manusmriti Burning Day) by Ambedkarites and Dalits.

In 1956, he converted to Buddhism, initiating mass conversions of Dalits which eventually led to the Dalit-Buddhist movement.

A few days after completing his final manuscript ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’, he died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi.

Multiverse

Parallel universe… Science fiction or scientific fact, I don’t know the answer for that, but certainly, the very idea of parallel universes sparks our wildest imaginations. If there is another universe with different outcomes of every decision ever made by us in this universe, might there be a way to access that world? A better life each one hopes for, and with the possibility of multiverses, this hope strengthens, that one day we would be able to transport ourselves there. Movies like “Star Trek”, “Dark”, “Avengers: Infinity wars” “Stranger Things” have bolstered such ideas.There are some shreds of evidence that advocate the existence of multiverses. We all know how we emerged from Big bang, an unknown force caused it to expand and as the expansion settled somewhat light began to emerge, the smaller pieces coalesced into bigger particles like Galaxies, stars, and planets. But the question arises, are we the only universe out there? Since the universe is curved, it looks like we are sitting in a fishbowl the only difference is that our universe is constantly expanding, and therefore we aren’t able to look beyond the bowl, if there is something beyond the bowl.
Some theories that advocate the existence of multiverse are-

  • Infinite universes- We don’t know what the shape of space-time is exactly. One prominent theory is that it is flat and goes on forever, and therefore it is possible that universes can start repeating themselves since particles can only be put together in so many ways. This would present the possibility of many universes being out there.
  • Mathematical universes- Another possible avenue is exploring mathematical universes, which, simply put, explain that the structure of mathematics may change depending on which universe you reside in. A mathematical structure is something that you can describe in a way that’s completely independent of human baggage, thus there could be a universe out there that can exist independently of me that would continue to exist even if there were no humans.
  • Parallel universes- And last but not least as the idea of parallel universes. Going back to the idea that space-time is flat, the number of possible particle configurations in multiple universes would be limited to 10^10^122 distinct possibilities, to be exact. So, with an infinite number of cosmic patches, the particle arrangements within them must repeat — infinitely many times over. This means there are infinitely many “parallel universes”: cosmic patches the same as ours (containing someone exactly like you), as well as patches that differ by just one particle’s position, patches that differ by two particles’ positions, and so on down to patches that are different from ours.
  • Daughter universes- Or perhaps multiple universes can follow the theory of quantum mechanics (how subatomic particles behave), as part of the “daughter universe” theory. If you follow the laws of probability, it suggests that for every outcome that could come from one of your decisions, there would be a range of universes – each of which saw one outcome come to be. Like in Schrodinger’s cat experiment, in one universe, the cat would be alive and in other, it won’t. 
  • Bubble universes- Another theory for multiple universes comes from “eternal inflation.” Based on research from Tufts University cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, when looking at space-time as a whole, some areas of space stop inflating like the Big Bang inflated our universe. Others, however, will keep getting larger. So if we picture our universe as a bubble, it is sitting in a network of bubble universes of space. What’s interesting about this theory is the other universes could have very different laws of physics than our own, since they are not linked.

These are still hypotheses, and we are a long way before we can conclude anything about the presence of multiverses. But ignoring the possibilities would make us kind and we don’t do that in science. Researchers are working still to prove any of the hypotheses, Antarctica has got a station to look for evidence, as in theory already many noble minds have predicted multiverses.

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The Casteless Collective

The Casteless Collective is a Chennai based Tamil indie band. The band currently consists of 19 members including Tenma (leader and music producer), singers Muthu, Bala Chandar,  Isaivani,  Arivu and Chellamuthu, Dharani (Dholak), Sarath (Satti), Gautham (Katta molam), Nandan (Parai and Tavil), Manu Krishnan (drums) and Sahib Singh (guitar).  

Formed in the year 2017, the band was started by Pa. Ranjith and Tamil Indie Musician and Composer, Tenma, founder of Madras Records. The band’s name originated from the phrase ‘Jaathi Illadha Tamizhargal’ which was coined by the 19th century anti caste activist C. Iyothee Thass. He was a social activist who urged Dalits across Tamil Nadu to register themselves as Tamils without caste in the first Census in 1871. The band makes music to protest and rebel against the age-old caste-based discrimination and violence. Their songs are political which speaks against the inequalities of the caste system and oppression of women and minorities in Tamil Nadu.  

The leader and music producer of the band, Tenma was preparing to put together a group of indie musical artists for the Madras Indie Collective in 2017 when he got the idea from Pa. Ranjith, of training Gaana musicians for it. They prepared auditions for over 150 applicants and looked for artists who had a socio-political motivation in their lives as well as musical strengths. A mixture of Gaana, hip hop, rap and folk musicians were brought together. About 19 singers were selected for the initial ensemble.    

It has broken caste boundaries by engaging with the current social and political issues in the state. Instead of making music for entertainment alone the band has tried to eradicate discrimination through its music. Their main intention is “to create political awareness through music and art” because “art which makes us question discomfort is beautiful”. The band is a collective without caste which aims to eradicate caste based and religious discrimination through music.  

Jai Bhim Anthem (2018), Quota (2018), Magizhchi (2018), Vada Chennai (2018), Thalaiva (2019), Dabba Dabba (2019) are popular singles of the band.

The Casteless Collective had their very first concert on January 2018 in Chennai. It was their first performance in front of more than 4000 people. The 19 members including one female artist, all dressed in identical grey suits gave a wonderful performance. Their cries of “Jai Bhim!” were greeted with thunderous applause. They had not expected such a big enthusiastic crowd and it was a very emotional experience for all of them. This was also because most of the artists came from small backgrounds and they had mostly performed in one or two funeral processions. The instrumentalists who played katte and chatti were really overwhelmed as these instruments were restricted to only funeral events. 

It was not a concert that had people head-banging or jumping to the beat of drums. Instead, the audience listened to the songs with rapt attention. They broke into applause and shouts of agreement whenever the lyrics hit home. The Bhim Rap, a song on BR Ambedkar’s life and work, was met with a very enthusiastic reception. So was the Rap song that condemned honour killings in the name of caste and caste pride which was a major social evil in Tamil Nadu. Another popular track, Madrasin Magizhchi, spoke about the small joys of living in Madras, despite being poor.  

They say that people often ask them about the song lyrics and the stories about their experiences, so a discussion has begun. The band believes that social problems cannot be solved unless it is spoken about. Without discussions around caste-based discrimination one cannot attempt to eradicate the social evil. Their songs have already fulfilled their aim and created a stir among people. We hope that the band achieves greater heights and reaches out to everyone out there who has been a victim of caste discrimination and that it becomes successful in eradicating the malpractices of the system. 

Cyber Security – Nobody is Safe.

The need for Cyber security in the new world

I for one, got sceptical about the internet, when I was signing up for a newsletter for some website. The ones that end up being unread in the spam folder of the inbox.

As I was about to type in my details, an option popped up on my device, offering to type out the my details for me. The moment I clicked ‘ok’, it entered all my details, which even I, myself got wrong at times. Alarmed was not the word for it.

Being a law student, a paper in the current semester brought me up close with the nuances of cyber security and its relevance in this new age world.

Prior to that, me, being a victim of a cyber attack, never crossed my mind. It felt as the fort of the ‘big body corporates’ and hackers as we’ve seen in the movies.

The scene starting of with a shot of the outside of a high rise building and then the scene progressing into the interiors filled with people in expensive suits hustling and bustling. Then we were shown a guy Sitting in a shady corner, mostly, in a far away place, with blood shot eyes behind the specs, with the hoody on and staring onto the screen with the concentration of a heart surgeon conducting bypass surgery, not concerned about the realities of the world.

The power of what all a person can accomplish with a gadget connected to the internet is old news for us, but the intensity of the troubles are worth pondering about.

The need for educating people of all walks of life about the dangers of the internet and how to steer clear is indeed the need of the hour.

If systems of international banks can be compromised over the web, why not a person like you and me, who are unaware of the pool we’ve our legs dipped in.

Surely, it has made our lives easier, closer and more colourful, but don’t forget that there are two sides to every coin. We go about living our lives believing that the ‘common man’ will never be vulnerable to cyber attacks.

In the quest of becoming more social, we often get carried away on a few things. A couple of decades back and even now at times, the society as a whole gets sceptical of exposing sensitive datas like addresses, contact details and other stuff to a complete stranger.

But now, to fit in, we’ve all details from our DOB to mail ids and everything and anything on the web for people to access. What if it goes into the hands of the wrong kind?

Completely forgetting that everything about them is just a few taps away on some site.

Most importantly I believe conversations in the past were restricted due to the fear of getting punched in the face. But now the power of the internet has made anybody a ‘somebody’, a ‘keyboard warrior’; people, hiding away behind a screen, doing anything, feeling assured against not getting punched, at all.

Sure, we can justify all these, that we’ve progressed and become free thinking but people are still people.

We were taught not to step into the cars of a stranger but now we book and share cabs with people who we’ve never met.

Whole of my life I was asked to live by the rules and I believe that’s the best way to live. When all my peers started downloading movies and songs, from random sites, I’ve never felt the need; because I’ve always been certain that there’s nothing like a ‘free lunch’ in this world. People play it smart, by downloading pirated stuff, believing that they pulled a fast one, unaware of the threats posed by such sites.

Cyber security experts have time and again conferred that such articles are often kept out as baits for snatching the weak ones. You may never know when your luck runs out.

Everything comes with a cost.

The very websites that may host such pirated content may contain malware that might end up compromising your system.

Taking everything from basic details to bank info along with it. Enough to make you lose everything you own to your name in a matter of seconds. Losing everything you’ve had to strive for your entire life, gone, in just a matter of minutes, to download a movie or two, is something we can surely live without, right?

Most websites know us like the back of their hands with the algorithms they use. Next time when you see an ad for something you were searching for a little while back, coincidence, I think not.

Digital footprint is something that’s not talked about. It’s the track of what all we’ve done across the Internet. The track would itself suffice to tell a tale or two about us.

They say energy can’t be destroyed, same applies to data, once created it can never be destroyed. Every single time we send a doc or text to the Recycle bin and get it erased from there, we feel we’ve got it out of the system. But apparently what happens is that the data gets taken out from the view but will continue to be stored on the hard disk. The tech is so advanced that, nowadays anyone can buy a software and retrieve all kinds of data from your device.

The vastness of the internet has made us ever so negligent of what all we do. .

Every time we hear somebody being a victim of a cyber attack, we judge them, that very moment, that ‘they should’ve been more careful.’ But how safe do you think you’re? It might be somebody today, and you tomorrow. Think twice before your next type/leap.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

As the internet gets more and more entangled with our day to day lives, going the extra mile to ensure that no data is unnecessarily shared can make all the difference in all the world.

The internet is nothing more than a large network connecting and abridging the gaps between networks. It grants us access to everything and anything.

But always remember a bridge has two ends, what may connect us to everything, connects us to them too.

Beauty

One of the most unsparing habits of the human being is judging a person on the virtue of their looks that includes: complexion shade, height, figure, hair, etc. This ritual has been in the culture of all the individuals around the globe and has been followed through ages. Kings prefer attractive women; his ministry will be filled with people shorter than him. In present, it is an outrageous idea of degrading individuals on their looks. A person facing it may not be able to walk out from self-guilt. The idea of beauty is sprayed on the public by fraudulent cosmetics companies. We can take an example of Kylie Jenner who is a media personality and owns Kylie Cosmetics. She has prompted the idea to her customers that they can get looks like her if they use products from her brand. A tall man will always be held to be a leader, or an attractive woman will always be soft-spoken. We need to change this thinking pattern otherwise a lot of high potential souls will go wasted. In this 21century, spoke persons do outline the issue in a vilified manner. In the end, I would like to quote “No beauty shines brighter than a good heart”, by anonymous.One of the most unsparing habits of the human being is judging a person on the virtue of their looks that includes: complexion shade, height, figure, hair, etc. This ritual has been in the culture of all the individuals around the globe and has been followed through ages. Kings prefer attractive women; his ministry will be filled with people shorter than him. In present, it is an outrageous idea of degrading individuals on their looks. A person facing it may not be able to walk out from self-guilt. The idea of beauty is sprayed on the public by fraudulent cosmetics companies. We can take an example of Kylie Jenner who is a media personality and owns Kylie Cosmetics. She has prompted the idea to her customers that they can get looks like her if they use products from her brand. A tall man will always be held to be a leader, or an attractive woman will always be soft-spoken. We need to change this thinking pattern otherwise a lot of high potential souls will go wasted. In this 21century, spoke persons do outline the issue in a vilified manner. In the end, I would like to quote “No beauty shines brighter than a good heart”, by anonymous.

AI

Artificial Intelligence(AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to mimic human actions and thinking. It is an umbrella term that includes any machine that can be programmed to exhibit human traits like learning and problem-solving. The ideal characteristics of AI are its ability to rationalize and take actions to achieve a specified goal. When hearing AI, people often visualize robots, all thanks to big-budget Hollywood movies and novels like “The Terminator” etc. People often think that AI is a distant future, but they don’t acknowledge how AI has already crept in our daily life. AI can do a variety of subtle tasks like creating a playlist based on your taste in a music app, defeating humans in complex games like Deep Blue, The DeepMind system, self-driving cars, etc.. AI is based on the principle that human intelligence can be programmed such that it is comprehensible to machines. The goals of Artificial intelligence include learning, reasoning, and perception to accomplish tasks that require human intelligence. AI is categorized into three categories, ANI, AGI, AGI. ANI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence embodies a system designed to carry a narrow range of abilities like facial recognition, play chess, provide assistance like SIRI, Google Assitant. AGI, Artificial general intelligence is at par with human intelligence., it can think, understand, and act in a way that is indistinguishable from that of humans. Today’s AI is speculated to be decades away from the AGI. ASI, Artificial superintelligence is hypothetical which would surpass human intelligence and capabilities, and would be self-aware. People often see AI as next big thing in technology but they don’t realize how AI has gotten knitted into our lives. We now rely on AI more than ever. Whether it be asking Siri to ask for directions, ask Alexa to switch on a light, or just listening on Spotify which creates a playlist based on our taste. Many more applications are being devised like transportation, manufacturing units, healthcare, and education. Tesla is making breakthrough discoveries in the field of AI, like self-driving cars, automated manufacturing. AI is being used in journalism too, Bloomberg used cyborg tech to make quick sense of convoluted financial reports. AI is also helping in medical services too, helping to diagnose diseases more accurately than ever, speeding up drug discovery. With so many benefits of AI, many advocate about it and even say that only luddites are worried about safety of AI but it is not so. As said a coin has two sides, thus every pro comes with a con. AI is not benign because it would follow our order and would accomplish the task at any cost without being able to think about the consequences of actions. Humans are affected not only by results but also by the method taken to achieve the result. For e.g. you might ask an AI to eradicate evil, but ultimately it would kill you because humans make errors which may unintentionally cause evil, like in the movie “The Terminator” or you could ask a self-driving car to reach a destination, it would not matter to it if it accomplishes the task by hook or by crook. You could end up and the airport covered in vomit. Although it had accomplished what you asked for, but not what you intended.Thus AI is a risky job, we’ve gotta be more careful with what the experts sitting over there are developing. If the tech could harm even one person, then it won’t be beneficial to humanity no matter how many benefits it might have.