Thursday, April 30, 2009

Maserati on Church Street, Bangalore

Spotted on April 25, 2009, a jet black Ferrari Maserati, on Church Street in Bangalore.

This seems to be a GranTurismo (

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mahabharata - A Modern Rendering

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol 1
Among the hundreds of books written on the Mahabharata over the thousands of years gone by, its characters, episodes, a recent one seems to be popular and detailed enough. At over 1600 pages, reading it is not a venture to be undertaken lightly or attempted to be completed over a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A challenge with any translation or version of the Mahabharata, has to be to preserve the allegorical aspect of the tale while attempting to convey the drama and sheer scale of the epic.

THE MAHABHARATA (2 Vols):A Modern Rendering by Ramesh Menon Category: Philosophy & Religion
Number of pages: 1616
Book Size: 9x6
Book Weight (Hardbound): 2000 gm (yep - that's 2 kilograms, or 4.4 lbs)
Published in: 10/01/2004
Available in: Hardbound & Paperbound
ISBN_PB: 8129103109
ISBN_HB: 8129104237

The Indian edition lists at Rs 1,500, and some booksellers may offer a 10-20% discount.

Wayanad Chain Tree

Wayanad is a district in the state of Kerala. It is one of the newer districts, formed in 1980.
Navigate to the official web of the state of Kerala, and you can then go the Wayanad district's web site. Lots of stats on the district are available there.

So what about the chain tree?
Well.. As you would guess, there is a tree. As you would expect. There is a chain. And the chain is tied to the tree. Hence the name "chain tree."
So far so clear.
But why is it called the "Chain Tree"?

The legend goes something like this. Sometime in the 19th century, an English engineer wanted to find a way through to Wayanad through the dense forests. A local tribal helped him. The tribal was promptly killed by the Englishman as a reward. The Englishman wanted to take credit for the discovery you see.

So what happened next? The legend goes that the spirit of the murdered tribal started haunting travelers. Which didn't please the travelers one bit. On top of the wild animals and the difficulty of the path, to have to contend with other-worldly dangers could prove to be too much.
So a priest was called in.
Who tied the murdered adivasi's spirit to a tree with a chain.
Aha! There you go. The pieces start to fall together, don't they now?

So where is the tree?
Surprisingly, a couple of kilometers after Vythri, by the National Highway 212. Yes. You simply stop by the road, and there is the tree.

View Larger Map

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Auto driver in Bangalore.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Logic of Life-3

My first post on this book was a short review, while the second post had excerpts from one chapter, interspersed with my comments.
This last post on the book also contains excerpts from a few other chapters, and again interspersed with my comments.
To recap, the book is a big disappointment. If you have read Tim Harford's first book, "The Undercover Economist", this book seems so bad it is hard to accept that the two were written by the same person. The book also has a Freakonomics hangover, which by itself is not bad, except that the book does not compare with Freakonomics either.
Many chapters start out promisingly, but then meander away into mediocrity. Chapter after chapter after chapter. Whether it is the chapter on gambling, or on workplace compensation, or on urban neighborhoods, or on the linkages between innovation and population. It is not that the prose is poor. No. It is that incredibly frustrating feeling you get that these chapters could have been so much more illuminating, insightful, and just better. That the author can write better than he has. But for some reason he chose the path of mediocrity. Laziness perhaps?

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World

Why Your Boss Is Overpaid
Now who would disagree with a chapter title such as that? Except for the boss, of course. Who doesn't like to think that their bosses are clueless stereotypical bumbling characters straight out of a Dilbert cartoon, while they themselves are hard working, diligent, underpaid, overworked honest do-gooders?
Such perceptions are repeated so often and by so many people that they have acquired a reality all of their own. Some of it is rightly so, some not so. But perhaps, one of the biggest gripes that most employees have is why their boss is so overpaid. Many employees would think that the optimal salary for their bosses should be a whole number one less than the least non-prime integer, but bosses are inclined to think the same about many of their employees.

Isn't it a fact that most people will not venture out publicly and proclaim that their bosses are overpaid, yet rage in private against the perceived excess of their compensation and paucity of skills. Or as the author eloquently muses:
But why is office life so frustrating? Why do your colleagues stab you in the back while your idiot boss is paid a fortune for lounging around behind a mahogany altar? And why do your undoubted talents go unrewarded? [page 88]
When I wrote "performance pay encourages performance," I was right, but with a crucial hidden premise--that performance can be measured, and thus rewarded. [page 92]
Take the case of software companies. How do you measure performance? If you are a developer, is it by the number of lines you code? That surely is the surest way of guaranteeing horrible code. If you are a quality assurance engineer, responsible for testing a part of a product to ensure that the shipping product is of good quality, and if you are measured by the number of bugs you file, well... that doesn't work quite well either. You could well have a QA engineer file bugs that are cosmetic in nature, like a control that should be two pixels to the right, or an image that does not display a tooltip, while ignoring the fact that the software increasingly uses more and more memory till all the memory made in Taiwan would not suffice. If you are a product manager, it gets even more interesting. You could focus on the mechanics of the job, of making sure that all the cells in a tracking spreadsheet are uptodate, while ignoring the creative aspect of the job, driving the product into mediocrity and irrelevance while the market innovates and moves ahead. Ditto for user interface design. And so on...
Yet an attempt to pay for performance was outwitted by the great pole vaulter Sergei Bubka. He was paid a cash bonus every time he broke the world record, and so he was motivated to beat his previous marks by the smallest increment possible rather than aim for his best jump. Bubka often broke the record by a single centimeter. The bar steadily crept upward until the mid-1990s, when Bubka was past his best and was unable to beat his most recent height. [page 95]
Also, remember that performance is relative. It is never absolute. It is measured on a relative scale. It is rewarded on a relative scale. Relative means that you are better if your coworkers look worse than you. Period. Simple as that. Unfortunately.
Once you start handing our large quantities of cash to people for outperforming their peers, they will work out that there are two ways to win this game: Either do a great job or make sure your colleagues do a bad one. [page 97]
Tournament-style incentives make it perfectly rational for workers to stab one another in the back. [page 98]
If you want to introduce a tournament-style system of promotion and performance pay for your subordinates, all you need to do is work out whether each worker's efforts to improve his or her performance will outweigh his or her efforts to drag down everyone else's. [page 98]
How else do employees may consider improving their relative performance? By appearing competent in front of their managers. How many times have you seen employees appear 'smart' when their boss or their boss's boss is visiting? Heck - I have done that. I have seen others do that. No rationalization, no justifications. This is the way the game is played. At all levels. This is precisely so they one can appear 'good', and competent, and better than their peers. This is usually a time-tested strategy that does not require much hard work over a sustained period of time. The downside is that soon enough everyone catches on to this strategy, in which case your brown-nosing skills cease to be a competitive advantage.

MBA-ishly speaking, and strictly speaking, brown nosing should be seen as nothing more than a tactical advantage. Analogous to a price advantage. It is imitable. It cannot be a source of strategic advantage. However, there are innumerable people who confuse the two, and find out soon enough that it soon enough ceases to be a source of differentiation.
Another surprising outcome is the way in which many workers appear to be rewarded simply for being lucky. [page 98]
Not much you can do about this, can you? If success is being in the right place at the right time, then there is certainly an element of luck involved. The person who joined Google in 2007 may not be much different in terms of skills, or knowledge, or ability to work hard versus the person who joined in 2002. However, as far as money goes, the difference could be millions of dollars. The person who joined in 2002 may have been granted options priced at $20-$50, and could have cashed them in 2008 at a price of $700. Even 2000 options at that price would result in a pre-tax profit of $1.3 million. And these are options for only one year. As opposed to someone who joined in 2007, awarded options priced at $600-$700, and watched those options swiftly sink underwater. The same would hold true for a company like Microsoft: a person who joined in 1995 would have been granted options priced at a (split adjusted) price of $5. A person joining in 2000 would have received options priced at $45-$50. The price in April 2009 hovers around $20-$25.

Las Vegas - The Edge of Reason
Gambling is about taking chances. And game theory is about formulating, at least at some idealized level, a theory to help people understand what to do in such cases. A brief history of the evolution of the science of Game Theory at the hands of John von Neumann is included.
With an excellent hand, you should bet: You lose nothing if your opponent folds, while giving yourself a good chance of winning a big pot if he calls. But with a middling hand, you shouldn't bet: If he has a bad hand, he'll fold, and you'll win the ante, which is what you'd have won anyway by checking; but if he has a good hand, he'll call and win. [page 38]
What about with a terrible hand? ... Checking would be unwise, because the hands will be compared and you will lose. It actually makes more sense to bet with these bad hands, because the only way you will win anything is if he drops out, and the only way he might drop out is if you make a bet. Perversely, you are better off betting with awful cards than with mediocre ones, the quintessential (and rational) bluff. [page 38]
"Of the two possible motives for bluffing," wrote von Neumann in Theory of Games, "the first is to give a (false) impression of strength in (real) weakness; the second is the desire to give a (false) impression of weakness in (real) strength." [page 38]
The purpose of this second chapter is however not very clear. There is a dash of game theory, a tiny sliver of talk on the 'winner's curse', some discourse on poker and championships, but just what is the chapter attempting to tell us? Not very clear. You have to plod on for pages before the discourse turns interesting when he talks of addictions. But this also just peters out, fast.
Addiction, said Becker and Murphy, is entirely rational. People who consume addictive products---cigarettes, alcohol, slot machines---calculate that the pleasure of the habit will outweigh the pain. [page 53]
Economists have also found that advertising for nicotine patches and gum seems to encourage nonsmoking teenagers to smoke. That's easy to explain if teenagers are rational: The advertisements tell them that there are new ways to help them quit, so rationally it is less risky to begin the habit. [page 55]
Is Divorce Underrated
This is by far the best chapter in the book. The start is simple enough. He shows how changes in demand and supply can lead to bargaining power quickly sliding into the hands of men, at least in an idealized setting. And how that also seems to hold true in the real world.
What it does show is that we are more fussy when we can afford to be and less fussy when we can't: Crudely speaking, when it comes to the dating market, we settle for what we can get. [page 66]
We can imagine that a father's role in raising children, primarily, was to provide and protect: perhaps the most able hunters would have been in the most demand as long-term partners, or the strongest fighters, or the canniest at making political alliances. All these attributes would have translated into high status. And in modern times, we have a very reliable indicator of high status: wealth. [page 72]
Think about the above paragraph for a moment. Isn't this what also happens in the employment world? Your prospective employer looks at your current salary as an indicator of your true worth. You may well be good enough to deserve a $150k salary, but if you are earning $75k at your current company, even if you were to ace all your interviews with the prospective employer, he is not likely to offer you a $150k salary, exceptions notwithstanding. $100k maybe. $120k in extreme situations. And unless there is a huge imbalance in the supply and demand, $150k is not your paycheck.
Consciously or not, plenty of women seem to have decided they would rather compete for scarce wealthy males than move where the males are poorer but more plentiful. Manhattan's women may constantly grumble about the lack of marriageable men in the city, but it is their rational choice not to relocate to Alaska. [pages 73, 74]
It seems that a high barrier to marriage infidelity would have been the risk of getting pregnant, or of getting the partner pregnant. Well... it turns out that the contraceptive pill lowered that barrier, significantly.
Even in India, there are companies hard at work at trying to lower these barriers. The solution is an emergency contraceptive pill (see side-effects, blog, or the company web site). The target market is not the married couples who may end up with an unwanted pregnancy in the family. Or the rural or urban poor for whom the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy are more severe, and who are more likely to not use appropriate precautions. The first market is not large enough to target, while the second market is not lucrative enough.
The advertising is crouched in almost noble terms, but the goal at the end of the day is really to encourage more out-of-marriage casual sex between people. The logic is simple: the probability of an unwanted pregnancy is proportional to the number of sexual encounters between partners who do not desire a pregnancy. The goal is to raise the number of unwanted pregnancies. Which will create demand for the product. You cannot really go around advertising the benefits of marital infidelity or teenage sex. So you use surrogate advertising. Shameful? Perhaps. Unethical? Maybe. Rational? Yes. Profitable? For sure yes.


On to the book and how the contraceptive pill and education combine to make things slightly worse for women:
In fact, rational responses to the pill have had effects remarkably similar to those that come from imprisoning a significant chunk of the male population. [page 76]
The contraceptive pill also makes it easier for men to get sex outside of marriage. The logic of evolutionary psychology says that women should be choosy about whom they have sex with, because pregnancy in the wrong circumstances is extremely costly--but the logic of a woman who has control of reliable contraception is quite different. The preferences that evolution has shaped still exert a powerful influence on our instincts, and many women remain extremely choosy and refuse to have sex outside marriage. But others, once armed with the pill, decide they can afford to have a little more fun.
The choosy ones are unlucky: The existence of other women who are a little freer with their favors weakens the bargaining power of the Madonnas, and means that men have less incentive to marry. Some men will not bother at all, feeling that they can get all they want from a playboy lifestyle. Or they may delay marriage until middle age, cutting down on the pool of marriageable men and increasing male bargaining power. ... With highly educated women in excess supply, men have realized that they can get sex, and even successful offspring, without ever moving too far from the recliner and the potato chips.[page 76, 77]
The theories of comparative advantage, long used to justify outsourcing and freer international trade, can also be used to explain why the women may be a better choice when it comes to taking care of the kids at home.
It is a harsh truth about the world of work that for many professionals, the more work you have done in the past, the more productive each additional working hour becomes: a perfect example of economies of scale.
This means that a household in which both parents work part-time on their careers and part-time looking after children and the home does not make rational economic sense. Two halves are much less than a whole. Economies of scale dictate that, logically, one partner should apply himself or herself full-time to paid work. [page 81]
There is no reason to believe that men were breadwinners because they were any good at it. They might simply have been breadwinners because getting them to help around the house would have been even worse. [page 82]
Any linkage between divorce and a career for women? Sure:
That started a second reinforcing loop (some people regard it as a vicious circle). Because divorce was conceivable, women preserved career options. But because women had career options, divorce became conceivable. It became less and less likely that a woman would end up trapped in a miserable marriage out of pure economic necessity. [page 84]
One of the biggest benefits of divorce should not come as a surprise to anyone. After all, the perpetrators of domestic violence are more often than not bullies, and therefore cowards. As long as the victim does not have a viable option of retaliation, the violence continues.
... economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers discovered a chilling example of the way that the increased availability of divorce empowered women. ... By giving women an exit option, they gave men stronger incentives to behave well inside a marriage. The result? Domestic violence fell by almost a third, and the number of women murdered by their partners fell by 10 percent. Female suicide rates also fell. It is a reminder that the binding commitment of marriage has costs as well as benefits. [page 86]
The World Is Spiky
This chapter tries, somewhat successfully, somewhat turgidly, that cities are where innovation is more likely to happen, simply because there are more people there, more smart people talking with and meeting more smart people. The converse is true. Once smart, successful people start abandoning a city, the cycle becomes self-reinforcing.
When transport costs fall, rational people don't spread out into the countryside, they cluster together in cities, or at least in suburbs. [page 160]
It is not hard to see what kind of person is rationally attracted by a city with cheap houses but no good jobs: people who have already retired, or people with few skills, or people whose skills were once in demand but have fallen out of favor because of technological changes or global competition. ... but highly skilled people value the opportunities provided by a dynamic city, even though the cost may be high. Hedge
fund partners don't move to Detroit to save on rent. ...
The result is yet another rationally self-reinforcing trend, this time a vicious circle: Struggling cities attract people with low skills, which means that they are unlikely to create the sort of exuberant innovation seen in more successful cities; and the more that modern economies depend on people with skills, the more serious and insuperable these disadvantages are likely to become. [page 169, 170]
The same is the for schools, right? Government run public schools in India used to be where everyone sent their kids to study. A slight drop in quality, infrastructure, teaching staff, and a slight rise in private schools meant that some parents withdrew their children from government schools and put them into these private 'public' schools. Some students here did well in board examinations. Which increased the exodus from government schools. Even parents who otherwise would have been unable to afford private schools looked to send their kids to private schools, to give them any advantage, real or perceived, to help them get ahead in the hyper-competitive world of India. Which meant that there was no dearth of supply of dubious quality schools.
Per square mile, cities certainly do produce more pollution. But per person, the story is different. Manhattanites go shopping for their groceries on foot. They live in tiny apartments and have little space to accumulate clutter. They use public transportation much more than other Americans, consume gasoline at the tiny rate that the rest of America did before the Great Depression, and travel past countless homes and offices using the world's most energy-efficient mode of mass transport: the elevator. [page 172]
This argument can also be applied within cities to the choice between apartments and houses. Houses are a luxury, and certainly, in cities the prices of houses reflects the reality. But more than that, apartments afford luxuries to people in a collective manner that would otherwise be unaffordable to all but the most affluent. Tennis courts are a rarity in Indian cities. Private clubs offer them; at exorbitant prices. Most large apartment complexes have at least one. Wooden badminton courts are the same. Amenities that are typically not available to the average resident in India.

A Million Years of Logic
I argue that the answer lies in the age of European exploration and conquest-not, as often believed, because the exploitation of Africa and the New World directly enriched Europe, but because the trading opportunities empowered a merchant class with a strong interest in creating laws and institutions that provided incentives for economic growth. [page 195]
This last chapter is an absolute apologia for western imperialism, and quite shameful an effort. The so called merchant class that is alleged to have had an interest in creating laws and institutions was no more than a band of thugs who had an incentive, motive, and the lack of a conscience to do whatever it took to establish colonial rule in countries like India, China, and elsewhere, whether it was by lying, cheating, deceit, genocide, atrocities, bribery, thuggery, or worse. True, locals like Mir Jaffar and Jai Chand were aplenty to help the imperialist causes, but that should in no way mitigate the culpability of the European imperialists. As far as the question of living standards go, Indian GDP was several times more than the GDP of England, the living standards in India were on the average far better than that of the Englishman, and famines were once in a century occurrence before English colonialism took hold, as opposed to a famine every decade afterwards.

The prosperity of medieval India meant that there was a well-established system of a rule-of-law that meant that the worker, the artisan, the farmer, expected to get a fair deal for his produce, and had an effective system of redress. Imperialists like the English who came to India wanted laws and institutions that they controlled, laws that they wrote, and institutions that facilitated a systematic loot of India by the English. What was required was a system that was defined by the English, run by the English, and that dispensed justice in favor of the English.

So yes, to that extent it can be argued that the European colonialists had a rational reason to establish a rule of law that empowered a merchant class (read Europeans) and provded incentives for economic growth (read European economic growth). That minor point is conveniently omitted by the author.

This last chapter only serves to makes a mediocre book simply atrocious.
Kremer suggests simply taking population growth as a measure of technological progress: The faster the human population is able to grow, the more advanced technology must have become. [page 211]
There seems to be something seductively true about this statement, but also something suspiciously wrong too. Think a bit and you will see that population growth rates have been declining the world over. In the west as well as in countries like India and China. I didn't say that the populations are declining, but that the human population is growing at a slower rate. That would imply that technology is no longer progressing as fast as it did, say, 50 years back. Looking back at the last twenty years this postulate seems to be very obviously wrong.
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977875
Related Books:

The Logic of Life-2

In my previous post, The Logic of Life-1, I reviewed the book The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World. I gave the book two stars, and said that the best chapters, in the book, relatively speaking, were "Is Divorce Underrated" and "In The Neighborhood". I have excerpts from the second chapter in this post.

In the Neighborhood - Economics of Not Being Stabbed In The Street
A major underlying theory used in this chapter is one on models of racial segregation, developed by Thomas Schelling, winner of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. I must point out that Schelling shared the prize for his work on game theory and not not for his work on these models. Using a checkerboard and nickels and dimes (I think, or maybe pennies), Schelling showed that even a very small preference to have neighbors like themselves could lead very rapidly to a neighborhood that was almost completely segregated.

You can read a lot more about Schelling at his Wikipedia entry, or at his Univ of Maryland faculty page.
These are the titles of the relevant papers:
1. "
Dynamic Models of Segregation," Journal of Mathematical Sociology, Vol. 1, 1971. (Abbreviated version appeared as "Models of Segregation," in The American Economic Review, Vol. LIX, No. 2, May 1969.)
2. "
A Process of Residential Segregation: Neighborhood Tipping," Racial Discrimination in Economic Life, Anthony H. Pascal, ed., Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, MS, 1972.
Even though each person makes rational choices, the result can be something that none of them wanted; you might say that rational behavior by individuals can produce irrational results for society. [page 110]
"A very small preference not to have too many people unlike you in the neighborhood, or even merely a preference for some people like you in the neighborhood ... could lead to such very drastic equilibrium results that looked very much like extreme separation." In other words, mild causes could lead to extreme results. [page 114]
It seems that such analysis could be used for not just predicting what happens when people have preferences along racial lines, but also along other preferences that are binary in nature. For example, seating arrangements in a class could be one example, where in many classes it turns out that boys and girls are clustered separately, or eating arrangements where vegetarians and non-vegetarians are clustered separately, and so on. There may be a substantial body of literature along these lines as one would suspect, but I haven't looked around.

Good though this chapter is, a drawback, and indeed a drawback that seems to surface with several of the chapters in the book, is that the applicability of the arguments is often severely limited to only rich, developed countries. When you take the author's arguments and try and apply them to a developing country like India, they just do not make much sense.

Take this statement:
... why one location is for millionaires only and another, perhaps very near, is dangerous, boring, and poor. [page 118]
In Mumbai (Bombay) million dollar homes in Cuffe Parade or Malabar Hill or elsewhere are almost next door to slums, large slums at that. Napean Sea Road (now called L Jagmohandas Marg I believe) in Mumbai is very, very close to a huge slum. In Bangalore the multi-million dollar valued houses in the gated community of Palm Meadows do not have any other equally highly priced gated community close by. Some run down tea stalls and shops selling flooring tiles and plumbing equipment were all that Palm Meadows had for a neighbor. In every Indian city you can find such examples, where the localities meant for the super rich are often sharing space with run-down houses or slums.


Certainly lots of externalities are at play here, like a very ossified and non-transparent real estate market, government regulations that have hindered rather than helped real estate development, not enough incentives for low cost housing development, lack of urban planning, lack of new cities to share the burden of an increasing inflow of a rural population into urban centers in search of better opportunities, and more. So, while Schelling's theories are certainly valid and useful, what is not seemingly understood by Harford is that Schelling's theories seem to be applicable only to developed countries where many of these externalities are either minimized or non-existent to a large extent.

So once you start thinking of contrarian examples when reading the book, your mind will not stop with just one. Read on and you come across this excerpt in the same chapter:
It is yet another example of a positive externality: When I go to the park, I not only make it more interesting for other people, I also make it feel safer. That may attract more of them and they will make me feel safer. Empty streets are dull and feel dangerous, so they stay empty. Bustling streets are interesting and safe. Is it any wonder that they are bustling? [page 120]
Yes, an empty street or park is certainly not a safe place to spend any amount of time if you can avoid it. But here also your mind goes to a relatively new global phenomenon: terrorism. Or riots. These typically happen in or around the busiest of streets. Take the terrorist strikes in Mumbai on 26/11/2008. Or the World Trade Center strike in September 2001. Or the London attacks in July 2005. And so on. The terrorists did not strike in a deserted part of town. They chose the busiest parts of town. The poshest parts of town. The most parts that "felt" safe to people.

A person's perception of safety is likely to be affected by his assessment of which security threat is likelier. A terrorist strike is much less likely than a mugging or robbery. Yet the fear of a terror strike is likely to cause a person to assign a much greater probability to it than to a mugging. Hence, for an increasing number of people, a bustling street may not seem as safe as a quiet one. Every additional person frequenting a busy, hustling street, actually makes is less safe in this case.

The third example is when the author talk of how high rise buildings make the streets less safe.
There was more than aesthetics at play when a high-rise was built. These tall apartment buildings tended to lift eyes away from street-level and make the streets more dangerous [page 120]
They (Glaeser and Sacerdote) discovered that residents of big apartment blocks were more likely to be victims of crime and were more likely to fear becoming victims. And it wasn't because: large blocks are often for public housing: The size: of the building itself was the problem. [page 121]
... Each additional floor in your building increases your risk of being robbed in the street or having your car stolen by two and a half percentage points-if your building has twelve stories rather than two, your chance of being mugged rises by a quarter. [page 121]
This argument is again very contextual. If you talk of western countries, of developed countries, it could very well hold true. But, move to a developing country, where population is also likely a huge imperative, and the argument becomes a lot less tenable. Countries like India and China do not have the luxury of houses for everyone. Apartments, high-rises are the answer. They leave a lot more open space, parks, playgrounds for people to use and enjoy than if everyone lived in houses, or low-rise apartments.

Secondly, think about it for a minute. In a country like India, the streets are almost always bustling with people. Lots of people. An increasingly prevalent urban development trend is to have well appointed high rise apartment buildings in cities, as opposed to independent houses that were the norm till not so long ago. Read the newspapers and you read of murders, muggings, and more crimes being reported from these independent houses than from high rise apartments.


Before I state the reasons, I do want to be clear that I am making two assumptions here. The first is that coverage in newspapers is a reasonably accurate measure of the true level of crime in a city. And second that there is no under-reporting of crime from high rise apartments.

Why do more crimes tend to happen in houses than apartments? The first reason could well be that there are simply a lot more houses than apartments, and if the distribution of crime is also proportional, you are simply going to have more crimes in houses than apartments. The second reason is that apartments have a lot more eyes focused on its ingress and egress points. A security watchman or watchmen makes every visitor make an entry in a log book. A gate acts as a further barrier for the would-be criminal before he can get to a house. Nothing of the sort for most houses. The gate is unlocked. There is frequently no watchman. Shouts and cries for help from one houses will not reach the neighboring house. Not so with apartments.

The probability that a criminal may be spotted before or after the crime by other people can itself act as a deterrent to many would-be criminals. In developed countries like the US or UK apartment complexes have automated entry systems, with no watchman or a pair of human eyes making note of every visitor who comes in or goes out.

No authoritative or scientific study seems to have been done for developing countries, so the number of two-and-a-half percentage points quoted from the "Glaeser and Sacerdote" study hold true only for the developed world it seems.

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977875
Review in the New York Times

Related Books:

NICE Expressway

An indication of the progress that is being made as far as the roads infrastructure in India goes. These are photos of an access controlled expressway connecting Hosur Road to Bannerghatta Road, Kanakapura Road, SH 17 Mysore highway, and on to Tumkur Road. It is a tolled road, and there was some controversy over the fact that the rates were much higher than what is being charged elsewhere.
NICE as in Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise.

The Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project has been conceived as massive infrastructure/urban development scheme, (BMIC) promoted by M/s Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise Ltd. (NICE).
These photos, are of the expressway connecting Kanakpura Road and the Bangalore-Mysore state highway SH 17 and the National Highway 7 at Neelamangala. This is a tolled, access-controlled highway, and the distance between Kanakpura and the NH7 exit is about 25 kms, for which the toll is Rs 50, or about Rs 2 per km. It is possible to cover this 25 km distance in about 15 minutes or less if the traffic and weather conditions permit, since the road is access-controlled and of good enough quality to permit driving at speeds of 100-120kph. Else a comfortable and safe speed of 80kph is recommended.
You have to be careful of traffic that moves very slowly - trucks for example, that often end up traveling at speeds of less than 40 kph, which could prove dangerous if you are driving at a high speed. Or cars that for some bizarre reason are driven by drivers who choose to drive not in one lane but occupy two lanes and at speeds of 40-50 kph.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nandi Hills Sunset

Nandi Hills is a hill fortress, some 60 kms from Bangalore. It is some 4,500 feet above mean sea level, has a thousand year old statue of Nandi Bull, a palace that was used by Tipu Sultan, a house where Jawaharlal Nehru used to stay, a couple of temples, a microwave repeater tower of BSNL, a telecommunications company, and a sheer drop of several hundred feet, known as Tipu's Drop, that was used to throw condemnded prisoners to their deaths from.

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View from Nandi Hills.
5:46 PM, ISO 400, underexpose by one f-stop.

Simply point the camera at the setting sun, and you don't even need to do any compensation... Not even spot metering is required... Nature takes care of creating the most magical of moments and photos.

At Nandi Hills, with the silhoutte of a canopy visible at the bottom of the shot.

Need I say more?

On the drive down from Nandi Hills:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

UB City Mall Bangalore

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UB City is the biggest commercial property project in Bangalore, India. Pioneered by the chairman of UB Group, Dr.Vijay Mallya, it is built on 13 acres (53,000 m2) of land and hosts 1,000,000 sq ft (93,000 m2) of high-end commercial, retail and service apartment space.