October 19, 2006

Mexico rebuffs Monsanto

From a recent article here
MEXICO CITY - Mexico this week barred Monsanto Co. and other biotechnology companies from planting genetically engineered corn, rekindling fierce debate in that country over the technology.
Environmentalists said the government's decision will help prevent biotech corn from contaminating native varieties in Mexico, the birthplace of corn and still a storehouse of genetically valuable native species.

But as expected
This is temporary, because there is so much pressure from the multinationals," said Gustavo Ampugnani of Greenpeace Mexico

We were surprised by this decision," said Eduardo Perez Pico, director of technological development at Monsanto's Mexico subsidiary, which had applied to start experimental fields in the northern states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.

"These are not centers of origin or biodiversity of corn," Perez Pico said, referring to the areas where corn ancestor plants or primitive varieties grow naturally.

Under current law, such areas are off-limits to biotech planting, in part to protect the genetic traits of those ancestor varieties in case their traits are needed for hybridization efforts in the future.

To put things in perspective
Farmers in Mexico first bred corn some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. The country is home to at least 59 species of maize, from the protein-rich variety used to make tortilla chips to a softer grain mashed for use in tamales.

Introduction of genetically modified (GM ) corn can wipe off this biodiversity and make the farmers dependant on GM seeds and pesticide like Roundup . From the article , the debate is far from over , this ruling just points out to a bigger fight . Multinationals in the business of GM food are in for a long haul with opinions being changed and data being conditioned
A study in the Sierra de Juarez region in the southern state of Oaxaca found evidence of transgenic corn contamination in 2000 from corn that was apparently imported for food use. The study was published and then retracted by the science journal Nature.

Another study by Mexican and U.S. researchers in 2004 found no trace of genetically altered corn in crops in the same area four years later.

Read about Monsanto in a previous post here .

October 15, 2006

Safdie Plan

So decision is nearing over the controversial Safdie Plan for adding 20,000 dwelling units to the west of Jerusalem . Adding 20,000 units is not what ails the plan , the city does face a serious shortage of residential units which eventually leads to the young secular population of Jerusalem to drift away . The problem is that the plan takes up 26 sq. km of forests , green areas and archeological sites . Read the story about it in
haaretz .

According to a number of studies the city is capable of taking in the planned 20,000 units within the current municipal boundaries . In fact according to the study prepared by Sustainable Jerusalem , compiled by urban planners Uri Barsheshet and Yael Hammerman, the city is capable of absorbing 58,000 additional housing units . Urban densification can help the city in many ways .

  • Adding to the existing housing stock would offer more oppurtunities for the young population to buy/rent affordable housing

  • Densification would allow for a more efficient public transport system. The city at the moment is spread up making it difficult to have an efficient public transport .As a result the more and more people rely on private vehicles .

  • The municipality at the moment is quite iefficent in providing services to the city . Spreading the municipal limits would only spread their services thinner.

According to the Israel Union for Environmental Defence

Quality of life in Jerusalem has been deteriorating due the current municipality's failure to maintain cleanlines and to provide municipal services. Only focused investment in making Jerusalem a liveable, pleasant place to be will stop the tide of residents moving away to other towns. Construction of new neighborhoods to be run by the same municipality that is disappointing residents today will only exacerbate urban woes in Jerusalem.

But clearly there are vested interests in this plan . The municipality is interested inseeing the plan through as it increases its clout over areas not under it's jurisdiction at the moment . Ehud Olmert , the erstwhile Mayor of the city , sees he project as a major accomplishment of his tenure , no way is he going to be swayed out of his grandiose vision . A plan of such a magnitude means a tremendous amount of money changing handss , no wonder the construction industry is so much in favour of it . And last but not the least , there is nothing heroic or glamorous about densifiction , everyone wants a Haussman or a Corbusier who with a deft stroke of the brush can create a city out of nowhere . But before we do that we should take a look at Safdie's Modiin and think again if we want another housing project that pretends to be a city .

September 18, 2006

Indian Classical music in the Katamonim

Surreal is how the man sitting behind us described it .The venue was Chanchal and Sigal's courtyard (see below) in the Katamonim neighbourhood in Jerusalem and the occassion was a classical Indian concert featuring Ustad Bahauddin Dagar on the Rudra Veena . To put things in perpective , Katamonim undeniably the cultural backwaters in Jerusalem , home to the Black Panther movement , doesn't exactly scream it's candidature for a cultural event featuring the Rudra Veena one of the more esoteric instruments from India .Sitting next to a playground and abutting a road , the venue isn't exactly built for performances . To have arguably the finest exponent of this instrument completed the surreal picture . For the uninitiated the Rudra Veena is kind of sitar with a fretboard and two sound boxes but in reality it's miles apart with a much deeper and resonant sound .

The performance began with gratification of the culinary senses , food , excellent samosas ,chai ,gajjar ka halwa and thali . And after a mandatory delay the music began . The first piece was Raga Yaman , a beautiful simple raga ,one of the first ragas that is taught . More description about the raga here . The music took some time to build up and one could see the audience getting a bit restless including my two boys but then the music picked up it's tempo and you could see heads swaying keeping pace with the music . Barring an insistent scooter with a noisy exhaust , some cats in the background and an overenthusiatic student, the venue held up well . The high point of the evening was Raga Chandrakaus, a late night raga, performed flawlessly by the maestro . It was a pity when the show ended and I cycled back home . But I went home with the assurance that there were more shows in the offing . It's unlikely that there would be an artist of such a stature in the near future but it doesn't harm hoping .

Listen to Ustad Bahauddin Dagar here.

Sigal and Chanchal have a nice little corner where they host guests on thursdays with Indian food and will soon host Chanchal's art gallery. For thursday evenings the places can be reserved at 02-6784172 052-8620251 .

August 29, 2006

I discovered YouTube today

I vaguely knew about YouTube from all my coworkers looking for funny clips or clips about cats but today I discovered that it is also a place to showcase all sorts of talent , saw some great improvisations on Paganini's 24 Caprice , found some great jazz recordings and discovered that I can embelish a blog with video without sweating a bit , just click on the object embed link and presto , your blog comes alive . Here is a sampling . I added a video to the Bismillah Khan blog as well .

August 28, 2006

Free anti virus software

This is good news for all users of free software. AOL is offering a free version of the Kaspersky anti-virus program for download. It's been re-branded as "AOL Anti Virus Shield" and it's available to everyone . Kaspersky AV is one of the best commercial AV programs available and a clearly superior product to other free AV scanners such as AVG and Avast!
The only nags are the license requires a valid email address which AOL may utilise to send promotional material and it installs toolbar in Internet Explorer . The last one you can get around by using Firefox. The software can be downloaded here

Dubai continues on it's Quixotic march

Dubai continues to march ahead recklessly , irreverantly , exponentially creating shocking , startling , awe inspiring , Jesus Christ architecture . Of course a lot of is downright crap and a garish display of wealth but hey that always attracts people .

The World Bank reckons that the reconstruction of Iraq is going to cost $53bn. In Dubai, along the strip of sand that stretches 25 miles along the shores of the Persian Gulf, there is about $100bn worth of projects either underway or planned for the near future.
Source katodrytis.com

Apparently the Palm Islands , the world and a multitude of high rises were not enough to quell the real estate appetite and technological razzmatazz , Dubai now gives us the
Rotating city. The idea is that every floor in everybuilding rotates independantly of the other giving every flat a 360 degrees view .

August 21, 2006

Wah Ustad no more

Ustad Bismillah Khan , shehnai maestro is no more .Read about it here, here and here .

It is sad to hear that somebody whose name was synonymous with shehnai would come to his end virtually penniless . At the same time there are rumours or at least Ustadji's apprehensions that he never played the shehnai due to his religion . It is indeed sad that in a secular state we haven't been able to dispel the fear that being in a minority would make one a less equal citizen .

August 03, 2006

Wah Ustad

Ustad Bismillah Khan one of the finest exponents and a name synoonymous with shehnai I read a few months ago was living a life of penury . It is quite shameful that an artiste who was once the toast of numerous mehfils and represented the country in numerous forums to be in such a stat . So it was heartening that finally he recieved some sort of financial help from the govt. The story here
Read the maestro here and here

August 01, 2006

Megastructures: Dubai's Palm Island

Palm Islands
Another in the series about Megastructures from National Geographic . The premise is that Dubai is seeing the end of the barrel as far as oil barrels are concerned , ie in a few years oil will be gone . In this eventuality Dubai needs to reinvent itself as a tourist destination . With its limited coastline there isn't a lot that can be done . So enter the artificial islands to increase the coastline and create more area for development .

The Palm Islands, also referred to as The Palm Dubai and The Palms, are the world's three largest man-made islands, which are being built on the coast of the emirate of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The project is being handled by Al Nakheel Properties (Nakheel Corporation), which will increase Dubai's shoreline by 120km (72 miles) and create a large number of residential, leisure, and entertainment areas. The idea was first announced in May 2002 and the two manmade freehold artificial palm tree-shaped resort islands are expected to maintain Dubai's position as a premium tourist destination. The Palm Islands has also been named 'The Eighth Wonder of the World'.

The two Dubai islands, The Palm Jumeirah and The Palm Jebel Ali, will be built in the shape of date palm trees and consist of a trunk; a crown with 17 fronds; and a surrounding crescent island - the back of which forms the breakwater. Collectively, the island will support more than 60 luxury hotels, 4,000 exclusive residential villas (sale), 1,000 unique water homes (sale), 5,000 shoreline apartments (sale), marinas, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, sports facilities, health spas, cinemas and various dive sites.

Its Development
The project took four years of methodical planning and exhaustive feasibility studies in Dubai, ensuring that the islands would not disrupt the environment. The first stage of the development of The Palm Islands, includes the construction of the land foundations, which involves sand transfer and rock placement. Following this, the next stage will involve the building of infrastructure and services, as well as the 300 meter (990 feet) bridges linking the islands to the mainland. The final stage consists of the construction of homes, townhouses, and apartments.

What this doesn't mention what exactly this grandiose plan entails . The Sheikh who is the progenitor of this plan wanted the whole contruction to be as natural as possible . So the engineers devised method of rock and sand as opposed to a concrete structure to create the islands . It has been a feat in engineering of proportions probably unparalled in the world with technology being created on the fly . For instance how does one ascertain that the substructure is in place , obviously satellite imaging and extensive use of GPS on the ground .

But in this euphoria of man's success over nature one thing has been forgotten completely , the damage it does to the ecology .It doesn't really concern anyone that entire cliffs have been blasted to acquire the rock and sand has been siphoned up from the middle of the ocean to create this superstructure . It doesn't really take a lot of imaginination to come to the conclusion that immense swathes of marine life were probably siphoned off in the process. Widespread quarrying has repurcussions on the land ecology as well . There is an instance in the documentary where they mention that the new landmass is destroying the existing beaches , but no problem we can fix that . Everything fits in like a glove , if the film is to be believed , the new landforms are attracting new marne life , great coral reefs and everything is hunky dory . Well maybe it is and I am the skeptic . After all this image is quite seductive .

But on second thoughts who wants to live in suburb which replaces the roads with waterways , who wants to pay millions of bucks to be huddled next to their neighbour . Well maybe somebody does but then if you want and you can you can have your own island in the WORLD .

July 31, 2006

Useful Software for free

Over the years I have collected a lot of free software , open source and freeware which I find very useful for work and play . I will let you explore the difference between the two forms of licensing and will get on with my list .




Abiword A lightweight Bi-directional editor , Open source .
Open Office An excellent office suite for general formatting, presentations, spreadsheets etc etc Can read all formats that MS Office creates. Needs a decent machine to run it though - Open source


The Gimp The best graphics editor - Open source
Irfanview Excellent viewer for all image formats

Audio video tools

  • ffdshow (DirectShow decoding filter for decompressing DIVX movies) [GNU GPL]

  • ffvfw (MPEG-4 Video for Windows codec) [GNU GPL]

  • AC3Filter [GNU GPL]

  • XviD [GNU GPL]



System Tools

Office tools

PostScript viewers

Text editors

Web Related -Mail & Internet


July 30, 2006

Cycling , where now ?

The recent mess with Floyd Landis testing positive for high levels of testosterone brings up some interesting questions .

Is cycling so deeply steeped in drugs/performance enhancing tactics as we recently start to feel it is or we are on witch hunt emanating from the animosity between WADA and UCI ?
Can the agencies concerned with the doping can say conclusively that the tests are to be relied on . After all after Tyler Hamilton was dtected with different blood strains there were a lot of possibilities such as Tyler is a chimera , the test used hasn't been tested enough to be 100% reliable . For instance is it not possible that Floyd Landis has an exceptionally high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio ? I would expect anyone to ride for three weeks over gruelling terrain with another 200 motivated super athletes to have a higher level of testosterone . The average testosterone/epitestosterone is taken as one , what with these guys ? Unlikely to believe that a guy pushing paper and them would have the physical traits .
A lot is made about Armstrong's exceptionally large heart , his lactate threshold , his VOX ratio putting him in a physically superior category . Maybe we are missig something here and there are more of these super beings around .

Of course it is equally likely that cycling is full of dirt and needs to flushed completely .

July 23, 2006

Monsanto and the axis of evil

Saw an excellent documentary yesterday called the Future of food which provides an in depth look into genetically modified food and the nexus that big companies , specifically Monsanto in the film , have with the highest political levels.
Genetically modified food and Monsanto go hand in hand as Monsanto developed genetically modified food for the first time. Monsanto started as a chemicals industry with a number of patents to their name including saccharin and agent orange . Their foray into the food industry began with Roundup , a broad spectrum herbicide . Soon after Monsanto got into genetically engineered seeds which were engineered to withstand Roundup . So in principle if you sprayed a field of Monsanto cropp wtih Roundup , everything else but the crop would perish . In principle this sounds great , to a certain extent it works as well and then things start to get dirty . It begins with the patenting of GE (genetically engineered) seeds . Once Monsanto holds a patent on it if John Doe wants their product he has to pay for it . Traditionally farmers stored their own seed , ready for the next planting but the patent Monsanto holds makes them buy the seed everytime they plant .Replanting the seeds would lead to John Doe being sued . Then it gets dirtier . If a few seeds find their way to a field which doesn't plant Monsanto , Monsanto can come and claim that the the framer is using their seed illegally , whcih means fines , penalties etc . And's whats more , since the crop is indistinguishable from traditional strains even the seed for susequent years can be contaminated and hence it is not possible to keep your own seed .
All through this Monsanto is helped along in its goal by dubious judgements in the highest courts of law , the whole issue of testing the crop is circumvented by employing ex employees of Monsanto in the role of the wachdog . John Ashcroft , Donald Rumsfeld are a couple of names among many others that crop as being direct benefecieries of Monsano largesse , either in ways of election funds or being employees of Monsanto at a certain point in history .
Definately a must see .

July 19, 2006

Quote from Velonews

If you ever want to dispell the illusion that cycling is an eco-friendly sport, you should see Rasmussen right now. We have on skinny little dude on a 14-pound bike and he's surrounded by about six cars, seven motorcycles and a helicopter....

I am starting a bike blog at the following address , feel free to have a look at it .
30 calories/km

July 17, 2006

Green Jerusalem

Ok I finally did it , started my webpage from my homeserver . Its called Green Jerusalem and as the name suggests would concern itself to green issues . Environment , sustainability , bike commuting . I would also love to have a section dealing with development and planning issues , the accent of it again would be on the green side . The forum can be accesed from the homepage here and the link to the forum is this .

July 02, 2006

Doping hits cycling again !!!!!

And I had all my hopes on Ulli this years . The cycling world received a big shock when a blood doping scandal was exposed in Spain , even bigger than the 1998 Festina affair . Read about it here . Hamilton in all likelihood will go down for life . In one stroke all the heros have been exposed as mere mortals . I am a bit angry that Armstrong got away !! No way he wasn't doping when all the biggest and cleanest names were all doping . More links

Tyler and Sevilla ..

Quoting from post in cyclingforums

Dear Jan,

What can I say? Words cannot express how I have been feeling these last few days. I feel as if I’ve been dumped with no explanation, no warning that it was coming.

You say you are innocent. I desperately want to believe you as I still can’t quite believe you could do such a thing. If you truly are innocent, why didn’t you act before now to clear your name? I really hope you are, I desperately want you to be, but what I am hearing and reading does not give me much hope. I knew there was a doping problem in cycling but call me na├»ve if you wish, but I thought you were above that. I’ve supported you for a long time, through all your ups and downs and I always stuck by you, even in 2002. When others cheered for Armstrong and called you fat I stuck up for you. I actually believed that you might have been cheated out of several Tour wins. Now I have to accept that you were probably no better. You have broken my heart. Months ago, as usual, I booked a trip to the Tour in the hope of seeing you win. This year, up until Friday morning, I really thought I would see you wear yellow in Paris again. I no longer want to go, I have no interest in this years Tour anymore. Never again will I let myself get so attached to a single cyclist as I have with you. I am completely gutted and there must be thousands more feeling just like me. Shame on you Jan Ullrich for making us feel this way.


A disillusioned fan

June 28, 2006

So what exactly is Butter chicken

The story goes that one day a small restaurant in post partition Delhi called Moti Mahal received a high standing patron after closing time . The kitchen was nearly closed for the night . So the intrepid chef took a tandoori chicken some tomato gravy , cooked the two together and at the finishing moments put dollops of butter in it . That day butter chicken was born . Of course it has nothing to do with Jerusalem , butter chicken is the very opposite of kosher . It in a way is a misfit here the way I am .
The name is borrowed from Pankaj Mishra's 'Butter Chicken in Ludhiana' , a travel book about small town India .
Disclaimer : I have no connection whatsoever to Pankaj Mishra or Penguin India but I wouldn't mind if they pay me for giving them free publicity :-)

Tandoori chicken ..

Musical Notes

Any reference to music has to begin with a reference to Pandora Radio , one of the greatest things to happen in the online music world . In the field of suggested music , Pandora is the tops , it allows you to create your own music station , in fact a 100 of them , according to your taste and using the music genome research , suggests music similar to that . Very impressive , exposes a number of unknown artists .
Lastfm is another great option but somehow I feel it is too influenced by uninformed people. It works on a sytem of tags , so if everyone goes and tas Kenny G as jazz , your jazz listening experience is doomed .
So I stick to Pandora . There is a little bit of advertising , links to amazon.com ,itunes etc but nothing more agressive . Also you don't look at the ads as the music continues in the background even when you are on a different tab ( Naturally a tabbed browser like Firefox ) At the moment I am listening to my Albert Ayler station . The link will take you to the definitive Albert Ayler biography on the net .

Getting started with this blog thing

Took me some time to get started . Was too busy with the DIY webserver . alongwith Pushpullbar forum also taking a lot of eyeball time . Add to it the peripherals of making a living and raising a family ...
Pushpull bar is an architectural forum dedicated to contemporary modern architecture .Sketchup is the design tool of choice and generates a lot of discussion on the boards . Sketchup was recently acquired by google and very soon a free version of sketchup was offered for anyone who wants to get his hands dirty with 3D modelling .
The other distraction I had was the the DIY webserver site . I am trying to put up a website for my wife which at the moment is called Architecture without architects aka Architecture for the Cattle class. At the moment the website is only an empty page but once it starts running it should have be a forum for people who are interested in architecture , not just for professionals. The beauty of it all , once it starts running , will be that the forum will be served from my homecomputer running open source software , Apache , PHP, MySql and SMF SMF is s wonderful piece of software that allows just anybody to start running a forum once he figures out the PHP Mysql part . If somebody does your hosting , you can rest easy and an not worry about the php, mysql part .
Somehow these two distractions will come together with the forum becoming an online class for sketchup I suspect :-) .

The proposed Calatrava bridge in Jerusalem modelled in Sketchup