Saturday, May 24, 2008


Poverty in India is ever-present and pervasive. There is no place left untouched by its hands. Driving down the road, the same pattern repeats over and over again. This tessellation is something like children, cows, mangos/bananas, men, trucks, debris, dogs, men, bikes, rickshaws, dirt, women in colorful saris, children, cows...

Stopping at any monument causes our group to be swarmed by trinket salesmen, hungry children, and professional beggars. Poverty is a problem without an immediate solution. For every person from a developed country that says we should just give food to the poor, there’s another that says they should build themselves up by starting their own businesses. While I am generally a member of the latter generalization, I cannot believe the number of small businesses that already exist. We visited a market in Delhi where there were entire streets with 20 stores all dedicated to one good. Examples include wedding supplies, paper, and saris – each one had a street of its own, and for each good there were 10s of tiny shops that all had the same products.

The main roads are lined with small businesses, there are millions of individual hawkers, and there are thousands of shops for the same goods. The large populations of India and China put constraints on any traditional strategy for development. It will be very interesting to see how (if?) there will be enough resources to provide for these teeming masses.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Energy Infrastructure

Mr. Cherian Thomas is the Senior Director at Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), which advises the government on infrastructure development projects. He spoke about all aspects of infrastructure – telecom, transportation, roads, and energy. Due to my work with GreenGrid, I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the power industry in India. He said that right now the power companies can’t meet 15% of peak demand. We saw the effects of this when we visited Amity University, the number one business shcool in India. Even at a top school there are power problems -- we experienced several power outages during our two and a half hour stay.

He noted that this performance is actually much better than the system before the industry was “unbundled”. The Indian government decided to unbundle the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity when it came to the conclusion that it no longer had the resources to do a good job of supplying the vast population here. As it now stands, anyone can set up a company that performs one of the three functions. He said that if you have enough money you can set up a power generation plant.

While the industry has made great strides, 15% unmet peak demand is still a terrible problem. The reason he gave was unmetered connections. He said that it is commonly assumed that the poor who live in slums are the culprits of the stolen electricity. However, an intensive study has shown that not only do the vast majority of the poor pay for their electricity, they actually pay more than their counterparts in the middle and upper classes. Mr. Cherian gave the example of how a poor person will pay 10 rupees for a bucket of water, but the rich won’t pay 10 rupees for all the water they use in an entire day. The real culprits of the vanishing power are the commercial properties who know how to tap into the distribution lines and get the power for free. He also mentioned that corruption and bribes likely play a large part in the problem.

Clearly, there is an opportunity for someone who can solve these problems. One solution he mentioned was getting people to use better lighting technology. LED’s and compact fluorescent bulbs, recently popular in the United States, have the advantage of consuming far less power than a comparable tungsten light bulb. Certainly, if this country of 1.3 billion people switched to light bulbs that consume half as much energy that 15% could be met.

From my perspective there is also a great opportunity for a company to use smart meter technology to ensure 100% uptime. Smart meters can be controlled by a central authority allowing them to turn on and off a home’s or businesses power. As part of an opt-in system, a business office could let the power company turn off their air conditioner (and only the air conditioner) in times of the highest demand. The business would get credit on their electricity bill, and the power company could more effectively meet demand with the lower consumption.

In a few more years, vehicle to grid technology will allow individuals to participate in the storage and in effect, generation of electricity. This is where GreenGrid shines, and it just goes to show how viable our ideas and products will be in the future. If you’d like to read about the project, head over to our website at


Last night when I was dead asleep, I faintly heard a bell through the sounds of my dreams. “RIIING!” There it was again. Wearily, I arose, reality sinking in. The door creaked open, and in walked Joe, my new roommate.

So, I finally have another male to help me keep the 15 girls at bay!

A polite young man, he apologized for waking me up, and told me to go back to sleep. However, my schedule has been so odd lately that three hours of rest is about what I’m used to. I was wide awake in a matter of minutes. Since he had just come from the airport, he was quite hungry and we decided to find some food. We headed downstairs unsure of how we were actually going to be able to locate the food. Quite fortunately, the cafĂ© in the hotel stays open 24 hours!

I caught him up on all the happenings and asked how he had come to arrive so late. Turns out he forgot to get his visa on time, and unbelievably, one of the flight attendants he chatted up at the Newark airport had connections to the Indian consulate. He was able to walk straight through the line and get his visa in less than an hour. ...ah, the power of connections!

Long story short, we had some delicious salmon and daal, and determined that we had similar tastes in music. Oddly enough, he actually is an ex-local rock star who played for years on Sunset Boulevard. He’s 26 and attends Cal State Northridge. He determined that it was time to get responsible and get an education after which he’d be able to have a real job and make some real money (Not a bad realization to come to). So, he quit smoking, started eating raw vegetables, is in the process of purchasing a car, and getting an internship. Perhaps no longer a rock star, but his life will certainly be better because of it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day 2 - Art?

Every now and then I get into a picture taking mood. The most recent one carried me away from the group to some more intimate, personal sites. The results follow:

Underlying Expressions

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 2 - Heart of Delhi

For lunch, a group of four of us and the adviser, John, ventured out into the city. We hailed a taxi cab to take us to a local bazaar which was supposed to be 15 minutes away. The driver disagreed however and said, “I don’t know why everybody says that, it’s more like 30 minutes.” Not knowing the city, it was hard for us to tell who was telling the truth – after all it seemed highly plausible that a driver might want to keep us in his car for longer than was necessary. However, since we were on a fixed time schedule, we decided to forgo the bazaar and just get some lunch a bit closer to the hotel. The driver suggested a place called Magdalene, which was cheap and not too spicy. Upon further questioning, however, it turns out that we weren’t hearing him correctly (all 5 of us!) and he was actually speaking about an international restaurant that was in the U.S. Turns out, this restaurant was McDonald’s.

Undaunted, we told him we’d rather have Indian food and he dropped us off at an Indian restaurant. Trouble was, this restaurant was one of the most expensive ones and we really didn’t feel like spending so much coin on the first day here. We decided we’d find our own place and set off walking the streets of Delhi. We saw many things, a lonely dog curled up sleeping on the sidewalk, some apparently homeless people who slept in the corners of the walls surrounding buildings, numerous street vendors hawking sweets, meat, and trinkets. Among all this, there’s also many well-dressed people with nice cellphones and cars. It seems to be such a paradox to have such large groups of rich and poor living with one another.

We found a restaurant named Gola which served us some authentic chicken tandoori, chicken masala, and mutton curry. (The mutton is pictured.) It was overwhelming, exciting, and confusing all at once. 5 Americans sitting at a table in some restaurant in Delhi -- I’m sure we were quite a sight to see.

I hope to do it again tomorrow.

Day 2 - ((BIG)) Breakfast

We awoke to a grand spread of Indian and Western foods. Some people said there would be no buffets in India -- that its not like Indian food in the US. Well, the buffet is here! ...and all nearly on par with the high level of quality that I've come to expect from the Indian food I get my Indian friends' aunties! The seasonings were all spot on, neither too hot nor too bland. There seemed to be virtually endless choices, but I finally settled on:

* Grilled Salmon
* Chick Peas
* Pesto Grilled Cottage Cheese
* Chicken Curry
* Steamed Broccoli
* Toasted Bread
* Pineapple
* Mango
* Watermelon
* and a banana

Pictures of the breakfast are promised for tomorrow, but for now check out the view from my room on the 4th floor!

Day 1 - Flying

I started out early on the morning of the 18th. I was dropped off at DFW for my flight to Boston, the rendezvous point for the group. Ready to go, I checked in my luggage and got my boarding pass, when I suddenly noticed I had forgotten my camera in my uncle’s truck. Sheepishly, I dialed Uncle Bob’s number and explained what a dufous I was. He generously drove all the way back up to the airport to get the camera to me.

Camera in-hand, I left for Charlotte, NC, my layover stop on the way to Boston. Charlotte’s airport is pleasant place to have a layover. The chicken pesto sandwich from the deli near gate C18 was superb -- layer upon layer of veggies on a wheat ciabatta bun. Rocking chairs and office trees make for a nice way to unwind after the stress an airport can cause.

After taking a few deep breaths, I was on to Boston to meet up with International Scholar Laureate group. The flight from Charlotte was slightly delayed, so I was a bit late checking in for my international flight. Luckily they still accepted my information and a quaint little elderly French couple helped me decide what items to pack in my carry-on luggage. Without their wisdom, I would’ve been in dire straits.

After clearing security, I proceeded to the gate where I found our faculty advisor, John. I’m fairly sure I was the last one to check in, so all my travel compadres were sitting together. I noticed something was a bit different about them, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. John cleared the situation up when he announced that I was the sole male of the group! Unsure whether that was a blessing or a curse, we boarded the plane headed for Paris.

A window seat on a nearly seven hour flight gives a man a lot of time to think. And what a beautiful way to think! I really felt like I was in a dream as we cruised above the clouds. When it was completely, dark the view was the most stunning, but due to technical limitations of photography, an extremely low-light, far-focus shot is hard to capture with the vibrations the jet engines make -- so, this sunset picture will have to suffice. It’s a marvel of human engineering that a hunk of steel can take people 30,000 feet above sea level, and never have the slightest failure even on a 4,000 mile trip. My TV can’t even power up correctly sometimes! The international plane tirelessly churns through the sky for 8+ hour stretches all the while with perfect precision.

Morning came just a few hours later since we were flying east, into the sunrise. A portend of things to come, there were ice crystals clustered on the windows as we descended to [Pair-ee]. When we touched down, the air was much cooler than we experience in Texas during the summer -- 48°! As we walked to the shuttle, I felt like I was in one of those intense cool sensation commercials.

The airport itself only exaggerated my day dreams when I stepped into this scene in one of the bathrooms. The stalls were transformed into a summer clothesline. Even the pricing was out of this world. At the shops around the gate, a 20 ounce bottled soft drink or water could be purchased for €3.40 -- at the current exchange rate, that's $5.25! I decided that if I was going to spend so much, I might as well get something different so I savored a delicious hot chocolate.

Our layover in Paris was about 4 hours, so we had plenty of time to kick back in the waiting area at the gate. A fellow traveler patiently waited for the plane to arrive. His calm disposition was inspiring to us weary Americans -- it was the middle of the night back home, but the day was just beginning in Paris.

We all piled onto a new plane for our 8 1/2 hour flight to Delhi. Most of us slept the whole way, so when we landed at 10:30 PM, we were wide awake and refreshed. After picking up our luggage from the Baggage Claim we headed for the customs department. Once, there, I was anxious to see what time it was, but I wasn't sure I could trust the clocks they had mounted on the wall (Hint: look at the minute hands).

We were greeted by our tour guides who gave us the run down of everything we'd be ding the next day. A traditional flower necklace was placed around each one of our neck and we each received dot on our "third eye". The guide explained that these were traditional welcoming . We then boarded the bus bound for our hotel. The Taj Palace Hotel was about 25 minutes away from the airport and gave us a good opportunity to sightsee as we drove through the city. Giant semi trucks coexist with bicycling rickshaw drivers and most of the roads that we took were under construction. It will be interesting to see the other ways India's economic boom is affecting the people, the culture, and the landscape here.Immensely worn out, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I'm looking forward to getting cleaned up with a nice hot shower and sleeping in a bed tonight. Those tightly-packed plane seats just can't match a mattress, a pillow, and some sheets!