My Favourite appliance

In class XI, we were taught thermodynamics and I came across Carnot engine. Sadi Carnot devised this engine in 1824 which is several years before the laws of thermodynamics were formally laid down. Theoretically Carnot engine can achieve efficiency of 1 which is highest possible efficiency. My curiosity was touched and I made up my mind to build a Carnot engine. Although I didn’t made any success in this direction, my quest of finding an efficient heat engine started from this time. This is when my admiration for a pressure cooker reached new heights and it became my favourite appliance.

The pressure cooker is a heat engine. While it has been across my sight since childhood, I was able to appreciate its working when I became aware of the principle behind it after reading thermodynamics. The basic principle behind the working of a pressure cooker is the variable of pressure and temperature. Water that is used for cooking food, boils at 100 Degree Celsius at normal atmospheric pressure. However, in a cooker, the pressure is above atmospheric pressure due to which the boiling point of water increases. Thus water boils at a higher temperature and more energy is transferred to the food being cooked. I found a very simple explanation of the working on YouTube in the following video by Seema Rodge.

 

What amazes me is the simplicity of principle behind this appliance which causes huge saving of energy at the individual as well as global scale. When the world is reeling under the wrath of climate change, we should pause and appreciate the usefulness of simple appliances such as pressure cooker in decreasing en energy consumption. Although Carnot engine remains a theoretical model, research should strive to achieve higher efficiency in heat engines too. People can be made aware and we can push greater adoption of such appliances which saves energy such as pressure cooker.

Since the day I came to know about the usefulness of Pressure cooker, I have always talked about it with my friends and elders. So that’s my favourite appliance. Please tell me about your favourite appliance in the comments section. Cheers.

 

 

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Key takeaways from Richard Thaler’s work

In 2017, Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to behavioural economics. In its Nobel prize announcement, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that his “contributions have built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision-making. His empirical findings and theoretical insights have been instrumental in creating the new and rapidly expanding field of behavioural economics.” In this article, I have chalked out my key takeaways from his work based on an article published in the NYTimes

  • His popular work deals on how nudging bring changes in people’s behaviour. For example, British government found that people were more likely to pay automobile registration fees if billing letters included a picture of the vehicle. I recall this campaign done by a group to increase voter turnout in US election, which can be said as nudging, in which voters of one locality was made aware of the turnout of their neighbourhood so that they feel a greater urge to vote. In India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a mission which is trying to do so to bring behavioural changes in sanitation. The story of Ghatpatila in 24 Parangana is an example.
  • Thaler also talked about how people perform a budgeting exercise in their mind. According to him if gasoline price decreases, standard economic theory suggests that people will use savings for whatever they need most which is probably not additional gasoline. But in reality people still spend much money on gasoline and buy premium gasoline even if they know it is bad for their car. This example can be used in predicting probable usage of universal basic income once it becomes a reality.
  • Endowment effect- Thaler pointed out that people place a higher value on their possessions. In his experiment, he showed how a mug given randomly to few students regarded their mug twice as valuable as compared with the other students who were not given a mug. We can apply this phenomenon to understand why community-owned resources and initiatives such as pani panchayat in Odhisa are successful.
  • He also observed that people have this tendency to penalise unfair behaviour even if they do not benefit from doing so. For example, a umbrella store won’t raise prices during a rainstorm as he very well understands that people would risk getting drenched but won’t buy umbrellas at prices which seem unreasonable to them.

In short Richard Thaler works show that people do not behave rationally at all times. But the deviance from rationality is consistent and so their behaviour can still be anticipated and modelled. People are predictably irrational.

Richard Thaler work has inspired UK government to set up a separate office to bring this wisdom of behavioural economics such as nudging in making public policy. The US government has also followed the suit. In India, NITI Ayog is working on this. Richard Thaler works are bold steps away from traditional model and bring forward a more valid modelling of people’s economic behaviour.

Judicial Activism or Retreating Parliament

Judicial activism has been a much talked about topic in the newspaper this year. The Indian constitution has provided for a balance of power among the three arms of the government. Judicial activism is supposed to be disturbing this fine balance. In this article, I am discussing Judicial activism with reference to two major legislation passed in recent times.

The two major legislations are- The Aadhaar Act 2016 which is related to the delivery of subsidies by the government using Aadhar card and the GST Act which was a constitutional amendment aimed at subsuming several indirect taxes into one tax. Both these acts have the capability to affect the entire population of India. However, the Aadhaar Act has been under judicial scrutiny since its passage while that is not the case in the GST Law. One of the prime reason lies in the way these bills were passed in the Parliament. The government doesn’t have the required majority in Rajya Sabha and since the GST Bill was a constitutional amendment Bill, the Rajya Sabha exercised due deliberation power and the government was forced to bring some necessary changes. But in case of Aadhaar Bill, the government introduced it as a money bill, thereby bypassing the power of Rajya Sabha in bringing necessary debate and changes. The GST Bill had been in pipeline since a decade, hence a good amount of time was spent on deliberation while the Aadhaar Bill was not scrutinized with that merit as Rajya Sabha doesn’t have substantial power over a money bill. Hence, the crux of the issue is that while the GST Bill was subjected to proper deliberation and scrutiny by both the houses, the Aadhaar Bill bypassed such a deliberation in the Rajya Sabha.The result is in front of our eyes- the stage of deliberation has now moved from the constitutionally mandated stage of the Parliament to the Supreme Court.

The three arms of government are not disjoint but are complementary. Thus if one arm abdicates its duty, the other arm is bound to fill the space. The following would serve the best conclusion of this manuscript (source)

“The acute needs of the developing countries of the Commonwealth have sometimes produced an approach to constitutional interpretation that is unashamedly described as “activist”, including by judges themselves. Thus in India, at least in most legal circles, the phrase “judicial activism” is not viewed as one of condemnation. So urgent and numerous are the needs of that society that anything else would be regarded by many— including many judges and lawyers—as an abdication of the final court’s essential constitutional role…”

Combating fake news by using the principle of herd immunity

The menace of fake news is now a widely accepted phenomenon. The internet, which is a vehicle of progress and holds promise of opportunities to billions of users, is now interspersed with fake news and sub-standard articles. This seemingly true looking, highly non-discernible fake news is a challenge to the sanctity of the internet and is one of the greatest threat to this vehicle of progress. Interestingly technologies which were tools for designers like Photoshop, video editing tools and not to mention Artificial Intelligence which apart from being used to make wonderful tools for mankind are being used to produce more and more realistic looking fake news day by day. Not only that algorithms of websites like the Facebook is being exploited to ensure fake news articles are well targeted and get the widest attention. The consequences are varied with different levels of intensity. At the individual level, it is leading to depressions, false reasoning, and radicalization. At higher levels consequences are taking an intense turn like mob lynching, riots and recently at the national level it resulted in false propaganda and radical election results. Eminent personalities, world leaders, state, civil societies, individuals- everyone has acknowledged the presence of fake news and the damage it is inflicting on people lives. Now the question is how can we combat this issue?

A lecture in my recent science class hit me with this idea which can be a probable solution to this issue. My science teacher was trying to explain how a high resistance is offered to the spread of a contagious disease within a population, if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination. He referred to the principle as herd immunity. The idea is simple. If suppose a community consists of three individuals A, B and C, among whom A and B are vaccinated against polio, the chances of C getting polio virus is drastically reduced. This is because A and B who are vaccinated act as death chamber to polio virus circulating in the community and thereby decreasing the chances of C getting infected by the virus. Now suppose instead of polio virus we as a community have to combat fake news. What required is we as a member of the community acting as death chamber to the fake news article. For this, we have to vet every news article that seems suspicious and report it so that such articles are removed. Rather than casually sharing every pleasing article that comes across us, we must ensure we have done some background check so that we are certain about the credibility of whatever we share online. When we perform such checks, it ensures such article is prevented from spreading and an individual or a society as a whole is saved from the consequences.  Seems like a lot of work given the variety and intensity of spreading fake news articles. But let’s face it- the internet as we use today became a resource by the contribution of not few people but millions of people. And we as a responsible user of the internet should ensure this repository is not spoiled and it does not end up being used as a tool against humanity and principles we stand for. Let us work together to redeem what we believe is the original purpose of the internet.

Recall vs Reason- a powerful technique to avoid silly mistakes

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I recently gave an MCQ based test in which I marked a known question wrong. Silly mistake. Later when I came home, I sat down and started thinking why I marked the wrong answer. I realized that the question although similar to what I read earlier had a twist and I didn’t notice it. If only I would have applied my reasoning faculty instead of just recalling what I learned earlier, I would have saved myself from the error. And from that instant I have been applying what I call as the doctrine of “Recall vs Reason”. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to talk about the same.
Our brain is capable of storing information in the form of depressions or ridge called gyri and sulci. When we revise what we read such depressions are reaffirmed and hence we are able to recall it for a longer duration. Recalling is not the only function that the brain performs. Another important function that the brain performs is the reasoning function. This important function is what gets overlooked and silly mistakes occur. Had I at that instant used my brain not only to recall but also to reason, so as to arrive at a proper answer, the mistake would have been avoided.

There is one more advantage (apart from several others) which I obtain from using this principle of recall and reason. Whenever I am in a situation where I can follow some quotes or wisdom that I read earlier I always try first to reason on its application. The benefits are two folds. One it helps to bring changes as required in the application. Second, it shifts the responsibility on us as we can’t point our finger to someone who told us to do so because at the end it was not blindly followed or coerced. In the Bhagwad Gita Lord Krishna himself profess to Arjuna that he should not just follow what is being told to him blindly. He should use his mind and make it his own.
So next time make sure you reason with anything that your brain recalls before you apply it to something. Let me know your thoughts on this.