Friday, May 30, 2008

Indian spelling "bees" swarm Washington

Each immigrant community has enriched the American melting pot in their own unique way. The Indian-American community has added its own colors to the mosaic of Americana by its steady participation and successes in a classic American tradition : the Spelling Bee.

The Indian-American community accounts for less than 1% of the US population . But 10 out of the 45 semi-finalists (nearly 25%) in the Howard-Scripps Spelling Bee this year are Indian-Americans. There were 35 kids of Indian-origin among the 288 qualifiers from the millions nation-wide who try and make the final cut in Washington DC -- around 12 per cent qualifying rate. Five Indian-Americans have won the contest in the last 9 years.

Indian bees swarm into Washington DC for spelling fest; ten remain in fray

The Championship Finals air live on ABC from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. EDT today Friday, May 30.All the best Kids !! I will have to be extra careful checking for misspelt words in my writings - you are setting very high standards (Reminds me of the edit in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today : Detroit teen teaches grown-ups a lesson in civility. )

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another male bastion falls .......

An interesting news item is floating round in the news media today :

Was William Shakespeare a Jewish woman in disguise?

I caught this story in Haaretz(Israel) and the Times of India.

Only way for the guys to score a point in the battle of the sexes is to hold steadfast to the claim that Mona Lisa was actually Leonardo Da Vinci in drag.

Shakespeare himself summed it up in Romeo and Juliet "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Paradigm Change for Local Government

Brighton resident suggests a 'paradigm change' for governments
Deepak Seth • Community member, Editorial Board • May 27, 2008

Traditionally, attempts to balance government budgets have focused on the axiom: Raise taxes and/or cut staff and services. This generally raises the hackles of people on both sides of the ideological and political divide and ends up with muddled measures that do not balance the budget.
I would suggest a paradigm change: Raise revenue and cut costs.Implicit in this statement is the premise that raising revenue is not the same as raising taxes, and cutting costs is not the same as cutting services and staff. My proposals hinge on raising revenues through innovation and cutting costs by improving efficiency and effectiveness.
Raise revenues:

  • Sell/lease naming rights to as many county/city resources and events as possible. Airport, airport concourses, parks, park shelters and lodges, new streets, summer and winter festivals, sound and light shows, etc. Crass commercialism? No, not at all. Visit any college or university campus and you will get a sense of what I mean. The county leadership should pick the brains of the local universities to figure out how their kind of naming/branding programs can be replicated.
  • Most county/city resources like park shelters, etc. are rented out at a fixed price. Move to a demand-based pricing model where the same resource needs to be rented out at different rates depending on the popularity of the spot/time slot. People should pay more for peak times and less for lean times. Another option: Instead of a first-come, first-served booking model, a bidding model (akin to eBay) should be used with the highest bidder getting the resource. Some leeway could be allowed for charitable organizations, community groups, etc.
  • The county and city may be sitting on a treasure trove in terms of its historical archives. Genealogical and Internet search sites are willing to pay good money for such information. Recently, paid a sizable amount to the federal government to digitize IRS archival data and sell it on the Web.
  • Many European countries charge differential penalties for minor traffic and civic violations based on the paying capacity of the violator. A similar model can be investigated here. A $100 surcharge on a traffic ticket is a lot for a fast-food attendant but is a mere slap on the wrist for a rich businessman.
  • Negotiate right-of-way agreements with utilities and telecom service providers based on a fixed fee plus a share of revenue rather than the fixed fee. If the cable company is making more money because of selling more premium and HD programming, county and city revenues should go up, too.
    I'll write on how to cut costs and improve efficiency in my next column two weeks from now.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fad, Fiction or emerging reality ? "Dead Pets are Forever"

What would you think of the idea to convert a beloved dead pet or relative into a diamond/gemstone which you can wear on your body for the rest of your life ?

Apparently, that is possible now. Chicago based LifeGem converts dead people and animals into everlasting gems :

Pet owner turns dead cat into a ring!

Seems like another addition to what we may want to be done with our remains after we die. Ranks right out there with cryogenic preservation.

"Diamonds/Dead Pets are Forever"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Baby Onboard: Please switch off cellphone"

Cellphone radiation had been suggested as a possible cause for the disappearance of the honeybee. And the internet is full of unsubstantiated rumors about gas station fires being sparked off by cellphones or eggs being boiled by cellphone radiation.

But this one is more real. Could the recent spurt in behavioral disorders in young kids be related to cellphone usage by them or their mothers during pregnancy ?

In a study, which is to be published in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology, scientists from universities of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark surveyed the mothers of 13,159 children born in Denmark in the late 1990s about their use of the phones during pregnancy, and their children's use of handsets and behaviour up to the age of seven. The findings show that women who used mobile phones were 54% more likely to have children with behavioural problems, and that the likelihood increased with the amount of potential exposure to the radiation, the Independent daily of Britain said.

Study also found found that using mobile phones even two or three times daily was sufficient to increase the risk of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct, emotions and relationships. The health implications likelihood is even greater if the children themselves used the phones before the age of seven.

The Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, the official Russian radiation watchdog body, holds that the peril cellphones pose "is not much lower than the risk to children's health from tobacco or alcohol".

Scary stuff.......However, the researchers warned that the results "should be interpreted with caution" and need to be verified by further studies.

Show me the Money.........

I had always wondered why all currency notes in the US whether $ 1 or $ 10 or $100 had the same exact dimensions. Coming from India and with my experience in other European/Asian countries I was more used to the graded sizes of the currency notes. The smaller denomination in a smaller size with progressively increasing sizes as the denomination increased.

Reduced the chances of accidentally handing out a wrong bill and was particularly relevant in parts of the world where literacy is low and people relied on the dimension of the bill to interpret it's denomination.Varying the sizes would also make it easier to handle for the visually impaired.

A recent court ruling may force the treasury to move in that direction :
Paper money unfair to blind - court

Surely, a very welcome step for the visually impaired.Costs involved may be high as ATM's, Vending machines etc would need to be retrofitted.

Does anybody know the background of why all US currency is the same size ? Also, what are your reactions to the idea of having different sized bills in your wallet ?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Roll out red carpet for Canadians

Roll out red carpet for Canadians
Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • May 12, 2008

As our elected officials struggle to balance their budgets, help may lie right across the lake — in petro-dollar-rich Canada.While the U.S. dollar has weakened, the Canadian dollar has gotten stronger in recent years. The weakening dollar has made the U.S. an attractive tourism and shopping destination for Canadians.

Friends in Buffalo talk about Canadians swarming area malls. Buffalo Niagara International Airport is seeing massive influxes of Canadians who get an automatic 10 percent or more discount if they fly out of Buffalo vs. flying out of Toronto. The plans for the Buffalo Bills to play in Toronto works wonders, too.

This is all great news for Buffalo's moribund economy recovering from the decades-long manufacturing slowdown.To benefit from this boom we need to ensure that the welcome red carpet extends to Rochester and the Finger Lakes area. Area businesses and tourism bodies all have a role to play:
* Local business, civic and tourism leaders should be actively promoting Rochester in Canada at all forums.
*Stock merchandise preferred by Canadian buyers. Accept Canadian currency or make more currency conversion options available. Add French speaking staff. Add Canadian favorites to menus (fries with gravy and cheese anyone?) Make Canadian TV channels/newspapers available in guest rooms.
*Hand out "Visit Rochester'' literature at the border. Create a "Canada Week'' in Rochester in which area museums — Strong, Eastman, Memorial Art Gallery —showcase Canada-themed collections or Canadian artists. The Rochester Philharmonic can have a guest conductor from Canada. Local stores can have Canada-themed displays.
*Names such as Xerox, Kodak, and Bausch & Lomb are still big draws. There could be an "Imaging Tour'' of Rochester which showcases Rochester's "inventive genius'' heritage.
*The high-speed ferry was ahead of its time. Now, there is potential for a privately-run hovercraft operation between Toronto and Rochester. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter's efforts to reinvestigate options are laudable.

Let's take a page out of the Canadian playbook and replicate the same measures they had employed to motivate us to spend our powerful dollars in the days when one dollar equaled 1.4 Canadian dollars.

Does an integrated "Visit Rochester'' campaign for Canadians already exist? If not, can our city, county, tourism and business leaders get together to create one and present it to the community within the next 90 days?

We would have no one but ourselves to blame if we are left by the wayside in this mini gold rush. Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Have you "hypermilled" lately ?

This appears to be a new driving technique to help people cope with the rising gas prices. Seems slightly risky and foolhardy too. But with the gas prices rising the way they are people are ready to try anything to make that gallon stre........tch longer :

An increasing number of motorists in US are following a radical driving technique designed to eke out every last mile from a tank of fuel. Known as 'hypermiling,' the methods can double gas mileage, even in gas-guzzling vehicles.

Hypermiling includes pumping up tires to the maximum rating on their sidewalls, which may be higher than levels recommended in car manuals; using engine oil of a low viscosity, and the controversial practice of drafting behind other vehicles on the highway to reduce aerodynamic drag.

The "advanced" techniques of hypermiling are in addition to well-known approaches including keeping speed down, accelerating gently, avoiding excessive idling and removing cargo racks to also cut down on aerodynamic drag.

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