Monday, April 27, 2009


Sarojini Naidu wrote a poem titled "Indian Weavers":

WEAVERS, weaving at break of day,
Why do you weave a garment so gay? . . .
Blue as the wing of a halcyon wild,
We weave the robes of a new-born child.

Weavers, weaving at fall of night,
Why do you weave a garment so bright? . . .
Like the plumes of a peacock, purple and green,
We weave the marriage-veils of a queen.

Weavers, weaving solemn and still,
What do you weave in the moonlight chill? . . .
White as a feather and white as a cloud,
We weave a dead man's funeral shroud.

Weaving is an age old tradition in India. Weavers making textiles in their homes and open spaces around them used to be a common sight just decades ago. Hand looms are now falling silent. The lucky few are shifted to living cultural museums. Dakshinachitra on ECR, near Chennai, has on display two hand looms on which weavers make a few sarees every month. A few pictures of the weaving equipment:

It is surprising that some say there is "no proof" for hand loom weaving traditions in India because, while, bits of fabric from ancient Egypt and China have survived, not even a shred has been found from India so far! Want to see some real proof that hand looms have existed for long in India? The weaver's feet have a story to tell:

The feet are used to 'power' the hand loom. The space between the big toe (hallux) and the index toe is large enough to accommodate another toe. The weaver's feet have for too long been operating the foot treadle and the space taken by the rope on the treadle has left a permanent mark on their feet. The "Book of Looms" by Eric Broudy documents other distinguishing features of the weavers: they have hands so sensitive to touch, that they cannot do other hard labour. The human genetic map would have the "weaver's patch" that could distinguish traditional weavers from the rest.

Hand loom equipment were upgraded by Jacquard, a French weaver, in 1801. His loom could be controlled by punch cards. This was a huge step in automating the weaving process. In due course, it inspired Charles Babbage to come up with the Analytical Engine, using punch cards to store programs. There has been no looking back since then.

By 2009, the fully automatic looms have almost totally replaced hand looms in India. The weavers in Tamil Nadu have been forced to find other jobs not their vocation - ending up mostly as construction workers. The shrouds for them would be woven by power looms now.

Mahatma Gandhi used weaving for political freedom. Thiruvalluvar, a law giver of the ancient Tamils, is believed to have been a weaver. Hailing from the weaving community, Sir P.T. Thiagaraya Chettiar created political currents in Tamil Nadu. The innovation by Jaquard led to automation of the loom, and the hardware of Babbage have now matured. Will the electronic networks that weave connections between all men mean the end of representatives and pave way for direct democracy? Time will tell - keep reading :)

[5] "The Book of Looms", Eric Broudy,

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ranjith and friends ...

Ranjith and friends take this road in Chennai, to school. We don't need computers to see what needs to be done to improve things here, but they could help us utilize resources in a better way:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tattvartha Sutra: That which is

Umasvati's "Tattvartha Sutra" is one of the oldest philosophical works recognized by all Jaina traditions, and is much like an encyclopedia. The translation by Natmal Tatia introduces the work as having the theme of "non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possession." Self-reliance is seen as a core principle to life. The "self" is central to realising every other truth and the path to omniscience is presented. Various truths and ethics in the form of crisp verses guide the reader towards liberation.

It is fairly hard to follow the verses without aid from the notes by the translator. A few terse and pithy lines from to Sutra to encourage wider readership and appreciation of this great work.

What do souls do?
parasparopagraho jivanam
Souls render service to one another.

Soul is defined as:
upayoga laksanam
Sentience is the defining characteristic of the soul.

On variety of views:
naigama-samgraha-vyavahara-rjusutra-sabda nayah
The philosophical standpoints are: the common person's view, generic view, practical view, linear view and literal view.

On charity:
anugrahartham svasyatisargo danam
Charity consists in offering alms to the qualified person for one's own benefit.

On contemplation:
vitarkah srutam
Contemplation is pondering over the contents of the scriptures.

On India:
bharatah sadvinsa-pamcayaojanasata-vistarah sat caikonavimsatibhaga yojanasya
The continent of Bharata is 526 6/19 yojanas wide.

India was then 7695 KM wide. Today, India is 2933 KM wide, east to west.

On liberation:
tadanantaram urdhvam gacchaty a lokantat
When all karmic bondage is eliminated, the soul soars upwards to the border of cosmic space

The appendix includes notes on numbers, measurement of time, measurement of space, and other headings useful to interpret the verses. Number 2 is considered the minimum numerable as one does not lend itself to counting. Various grades of infinity are discussed as well.

The Tattvartha Sutra is based on the sermons of Lord Mahavira transmitted through his immediate disciples. The attempt to achieve omniscience and liberation through incessant thought and analysis is refreshingly enlightening even today.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The middle path

Thiruvalluvar, writing on "prohibited conduct" (கூடா ஒழுக்கம்), said:

280. மழித்தலும் நீட்டலும் வேண்டா உலகம்
பழித்தது ஒழித்து விடின்.

Rev. Dr. G.U. Pope translated that as:
What's the worth of shaven head or tresses long, If you shun what all the world condemns as wrong?

Mr. F.W. Ellis:
There is no need of a shaven crown, nor of tangled hair, if a man abstain from those deeds which the wise have condemned.

The English translations limit the verse to just the head and crown - missing the beard and the more general meaning of "shaving". Thiruvalluvar seems to prescribe the middle path with regard to hair - trimmed to taste according to the fashion of the day!

Buddhist monks and other sects have elaborate tonsuring rules and procedures. On the other extreme, Saivaite saints and others sport long tresses and beards. Both symbolise and make their school of thought apparent to the world, through hair growth. Valluvar strongly censures both practices, and declares that both extremes are unwanted when what the world condemns is given up, abandoned and/or destroyed.

Beyond just hair on the head, the verse prescribes the middle path to wealth earned through moral rectitude.

The University of Madras dictionary at gives the following meaning to "மழித்தல்":

1. மொட்டையடி-த்தல் moṭṭai-y-aṭi- : (page 3374)

மொட்டையடி-த்தல் moṭṭai-y-aṭi-

, v. tr. < id. +. 1. To shave the head entirely; தலை முழுதும் மழித்தல். 2. To strip completely, as a man of his wealth, as a tree of its fruits; முழு துங் கொள்ளைகொள்ளுதல். மரத்தை மொட்டை யடித்துவிட்டார்கள்.

The meaning of "நீட்டல்":

1. நீட்டல் nīṭṭal : (page 2295)

1. Stretching, lengthening; நீட்டுகை. 2. Procrastination; தாமதம். நிலைமை யறிய நீட்ட மின்றி (பெருங். மகத. 23, 51).

நீட்டல் nīṭṭal, n. < id. 1. Lengthening, extending, stretching; நீளச்செய்கை. 2. (Gram.) Poetic licence which consists in the lengthening of a short vowel into a long one; குற்றுயிரை

2. நீட்டல்மானம் nīṭṭal-māṉam : (page 2295)

280). 5. Liberality; பெருங்கொடை. (பிங்.)

The verse prohibits stripping someone of all wealth. It also abjures needless generosity. Both are needless if one maintains rectitude earning wealth. Of course, the verse assumes the reader has freedom to ponder and take correct decisions.

The saint who spoke so clearly censuring extremes, is portrayed with high tresses and a long beard. That does no justice to Thiruvalluvar - he must have sported neatly trimmed hair according to the fashion of his day!

It won't be out of place here to mention that most programmers who have made a huge difference to computing follow the middle path. To read more on them, please visit:

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Free access to law movement

One of the exciting world wide movements promoting free access to law is spearheaded from Australia. The Australasian Legal Information Institute hosts This website allows free access to most of the Australian legal resources, including legislation and decisions of the High Court of Australia [the Highest court in Australia]. They have devised standard notation for citing case law that is uniformly followed throughout Australia, with most of the Courts sending in the judgments and transcripts of proceedings to in standard formats. Legislation is reported to the site by the attorneys who represent the state.

Austlii success also led initiatives in England creating Worldlii site provides access to legal information in other jurisdictions. Legal information institutes of the world, meeting in Montreal, in October 2002 declared that:

* Public legal information from all countries and international institutions is part of the common heritage of humanity. Maximising access to this information promotes justice and the rule of law;
* Public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and free of charge;
* Independent non-profit organisations have the right to publish public legal information and the government bodies that create or control that information should provide access to it so that it can be published.

Involvement of professors of law, attorneys, judges and a host of sponsors from the business and legal community make the initiative possible. Some accounts giving details of the work done by various volunteers and enthusiasts are available. A few snips from interesting speeches and material published online:

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers) in his Valedictory Address for Lord Justice Brooke [2006] EWCA Civ B1 (27 July 2006) said:

On the Bench Henry worked tirelessly with the Lord Chancellor's Department (latterly the Department of Constitutional Affairs) on schemes for the introduction of IT into the court system -- schemes that alas all too often have fallen at the fence of implementation through lack of funds. Legal Technology News accurately stated that Lord Justice Brooke was "one of the most computer literate judges on the bench of any court on either side of the Atlantic today" with the advantage of being a realist "rather than a techno-enthusiast forever jumping on to every new gizmo band wagon that rolls along".

I would need the assistance of a computer to keep track of the various IT committees on which Henry Brooke has served during the nineteen years that he has been striving to bring the court's IT into first the 20th and latterly the 21st century -- although it might be more truthful to say that the efforts are still to bring the standards up to those of the last century. He was the first judge to be a full member of a Court Service Board, and, in 2001, because of his unparalleled experience, he was appointed by Lord Woolf as Judge in charge of Modernisation (JIM for short). He has described his experience in this area as "snakes and ladders". The promise of £1.1 billion for IT for criminal courts -- up a ladder. The promise of £260 million for IT in the civil courts -- a further ladder. Superb team work between civil servants and judges -- and in this context Mr Justice Cresswell deserves special mention -- in preparing the programmes for modernisation -- up a long ladder -- and then, wham, down a huge snake, the withdrawal of the majority of the funding.

Despite this, there have been some advances -- the computerised claims production centre at Northampton, Money Claims Online, Possession Claims Online, the LINK system, XHIBIT (although not all agree that this deserved the priority it received), and the provision of lap-tops and IT facilities for judges. So the industry of Henry and those who have worked with him at the IT coalface has borne some fruit.

Allied to his enthusiasm for IT has been his determination that the public should have free access to judgments as soon as they have been approved by the court. In 1999 he chaired a meeting in London which led to the formation of the multi-disciplinary "Free the Law" movement and to his taking the Chair of BAILII (the British and Irish Legal Information Institute) which has achieved so much in this area.

These activities would be more than enough to provide a full workload for most people, but Henry has done them in his spare time. His mainstream activities included chairing the Law Commission in the three years 1993, 1994 and 1995. This important post requires the highest intellectual ability and knowledge of the law, coupled with leadership and administrative skills. You can see why Mr Justice Brooke was selected for the job. It has also traditionally earned the holder swift promotion to the Court of Appeal on relinquishing the chair. Thus, in 1996, though not quite as swiftly as he deserved, Henry was promoted to the Court of Appeal.

The contribution that he has made to jurisprudence in that court, particularly since he has been presiding, has been immense, reflecting his learning in the law and powers of analysis...

The legal fraternity even today takes pride in the trappings of office: majestic buildings, robes, flowery language, etc. It is hilarious to read this part of the above speech!

It takes a little time to get to know Henry Brooke. His clerk, Elizabeth, sent me a note which says: "He wears his robes like a catwalk model -- off the shoulder". He has a slightly craggy exterior and an unruly and unruled head of hair (which is one of the more cogent arguments for wigs in the Court of Appeal), and which can even lead to an impression of slight disorganisation.

If so, the impression is totally misleading. No one, who does not have a rigid self-discipline, could achieve even half of the contribution that Henry Brooke makes, and from his earliest days in the law has made, to so many different aspects of the administration of justice in this country. When you come to know him, you also become aware of his sense of values, his humanity and his care for his fellow men and women.

One may only humbly agree with the Chief Justice that the contributions by Sir Henry Brooke have added greater glory to the institution more than any of the other trappings. The effort to use technology in meaningful ways is never easy, as Mr Stephen Hockman, QC, observed in the farewell to Lord Justice Brooke:

At the same time, as I suspect most people will be aware, Henry Brooke was making increasing use of technology in the cases which he tried. His practice was to engage in proactive case-management through the use of e-mail. Many a Member of the Bar, and perhaps even of the Judiciary, who has received an e-mail from Henry timed at some unearthly hour, perhaps even well after midnight, with the self-effacing but inaccurate explanation later proffered that it was probably due to an error in the time clock on the computer. Such stories, I venture to say, illustrate both his dedication and his essential modesty.

Laurie J West-Knights QC, co-founded along with Lord Saville and Sir Henry Brooke. It was originally maintained by LJW-K QC, personally, at The story of the initiative used to be available there, but not any longer. One gets to read about LJW-K, QC, at The point to be noted is that it takes only a few spirited individuals to bring about spectacular changes.

In India, NIC has taken several initiatives, and a wealth of information relating to legislation and case-law are freely available. But, there are no standard notations that enable citing case-law published at the NIC servers before courts. Again, many proprietary software tools are used in India, in sharp contrast to austlii that uses its own in-house software to index information. (The technical details about tools used by austlii are available here)

Porting law to computers as code executable by machines would be the next logical step. India has a rich tradition in not only computing and mathematics, but satya and dharma (truth and rule of law) as well. We should take a lot more initiative to make the porting possible within a decade from now.

[2] Graham Greenleaf (University of New South Wales - Faculty of Law), Philip Chung (University of Technology, Sydney - Faculty of Law) and Andrew Mowbray (University of Technology, Sydney - Faculty of Law), Emerging Global Networks for Free Access to Law: World LII's Strategies,

Friday, April 03, 2009

SSRN: Social Science Research Network

SSRN [Social Science Research Network] at makes a number of papers published in U.S. journals available for download. This veritable online resource for legal and social research requires a login to view abstracts and download papers, but registration is free. I wonder when India would have a comparable service for articles published in Indian journals. A few sample abstracts from SSRN:

[1] Jason Mazzone (Brooklyn Law School), Copyfraud,
Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare's plays, Beethoven's piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet's Water Lilies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyright in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the owner's permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use.

Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free. Copyfraud stifles valid forms of reproduction and undermines free speech.

Congress should amend the Copyright Act to allow private parties to bring civil causes of action for false copyright claims. Courts should extend the availability of the copyright misuse defense to prevent copyright owners from enforcing an otherwise valid copyright if they have engaged in past copyfraud. In addition, Congress should further protect the public domain by creating a national registry listing public domain works and a symbol to designate those works. Failing a congressional response, there may exist remedies under state law and through the efforts of private parties to achieve these ends.

[2] Laurence H. Tribe (Harvard Law School), The Unbearable Wrongness of Bush v. Gore,
Bush v. Gore presented a question that most likely never should have been decided by a federal court. Properly applied, justiciability is inextricably linked both with the institutional context in which judicial intervention is sought (including the remedial character such intervention would have to take) and with the substantive constitutional principles that undergird the allegedly "political" question at issue. Unless it is demonstrable that the political and administrative process itself is so structured that the political branches cannot be trusted to abide by constitutional norms preventing an impermissible form of exclusion or dilution of an identifiable individual's or group's rights of political participation without adequate opportunity for timely correction within the process itself, the case for judicial intervention that pretermits the political process is extremely weak.

There is thus a strong connection between the veritable culture shock set off by the Supreme Court's intervention in the presidential election of 2000 and the proper characterization of the Court's action as a violation of the implicit "political process" doctrine that has governed our national life without much interruption from the outset. The structure of the Florida Supreme Court's recount order of December 8, including the role it assigned to the state court judge in addressing alleged inequalities, left open numerous avenues for correcting procedural inequities in ballot counting. And the alleged inequities were so complicated and so attenuated that to argue that the U.S. Supreme Court had before it a completed constitutional harm notwithstanding what the Florida courts and legislature, followed by Congress, might have done, seems bizarre.

[3] Tim Oreilly (O'Reilly Media), What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, Communications & Strategies, No. 1, p. 17, First Quarter 2007, (2007)
This paper was the first initiative to try to define Web 2.0 and understand its implications for the next generation of software, looking at both design patterns and business modes. Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an architecture of participation, and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

[4]Amir Khandani, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Andrew W. Lo, MIT Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), What Happened to the Quants in August 2007?,
During the week of August 6, 2007, a number of quantitative long/short equity hedge funds experienced unprecedented losses. Based on TASS hedge-fund data and simulations of a specific long/short equity strategy, we hypothesize that the losses were initiated by the rapid unwind of one or more sizable quantitative equity market-neutral portfolios. Given the speed and price impact with which this occurred, it was likely the result of a forced liquidation by a multi-strategy fund or proprietary-trading desk, possibly due to a margin call or a risk reduction. These initial losses then put pressure on a broader set of long/short and long-only equity portfolios, causing further losses by triggering stop/loss and de-leveraging policies. A significant rebound of these strategies occurred on August 10th, which is also consistent with the unwind hypothesis. This dislocation was apparently caused by forces outside the long/short equity sector - in a completely unrelated set of markets and instruments - suggesting that systemic risk in the hedge-fund industry may have increased in recent years.

[5]Allen Rostron and Nancy Levit (University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) - School of Law), Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews & Journals,

This document contains information about submitting articles to law reviews and journals, including the methods for submitting an article, any special formatting requirements, how to contact them to request an expedited review, and how to contact them to withdraw an article from consideration. It covers about 188 law reviews. The document was fully updated on June 8, 2008 and was revised on March 5, 2009.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Robots tour Tiger Cave

Three robots were seen touring the Tiger Cave, near Mahabalipuram. They were heard to be very appreciative of the stone sculptures and structures there. One of them had only one eye, but was very well built, and looked like the guard for the other two, who moved about like a married couple. The dark black suits looked very odd. The light from their "eyes" was not even either. They were studying the rocks with great care and taking notes. They said, "We agree with the sculptures and stucts at Mahabalipuram. All but one. The one below. The light house was no longer necessary as GPS gave accurate co-ordinates to fishermen, and radars guided ships. Besides it does not fit on the rocks one bit! We have never agreed with Roger Penrose either!" I am not sure that is just "intelligent" or too wise :)