The wasp and the spider

A few evenings back as I stood outside sipping on tea, I noticed a Cyclosa web on the Pongam in front of the web. I stepped out to check it out, but what caught my attention was something dragging something bigger up the compound wall.

On closer inspection it turned out to be wasp pulling up a jumping spider. The spider was slightly bigger than the wasp but the wasp tenaciously hauled her up. Wasps and spiders are old enemies, and wasps are notorious predators on spiders. There is even a family of wasps called Pompilidae which are called “Spider wasps” and specialise in predating on spiders.

Their method is to inject venom into the spiders and paralyze them. The spiders are then sealed inside a wasp nest where eggs (an egg?) is laid. When the eggs hatch, they have a “live” prey to feed on immediately.

Needless to see I ran to get the macro attachment and click videos and pics. The spider here is a jumper of Hyllus sp. a female. The wasp is of the family Pompilidae.

I tried to get the ladder to see where the spider ends up, sealed inside the wasp’s nest. But by the time I got back, they had disappeared! Oh well, another day then. Till then, read this excellent piece by Karthikeyan: http://www.wildwanderer.com/parental-care-in-wasps/ and a live experience with another family of wasps: https://www.wildwanderer.com/the-industrious-mud-dauber/

Making sense of Bangalore Covid death counts…

The second wave is now abating in Bangalore. Whether due to natural peaking or due to the lathi-handed lockdown will be something to debate and discuss over time. For now, there is a much lower sense of numbness and helplessness as the cases seem to be climbing down every day. There is a mild hope over the lockdown being lifted, even partially. The hospitals continue to be full, but one hears that this is because of people from outside the city, not from within. At one point, people fled Bangalore looking for beds in other cities. Now, the trend has reversed.

What it leaves behind is another story. The daily bulletin from the Health Ministry continues to show around 200-300 deaths per day for Bangalore. This seems to suggest an exceedingly high CFR, but you need to look into the deaths data to realise that deaths that happened over the past month are being recorded every day. May 29th’s bulletin, for eg recorded 278 deaths, of which around 5 were from April, and the rest in May, spread all the way from the start to the end of the month. How does one make sense of Fatality rates with this?

As April deaths are winding down in May bulletins, this is a good enough time to take stock and see how badly Bangalore was hit, at least as per official figures. Official positives stand at a total of 321913 cases recorded over April. This, by itself is a ridiculous figure. On April 30th the 7 day average of per day cases stood at 20000 cases! Going by deaths recorded, however, there were 1756 deaths recorded giving a Fatality rate of 0.55% which is pretty good considering the number of cases. Except that a closer look tells otherwise.

Of the 1756 deaths recorded in April, around a 70 were from March, leaving us with 1682 deaths that actually occurred in April. This can be found from the Annexure recording the date of death in the daily bulletins. May continued to record deaths from April, and the number eventually doubled. As of the May 29th bulletin, there have been a total of 3320 people who have died in April officially of Covid. This brings us a fatality rate of 1.03%, almost double of where we were! Given the carnage that ensued in Bangalore with crematoria running out of slots and breaking down with the load, and people having to burn bodies in mass pyres, your guess is as good as mine about what the true numbers were. As per this same official data we were seeing on an average around 230 deaths per day during the last 5 days of April, due to Covid.

May continued to be bad, but the worst seems to be over. May 5th recorded 337 cases and continues to add numbers as the data keeps coming in every day. But the worst seems to have been the 1st week of May recording 280+ cases per day on average. Again, the data continues to come in. I will have to do another post summarising this end of June. So far, it looks like a carnage.

Given how hard it was for many to find beds, to even get tested in time, the number of deaths due to Covid is a gross under-estimate. I wonder if we were seeing upwards of 1000 deaths per day during the first week of May. To say that a death was due to Covid is itself contentious, hanging the cause on the thread of an RT-PCR or RAT test. Many with other healthcare needs were denied access due to overflowing hospitals. The only true accounting would be the excess deaths that happened between mid-April and mid-May 2021 as compared to the same period in 2018, 2019 and 2020.This will happen based on death certificate data from BBMP, once the dust settles.

As of now, the count of deaths that happened between April 16th and May 15th stands at 6470 for an average of 215 per day and a CFR of 1.22% (528620 positives). This is a ridiculous figure and it will show up as an increased fatality rate across age-groups. And this increase in fatality rate due to higher load on the system clearly implies that a system that could’ve handled the load better could’ve reduced a lot of deaths. For 528620 cases, a fatality rate of 1% is 5286 deaths, a difference of 1200 deaths already! And we’re still not done counting May deaths!

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How easy is it to detach oneself, to view deaths as just a number. It needs reminders that this a calamity on a scale never seen before in Bangalore, that every death was someone’s family and friend. And given the nature of the disease, it is very likely that many families were hit with multiple deaths too.

We don’t do cyclones here, nor the kind of crazy excess rains that batter other Metros. We don’t have earthquakes, and the pollution benchmark has been lifted too high up North for us to make a squeak or try to think of excess deaths attributable to pollution. We haven’t been ruled by genocidal despots like some states, yet. Our worst problem is our traffic, which kills around 2 people a day. Covid-19 is by far the worst calamity to hit Bangalore, and we are not done yet.

The vaccination is ramping up. For the 70+ age group there seems to be a marginal decrease in proportion in total deaths as compared to April. Can it be attributed to vaccinations? Only time and more analysis will tell. For now, the hope is that the next wave can be prevented by vaccination. But will we get there in time?

The branding of politeness

First up, let me get this straight off the bat – I don’t like advertising. I don’t like the idea of someone selling me stuff and have never been comfortable with it. If I need/want something I’ll do my research and buy, and if someone has to convince me to buy something, I definitely don’t need it. A buy has to be initiated from my side, not from the seller. Every time I’ve broken this rule, I’ve regretted it.

(Also, second up, all non-conversations in quotes are air-quotes. So “lounge” should be air-quote “lounge”, ok?)

Now, to get to the point. Twitter has been abuzz about this ad. It’s an ad for a product called CRED (whose use is still not clear, more on this later), featuring Rahul Dravid (for no reason other than his being a celebrity) and is tweeted by Virat Kohli. (pretty sure it’s not an “lol, I found this funny video” share) Continue reading “The branding of politeness”

Trying to make sense of the second wave

First of all, I’ll admit that the current second wave of Covid cases in India, Karnataka and Bangalore came as a big surprise to me. I have been number-watching every day since at least June 2020 and I thought we had plateaued for good at the 200s. I could not see what could drive the numbers up again. The crowds have been everywhere since at least September, mask-wearing has been poor since at least August. If, despite all this, the numbers could stay at 200, what would drive them up again?

This kinda put me in multiple blindspots. First,  as mentioned above, despite zero precautions from the general populace, why were the numbers so low? There was talk of seropositivity being high, high asymptomatics, etc etc. Which kinda leads you to believe that most of the people had been infected and herd immunity achieved. Which then leads you to the second blindspot, where did the second wave come from? Health-care staff had been vaccinated, elderly were being vaccinated. Masks had been down for months. Then, how? Continue reading “Trying to make sense of the second wave”

The 10 year job and other ramblings…

Many years back, before this friend/colleague got married and moved to the US, we would meet once every month over beer and dinner, to chat and crib about work. One of the topics that we’d regularly return to, especially when well into the alcohol was about code as art, truth and having beauty by itself. There’d be mention of a few lines of code, so perfectly written that they never had to be touched again. We’d then move onto “My Name is Red” and the ruminations there about what is art and what is beauty. And then finally the purpose of code, which is where we would hit the philosophical roadblock.

The code we wrote ran in routers which were deployed by Internet Service Providers(ISPs), not your average ACT, but those who aggregate the traffic across the world, basically the backbone of the Internet. This market is dominated by the big players like Cisco and Juniper, leaving a 2-5% share that is fought over by many other smaller companies, including ours. So, a minuscule share of the Internet would pass through our code, and of that, we shook our heads, a majority of the traffic is porn. So, all this beauty only to power some porn? We’d drown our miseries in beer. (Of course, there is much to dispute about this statistic, but hey, think beers.)

Continue reading “The 10 year job and other ramblings…”

Argiope days

For the past few years life has been about building walls around myself, and focusing on fewer things, with increasingly shorter time horizons. Nothing brought that necessity to the fore more than 2020 where everything got upended, but strangely remained the same. It was again about hunkering down and surviving, but in different and more difficult ways.

It was also strangely a time of peace for me. The lack of traffic all over, the lack of school buses honking through the mornings, the lack of the every day commute (which I actually miss), but most importantly the lack of a constant urge to be somewhere else was strangely becalming. It was easier to just be and not have to worry about being elsewhere. Days with less expectations and planning, with a premium on getting through each day.

Through this time, the world seemed to reveal itself in ways that I hadn’t bothered to observe before. The more often I walked around, the more I just stood around, watching and observing, the more there seemed to be to observe. I was discovering a whole new world in the small 6 ft X 6ft space in front of my door, where the iron railings separated my house from the Pongam (Millettia pinnata) tree.

In this tiny world, in September, I saw a colony of wasps coming up just above the gate – paper wasps (Ropalidia cyathiformes), and such nests are common around houses.

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Continue reading “Argiope days”

Books list from 2020

As I mentioned earlier, this was a year of tomes. Even though I finished with fewer books than in 2019, I ended up spending time on more pages than every before. The average book length was close to 350 pages as against 300 the previous year.

This was also where I picked books a lot more consciously and ensured at least 50% were written by women. Without much ado, the books list: Continue reading “Books list from 2020”

The books of the pandemic

I kept the annual chewing of the cud on books of the year, till the end. Turns out, to the very last few hours of the year. It is 10:05 PM on Dec 31st as I start writing this post.

At the start of the year, T.R. Shankar Raman, wrote a post on Goodreads about how he chose to read only women during 2019. It made me count the number of women authors on my list of 2019, and it was around a third of all the books I’d read. Committing to a full year seemed difficult, and given how things panned out, would have been foolhardy and difficult to manage. I chose a more respectable fraction of half.

How different would it be from a normal year? One, you second guess every book you read, you plan, you give yourself windows. And second, more importantly, you seek out books. There were the familiars – Shashi Deshpande, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Thrity Umrigar, Ruth Ozeki. And beyond them? And what about non-fiction, which I realised is more heavily dominated by men than fiction. I still pulled out a Molly Caldwell-Crosby, an Angela Saini, and the best of all the books read – Isabel Wilkerson. Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” also led me to Donella Meadows’ excellent “Thinking in Systems”. In fiction, I finally managed to read “Wolf Hall” which had been lying unread for years, quietly judging me, and also Daphne Du-Maurier’s “Rebecca”. There were also Joyce Carol-Oates, Madhuri Vijay’s excellent “The Far Field”, and Amrita Mahale’s “Milk Teeth”. I managed to reread Jhumpa Lahiri, Anjum Hasan and CK Meena. Towards the end I managed to finish with slightly more than half the number of books by women, the total count being odd, you’ll see when the final list is out next month. This is something I should continue for 2021 too.

This was also a year of tomes. Even though I read fewer books than last year, I ended up with more pages than ever. A quarter of the books read were more than 400 pages long, just under half of those were 500+. This meant an average book size of close to 350 pages over the whole year.

In terms of the fiction/nonfiction ratio, this year turned out fewer non-fiction than the last, even in terms of the fraction. While last year, it was 45%, this time it was 40%. I wonder if this is a consequence of the domination of the non-fiction market by men, and my 50% women target made me tilt towards fiction more?

This was also the year of Black Lives Matter, and I ended up reading some really good works on the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement. First was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”, and then Isabel Wilkerson’s epic “The Warmth of Other Suns” detailing the migration of Blacks from the oppression of the Southern states to friendlier shores of the North and the West from the time of the First World War to the 1970s. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how an entire population can be kept from realising their aspirations over generations.

This was also the year I discovered Barry Lopez, who passed away last week. First through this essay. And then through his epic work “Arctic Dreams”. This was one of the slowest books I’ve read in ages, making you pause, reread paragraphs and understand every word of what he’s got to say. The book is painstakingly written, every word precisely worked over. There’s an entire chapter written on the different kinds of ice that form in the Arctic. More than a book, this is what should be called a meditation, a meditation on a place and, sadly, a time. The Arctic that he writes about, in the 1980s, is no longer there. The permanent ice is increasingly being lost replaced by young ice every winter. It is only a matter of time before the northern passage becomes a common feature every year. In 2020 it reads like a memoir and an elegy for a long-dead place.

It is left to those who are left and carrying his torch to guide and remind us of all that there is to lose and being lost. The likes of Robert Macfarlane and Robin Wall Kimmerer, whom I am yet to read. In some ways I am putting off reading her, as the sense of having read a book sometimes overwhelms the sense of knowing that there are excellent books waiting to be experienced. How does one balance the two? Maybe hope they are more prolific?

This was also the year of the pandemic. And the only book I managed to read on that was David Quammen’s excellent “Spillover” which is about zoonoses, diseases that spillover from animals to humans, like the Covid virus did. Written some 4-5 years back, this is mainly about the other viruses that have done the jump and wiped out lives – the SARS virus of 2003, Nipah virus, and biggest of them all – AIDS. A must read.

For 2021, I am already looking forward to reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass”, Merlin Sheldrake’s “Entangled Life”, Barry Lopez’s “Horizons”. There are other fictions in line, Anita Desai, Anuradha Roy et al. What I am really looking forward to and hoping for most from 2021 is being able to walk into a bookstore like Blossom’s or Goobe’s and browse at peace for books. Here’s hoping that that happens!

The one ride for the year – Basaralu

Enough has been said of the year that 2020 has been, and I don’t want to add more to that litany. As the year wound down, there was a bit of hope, especially in how the numbers in Bangalore and Karnataka have kept low over the past couple of months. We are now averaging around 600 per day in Bangalore and around 1000 in Karnataka. This is approx 5 cases per lakh in Bangalore, a reasonable number.

The lockdowns starting in March meant that I had not done a single ride this year, the last being the one to Nuggehalli, end of 2019! Feeling hopeful, I decided to set out on the 29th Dec, this time to Basaralu, which I had last visited in March 2019, which was also my first visit. I picked Basaralu because it is closer to Bangalore, just a hop, skip and jump from Huliyudurga and then Magadi. Little did I know what awaited me on this route. More on this at the end.

I set out as usual around 7:00 AM, stopping for breakfast at Swati Delicacy. The place was unusually crowded and I first decided to have it near the parking lot, but there was a lot of movement there, from the waiters and the cleaners. I moved to the entrance where they had setup some standing tables. This turned out to be close to the hand sanitizer. It was amusing to watch idiots walking with masks up pull them down as they approached the entrance, see the sanitizer and conscientiously spray their hands, all the while masks on their chins. I saw that the chaat counter opposite was empty and shifted there. That place was relatively quiet and I wasn’t on the path of anyone there.

My staple of Idli-vada arrived, and I washed it down with coffee before setting out well before 9 am.

PXL_20201229_030951446.jpg Continue reading “The one ride for the year – Basaralu”

Bangalore rain patterns for 2020

Wrote on Bangalore’s rain patterns this year for citizenmatters.
You can find it here.

A lot of it flows from this table about the monthly rain this year since March.

Month Normal Actual Departure from Normal 
March 18.5 18.4 -0.5% 
April 41.5 121.1 191.8% 
May 107.4 128.6 19.7% 
June 106.5 114.8 7.8% 
July 112.9 158.3 40.2% 
August 147 75.9 -48.3% 
September 212.8 300 41% 
October 168.3 204.3 21.4% 

Also, added additional info on state of the Kaveri reservoirs, which are full.

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(source: KSNDMC reservoir data) 

Please read here.

Actual article: https://bengaluru.citizenmatters.in/bengaluru-excess-rain-flood-patterns-2020-variances-54014