Using FM channels in Bangalore for emergencies

It is a common sighting in Bangalore of ambulances stuck in long lines of traffic. Even if there are commuters on the road who wish to do something about it, there is very little that they can do as every inch of space is covered by vehicles around. I myself have been witness to an ambulance get stuck on airport road, desperately trying to reach the Manipal hospital. I have seen ambulances stuck on 100 ft road in IndiraNagar, MG Road and lot of other places. Most of the ambulance services in Bangalore, I am sure have a central network. I am believing that the ambulances try to find the nearest hospital and head towards that (if that is not the case, then that is news to me). In such a case, there must be a central network monitoring the various positions of the ambulances in the city.
Add the case of the traffic, which is, generally chaotic, but even then can be controlled (the traffic lights and the traffic policemen, they are for that – to ensure controlled chaos !). Now, what baffles me is why can’t the policemen deployed on those roads (generally major intersections) not notified about the ambulance. I am unaware as to if that is a bureaucratic problem or a technical one (this is very unlikely). Assuming there are reasons (and valid ones at that) for the police to be not disturbed of their duties by ambulances, their surprise in seeing an ambulance on the road they are manning, is understandable. In such a case one can empathize with their helplessness too.

FM radio in Bangalore is famous. Heck, it is the source of entertainment for most of the people commuting by company provided transportation. And the FM radio has been put to a good use of notifying commuters on major intersections about traffic jams. 91.1, 91.9, 98.3 all these major channels have a sort of a traffic check during the rush hours. What I am suggesting is that this feature be extended to notify commuters on a particular intersection that there is an ambulance heading on their road. Here is a simple flow chart that I can think of to help [it can work for both the paths taken in the graph, I take the example of the path once the ambulance picks the patient and is heading towards the hospital]: ambulance nerve center is notified of the pick of the patient -> ambulance driver provides with the possible route (s)he is planning to take -> nerve center is monitoring the FM channels for traffic jams -> finds that one of the roads is jammed -> either can notify the ambulance driver for an alternate route -> (or) sends a SoS message to the FM channels -> FM channel op then goes on air about the incoming ambulance -> atleast some of the people might make some way for the ambulance to pass, and heck, a FM listening policeman might hear the message and make way for the ambulance to pass.

There are flaws in my proposal. For one, will the FM channels be willing to spare precious money generating airtime for airing messages like this. Second, even if the commuters on the road in question hear the message on-air, they might be able to do very little in trying to provide way for the ambulance to pass. Atleast the larger 4 wheelers (cars, tempos, buses) which consume most of the real estate of the road, be asked to move.

Its like solving a problem using multiple co-operating agents. If each of the individual vehicles (bots) made some way for the incoming vehicle, then may be the problem can be solved faster, rather than waiting for a single police-person serially make traffic for you. This problem can definitely be parallelized, and hence I think using bots will help provide a solution for it a lot faster than a serial (single police-person) trying to make way for the incoming ambulance.

It is appalling that, we still are lagging the basic services for emergencies. What I am suggesting might not be the ideal solution, but I am sure there are enough people on the roads in Bangalore, who are willing to try to make way once they know there is an ambulance / fire-engine heading onto their road. Part of the solution is human, part software and part policy making. At the very least, I think it is worth trying to check this.

Also, if someone has the data regarding the traffic congestions and emergencies in Bangalore, I will really appreciate if they can share it with me. Also, for the statistic collection people, how does one gather data for something like this ? How does one measure the average traffic density in a particular area. Do you sit and start counting the vehicles passing a signal in a given interval of time and then calculate the throughput ? Any links / papers for this that you can provide will be very much appreciated.

The Code Book – A definite read

Part of the intriguing nature of cryptography and cryptanalysis is the history behind these areas. The race between the cryptographers and the cryptanalysts is forever riddled with wonderful stories. And it is this history which adds to the charm of these two closely related subjects. If you are someone who is interested in both aspects of the art of secrecy, then Simon Singh’s The Code Book is a definitive read. It is a book you need to have on your bookshelf. The book chronicles the history of cryptography right from the ancient times (though not in a chronological sequence, but more like Pulp Fiction’s overlapping sequences). This is not a book with the politicial undertones of Crypto by Steven Levy. The book explains in detail about both the ciphers and how the greate cryptanalysts were able to break them. Everything from frequency analysis, to the breaking of Enigma is covered very well. Like the authors of Freakonomics note, for every clever person who goes to the trouble of creating an incentive scheme, there is an army of people, clever and otherwise, who will inevitably spend even more time trying to beat it, the book has explanations of how each of the unbreakable ciphers were broken, by sheer (at times) genius and lot of hardwork.

The Enigma and its breaking have two chapters dedicated to them. Another very nice aspect of the book is the chapter on ancient scripts and how they were deciphered. The author’s ingenuity in including a subject, generally part of archeology is truly commendable; and undoubtedly it makes a wonderful reading. The sections on Linear B, the Navajo coders, the Rosetta stone, all with due emphasis on the people behind these are really interesting. The analysis of Linear B is gripping in so much that I had to finish it before I could put the book down. Another gripping tale is the cracking of the Vignere cipher by Charles Babbage. For any crypto researcher, it might be very fulfilling to know that most of the inventions of modern computing have originated either from cryptanalysis or from the cryptanalysts themselves.
The sections on public-private key cryptography are not that technical as in the explanation of the inner workings on the Enigma or the bombes; nor are they explained the way the author explains how the Vignere cipher was broken. There being enough literature on these fairly modern topics, I think the author’s allocation of lesser space is understandable. Also, the section on Quantum cryptography is limited. Yes, it did leave my head in a fuzzy state, and I still haven’t understood it completely, and I will need to revisit the chapter.
If you are someone who is interested in the history as well as the actual workings of cryptography, then this is the book for you. The explanation is succint and there are good number of examples to make sure you observe the cryptanalyst’s view of a cipher. I’ll give this book a 8.5 out of 10 (the quantum cryptography section has left me in multiple states :-> ).

Also, check the Appendix for the Cipher Challenge. I haven’t ventured into that yet, but plan to do it when I get some time at a stretch. The author also provides some tips for cryptanalysis. Trivia if you may, apparently, the script of the Indus civilisation has not yet been completely deciphered. Time to expend some effort in trying to unravel the writings of the civilisation which laid the foundation for this country !