Friday, September 25, 2015

Fauxwagen: A Tamil brings down a German giant

In graduate school, a classmate who was Jewish joked about how his family seemed to always watch out for "one of us" in the news.  The examples he gave were hilarious, like how his family was not into sports, yet they knew everything about Sandy Koufax because, well, he was Jewish.  He laughed heartily at the thought of a Jewish basketball superstar and what that would do to his family.

I admit that there is that kind of a streak in me too.  Replace "Jewish" with "Tamil" and that is me.  I always delight at the Tamil angle to news--of fame, not of notoriety.

Thus, when Sundar Pichai was presented as the new boss at Google, I immediately noticed his Tamil name.  I felt all the more excited.

It was a similar moment with the recent Fauxwagen scandal.  Yes, there is a Tamil connection on the fame side.
Volkswagen was recently brought to its knees when scientists discovered the company had installed a device in its diesel-powered cars to fool emissions tests. Its stock price tanked, its reputation has been damaged and its CEO resigned on Wednesday.
So who made the discovery that sent the German car giant into a tailspin? A group of scientists at West Virginia University.
WVU research assistant professor Arvind Thiruvengadam and his colleagues test and experiment on cars and engines. He admits his is not the sexiest lab on campus, but he says he got superexcited when they won a grant in 2012 to test a few diesel cars.
Thiruvengadam?  Hey, that's from my part of the world in the old country?

So, of course, I used Sundar Pichai's search engine.  It led me to this site at West Virginia University, where Thiruvengadam is an assistant professor.  His academic credentials start with an undergraduate degree from ... yep:
B.E. Mechanical Engineering, University of Madras, India, 2004
His full name is Arvind Thiruvengadam Padmavathy.  Try saying that twice that with a couple of marbles in your mouth ;)

How did This Tamil guy get into this project?
[On] the campus of West Virginia University, a group of emissions researchers who mainly dealt with heavy trucks noticed an unusual posting by the transportation council, which was looking for a partner to test diesel-powered cars.
“No one had done that before in the U.S.,” said Arvind Thiruvengadam, a professor at the university. “It sounded very interesting, to test light-duty diesel vehicles in real-world conditions. We looked around at each other said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
The university’s team bid on the project and got the contract. Mr. Thiruvengadam and his colleagues never envisioned where it would lead. “We certainly didn’t have an aim of catching a manufacturer cheating,” he said. “It didn’t even cross our minds.”
The study also did not target Volkswagen specifically. It was something of a fluke, he said, that two out of three diesel vehicles bought for the testing were VWs.
I suspect that he used the word "fluke" because that's often used in the old country.  "Fluke" is not a word that is often used here in the US; chances are high that most Americans wouldn't even know what that word means ;)

Now, a Tamil version of a Michael Jordan will complete the mosaic! 
தமிழ்

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