Laakhon Mein Ek

My brother introduced me to Biswa Kalyan Rath on YouTube and saw him later when he appeared on Amazon Prime Video in his own stand-up comic avatar in Biswa Mast Aadmi. Television ads for Season 2 of the show prompted me to check out the show, Laakhon Mein Ek on Amazon Prime Video.

When I visited the app, I realised that the television ads were for Season 2 and hence decided to start at the beginning, with Season 1. I went through both seasons in about 3-4 days. Each season has about 8 episodes and hence 3-4 days isn’t too much overload.

I had two broad take-away from the series. One was the lack of empathy in our modern life. We don’t know what stresses and sacrifices the topper faces in Season 1. We don’t empathise with the person running the institution and his investment into the organisation. The show has the point of view of one of the characters and you would think he was quite self-centred when you think about things emphatically from other people’s point of view. Similarly in Season 2, we don’t really look at the health sector and the various pressures that a Medical Officer is faced from doctor’s working under her, the suppliers and the government agency and departments involved. Each in turn also has various strings and pressures acting on them that makes it such an eye-opening watch.

The other broad lesson is that truth comes out only when one person breaks the rule that everyone in the environment agrees to, knowingly or unknowingly, and questions the status quo. Then, too, it isn’t the whole truth.

I would definitely recommend watching the show to get a chance to see first hand the empathy that I think you need in the world today and also realise how difficult it is for a truth to come out in the open.

Chandrayaan 1 countdown begins

This article originally appeared on my blog http://pradx.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

After what is termed as a “dress rehersal” yesterday night succeededChandrayaan-1’s countdown should have started up today morning. I think what they are referring to as a dress rehersal is going through all the steps of the launch right up to the final step without actually launching the launch vehicle (just a fancy technical name for a rocket with a payload). Things have now moved into their final phase.

Space bloggers like Emily Lakdawalla is claiming the difficulty in getting images of Chandrayaan I online. It might be difficult to see a total lack of images or information after being used to bombarded with information via websites and mailing lists. ISRO doesn’t have a good website or a good mailing list. ISRO’s Chandrayaan I website may have been well designed but it hasn’t been updated for the past 17 months. 

One of the claims that this mission was supposed to do, was to encourage excitement among the younger generation for the space sciences. This was iterated several times by the Prime Minister himself. Looking at the number of people online today, I believe that ISRO should have presented their stuff online in a much more better way than has been  done. For this historic launch too, everything has been left for the media to piece and stitch together. I believe mediapersons were given a grand tour of the launch site at Sriharikota, but nothing significant has come out of it.

There are a few people working though. Times of India’s Srinivas Laxman’s coverage (see related stories for the latest) has been outstanding, though not well timed with the launch. NDTV’s Pallava Bagla, who also co-wrote a book has some excellent coverage and a good dedicated website for India’s Moon Yatra.

In the CitizenSpace efforts to popularize Chandrayaan I launch, my friend, Raghunandan (Planetary Society, India) constant pleas for material on Chandrayaan almost fell on deaf ears. The electronic data that he now has in his hands is, in his words, “quite awesome”. He is now in transit, trying to get an unofficial glimpse of the Chandrayaan I launch. He hasn’t been able to put the content online but will be happy to forward the material to you after the launch. Catch him on his email id – planetarysocietyindia (at) gmail (dot) com. 

I am also planning to carry a series of articles on how students today can benefit from Chandrayaan I’s launch on October 22 in a series of six articles on the SEDS India blog. To sign off, the media is the best place to catch the latest action in the Chandrayaan I launch arena. I’ve tried my best to try and get some of the content online and I accept, failed but I hope the lessons I have learnt enroute will help me in future launches.

Black Hole, Beresheet and Block 5

On the eve of Yuri’s Night of 2019, a bunch of things happened around the letter B. Hence, the title of this post. All had a space connection.

B for Black Hole

Scientists from a group of scientists funded by America’s National Science Foundation released the first “image” of a black hole. The image was pieced together (this TED talk by Katie Bouman talks about how) using data collected by radio telescopes from North America, South America, Europe and Antarctica called the Event Horizon Telescope. Vasudevan Mukunth provided a nice background before the announcement on The Wire.


Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87. The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun. This long-sought image provides the strongest evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes and opens a new window onto the study of black holes, their event horizons, and gravity. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

I followed the announcement itself on Twitter. There was also a lot of attention directed at Katie Bouman for her work highlighted in her 2016 TED talk linked above but she was at pains to repeatedly call it the work of her team which is laudable. The South Indian comparison to a medu wada was inevitable I guess. That formed the best tweet during the afterglow of the announcement on Twitter.

Tweet by @NirujMohan comparing the medu vada with the black hole image.

XKCD also has a lovely cartoon giving a comparison of the imaged M87 galaxy to the size of our solar system that I found a wonderful tool to get the scale of the image. Sandhya Ramesh writing for The Print has a nice rundown of all the stuff shared during the press conference and the 6 papers published for the result.

XKCD giving a size comparison between the size of our solar system and M87. XKCD notes that perhaps Voyager 1 has just passed the event horizon. Image Credit: XKCD, Randall Munroe.

B for Beresheet

A private spacecraft built by SpaceIL had its landing scheduled for April 12 Indian time. SpaceIL was a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize. However, despite the fact that they could not meet the deadline for the Prize, they went ahead and launched their spacecraft to aim to become the first private spacecraft to soft land on the Moon but ended up becoming the first private spacecraft to hard land on the Moon. A malfunction in the lander’s main engine led to it crashing into the Moon at almost 500 km/hr from a height of 150 meters. So near and yet so far…

Team Indus was also on it’s way to the Moon being the Indian entry to the Google Lunar X Prize but ISRO cancelled its contract for launching it on the PSLV. They are now trying to revive the launch and perhaps a nice stimulus is the opening of the chance of becoming the first private spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon. ISRO’s own Chandrayaan-2 is on an ever delaying attempt to launch to the Moon with the latest date being being the second half of 2019.

B is for Block 5

I cheated a little here to get the B’s in a string. But, this refers to the Block 5 of the Falcon Heavy which took off with a 6 ton Arabsat-6A. The launch was of a Falcon Heavy with an Ariane-V like configuration with one core first stage with two strap-on boosters.

The focus of the mission seems to have been the launch itself. It is the world’s most powerful rocket. Also, the sights of the twin boosters landing seems to have eclipsed the whole mission. No one is even asking about Arabsat!

I couldn’t catch the Falcon Heavy launch live but saw it while having breakfast in the morning on the next day. What a lovely day for space!

eUniversity Manifesto

Hugh Macleod had a contest running way back in 2006 asking to write our own manifesto and had said that he would publish the ones he liked. I don’t think that he published this one. He did reply to me via email on December 5, 2006 saying he had a flood of email and did not think my Manifesto would make it. I am amazed how widespread this is now-a-days. Makes me want to take my ideas more seriously now.

This was originally published on a WordPress.com blog post that I once had on November 24, 2006 on euniversity.wordpress.com with the following idea:

The whole University will be online.

  1. You can sign up by sending in a copy of your last exam marksheet which would have made you eligible for attending university.
  2. You then state which job you intend to take.
  3. An email will then be sent to your email id within a week that will tell you which are the courses you need to take plus some courses that offered as soft-skill courses.
  4. You then login into your profile page. You select the courses you want to do now.
  5. You can take your own time through the course. At the end of which you will be asked to attend a test conducted by an industry major.
  6. The industry conducting the test then puts up the results. Industries look up this list and hire you based on the scores you get. Industries call you for an interview.
  7. The company interviewing you checks your background and if information provided to us turns out to be false, you pay us a fees even if you do or do not get a job (which is dependent on the industry conducting the interview).

What sort of course material do you get?

  1. audio podcasts.
  2. video – streaming or for download.
  3. lecture notes.
  4. assignments

Advantages

  1. You can do a specific course that you want to be good at.
  2. You get tested and recruited by the industry.
  3. It’s cheaper compared to your university education.
  4. The time you take to complete a course depends on you.

Dis-Advantages

  1. You miss classroom learning.
  2. You need a good Internet connection and a computer.

Corporate Advantages:

  1. You get a stream of people who are genuinely interested in a particular field.
  2. You can gauge the level of understanding a student has before he works by looking at his online profile through reports etc.
  3. Your only investment will be in conducting the test and providing training ammenities for a student if the course involves training.

Student Advantages:

  1. Easily switch from one course to another.
  2. Get recruited at the end of the course.
  3. Select any course you like. You can even do a course while working. Your profile will be active until you choose to delete it.
  4. Your final skill will be highly specialized.

Content loaded on the website:

  1. Content will be sourced from Professors. This content will be rated by students. Professors can also receive feedback and requests, if they wish.
  2. Workings, explanations, demos etc. can be done through audio or video podcasts.
  3. All the content on the website including the user interface will be ranked by students in the course. Changes will take place accordingly.
  4. Students can select to attend conferences arranged by us.
  5. Courses will be added as soon as we find corporates/institutions involved in the field.

What I need?

  1. A venture capitalist.
  2. Techie who can load audio, video, lecture online.
  3. Staff to process sign-up requests from students.
  4. Professors who can design content – audio, video and lectures – for the course.
  5. Companies who are ready to back us with a promise of job and conducting interviews and training to students during and at the end of the course.
  6. A person to design the UI for the website.

The idea is to be implemented in India.

India conducts an Anti Satellite Missile Test

This article was originally posted here

Pictures released of the Anti Satellite Missile Test conducted by India on March 27, 2019. Image Credit: Shiv Aroor/LiveFist

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced today that India had successfully carried out an Anti Satellite Missile Test (ASAT). The mission was code named Mission Shakti. A missile was launched from the Dr. Abdul Kalam Island Launch Complex off the coast of Orissa and hit an Indian satellite orbiting at 300 km. The hit was successful.

It is to be said that this is an important technology demonstration on the part of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It is a capability that only three other countries in the world have – USA, Russia and China. Of these, China seems to be the reason that India accelerated the development of the ASAT. China did the ASAT test in January 2007 by destroying a satellite in a 800 km orbit. The US responded to this with tests of its own in 2010 by destroying a satellite in a 300 km orbit.

India’s response was a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) test it performed in 2012 where an incoming missile was intercepted by an interceptor missile. DRDO which had developed the said capability said that it had the building blocks to test the ASAT by 2014. However, it is believed that then UPA Government under Dr. Manmohan Singh did not give the DRDO the go-ahead for this project. It is believed that India feared further restrictions on technology transfer from the US as the basis for not giving the project the go-ahead. It is believed that the go-ahead came after the Narendra Modi government when it came into power in 2014.

It is essential to seperate the civilian and defence space programmes. India did this in 2008 in response to the India-US Civilian Nuclear Deal. Although ISRO launches defence satellites into orbit, it does not intend the end purpose of such a mission be purely military. DRDO developed and launched the target satellite and launched it on a PSLV-C44 this year in January.

With this test, India has a slight advantage over China. Although, China has a ASAT capability it is widely believed that it does not have the capability yet to destroy incoming missiles provided by a BMD programme.

In today’s test India seems to have pranced around all the international treaties that look to prevent the weaponization of space. The concept took root in a 1969 treaty called the Outer Space Treaty. The Treaty is today called outdated and there are several loopholes that many countries today take advantage of like China did in 2007 and India did today. The US has been working to ban anti-satellite tests since 2010 but has failed in building any consensus on the subject. India seems to have conducted the test to ensure that it slips through the door before it closes, metaphorically.

There is a lot of political discussion on whether the timing of the announcement of the mission by the Prime Minister today is a violation of the Model Code of Conduct which is in force for the 2019 National Elections. But, that is for the Election Commission to look at. I do not see any need to do this so urgently unless the anti-satellite test ban were to come into force some time in the near future and India had an inkling as to the timing of the same. The simplest explanation is that the mission was ready and the go-ahead was given by the Government thinking of it as a matter of national defence and prioritised the decision over the Elections.

There is also worry of the creation of space debris which would be left behind by the satellite that was destroyed by the missile today. However, they have the US example of 2010 which also destroyed a satellite in a similar orbit and which lasted in orbit for about 3 years. Against this, stands the Chinese example whose destroyed satellite in the 800 km orbit is still believed to be in orbit. We are given to understand that the debris would eventually get pulled down by Earth’s gravity and will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere before causing any significant damage. This matter is debatable.

All in all, given the timeline and the current available knowledge, India responsibly tested its capability keeping multiple issues in mind – space debris, Outer Space Treaty and current regional geopolitics.

More reading

The Ministry of External Affairs posted a Frequently Asked Questions section on its website on today’s test. Curiosly, this is not on the Ministry of Defence or the DRDO website. It has useful information and the official version of what transpired.

LiveFist – Shiv Aroor is a defence journalist who maintains a defence blog. His writeups cover most of the technical details and the defence organisational intrigue that was involved in today’s mission. The post linked here also has multiple links that are worth following up on if you’re interested in more details of the ASAT.

There is a 2012 India Today article being circulated on Twitter claiming that India had build capability required for today’s test in 2012 itself. There is significant difference between capability and technology demonstration. And, I believe it’s always a good idea to test a technology before use, if you can.

Vasudevan Mukunth wrote in The Wire about the Mission Shakti, which also analyses the technicalities of the Mission in detail which is also a good overview if you only want to understand what this whole hoopla is about.