Postcards from Nowhere

Postcards from Nowhere is a travel podcast from the IVM Podcasts network. Unlike the other podcasts, it is hosted by 1 person – Utsav Mamoria.

He talks about slow travel while exploring culture, history, people and food. The episodes I have loved so far are on Kerala’s kalaripayattu, couch surfing and happiness.

The other personal takeaway is realising a good time length for for my under-production space podcast. I think that a 7-10 minute episode might be a good time length for a single person talking about space stuff. I have found no long-form single-person talking podcast entertaining so far.

The Guardians by John Grisham

The Guardians

The Guardians by John Grisham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book is about a lawyer who helps people in jail who have been wrongly convicted by the judicial process. The story is based on two partly true stories and I realised the possibilities are so many in India which has an overburdened judicial system and made me ask if we have something similar to Guardian Ministries.

I recollect watching similarly themed Malayalam movie which did not trigger similar questions in me.

The book also gave some very rare health advice: “Years ago he told me that the secret to a long healthy life is to consume as little food as possible. Exercise is important but cannot reverse the damaging effects of too many calories. I have tried to follow his advice.”

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The Elon Musk book

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book came out in 2015. I heard it a full 4 years late in 2019. I waited both for price of the book to go down and waited to hear for feedback from others before embarking on reading the book myself.

Musk himself says that the biography is rife with errors.

There are many things that I learnt from the book. How it took Musk’s maniacal obsessions with the topic (electric cars and space exploration) to get things to a point where the companies (Tesla and SpaceX) turn profitable. Musk synthesized a lot of information, however others delivered on his vision. And that his vision changed as the situation changed.

Musk also goes back on the outsourcing model for both SpaceX and Tesla. His gigafactories are experiments in manufacturing under a single roof. It is worth following and for India, perhaps worth emulating?

I think you should read this book to learn about significant shifts in thinking that this book covers like the one on manufacturing that I captured here.



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A decade of self-control

Om calls for a decade of self-control. I think this may be the culmination of my reading of Brett McKay at Art of Manliness, Mr. Money Mustache and Cal Newport, whom he quotes in his blog post.

However, there are things we as people can do to take control of our own habits, our own time, and the tools we use. And yes, we should take our time, attention, and dollars and give it to little companies, not technology conglomerates like Google and Facebook.

Science and Storytelling

Vasudevan Mukunth (VM) has two pieces on his blog titled The Rationalist’s Eclipse and another one titled Social Media and Science Communication that talks largely about Science Communication on the ground and on social media. When we wonder about how to communicate Science. The answer lies in the Arts. It lies in the creative ways that the current protests around the CAA/NRC have used on the ground and social media to spread the message like wild fire in posters, speeches, poetry and kolams. I want to point VM to where the answer may lie to the questions he raises in his two blog posts.

I was reading Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings newsletter dated December 26, 2019 and it brought to light some of the modern efforts and failures of Science communication in India that VM highlights in the article above. The large part of the country is still superstitious and I see the role of science communication in India as being making aware people of the applications available to the people of that which has been illuminated by modern Science. Johannes Kepler also lived in a similar milieu. He seems to be grappling with some of the issues that we face in Science communication today. This is not a definitive answer by any stretch, just a possibility.

Now, we come back to Maria Popova’s Braing Pickings dated December 26, 2019. I suggest to you to read, “How Kepler Invented Science Fiction and Defended His Mother in a Witchcraft Trial While Revolutionizing Our Understanding of the Universe” in full.

Some of the quotes from that article are what I am reproducing below:

In his first book, The Cosmographic Mystery, Kepler picked up the metaphor and stripped it of its divine dimensions, removing God as the clockmaster and instead pointing to a single force operating the heavens: “The celestial machine,” he wrote, “is not something like a divine organism, but rather something like a clockwork in which a single weight drives all the gears.” Within it, “the totality of the complex motions is guided by a single magnetic force.” It was not, as Dante wrote, “love that moves the sun and other stars” — it was gravity, as Newton would later formalize this “single magnetic force.” But it was Kepler who thus formulated for the first time the very notion of a force — something that didn’t exist for Copernicus, who, despite his groundbreaking insight that the sun moves the planets, still conceived of that motion in poetic rather than scientific terms. For him, the planets were horses whose reins the sun held; for Kepler, they were gears the sun wound by a physical force.

Maria Popova, Braing Pickings, 26/12/2019

Kepler knew what we habitually forget — that the locus of possibility expands when the unimaginable is imagined and then made real through systematic effort. Centuries later, in a 1971 conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke about the future of space exploration, science fiction patron saint Ray Bradbury would capture this transmutation process perfectly: “It’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality.” Like any currency of value, the human imagination is a coin with two inseparable sides. It is our faculty of fancy that fills the disquieting gaps of the unknown with the tranquilizing certitudes of myth and superstition, that points to magic and witchcraft when common sense and reason fail to unveil causality. But that selfsame faculty is also what leads us to rise above accepted facts, above the limits of the possible established by custom and convention, and reach for new summits of previously unimagined truth. Which way the coin flips depends on the degree of courage, determined by some incalculable combination of nature, culture, and character.

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, 26/12/2019

The scientific proof was too complex, too cumbersome, too abstract to persuade even his peers, much less the scientifically illiterate public; it wasn’t data that would dismantle their celestial parochialism, but storytelling.

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, 26/12/2019

The newsletter has writing which is taken from Figuring, a book Maria Popova wrote in February 2019, stretching from the work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) to Rachel Carson (1907-1964). A book that I hope will be part of my reading journey in 2020.

How to write a good (enough) New Year resolution?

Philosopher Alain de Botton’s School of Life has a chapter on making New Year resolutions. They say it is important to make these resolution to improve ourselves as human beings but we need to be empathetic with ourselves. Hence, we should not be aiming to write good New Year resolutions but just good enough New Year resolutions.

You can read about good enough New Year resolutions on the School of Life website here.

Their newsletter had a three step process on writing on these resolutions which I did not find on their website. Hence, putting it here for reference:

First, write your list of resolutions in the usual way.

1. I will quit drinking
2. I will learn the guitar
3. I will get a 5k pay rise at work

Next, rather than thinking about the end result, try to distil the motivating value that lies behind them.

1. Prioritising my health
2. Making time for creative pursuits
3. Gaining recognition for my efforts at work

Finally, working solely from this value, applying a little strategic pessimism, set yourself a less lofty, more achievable goal to strive for.

1. I will aim not to drink 1 night each week 
2. I will set aside 15 minutes every other day to do something creative
3. I will try to demonstrate added value in my work

Hope that helps you make good (enough) resolutions this New Year.

Article in Firstpost on India in Space in 2019

Way back in 2009, I had written an article for CNN-IBN Blog, about ISRO @ 40.

Almost ten years later, I had the opportunity to write for Tech2, the Science and Technology supplement to Firstpost of Network 18. I wrote for them about looking back at 2019 through the two RISAT missions, the ups and downs of the ASAT test, the euphoria of the first successful mission flight of the GSLV Mk III with Chandrayaan 2, the sense of loss we felt when we lost communication with the Vikram lander and the 50th launch of the PSLV. I also covered some of the funds that new private space comapanies (called NewSpace) raised during the year.

Link to the article is here.