Remote sensing in India

I wrote an article for The Wire on India’s remote sensing programme, that got published today.

While writing the article I discovered the orphaned Wikipedia page that was once updated with launches of Indian remote sensing satellites. The article had not been updated for a very long time. The focus now seems to be on the List of Indian satellites launched by the decade. Working on the article helped me get back into Wikipedia editing and helped me discover one of the points that I raised in the article.

Remembering Wikipedia days

Mahafreed wrote on her blog sharing her writing on Wikipedia in The Times of India in 2010 brought back memories from my good days in Wikipedia editing. In the story she shares  my quote too. The original article is here.

After the early days of Wikipedia editing, things reached a head with the Wikiconference India 2011. Things got subsumed by politics like many other things do in India, if the group is not careful. I left offline activities of Wikipedia and stick to one off editing online. I even changed user ids I used for editing.

I watched Dr. Heather Ford talking about a similar curve on a TEDx talk. She ends the talk saying that Wikipedia needs people to change it from within and with more people participating in the editing to expose it to more points of view.

Has my search for the Yakkara Desam Fort ended?

While participating in Wiki Loves Monuments 2013 in India, I had come across a feature called the Yakkara Desam Fort in Palakkad District. I came across this feature while compiling the list of monuments from the list provided by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Fort found mention in the list for Kerala as N-KL-6. Search as I might, I could not find mention of this monument anywhere else. Even Wikipedia did not have an article on the said Fort.

While searching for a place to go around in Kerala, I stumbled on the website of the Town Planning Department, Kerala. Here, I was able to see the fort mentioned again in a document notifying protected monuments in Kerala within town limits. It also contained a link to the drawing of the Fort which can only imply that it is the Yakarra Desam as there is no other fort in the list.  So, I guess that my search for what is the Yakarra Desam fort has ended with conclusive documentary evidence. Case closed?

A Federated Wikipedia?

Matt Mullenweg shared this article by Jon Udell on the ossification in Wikipedia. Being a part of the Wikimedian community from 2010 to about 2014, I have seen this crystalize on Wikipedia and in the world in general.

Things are a lot worse offline amongst the community – on phone calls, emails and mailing lists. This led to me curtailing offline contributions and contributing edits when I feel like it. Not the best outcome for a community that is trying to retain its members.

GSLV on Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 13, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I began contributing to Wikipedia in 2007 with the idea of improving coverage of Indian space sciences on Wikipedia. I began working on the articles related to the astronomical observatories. This also fell in line with the space popularization work I was involved in at Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) India chapter. In 2009, I also began editing general interest articles on Wikipedia.

It was only yesterday, after a break of nearly a year or more, that I got back to editing on Wikipedia. I worked on the article of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV. The upcoming launch has me nervous and had me interested in the history of the GSLV. I looked to Wikipedia as my first port of call and was frankly, disappointed at the shape in which I found the article. So, I rolled up my sleeves and began working on the article, in true Wikipedian style.

The history of the GSLV is as interesting as the vehicle itself. It was designed specifically to carry the INSAT class of satellites which weighed in at 2 to 2.5 tons. The Project was started in 1990 as the PSLV took shape and was beginning to move towards a development flight in 1993 to reduce reliance on the US’ Delta and European Ariane launch vehicles which are expensive options. Reading up, there seems to have been confusion on how to proceed with the tricky cryogenic third stage of the vehicle. Both US and Europe refused to share the technology and India had to go to the crumbling Soviet Union for help. US and Europe refused help pointing to the fact that India had not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime. I guess they also tried to offer the technology if India became part of the regime. The Soviet Glavkosmos offered to transfer technology to India in 1991. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia could not stand up to US pressure on falling in line with the MTCR. It finally have India just 7 cryogenic stages and 1 ground mock up instead of 5 stages and transfer of technology. I am happy that India did not become part of MTCR despite immense pressure and need for cryogenic technology. Scientists at ISRO began work on India’s own cryogenic technology in 1994 called the Cryogenic Upper Stage Project.

Even the 7 cryogenic stages Russia supplied to ISRO held surprise for ISRO. The stage was heavier and there were interface problems. The engine was also not proven on any flight. It took ISRO about 6-7 years to get the stage to fly at all. Hence you see the first flight of the GSLV in 2001.

Scientists working on the Cryogenic Project were also part of what is now called the ISRO Spy Case. The scientist has alleged that the Case was put together at the behest of foreign interests that were trying to scuttle Indian efforts at building a cryogenic engine.

Although the learning curve on the GSLV has been huge, I think it will help India build a vehicle that is as versatile as the PSLV is today.

Who is Giachand Motwane?

This article originally appeared on my blog I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

I usually link to Wikipedia articles when I mention things that many people outside of a certain region/religion/group might not know about. Yesterday, while writing the article about my listening to the radio, I tried to connect to the article on All India Radio 107.1 FM channel. However, the article was not helpful and did not make any sense connecting to.

It did not make any sense because the page was for AIR FM Rainbow which is what AIR has named its FM stations that are broadcast to 12 metros in India and did not have anything unique on the Mumbai transmission.

Being a Wikipedian, I wanted to fix this. I hence went back to the page on All India Radio and read it up. That seemed in much better shape. Most of the information seemed link to a bunch of documents that All India Radio had put up on its website – interestingly, in Hindi and English. Reading up on history, I found out that Radio Club of Bombay was credited with the broadcast of the first programme in India in June 1923. Being from Mumbai, my interest was piqued.

There is no Wikipedia page on the Radio Club, nor is there much scholarly work written about this broadcast except by one Dr. Alisdair Pinkerton from the Department of Geography of the Royal Holloway from the University of London. The paper (found here), titled, “Radio and the Raj: broadcasting in British India (1920-1940)”, credits Giachand Motwane as the first person who made a recorded radio transmission in India in June 1923. These were apparently made under the call sign, “2-KC”. Unfortunately, Pinkerton states this solely on the basis (or has referenced it so) of the website of a company that Motwane later founded.

I later looked for more information on Radio Club and wondered if it is the same as the social club in South Mumbai called Radio Club. It seems it is. Currently called the Bombay Presidency Radio Club Ltd, it seems to be the same club that did some pioneering work in broadcasting in British India. So, I am still looking for more sourced information on who was Giachand Motwane.