Foursquare Day 2011

I headed for the celebrations of foursquare day after lunch at Copper Chimney. This is my second time at foursquare day celebrations. I’ve written about the first one here where I have also explained why April 16 is celebrated as foursquare day.

The 2011 edition of foursquare day was organised by Dhawal and Kaushal. I had only seen Kaushal’s note on the itinerary of events prior to getting there. I reached at Planetarium and spotted Kaushal at the in-the-back cafeteria thanks to his 4sq day tshirt. Here, the 3pm show which we hoped to catch was houseful and so were all the shows for the day! We went down to the Nehru Center and hung around for about half an hour before heading for the Race Course at Mahalaxmi.

I had intended to visit the Farmer’s Market here last week but didn’t get around to it. Seeing that the foursquare event would be here as well, I was happy to do both yesterday. The Race Course is trying to open up itself and be more accessible to ordinary Mumbaikars. It was a part of this that they were organising a Farmer’s Market inside the Race Course and also hosting us 4sqers. Part of the deal was that we got Rs. 100 worth of betting coupons. After explaining the importance of the three stands and showing us the paddock, we went and had a fun time betting. I even won Rs. 500/- betting!

At the Farmer’s Market, I was at Thanal’s stall from where I signed the petition against genetically modified crops and also bought a DVD of Ajay Kanchan’s work called Poison on the Platter. I also visited the stall of the fair trade t-shirt maker No Nasties (recently partnered Shop for Change). I also bought a bottle of Mulshi Springs organic water for about Rs. 50/-. Satish and I discussed about the “organic” tag which seems to inflate the prices of ordinary things. Why does the cost increase when anything goes organic? I haven’t heard a good explanation for this although I do support the principle behind the movement.

We had dinner at Noorani’s and went to Bandra for the foursquare party at Mumbai Times Cafe. A round of games and meeting up new people later, we returned home.

It was a great half-a-day event which revived my foursquaring (which had changed a lot since I had last been there a year ago). The use of the application has also improved with people being more mature about where they use it and check-in and with improved apps now available to make life easier for its users. It was also a great opportunity to meet new people and reconnect with many others. We did not have the philosophical discussions we had last year about the future of location based social networking but we had fun!

Is there a post-industrial political party in India?

Mine is a very naive understanding of Indian politics but it is certainly something that I have been thinking about in the recent past. Wikipedia defines post-industrial society thus:

If a nation becomes “post-industrial” it passes through, or dodges, a phase of society predominated by a manufacturing-based economy and moves on to a structure of society based on the provision of information, innovation, finance, and services.

From where I’m sitting India has certainly done this after the liberalisation of the economy in 1991. For the years that followed, political parties certainly had a hard time in handling the economy and society that emerged after that. In the 20 years since, I do not think any political party has emerged that understands and targets the problems such a society creates. The problems have nevertheless grown. The problem can be seen in manufacturing and agricultural sector. This is the place where people are struggling.

One of the most successful post industrial political party has been the center-right Bharatiya Janata Party. However, this party too has not groked the post-industrial society entirely. So, is there a post-industrial political party in India?

ISRO Annual Report – Space Access Component

What to do between work – scientific travel writing?

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on April 6, 2011. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

For quite some time now, I have been thinking about what to do generally between work. The thought of traveling did strike me as a useful thing to do. While I have not arrived at any useful direction on what to do for work, I have come to an idea on what to do between work or to take a break from work.

The idea is an extension on my “Telescopes of India” tour, which did not really work out so well. The idea is to travel to a country which has an astronomical observatory. What I would do next is not really very clear to me now. But, I think I’ll figure things out as I learn more and more about the observatory itself. I don’t know if there’s a genre called “scientific travel writing” but it would be an interesting genre to begin writing in.

There are many people interested in visiting scientific places – like observatories and laboratories. It’ll be interesting to see how an ordinary guy is given entrance to these facilities. This will be in addition to living with a scientist and learning about the “scientific culture” of the organisation. I think that’s how I would define scientific travel writing.

This is really the first draft of this idea but it sounds like an interesting concept for me to try and explore in the future. Since, I have been following the space and astronomy community, this is where I hope to begin probing. It’s a huge experiment.

First Report on Space Tourism in India

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on April 5, 2011. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Clark Lindsey posted on his RLV and Space Transport blog yesterday about this first report on space tourism in India. The report is brought out by the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) and McGill University. I had a cursory glance through this report and given below are my thoughts about this report.

The Report is done by a University (UPES) which you would not equate with space. It is done by the Center for Aviation Studies and released by a Secretary in the Civil Aviation Ministry. Again, not really showing involvement from anyone in the space business in India today. This makes it a tad difficult to understand their background with relation to this subject.

The Report itself is in an interesting format. It puts out the condition in the US and compares the same with the Indian situation and draws unfortunate parallels. For example, it talks about building spaceports merely by extending airports. It even talks about DGCA playing a role similar to what the FAA does in the USA.

The Report is perhaps a first that is publicly released and perhaps lays the foundation for in-depth topic specific reports on various aspects of space tourism. There have been interesting suggestions for space tourism vehicles based out of India – as an example Earth2Orbit’s Sushmita Mohanty suggested developing the Space ReEntry Experiment vehicle(SRE)  as a space tourism vehicle out of India. Such bold suggestions were not studied or considered during the course of this report. It also depended rather heavily on the US scenario and did not envisage anything from the Indian perspective which could have made it a more worthwhile report rather than trying to make it an Indian copy of a US model.

India has many interesting alternatives. Entrepreneurial companies like Team Indus and Earth2Orbit are sprouting in India which could develop and improve SREs or even totally new ventures developing rockets and crafts that could handle the technology aspect. A Space Transportation Authority could be setup coming out of the current Launch Authorisation Board from within ISRO. There is already an Indian expecting to fly in SpaceShipTwo.

All in all, I think that the report is an important first step which was not bold enough and forward thinking enough but which I hope pushes many more studies and public interest in the idea of space tourism.

Changing Mumbai in places where I walk

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on March 14, 2011 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I have made it a practice of going on early morning walks (if my father wakes me up). It used to painful in the early days which surprised me given the amount of walking I already did. Dad set a new understanding of what it means to walk quickly. I took my time getting accustomed to faster walking. Friends have always complained that I walk fast. In the mornings, I walk faster. Those early days of pain made me not want to walk again in the evening. Habit set in and I slowly lost my evening walking fun.

In the last two days, I have started the evening walk routine again. This slower walking is for me to notice the changes around my suburb of Chembur. Hit by projects like the Monorail and the Chembur-Santacruz Link Road projects, the places that I walk in is transforming at a very fast pace. Now, I feel that I have lost something of the memories by not photographing it.

The construction work in these lanes has transformed the once sleepy lanes into a very different experience. Walking down these roads is less fun now. I don’t know how it would be after the roads and monorail are built. Some one has to chronicle this history of a metamorphosing metropolis. Once sleepy lanes that I used to haunt could in the near future become crowded monorail stations or metro stops. Nostalgia is slowly walking in and I am looking for other sleepy lanes to haunt.

Trek to Korlai Fort

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on March 14, 2011 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs. The original post had a gallery of pics, I have replaced that with one representative picture.

In January, I finally got my membership for the Youth Hostels Association of India for two years. I was looking out for a way to utilise the membership but no opportunity presented itself till March 6, 2011 when the Mumbai unit went on a trek to Korlai Fort. It has been a long time since I went trekking and I did not want to do a trek labelled “hard” by the trekkers themselves. I therefore chose a “medium” trek.

I learnt from Ganesh that they were travelling by ST bus and that I could come along. I immediately flagged it to Pranav’s attention. After a few rounds of conversation, I decided to head down to Parel ST Bus Depot while Pranav decided to catch up with us at Korlai on the next day. I packed a bag that was just heavy and was filled with stuff I never would have used. I packed a 1.5 liter water bottle and managed to alternately over-hydrate and under-hydrate myself. Well, I am happy that it was a simple enough trek so I didn’t have to think about too many things at the same time. There also seemed to be a malfunction in my camera’s battery indicator which showed that the battery was full when it was really drained. I read up about Korlai Fort on Wikipedia and found out that the article on Korlai itself was speedily deleted by someone.

Dad insisted on dropping me at Parel ST Stand which is very oddly situated. It was because I informed the YHAI guys only on the previous day that I had to travel there. Else, I could think about joining them at Chembur. The ST depots in Maharashtra are not as good as the ones in Kerala or Tamil Nadu but are much better than my last experience of them. The buses were more of a surprise for me. The travel was particularily smooth and the journey was particularly pleasant. We had wada pav at Alibaug and then proceeded to Revdanda and then crossed the river to Korlai reaching the bus stop at 10:30 in the morning. We then walked through the small village of Korlai as we headed towards the hill on which the fort was built.

We per-ordered lunch at a small hotel before the climb and then walked through open pans were fish were left to dry and walked up a tar path to the base of the hill. We then rested a bit at the bottom and then walked up the road that went along a side of the fort. The road had a small beach to one side and the hill slope on the other. Ahead we saw the Korlai Fort Lighthouse. A manager at the gate offered a paid tour of the interior of the lighthouse. We had to pay extra to take pictures. I thought it wise to conserve battery (and by now I got the hang of Pranav’s insatiable desire for getting himself photographed). I like the scenery a bit more. Hence, I passed by the offer and went to take a look inside the light house.

The manager explained that the lighthouse was automated and it pretty much took care of itself. The workers on site were mostly there to do maintenance work and to check the instrumentation once or twice a day. We passed through two narrow holes in the ceiling to reach the top of the light house. The manager explained how the lighthouse worked, how it was now mostly used by fishermen more than anyone else and the presence of modern technology stuff like transmitters and satellite dishes that one really did not see in a lighthouse. The structure did not need to be big because of the kind of boats it helped. It helped fishermen go deeper into the sea and get better and a variety of catch. There were even solar panels that charged the battery during the day for when there would be power cuts.

We left the manager and climbed a steep set of steps to the fort. I took quite a few number of breaks in between. Learnt that pacing yourself isn’t as easy as saying, “You have to pace yourself.” After walking around the fort, we left out through the other gate. I also felt the afternoon high sun taking a toll on me and then had a hard time getting to the base of the hill. We steadily went down one of the wings of the fortress that touched the sea and then had a round of introductions and took group photos. We then went to the side in through a nice tunnel with a pleasant breeze and sat for a while. We began the slow ascent, a walk through the main corridor and reached the main fort area.

We’d heard of a water source that was fresh inside of the fortress and we were interested in tasting some. We also had group members discuss the history of the fort and we had a nice time chatting about the forts of the Siddis known to have resided in the area of Alibaug during the reign of Shivaji and Sambhaji. We saw a temple and a broken down church and signs of the restoration work that was being carried out by Archaeological Survey of India. There were many cement packs in the fort and we joked that these were uncovered along with the rest of the fort. The water in that natural tank was quite good and very refreshing after that long ascent.

We had lunch at the hotel where we had pre-ordered the food and took a big auto all the way back to Alibaug. I hung around on the beach as the rest of the group went to visit Alibaug Fort. On the beach, the others got to leave their bags and I got to have a gola which I’ve not had in a very long time. I had a fun time just resting without the hiking shoes and even though the early evening sun was hot, the sitting down helped a lot.

After the others returned, we walked back to the Alibaug ST bus stand and from there, we headed back home in a ST bus. The driver was happy enough to let us sleep and switch off the lights. At night I was not able to see the roads and didn’t understand much of the route until we reached Panvel at night. A bit of a heavy dinner at night meant that I got sound sleep.

Indian Perspectives on Human Spaceflight

Dr. Harish, Deputy Project Director, Human Spaceflight Programme, ISRO spoke at Aero India 2011 held recently in Bangalore. The title of this article made me excited enough to want to watch it.

However, after watching the video, it was quite general. His talk was very non-specific and did not have much matter. Some points though involved the choice of the Soyuz style architecture for the crew vehicle based on the Shuttle vs Soyuz experience and safety record of the US and Russia respectively. He talked about how humans would control the flight very mysteriously without expanding on it. He explained that the experience with the Space Capsule Re-entry Experiment (SRE) gave ISRO the confidence to go ahead with the human spaceflight programme. He put across that putting an air conditioning on the SRE would give us the crew vehicle – which is a rather crude way of putting it. He talked about how experience of Apollo management style has influenced India and last but not the least he explained that there is excessive stress on safety.

I do not think that a keen follower of the programme would have missed anything if he did not listen to this talk. However, if you have the time or the inclination, feel free to go through the video. I would like to stress again that Indian scientists and engineers need to get much better at communicating to the common man what they’re doing.

Reason for the Long Solar Minimum

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on March 03, 2011 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

A project funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) of the Government of India has claimed to have found the reason for the long solar minimum experienced during the last solar cycle. A team led by Indian Dibyendu Nandy of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata which included Andrés Muñoz-Jaramillo of Montana State University and Petrus C. H. Martens of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics.

The results will be presented in Nature magazine today. Nandy has made this webpage about the discovery which to me is incomprehensible. My friend Srinivas Laxman wrote this article in today’s Times of India which fares a bit better for comprehension sake. For me the best article on the discovery was by Dr. Tony Philips writing for NASA Science News.

NASA held a media tele-conference on the topic and hence this was widely covered by the press in the US. There seems to be little to no press coverage of the topic in India besides the one written up by Srinivas Laxman.