Categories
Books

Ashok K Banker answers my question

Ashok K Banker is one of my favorite authors. His Ramayana series is one of my favorites and my introduction to the genre of historical re-imagination. I was reading his books when I was interviewed for a job with the State Bank of India. Most of my interview was spent debating why I prefer Banker’s version of Ramayana to the one by Rajagopalachari.

I asked him a question on Goodreads:

Is the Epic India Library done?

Epic India Library is his attempt of retelling all epics, myths and legends from India. His answer:

No. It is not yet complete as per my original plan. At the time I formulated the plan, the category or genre of imaginative retellings of ancient Indian epics, myths and legends was almost non-existent. In the last decade or so, apparently inspired by success (according to well over 50 authors of the genre who have written to me directly or acknowledged me in interviews), a plethora of other Indian authors have risen, mining the same fertile fields. As a result, I felt that it was best left to a more diverse variety of authors to explore the same territory. The purpose I had when I began retelling the epics has been fulfilled. I have since moved on to other genres and barring a few books in continuing series, most of which are with publishers already, I am no longer writing in the genre. My current focus is on my ongoing epic fantasy series (which is inspired by but not a retelling of the Mahabharata) the Burnt Empire Saga, and on new crime thrillers and literary fiction.

It’s a great joy when one of your favorite authors answers your question.

Categories
Digital

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.

Categories
Books

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.”

View all my reviews

Categories
Space

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

Buy the book with my Amazon Affiliate link.

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.



View all my reviews

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

Categories
science

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.

Categories
Spirituality

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.

Categories
Space

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.

Categories
Personal

Pune Coffee Brewers Club meetup

I first heard of coffee brewers when I read Mehul’s Twitter update that he was participating in a brewing competition and came in at no 3. Coffee brewing is basically the process of making coffee from the stage of coffee beans to a concoction that you can consume.

Today, we met at The Fat Labrador, a cafe situated in Bavdhan, Pune.

Coffee devices and brewing paraphernalia that we used today. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This is the second meetup of Pune’s Coffee Brewers Club. We started out with discussing coffee recipes that some of the brewers had arrived at ostensibly after a lot of experimentation with a lot of coffee devices. There was a lot of talk of mgs of coffee, minute-second readings of the time they allowed it to brew and broadly methods by which coffee was brewed (immersion and pour over).

After that introduction, Mehul spoke of the factors that affected a good coffee output: temperature, pressure and time. We then got to try both the methods using a pour over method and an Aeropress.

We tried tasting different beans that Mehul had carried with him from Mumbai. After a few rounds of this, we got to try out an espresso from a hand pressed espresso machine.

Mehul ended the session on how us newcomers could begin getting a glimpse into the world of coffee brewing. He suggested getting the coffee that is freshly roasted (3-4 days old roasted coffee). I was assured that Indian roasters do not usually sell stale coffee. This is to be consumed over the period of next 3-4 weeks for best effect.

He suggested beginning with a simple process of coffee brewing. Get fresh ground coffee put it in a cup of boiling water, let it brew for about 3-4 minutes and then consume. The next step would be to have an aeropress to make the coffee. Aeropress is considered a very versatile, cheap and easy to carry device that does most of the functions that a coffee brewer is looking at and hence quite highly recommended. It comes at a price range of about three to four thousand.

The next step up is getting a simple grinder. Mehul had got his off AliExpress for about INR 900. When we reach a place where we can’t turn the grinder anymore, we reach the zero setting. As we turn, the grinder churns out coarser coffee. If you plan to go ahead, you can invest in better grinders as they turn out more consistent and get control over the size of the coarseness of the coffee beans. Prefer manual over electronics.

The next investment is in a measuring pad. The cheapest one is off Amazon that costs INR 200-300. This helps to measure the amount of coffee beans you take. This too gets complicated with higher price where a timer gets added on which helps you measure brewing time.

The next investment suggested for your upward spiral into the world of coffee brewing is a goose-neck kettle. This is useful to control the way in which water is poured on the ground coffee beans. These comes with insertable thermometers that helps you control the temperature of water that is used for your coffee.

I am not sure whether I am going to personally follow through with coffee brewing beyond say South Indian filter coffee. However, I’ll let these notes remain for future reference. I also got hold of ground filter coffee powder from the Fat Labrador that I will try out. I had a good filter coffee and Bombay Masala sandwich after the meetup.

Great to meet Mehul after a long time and nice to meet fellow coffee enthusiasts in a new city. If you find any errors in the notes above, they are most likely mine, and request you to leave them in the comment section to help me fix them.

(added later) Mehul shared links on the Pune CBC WhatsApp group for some of the products he recommended. Sharing here for the sense of completion:

  1. Cheapest scale. 1 gms increment. Max 10 kg.
  2. Scale that Can measure in 0.5 gms increments.
  3. Scale that can measure in 0.1 gms increment.
  4. Simple gooseneck kettle, no thermometer.
  5. Simple gooseneck kettle, with thermometer.
Categories
Space

SWIMMERs

Drew Brisbin, an astronomer working in a desert in Chile has this thought experiment for us.

Can we tap ionized particles in the interstellar medium as a way of exchanging momentum for propulsion?

His answer was shared on Centauri Dreams in a post titled, SWIMMERs: A Thought Experiment on the Potential and Limitations of Propellantless Interstellar Travel.