Categories
Podcast Politics

Political Ideology in India

I have been listening to IVM Podcast’s The Seen and the Unseen podcast hosted by Amit Varma since about the last year or so. The important I learnt in lesson in this episode that the usual tags of left and right politics do not apply to Indian politics. Indian politics can be better understood based on the ideologies of identity and statism.

The cover art of the Episode 131 of the Seen and the Unseen
The cover art of the Episode 131 of The Seen and The Unseen

Amit’s earlies episodes espouses the classical liberal ideologies and are based on the idea of individual freedom. While the explanation made theoretical sense, it didn’t quite apply when I analysed many macroeconomic issues to try and understand why the government acted in the way it did. Hence, Amit’s episodes were critical of any government that was at the Center.

This particular episode presented a better political lens to understand the Indian political landscape. The episode is based on the book Ideology and Identity by Pradeep K Chhibber and Rahul Verma. Rahul Verma explains the terms ideology, identity and statism. He then takes us through Indian history post-independence as seen through the lens of identity and statism and explains how this bifurcation of Indian history makes more sense than the western right-wing and left-wing narrative.

The episode held several insights for me. That India had a rich “conservative” tradition but this was hidden from English readers like me. These traditions existed in the vernacular press in Hindi, Marathi etc. An earlier episode began digging at some of the features of the conservative tradition in India which seems to have been so different from the conservative traditions in other countries. It has been a fascinating listen for me.

I haven’t read the book but would definitely suggest listening to this episode if you want to decide either way about getting their book.

Categories
Movies Space

Review: Mission Mangal (2019)

I went to PVR Cinemas at Pune’s Phoenix Marketcity Mall to watch Mission Mangal on Friday, August 15, 2019. Being a self-professed space geek, I expected the movie to be a cringe-show. It was.

Poster of Mission Mangal
Poster of Mission Mangal

Mission Mangal (2019) is a Bollywood movie inspired by the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). The mission involved the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) flying a mission to Mars. The mission, a technology demonstrator, succeeded on it’s first attempt. The movie carries a disclaimer at the start of the movie which says that it is a fictionalised account.

The on-film depiction of ISRO is no where near it’s original. I don’t think a scientist in ISRO are insecure in their knowledge that they would feel threatened by a person who got his experience working in NASA and who returns to serve his country. This is the description of the villain of the movie. I think MOM borrowed and learnt a lot from NASA for the actual mission. MOM’s first signal acquisition was in fact from NASA’s Deep Space Network in Australia. I don’t think the movie really needed a villain.

The other issue that bothered me a lot is the need for a hero. Akshay Kumar is no where near the scientist that ISRO has. His imitation of talking to former President Abdul Kalam in Tamil was the lowest point of the film, in my opinion.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was made much more muscular and eye-candy than it actually is. There were a lot of holds on that American launch pad. Bollywood also made it into a two stage launch vehicle rather than the four stage rocket it is. I loved the sound and capture of the lift-off which reminded me so much of the Shuttle launches. India countsdown in minutes and seconds and not from 100 seconds.

There are struggles of the women scientist in ISRO. Tackling pressure at home, managing family, managing expectations of mother-in-laws, difficulty in getting a flat because of belonging to a certain religion and live-in-relationships. I would have been happier if these stereotypes would not all be pushed throughout the film. Also, I didn’t miss the stereotype of a woman who could not drive on road handling navigation for an interplanetary mission.

So, with all those things that I didn’t like in the movie, it still pulled through because it manages something that I think ISRO fails at communicating. How difficult it is to get funding for a mission. What parameters are considered and how difficult it is to plan a mission. It also attempted to explain orbital mechanics. The movie takes a dig at superstitious practices that ISRO itself follows. Akshay Kumar’s only positive show in the movie seems to be standing up as a rational person to some superstitious practices in the Mission Control Room.

I still think that the movie is a good starting point for a movie based on a scientific mission. For that, it is worth seeing. As I said at the beginning, I cringed a lot while watching the movie.

It took me a long time to write this review. Two other reviews are worth your time – Vasudevan Mukunth’s and Raja Sen for the Hindustan Times.

The movie ends crediting ISRO on it’s 50th anniversary and the women on whom the film is loosely based.

Categories
Space

Chandrayaan 2 on the way to the Moon

Chandrayaan 2, India’s second mission to the Moon lifted off from Sriharikota on July 22, 2019. The spacecraft was launched on board India’s GSLV Mk-3 rocket on it’s maiden non-development flight.

Photograph of the launch of the GSLV Mk-3 with the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft by ISRO.
GSLV Mk 3 lifts-off with Chandrayaan 2. Image Courtesy: ISRO

It came after a launch scrub surrounding which there was lack of information and a lot of speculation. I watched the launch with my grandmother in Mumbai.

Since the launch, the spacecraft which currently has an orbiter and lander attached to each other performed 5 orbit raising manoeuvres on the way to the Moon.

India adopted this gradual orbit raising manoeuvre in order to balance the limitation of the spacecraft and the launch vehicle. A lower mass of the spacecraft would enable the launch vehicle to place the spacecraft into lunar orbiter but it would then not be able to carry any meaningful payload. The launch vehicle had only enough power to place Chandrayaan 2 in a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Image of the Earth taken by LI4 camera on board the lander on Chandrayaan 2.
Image of Earth taken by the LI 4 camera on board Chandrayaan 2. Image Courtesy: ISRO

After the 5th orbit raising manoeuvre, the spacecraft will push off towards the Moon called Trans Lunar Insertion on August 14. Afterwards, the spacecraft will perform one more burn called the Lunar Orbit Insertion on August 20 that will let the spacecraft be captured by Moon’s gravity.

Categories
Status Updates

Moved to Pune

I moved jobs and joined a new company in Pune on July 29. Three days later, D and R moved in to our new rental.

Video of the first ceremonial milk boiling done at our new home in Pune.

Categories
Books

The Shooting Star – Shivya Nath

I have been following the works of travel blogger Shivya Nath since I found India Untravelled on Google. I wanted to go to Spiti and was looking for places to stay there and this was one experience that I wanted to have. She used to run the site that discovered these homestays before she sold that company to become a digital nomad. Not going to Spiti remains one unchecked item in my bucket list.

I picked up her book hoping to regain my bearings and rediscover my love for travel once again. I was going through a particularly difficult phase at work and hence, even reading the book got postponed for a really long time. I bought the book on September 18, 2018. I made slow progress but it’s finally done.

My travels have mostly been with family. I have travelled solo very few times.

Shivya talks about two journeys in the book. One, were her journeys solo to different parts of the country and across the globe. Another, is the parallel personal journey of overcoming restrictions of society and the ones that she herself placed and overcoming these to become a digital nomad and a travel blogger that she is today.

Her journeys across the world are well covered on her eponymous blog, The Shooting Star. But, I’d recommend the book more for reading about her parallel personal journey. For anyone who travels, one knows that this is a given as we travel more and more. But, it is still wonderful to uncover. Resistance from parents, hesitation before taking the entrepreneurial jump, worries about safety while travelling solo, meeting strange people in strange lands, discovering the things that matter to us the most and perhaps most importantly chasing the dreams and turning them into reality. It is this part of the book that I really enjoyed.

Categories
Digital

Social Media vs Social Internet

Brett McKay wrote on the Art of Manliness blog on the difference between Social Media and the Social Internet and the difference between the two. While the former was the keep of billion dollar industries the latter is the creation of individual people. Lately, I have found myself coming to my website to share things rather than keep them in silos maintained by corporations. Data is the new oil, if you haven’t already heard.

Brett’s blog post is a good starting point if you want to begin moving away from Social Media again towards the Social Internet.

Social Media are websites owned by corporations that monetize what you share and become multi-billion dollar corporations richer. Social Internet is the network of sites owned by individuals or even small businesses that put out content and are shared by people like you and me.

If you have browsed the web before 2007 in India, you would have worked your way through Yahoo! search engine, through various email threads on Yahoo! groups and found like minded people sharing web pages using links. When blogs burst on to the scene, you would always keep an eye on the about page and for the “blog roll” on the side of the blog to find new blogs. If you were on the blog roll of someone famous, you would get a lot of web traffic. This is how you organically grew your website.

A screenshot of the website, stryder.com
stryder.com was a website that I visited often for such web links and blog rolls. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

The onset of websites like Facebook and Twitter were the onset of Social Media. These websites earned money by showing us targeted advertisements based on the things we liked, shared and searched on their website. Getting us to stay on their websites for longer (even not having to open web links on a browser) means they can watch user behaviour for a longer time. Data is the new oil. Wired ($) has a personal guide to Personal Data Collection that tells you how your personal data is collected and used. However, they do offer a convenience in use and sharing that Social Internet has never reached.

The Social Internet was built on RSS feeds. Not the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh but Really Simple Syndication. Google Reader made it a breeze to subscribe and read blog posts and even listen to podcasts. But, Google pulled the switch on the project and RSS feeds have been difficult to follow ever since. I currently use Feedly for blog posts, Spotify for podcasts and Thunderbird for feeds and email offline. What I would really love is a mobile version of Thunderbird that I could use to read and write emails, read my blog posts, listen to my podcasts and play videos from the channels I have subscribed to. One app to do it all would mean so many saved apps downloads and my data would be safe with a non-profit like Mozilla Foundation where we would have more control on our own data.

I know reading this sounds like I am scared of Social Media but the fact is that I use it as much as other people but I am slowly beginning to realise that we need control of the data that we create. I believe that awareness that your data is being used by Corporations to make more dollars is a good first step.

Categories
Sci-fi

Chapter 1 Tritiya

Ayn was sitting at the console today. She got a notification for a Longreads story on the beginning of the Quantum Computing on the Moon. She opened the notification to read the story.

Quantum Computing came to the Moon with the Indian company, Pradnya Labs. Pradnya Labs was founded by Pradeep in 2020 after he quit his banking career. He started it for teaching Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to his peers. He found that more money was to be made by teaching others than the application of these skills in an industry that youngsters were getting into than someone who lacked experience in the field.

Pradeep turned out to be a much better teacher than an employee or a worker in India’s software industry. Pradnya Labs then expanded into digital literacy drives for the elderly. This Pradnya Labs saw as Corporate Social Responsibility as the company grew big in Southern India and went public in 2024. However, students who left Pradeep came back to join him in India as teachers. Along with them came two important people – Shruti and Sriram.

Shruti worked with Microsoft in the US and was working with its Quantum Computing division. Sriram came from Tesla and came from its famous Batteries Division. In a famous meeting held in a tea shop in Palakkad, they encouraged Pradeep to foray into Quantum Computing. First, they held classes for Quantum Computing core processes.

Pradeep learnt that Quantum Computers would not sit in people’s hands like ordinary computers. These would be installed in the cloud and would communicate with people’s devices through broadband. From the profits that Pradnya Labs made up to 2025 and raising money from family and friends, Pradnya Labs founded it Quantum Computing Division with Shruti heading the same.

In 2026, Pradnya Labs produced the first quantum computer, called Adi. Pradeep thought that putting these quantum computers in the sothern pole of Lunar craters would provide them with natural cooling. The Aitkens basin was identified. He spoke with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman, Pavan. Pavan was not sure if Pradeep had a working idea and hence called his colleague at the Indian Institute for Information Technology (IIIT) Hyderabad, Mukunth for setting up a demonstration. Adi was setup with the quantum computer built at IIIT and was test run. Adi outperformed the IIIT-Q by 15 seconds.

Pavan asked Pradeep how they hoped to communicate with the Moon? Pradeep said a relay satellite would be placed near the Moon and would re-send the signal to Earth. Although, Pavan was not fully convinced, he agreed to place one Adi on the Moon’s Aitkens basin.

Meanwhile, Sriram was working away in a nearby lab in Hyderabad to build Tesla style battery packs within which the quantum computer could be carried to the Lunar South pole. He added a communications module. The body of the Adi-packs were tested in ISRO labs in Bengaluru. After they came through successfully, the first Adi-packs were launched to the Aitkens crater in 2025.

Through 2026, ISRO, IIIT and Pradnya Labs tested the relay system and found that the speed that Adi got was lost in communication with Earth. Dwitiya was launched in December 2026. Developed in the Pradnya Q Labs in Coimbatore, Dwitiya was faster than IIIT-Q by 83 seconds. ISRO launched a Dwitiya pack to the Aitkens basin in 2027. Happy with the results, Pradnya Labs got orders for Dwitiyas themselves as well as for time for use on the Lunar Dwitiyas.

Meanwhile Sriram got in touch with his former boss at Tesla and through him got Pradeep to talk to Elon Musk. Pradeep asked Musk for a redesign of their Starlink satellites to provide a way to receive data from the Moon and relay it to Earth. Working through 2027 and 2028, the Starlink 2.5 satellites were launched by SpaceX in 2029. These provided improved speed, better data crunching and faster applications. With the advent of this, many of the other service providers in India started gaining an equal footing.

Pradnya Labs’ profits soared. In 2030, Isha Ambani of Jio approached Pradeep with a new idea. She wanted Jio to build satellites that would relay the information from the lunar Dwitiyas back to Earth. Pradeep shared that they were working on Tritiya. One Tritiya would launch next year. But, one demonstration at the Pradnya Labs Quantum Computer simulator meant she paid for the construction of three more Tritiyas exclusively for use of Jio. In addition, she also paid Exseed Space for the construction of 25 Jiosats that would relay the information for users in the Indian subcontinent.

A total of five Tritiyas were launched to lunar surface at the Aitkens basin. Two were used for scientific data crunching for science institutions in India. Three were used by Jio. They said the three lunar data centers took care of half their data center needs on Earth.

It was one of the Tritiya that had predicted that an asteroid was to hit Earth in 2040. Ayn was one of the few human beings that left on the spacecraft one year before impact was predicted. Today was the day when the asteroid would hit Earth.

Categories
Books

James Clear: Akrasia

From James Clear’s blog:

Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control. Akrasia is what prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.

An important thing to look out for is:

Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

This is one thing that I’m trying to fix:

This is one reason why the ability to delay gratification is such a great predictor of success in life. Understanding how to resist the pull of instant gratification—at least occasionally, if not consistently—can help you bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Categories
Webseries

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.

Categories
Space

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!