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
Memories Uncategorized

Activa called Jupiter

We bought Jupiter home yesterday on December 2, 2019.

Pradeep taking delivery of the Activa
Pradeep taking delivery of the Activa

The Contenders

We were thinking of buying a scooter for Dhanya to help her get our daughter to school, do errands locally and give her some independent mobility. The scooters we considered were the TVS Jupiter and Honda Activa.

Shopping Experience

I really enjoyed the shopping experience I was offered at TVS Century showroom on Alandi Road, Pune. The salesperson showed us the available alternatives, answered queries patiently and made useful suggestions as per our requirement. Only then did he take us through the cost and financing options. Dhanya also enjoyed her test drive of the vehicle and after the showroom visit, we were quite keen on owning a Jupiter.

The experience at the Shanti Honda showroom was the polar opposite. The salesperson asked us what we were looking for. He brought his cost sheet and began explaining what we would be paying for the two wheeler. He then explained financing options. He lost interest when we said we would be self financing the vehicle. We asked for a test drive which he offered reluctantly.

The Verdict

We asked friends and our parents for feedback on both vehicles. As we kept hearing the feedback, we were disheartened that we might not be able to choose a Jupiter. It seems to come with a history of niggling problems and sub-par after sales service that takes the years off the vehicle. Although many people felt the Jupiter was a better riding experience not everyone agreed on whether it was a good vehicle to own. As I was buying this with my own hard earned money, I went with the safer option of buying a Honda Activa.

The Delivery

As I said above, we took delivery of the Honda Activa yesterday on December 2, 2019. The Jupiter has us so captivated, that in our conversations with each other we were never able to say Activa. We kept referring to it as Jupiter. Hence, we decided to name her Jupiter so that it fixes what we call it.

We took her to the Ayyappa Temple at Dhanori. We got a Vahana Pooja done and took her home.

Categories
Politics

Shared: The enemy of the Free Market

Seth Godin had an interesting podcast on the enemy of the free market. He says that capitalism is the enemy of the free market. He discusses how he comes to that conclusion, provides examples and discusses how Free Market can escape from it’s enemy.

This has been an important learning for my own economic learning that has gone from supporting communism at age 17 to now the free markets at age 33.

Categories
Books

The God Who Loved Motorbikes (2019)

Cover of The God Who Loved Motorbikes

I picked up the book written by Murali K Menon after seeing that the book was launched by John Abraham on September 25. The book is a Juggernaut publication and I saw that the book was available at a low cost on the day of the launch. Hence, I picked it up without giving a second thought.

The book takes on a usual motorcycle enthusiast story and stretches it into the realm beyond time and space. The enthusiast in this case is one of the small shrine gods that dot the landscape of Kollengode in Kerala. The story revolves around how the god, KK Swamy, follows his dreams of riding several motorcycles. The premise makes sense at some level. However, things get a little hazy here while considering the plot.

The story then hops several steps and we enter another story. The storyline begins quite naturally but then gets stranger and weirder as time passes. Then, things get so weird that I paused reading to think that the story has gone from a motorcycle story to a sci-fi genre. There are a few plot twists but none that surprise you too much. There is a lot going on, action wise but they are mostly just moving things forward.

When the story ends, there are many things left hanging. The plot fails to tie things up at the end. There are many loose ends. The story takes off in so many directions that I wonder what the author was thinking about while developing the plot of the story.

You could consider picking up the book to give it a read if you love this genre of motorcycle storytelling and sci-fi. It was a good way to while away time but at the end you are left asking if reading through it was a worthy investment of your time or not.

Categories
Banking

Bank Merger

The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman has announced the merger of public sector undertaking (PSU) banks. This move will bring down the number of public sector banks from 27 in 2017 to 12 after merger.

Six Mega PSU banks created as a result of the merger announced on August 31. Image: Bloomberg Quint

As a former banker, I support this move. Existence of multiple public sector banks has been an enigma for me. These banks existed once as private sector banks. They competed then and played a role in the Indian economy. Their nationalisation in 1979 made them all public sector undertakings. Having banks in every nook and corner of the country was one of the reasons cited behind bank nationalisation. The idea was to make banking accessible to the poor and financial inclusion. As it was said then, to change from class banking to mass banking.

However, this still does not seem to have been achieved. Payments bank have been started up to achieve the same goals. However, these end up serving the same urban populace as private banks in India where the money is. All this achieved was make competition in urban areas, where the money is, more stiff.

Private banks and payment banks are able to provide better service and better loan recovery because of the targeted nature of their banking. They work in areas where they have competence and knowledge.

Success in universal banking cannot be measured with the yardsticks used for class banking of the private banks. Universal banking is by its nature very intensive, involves high wastage and is highly inefficient.

The merger of these public sector banks makes more staff available to them. These can be deployed in rural centres to meet the shortfall of staff branches face whilst in urban centres to meet the shortfall of loan processing and servicing staff.

It would take at least a generation before enough private banks spring up to target various parts of universal banking. Some will still not be viable. As various government policies push towards formalising the economy, many of these private banks will merge to form larger banks.

As for public sector banks, ultimately, I hope that there is only one public sector bank. Perhaps, two. State Bank of India will definitely be one of them. Union Bank has a nice ring to the name if there needs to be another bank which is a union of all other banks other than State Bank. Eventually, I hope everything is merged into the State Bank. In the meanwhile, processes need to be streamlined, documentation needs to be standardised and loans need to be recovered.

Will there ever be a time when India will not have a need to have any public sector bank?

Categories
Memories

My friends in Lonar

Pradeep ettan got promoted and transferred to SBI Lonar branch. Lonar is a place which is not accessible by rail. The roads were under repair. The nearest railway station is Jalna, two and a half hours away while the nearest airport is Aurangabad, which is three and a half hours away.

Lonar is a rural area which has no facilities like hospital, school, college etc. Only two-three seasonal vegetables and fruits are available. Pradeep ettan was born and raised in Mumbai while I was born and raised in Alathur, Palakkad in Kerala. While, I am also from a rural area, it was difficult for me to stay in Lonar. When I saw Lonar I felt my home town, Alathur was a metropolitan city. The only thing to see in Lonar is the Lonar crater.

Lonar Crater. Image: Dhanya Vallat

The regional language is Marathi and I don’t speak Marathi.Hence, I was unable to communicate with people there. By God’s grace, I got a very good neighbour,  Nanda Sancheti .  She became my good friend. She is very down to earth, always smiling and ready to help people. She is the one who always had solutions to every problem. She worked as a teacher in their school called World School in Gaikhed and they run a jewelry shop.

Selfie with Nanda. Image: Dhanya Vallat
Selfie with me and my friends. Image: Dhanya Vallat
Rithika with her friends Bhakti and Stuti. Image: Dhanya Vallat

She is having 2 sweet and cute children Stuti and Bhakti. Bhakti is one year elder to   Rithika. They became friends and always wanted to spend time together. But when they meet, both have complaints (Maa Rithika ka ne woh kiya, Bhakti ne woh liya, etc.) about each other. My other friends in Lonar are Priyanka Madane, Priyanka Hinge, Sanvi Chetan Thakre and Shobha Pund. Because of them, our stay in Lonar became bearable.

Categories
Personal

Rithika’s Vidyarambham

Vidyarambham is celebrated at the end of Navratri on Vijayadashmi day. It is the auspicious ceremony to introduce kids to learn alphabets, music, dance, start a business, before going to school etc.

The priest who conducts the vidyarambham writes, “Hari Sri Ganapataye Namah” on the child’s tongue with a golden ring. She is also made to write on rice.

A picture of Rithika writing in rice during her Vidyarambham. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas
Rithika writing in rice during her Vidyarambham. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

As we planned to send Rithika to school next month, we conducted her vidyarambham on August 25, 2019 at the Ayyappa Temple in Dhanori.

Picture of Rithika with her father. Image Credit: Dhanya Vallat
Rithika with her father. Image Credit: Dhanya Vallat

Best wishes to Rithika as she begins her life long journey of learning from her father.

Categories
Personal

Shri Krishna Janmashtami

Shri Krishna Jayanthi is celebrated as the day when Krishna was born. This falls on the day of Rohini Nakshatram in the month of Chingam, as per the Malayalam calendar. This fell on August 23, 2019.

We celebrate this day by decorating the pooja room, undertake fasts, offer Prasad like Appam and Palpayasam , chant the Vishnu Sahasranamam and play devotional songs. Shri Krishna Jayanthi is also known as Ashtami-Rohini, Janmashtami or Gokulashtami.

Photo of Our pooja place decorated for Shri Krishna Jayanthi. Photo Credit: Pradeep Mohandas
Our pooja place decorated for Shri Krishna Jayanthi. Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

It was a working day for Pradeep ettan. After he returned from office, we went together to visit the Ayyappan temple at Dhanori. The statue of Krishna was beautifully decorated with sandalwood.

Photo of The Sanctum Sanctorum at the Ayyappa Temple, Dhanori, Pune. Photo Credit: Dhanya Vallat
The Sanctum Sanctorum at the Ayyappa Temple, Dhanori, Pune. Credit: Dhanya Vallat
Photo of the Sanctum Sanctorum of the ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune. Photo Credit: Dhanya Vallat
Sanctum Sanctorum of the ISKCON Temple, Camp, Pune. Credit: Dhanya Vallat

From there we went to the ISKCON temple in Camp, Pune. The temple had created a carnival like atmosphere and depicted the life of Krishna in life size displays. The statue and sanctum sanctorum was beautifully decorated with colourful flowers.

Categories
Space

Chandrayaan 2 in lunar orbit

The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft entered into an orbit around the Moon on August 20, 2019 at 09:02 AM (IST).

This was a result of a lunar orbit insertion (LOI) manoeuvre the spacecraft performed that lasted about 1738 seconds. The spacecraft was in Earth orbit and used it’s gravity to be propelled towards the Moon. As the spacecraft reached close to the Moon it used its on-board motor to perform a breaking to decrease its speed (this was demonstrated in Mission Mangal) and allowed itself to be captured by the Moon’s gravitational force.

The spacecraft entered into a 114 km x 18,072 km orbit around the Moon. This means that the spacecraft’s closest distance from the Moon (caller perilune) is 114 km and it’s farthest distance (called the apolune) is 18,072 km. The next day it performed another similar manoeuvre to reduce its speed and moved into an 118 km x 4,412 km orbit. This is the opposite of what it did in Earth orbit and will continue till it achieves a circular orbit of 100 km.

Image from the ISRO Launch Kit for Chandrayaan 2 which shows the mission sequence.
The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft is now in its Lunar Bound Phase. Image: ISRO Launch Kit
Moon as viewed by Chandrayaan-2 LI4 Camera on 21 August 2019 19:03 UT
Moon as viewed by Chandrayaan-2 LI4 Camera on 21 August 2019 19:03 UT

Today, ISRO released pictures taken by the LI4 camera on board the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft. LI4 probably stands for Landing Imager 4. It should be one of the cameras on the lander that would be used to guide the lander to the surface of the Moon.

The next manoeuvre is slated for August 28, early in the morning. You can follow the updates of Chandrayaan 2 directly from the ISRO website page.