Going back to the Temple

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 29, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Between the age of 18 and 23, I didn’t go to temples off my own accord. I normally tagged along with family. It was during this period that I read Krishnamurthi and Osho. I was also a member of the skeptic gang and was trying to find a scientific way of defining God. In reference to this, at a recent lecture series, Jaydeep Mukherjee said that it was vital that science and religion be kept separate. Do not try to explain science with religion or religion with science.

The ice started breaking on my freeze on visiting temples when I read S Radhakrishnan’s book “The Hindu View of Life”. I then differentiated between visiting temple for spiritual aims and visiting temple for ritualistic aims. A look back will show you that it is this ritualistic Hinduism that spawned Buddhism and the various reform movements in the 19th century. The spiritual Hinduism is not totally devoid of problems, but it does its best under the circumstances.

It was Krishnamurthi who stressed on living from one moment to another, Osho re-emphasized it and introduced me to Zen Buddhism. My interest in Osho began when I read his critique of Krishnamurthi which was fun. It then went further when I heard the Malayalam film actor, Mohan Lal had “followed” some of his ideas. This turned out later to be not entirely true. It was around this time that my Orkut entry for religion turned from atheist to agnostic.

There are not many places where you get to go and sit alone in some place in India without getting disturbed by a long forgotten relatives (apologies to all such relatives, but you’re timing does not help sometimes). I thought the temple would act as a refuge but I have not tried it yet. I have considered the temple, though.

How US missed the Pakistani nuclear programme

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 31, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

A non-governmental research institute located in the libraries of George Washington University called the National Security Archives has published documents relating to US-Pakistan relation vis-a-vis the development of nuclear weapons capability. The Press Trust of India reported today that the documents contain revealations about then Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s response to a US request of making South Asia nuclear-weapons free.

This has made an interesting foray into nuclear programme before going to the talk by Dr. Yair Evron.

GSLV-F06 flight unsuccessful

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 26, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The seventh flight of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) designated F06 ended when the launch vehicle was destroyed by a manual self-destruct button activated by the Range Safety Officer. The destruct button was used when the first stage suffered a “technical glitch” and the vehicle started veering off its designated path.

At a press conference, ISRO Chairman Dr. Radhakrishnan explained:

Its performance was normal for 50 seconds after the lift-off. “Soon afterwards, the vehicle’s attitude was increasing, leading to heavier structural loads, higher angle of attack and breaking up of the vehicle.” The Range Safety Officer in the Mission Control Centre gave the ‘destruct’ command to the vehicle 63 seconds after the lift-off from its second launch pad and it was destroyed.

Although I told Srinivas Laxman and am quoted as saying that I would want the whole vehicle to undergo testing again, VSSC Director P S Veeraraghavan said that the fundamental vehicle design was good and it was possibly the connector snapping that caused the mission failure.  I would say such a comment is still premature. We should still wait for the Analysis Report to come out before making comments. Radhakrishnan is quoted as saying in the same article that the entire GSLV programme will be reviewed.

Prof U R Rao, former ISRO Chairman commented in the Times of India that the programmes such as Chandrayaan-II and Human Spaceflight will not be affected since they are different vehicles, perhaps alluding to the fact that GSLV Mk-III may be used for these.

I believe that ISRO must work on a different stack for the 2 – 6 tonne class satellite launch vehicles. Perhaps, a downgraded version of GSLV Mk-III architecture can be used or a 4-stage GSLV are can be used for this class of launch vehicles. Two failures in six months does not provide sufficient confidence in trusting the vehicle with precious cargoes such as Chandrayaan-II or humans. That, or the whole configuration must be tested again. This may cost more money but it is much better than loosing payloads to accidents.

I am really confident with the scientists and their work in ISRO but this should also encourage them to encourage budding rocketeers in the country. Fields like amateur rocketry will give them a large and experienced talent pool of do-ers who can then easily be upgraded to scientists working on Indian launch vehicles programme. ISRO has done service by encouraging the next generation of satellite engineers through work at nano and cube satellites.

Spaceflight Now cleared some of the doubts I had about how a 12.5 tonne engine could be made to accomodate 15.3 tonnes of cryogenic fuel in the third cryogenic stage:

GSAT 5P’s weight forced Russian and Indian engineers to modify parts of the rocket to lift the satellite, which is the heaviest spacecraft ever orbited by ISRO. The Russian third stage was lengthened 3.6 feet to fit an extra 6,000 pounds of propellant inside. The additional cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen was designed to permit the upper stage engine to burn about two minutes longer than on previous flights.

It is this sort of attention-to-detail that was missing in Indian media. They also continually said that the Indian satellite exploded, referred to the weight of the GSAT-5P as 2130 kg instead of 2310 kg and repeatedly called “scientists” space experts. Many of the said space experts were also forced to comment on a situation without much data being made available and were then sensationalized as banner and news ticker stories.

It is also now clear that the helium gas leak was fixed rather than found to be within acceptable risk limits. It is also wrong to claim that it was the Russian cryogenic engine which caused trouble and that ISRO should have checked it as was ripe in the initial minutes after the scenes of disaster played itself out on television screens. It is easier to blame and much difficult to fix. As Prof. Rao says there is a huge amount of data needs to be checked to identify all the various points that seem to/could or have failed.

Talk by Dr. Yair Evron

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 31, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Today was my second visit to the offices of the Observer Research Foundation. I went down to their offices to attend the talk delivered by Dr. Yair Evron. His talk was about Iran’s rise as a nuclear power and possible Israeli reaction to it.

He began his talk by describing the Israeli Nuclear Programme, which according to Israel does not exist. It is believed to have been developed in the 1950s and was completely developed by the end of the 1960s. It’s primary reason to go nuclear was as deterrent to stop war with the Arab world. He said that Israel was under tremendous pressure from America not to go nuclear. As a result, it has what is called an ambiguous posture under which it does not admit that it possess nuclear weapons. There are international reports to the contrary.

He said Israel was a responsible nuclear power since it had not made use of nuclear weapons during instances such as the 1973 war and also not used as a coercive tool in political negotiations (which he admits has not worked as a negotiation tactic). He states that Israel had good relations with Iran till 1979. This continued until the Revolution there.

After 1979, relations between Israel and Iran have been hostile. This is mainly because of ideological differences and because of change in political leadership that Iran wanted show to stand against Israel like Jordan and neighbouring Arab countries did.

Evron says that the development of Iranian nuclear capability began after the Iran-Iraq war. It provided reasons such as deterrence against Iraq, USA, Israel and the Soviet Union (who had occupied Iran during the World War and these wounds are fresh in Iranian minds). The first exposure of Iranian nuclear programme happened in 1991 Gulf War. Evron made it clear here that he did not believe in the minimum deterrent theory. He also states that the Wikileaks expose of the Arab request to attack Iran also shows that the Arab countries were equally worried of the impact of Iran going nuclear as Israel was.

The facility for nuclear weapons by Iran began development in the 1990s and this was exposed in 2002. In this case, Iran had violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory. In 2008, a second nuclear enrichment facility had been exposed. Iran is also believed to have been developing missile systems with nuclear capability. This, he admits is tricky and difficult technology to master. Currently, Evron claims Iran has sufficient uranium for 2 bombs although not weapons grade. Iran currently has, Evron says, nuclear material with a purity of 3.5% to 20% whereas a weapons platform would need 93% Uranium. These are the developments under its Uranium enrichment technique. Iran has also begun working on the plutonium enrichment route.

Evron says that since 2005, Iran has been actively working on an advanced enrichment programme, a weapons programme and developing warheads for missiles.

Commenting a bit on Obama’s current policy on negotiation and economic pressure through sanctions, it says it might work and is a better option than that presented during the Bush administration which wasted a great chance when Iran offered unconditional negotiations in 2003. Evron says that Israel and Iran might have a relationship if Iran goes nuclear.

Evron says that for a stable relationship to take place between a nuclear Iran and Israel, both will have to understand and be mature about the use of nuclear weapons and must be in continuous dialogue with each other. If Iran goes nuclear, he foresees that the Middle East would become unstable since the Arab world could also begin to look for nuclear weapons for deterrence. This could be further used by groups such as the Hezbollah and Hamas to cause what is known as “catalytic war” – provoking countries to take nuclear action. Evron says that dialogue would only become more important if Iran goes nuclear.

Ending his talk, Evron says that the Universities in Iran had free intellectuals till last year who were ready to talk with an Israeli such as him. He says though things have changed in the past one year where they have gotten a bit scared about talking openly. He says civil society in Iran wants regime change and that Israel and the Arab world would accept a moderate Iran.

During the Question and Answer session, he went into details on certain aspects. If Iran were about to go nuclear, he said, he would advise that the US consider the military option against it. Israel taking such actions would have other repercussions in the region. He said the US could perform surgical strikes of Iranian nuclear weapons installations and declare that this was done purely to protect the region. Such an action would not cause Iran to retaliate other than to bad mouth US imperialism and such. He said that if Iran tried responding militarily, the US air force could destroy the Iranian military in a couple of weeks.

GSLV-F06 Launch on Dec 25, 2010

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 24, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

On Christmas Day, India will launch its GSLV-F06 with GSAT-5P satellite on board. Since December 20, 2010 when the delay in the launch was announced, ISRO has been working with Russian engineers by conducting several tests on the leaked valve in the Russian cryogenic engine.

It has now been ascertained that the launch could go on. It is still not sure if the leak was fixed or whether it was found whether the leak was within acceptable limits.  ISRO has just posted a note on its website saying the launch has started.

There have been several mis-leading reports in Western blogs stating that this is the Indian cryogenic engine. This is wrong. This is one of the two spare engines that ISRO obtained from Russia.

The 2310 kg GSAT-5P is the heaviest satellite that an Indian launch vehicle will carry. Hence the cryogenic engine has been uprated. It now carries 15.3 tonnes of fuel as against 12.5 tonnes and has a payload fairing diameter of 4 metres instead of 2.8 metres. This uprating enables the GSLV Mk-I to carry 2310 kg instead of the 1900 kg capability. GSAT-5P itself is to replace INSAT-2E’s services and upgrade television, tele-medicene, tele-education and telephony services.

Chandrayaan-II Recent Updates

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 22, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Over November and December, Anatoly Zak’s website RussianSpaceWeb has been updating information about Luna-Resurs. Luna-Resurs is the Russian name given to Chandrayaan-II.

As per a December 8, 2010 report on RussianSpaceWeb (which has translation from the NPO Lavochkin website) states that the team has defended improvements in Luna-Resurs mission. They seem to have finalised the payloads, the navigation and ballistic issues. It seems these improvements have been approved.

Another is on the selection of two landing sites for Chandrayaan-II. The report is based on a paper by E N Salyuta and others presented at the 41st Lunar and Planetary Conference  in March 2010! The selection was aided by results from American and Japanese spacecrafts – Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) and Kaguya. The page provides background on the 2 sites selected from the 14 original based on criteria such as landing safety, scientific interest, constant line of communication  etc. The main landing site is near the Shoemaker and Faustini craters located at 87.2 degrees South and 68 degrees East lunar co-ordinates. The backup landing site is near the de Gerlach crater located 88.5 degrees South and 297 degrees East lunar co-ordinates.

The above work seems to be purely Russian. I am not sure if ISRO has yet been consulted on the project but the lander being a Russian component, the landing may also be of their choosing. The reference to the Indian rover as only a political payload was unnecessary. They said that about MIP on Chandrayaan-I in 2007, if I recollect. Maybe its for good luck.

GSLV-F06 Launch Postponed

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 20, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I only got around to writing this now after a day of BlogCamp:

The launch of GSLV-F06 with  GSAT-5P Satellite onboard, scheduled for December 20, 2010 has been postponed due to a minor leak in one of the valves of the Russian Cryogenic stage, observed during the pre-countdown checks.
The 29-hours countdown sequence planned to commence at 1100 hrs today (Dec 19th ) has not been authorized by the Launch Authorisation Board that met this forenoon to review the results of pre-countdown checks.
The revised schedule for launch will be firmed up after ascertaining the cause for the leak, remedial actions and due verifications.
Well, hope they get to fix the problem as soon as they can. Checks  are carried out before the launch to ensure that all systems work perfectly. Minor defects are not tolerated since its failure can lead to the failure of the whole system. Will keep you posted on the developments of this GSLV flight.

Blogcamp Mumbai at Mood-I 2010

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 20, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I attended my second blogcamp today. Both have been in the School of Management building in the IIT-B campus. I reached here super-early and so managed to catch up on some of my reading (Ruskin Bond’s The Book of Nature). There seemed to be a strong creative vibe in the camp – especially with speakers on reviewing movies, doodling and fiction or with people who meddled in them. Hence, overall I enjoyed the whole experience.

The morning began with a session by Meeta Kabra, who wrote movie reviews on Wogma.com. Meeta began with sympathizing with today’s creators for receiving one word reactions for their work. She said reviewers must take the effort to provide constructive criticism of the work so that there is a possibility for the creators to learn and improve. The audience thought that maybe not everyone would understand the nuisances of cinema (Meeta reviews films) to provide such criticism and hence the restricted reactions. Meeta then asked for advice on how to handle abusive commenters. The general consensus seems to be that these be not posted at all. Some schools of thought believed that these comments may not be removed but should not be answered. Certain comment moderation was encouraged through various tools by the attendees.

The second session of the morning was done by Harpreet Singh on sketching experiences. He blogs at sketchingexperiences.me. He started off with his aim to get at least 5 members of the audience into sketching by the end of his talk. He was of the opinion that diagrams and drawings were catching the eye of people in this era of information overload. These were simple and easy to understand in a single glimpse as against reading pages of text on some topic. I am not overtly enthusiastic of diagrams but do believe that it has its usefulness.

The next session of the day was by John P. Matthew who writes a personal blog. From an end of the day perspective, John’s session seemed to be presenting ideas that didn’t seem to sit well with the audience. He began by speaking about Google PageRanks and blog monetization to an extent. He then spoke of his experience of using the blog for activism and having used his blog to make money and also make good friends. His school of thought urged people to take blogging as a serious activity and blog at a daily pace. This pushed some of the members of the audience to ask the question of quality suffering because of quantity. The result seem to be mixed with people calling for differing rates of blog posts. I, personally do not set any particular target for the number of blog posts per day. That’s just too much discipline for me.

The next session by Tarun Chandel, now a photoblogger, seemed to contrast well with John’s session before. His talk basically asked the blogger to begin the blog for a purpose. He stressed that by “walking that extra mile” while writing a blog post or posting a picture or the cartoon/diagram makes a difference. He believes that having a good workflow, a well thought out structure works better for the blogger. He says these are worth the time and the effort because one adds his name to the blog post. Commenting on the trend of multiple platforms available for content, he suggested their wise use.

I particularly enjoyed Tarun’s talk because it seemed like a return to the roots in this time of confusion in the world of media today. I was also meeting Tarun for the first time after the last blogcamp, which is when I last met him.

The next session, post a small drinks break was by Srinivas, a travel blogger on #SrinionTour. Srinivas has the idea of going around South India on a shoestring budget of Indian Rupee ₹10,000. He hopes to visit 19 locations in 15 days. He hopes to create a buzz around his trip by using social media. I am guessing it is do-able and connectivity is improving in South India. Srinivas’ trip would be the real test, of course. I have started following him both on twitter and on his blog.

Sonesh Prakash spoke next on his comic strip. Oddly enough he used Facebook Notes for the same. This is odd to me because I differentiate between a blog and a social network. He is the creator of the comic strip that has two characters – SoBo chick and Suburban guy and uses them to generate a comic strip to comment on various issues. He demoed two tools – StripCreator and Pixton. Interestingly, he then moved on to his trips to Sikkim and Kerala and shared pics from there. He came across as a very curious person to me, in a rather good way.

The next session was by Aniket who blogs at flashfiction.in. He began by talking of how he began a multiple author website on writing fiction, short stories and poetry. He clarified for me the idea behind syllables in poetry. He further spoke about how he started his multiple author website and some of the friendships he has made through blogging. He seems to be talented with his voice as well as he was asked to introduce in multiple voices!

The next session was by Sampath Iyengar who is a corporate blogger. His session was built on a series of questions to the blogging community. The answers he received urged him to separate the corporate and personal identity blogs. He was urged to use plugins to pull content from blog to Facebook. Tarun, answering his question expanded on his comment on wise use of platforms. He suggested that social websites like Facebook are liable to change as was the case with Orkut and there was also an unclear copyright protection problem while using such platforms. Whereas, on your hosted server, the content remained with you, by and large.

Harish Iyer spoke next on using blogging to encourage activism. He worked primarily in the area of raising awareness about sexuality and child sex abuse, having been subjected to the same himself. He is openly gay and has spoken about these issues in open fora. He states that his humorous attitude towards this has helped him handle society’s reactions to his sexual preference while also being able to talk about such a taboo subject. He also allows Chandini the use of his blog to connect people with the resources with the people in need. I am a little bit confused since she also seems to have her own posterous for this.  She also spams (forwards emails but she uses spam as  a smaller word for this) people to get this done.

Manoj was the last speaker of the day. He spoke of how he got into blogging after being bored by the assignments offered by media houses. He also talked about his experience of going around the country during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections raising awareness about social causes and the various NGOs working for them. His latest effort is called Canary Trap, where he hopes to provide access to documents which are only stated in the media but one never gets to see in print.

After lunch, Moksh Juneja opened the floor for discussion on the monetization of blogs and some of the “ethical” practices that could be used for such monetization. The question was whether or not to provide a realistic review of a product/book/anything if paid. The consensus seems to be to ask upfront the type of request the company providing such an offer is making. Some members of the audience also thought a disclaimer would help decision making. Moksh managed to put me in a delicate spot by asking why it was so difficult to get a Wikipedian to create content for money. To me, it seemed odd that people would pay money to people when they could edit it themselves and also the fact that Wikipedia patrol would quite easily catch such instances. All I could manage was something on Wikipedia edit principles and to answer “no” when he asked whether I would edit an article if provided with all resources required to make a Wikipedia article (note: this would not make it a good Wikipedia article). The conversation then veered towards the blurring lines between journalism and blogging. Members of the audience shared pointers on how to select content in an era of perceived mis-trust in main stream media.

I was not able to live-tweet the event after a point because of both lazy battery charge and poor network availability. My thank you to the organizers for putting up a great event!

What happened to STUDSAT-1?

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 19, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I had met with the team of STUDSAT-1, India’s second student satellite last September. Here, they had spoken of an attempt to get back control of their student satellite, STUDSAT-1. Last week, the NanoSail-D mission reminded Daniel Fischer about STUDSAT-1 and asked me about the satellite. I sent an email to Prithviraj and Chetan. Prithviraj has emailed yesterday to inform me that the satellite is dead. In his own words:

We had planned to collaborate with ISTRAC to upcommand to StudSat-1 when the cone of window again comes over Bangalore. But then before the satellite also stopped sending the beacon signal and so the satellite died.

The students will now send a close-up report to ISRO. ISRO has told students that the mission will be considered a partial success and they are awaiting a written reply from ISRO. On the future they had this to say on STUDSAT-2:

We have started working on StudSat-2. The initial collaboration between the colleges is done and we have recruited lots of students from the 6 colleges. The concept design of the two satellites is almost frozen. Once its finalized the MoU with ISRO will be done.

Wishing the students best of luck for the STUDSAT-2 project.

Western India Science Fair 2010

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 16, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The better part of today morning and early afternoon was spent at the Nehru Science Centre, Worli attending the Western India Science Fair. Now, in its 23rd edition, the fair has been conducted every year in Mumbai. This is one of the few opportunities that students do get to show off their talent in hands-on projects. As for the student projects, I saw that students have picked up on themes relevant to today – anti-terrorism, renewable energy, waste management and agriculture.

The guests did walk into the hall a full 40 minutes late. The inauguration began with an opening by Anil Manekar. He spoke about the Fair being a great platform for students to showcase their creativity and also learn the important task of science communication, by communicating their theoretical and practical understanding of science to the visiting members of the public. This, he stressed was vital and was the need of the hour.

We then learnt that the 2009 edition of the fair saw 120 thousand visitors to the Fair.

The Chief Guest of the evening [thanks to Srinivas for correcting me] was Dr. H C Pradhan of the Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education. I have made his acquaintance as a higher secondary student when I wrote the Physics Olympiad. I visited his offices (he was Assistant Director then) on the recommendation of my late Professor Prasad Iyer (in Mathematics) of Atomic Energy Junior College. He was really helpful at that time and he is still as humble and soft spoken today. He shared with students who he said were “really good with their hands” avenues such as the Olympiads and the Intel Fair. For the teachers in the audience, he also went into some detail on teaching and its modern forms. He said that project based learning was now believed to be better than Teacher based learning. He said that learning and hence the student had become more important than teaching and hence the teacher’s job was now to provide more opportunities to the student for learning. He told them that the next step is likely to be peer-to-peer learning. He urged the participants to go home and share their experiences with fellow students in their schools and in their neighborhoods.

Of all the student projects that I witnessed, I enjoyed one on rain water harvesting, one on testing water for fecal contamination using a Rs. 24 Hydrogen Sulphide strip, one on aqua robotic reconnaissance system (based partly on 26/11 terrorist strikes), one on Maglev trains (the fascinating thing about this was that they used their Nokia mobile phone battery to power the model 🙂 ), one on robotic excavation system (based on recent news of the Chile miners), an elaborate satellite-assisted coastal monitoring system (based on 26/11 terrorist strike), a system for converting plastic waste to useful substances like wax, fuel etc.

There was even a section for educators on some of the interesting ways they taught to science to students. Didn’t spend much time here as I was hungry :).