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.

Talk by R Navalgund

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on March 01, 2011. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I went to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) on Monday to hear the National Science Day Public Lecture organised by TIFR and the TIFR Alumni Association. The talk was delivered by Ragunath Navalgund, Director, Space Applications Center, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

At the welcoming address, the TIFR Director gave us a brief about how the day, February 28 had come to being celebrated as National Science Day. He said it was the day that C V Raman had submitted the manuscript which talked about the Raman Effect for the first time. The discovery of the Effect gave Raman a Nobel Prize and is still one of the most renowned discovery by an Indian scientist. He said further that Raman used to give public talks on science in a manner which was understandable to the general public. This is perhaps one of the first examples of science outreach by an Indian scientist. The day was later adopted by the Government of India to be called National Science Day. At TIFR, the day was celebrated by lectures from prominent alumni members.

R Navalgund then gave the Director a copy of the lunar atlas with pictures from the Chandrayaan-I spacecraft. I was thinking of nicking it!

Navalgund began his talk titled, “Remote Sensing of the Earth and the Moon” by talking about remote sensing in general. He defined it and explained how it was different from “seeing with our eyes”. He explained the difference as being sensing in various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum other than just visible light like our eyes. The results are in the form of data sets which are then converted into images. He explained that remote sensing was done from various platforms – low-Earth orbit and geo-stationary orbits depending on their applications.

He moved on to various types of sensing – active and passive and then explained the various techniques of remote sensing. He showed the push-broom type, the pixel-by-pixel type, the synthetic aperture radar and the hyperspectral imaging.

He talked about how various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum could be studied in individual bands interacted with objects on the ground and how these could help in providing useful information. As an example, he talked about studying leaves with red light and near infra red light to understand if leaves were healthy or mature. This data helped in providing the Government a plausible estimate of the healthy plants in the country well before the harvesting period. Similar studies were done in various spectrum for hydrology, cryosphere, forest cover, atmosphere and oceans to provide similar information. Information involved ground water levels, forest covers, smogs, possible fishing zones, crop health prediction and yield.

He then moved on to the remote sensing of the Moon. He showed the various types of craters and features like the central peaks of craters and impact melts. He also showed pictures from the recently discovered lava tube.

The interesting points though came out in the question and answer session. Answering questions by students from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Navalgund came out with quite a few interesting points that were unknown. Speaking on India’s participation in the International Space Station (ISS), he said that there was an informal agreement on the possibility of India conducting experiments on the ISS. He said that the discussions were currently on in this regard. The experiments, he said, would relate to the study of green house gases. He said Indian institutions would have to provide a proposal for these experiments and some would also come from within ISRO. Answering another question on the Human Spaceflight Programme, he said that all the designs, approvals and paper work was done. The Programme had got an in-principle nod from the Indian cabinet. Discussions were currently on as to how to implement the programme. The two ideas included doing the testing in a single shot or testing the elements individually as done with Space Re-entry Experiment (SRE). He said the programme was in this phase currently. Answering a question I posed, he shocked me by saying that data from the Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC) and Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI) have been made available online. Srinivas found the website for me, it is here. Navalgund explained that the images were released only after 1 year to aid the investigations done by principal investigators who were the primary users of the data. He said that NASA had separately released the data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3). On Mars, Navalgund said that the plans were currently in drawing board phase and currently, India only had capability to do a flyby or orbiter programme indigenously.

My friend, Srinivas asked the question about why India’s CHACE instrument was not given the credit for the lunar water discovery as much as M3 or even Mini-SAR. Navalgund replied that the instrument did have a short operation span and did find spectrum peaks for water, carbon dioxide and other elements. He said a lot of time was spent on calibrating the data properly. This was a long drawn process which possibly led to the CHACE losing out on the credit for the water discovery.

I also met a member of the newly joined Google Lunar X Prize team, Team Indus at the lecture.