Visit to the temple built by a sweet shop owner

I finally managed to graduate from my bachelors course in Mechanical Engineering. As congratulations poured in, some of my close relatives also let me know of their prayers and their expectations of my fulfilling them. The first one that I heard of was -“the most famous Ganapati temple in Pune”. Although this relative told me the name of this temple, I could not remember it no matter how hard I tried. Even while writing the title of this post, I could not remember the name of the temple without referring to my searches for the temple on Google.

While asking friends about the temple I continuously asked about the “temple built by a sweet owner” and they got it and named the temple. Despite several repetitions, I was not able to remember the name of the Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple.The temple was built by a sweet shop owner, on the advice of the guru a year after the death of a son.

I decided to go on Sunday – for no foreseeable reason. In the morning, I woke up later than I wanted to and then left for the bus stand after a breakfast of upma.I went to the Maitri Park stop and hoped to catch Shivneri (an air-conditioned bus that travels between Pune and Mumbai at 15 minute intervals). I looked for the ticket counter when a co-passenger suggested that I talk to the conductor and buy a ticket from him. Chance encounter – good advise. I asked the conductor if it was possible to buy the ticket directly – when he said yes, I leapt in.

The early morning wake up, even though it was late, meant that I wanted some sleep. The air conditioned environs and an empty co-passengers seat meant I could sleep well. I woke up once or twice but had good sleep all the way till Pune. There, aided by Google Maps, I got off at Shivajinagar, Pune and took a rickshaw to the temple.

The auto rickshaw driver was helpful to give me directions to get to the temple as I got off. I took one picture of the sideways of the temple – a multi-storeyed structure with intricate stone and wood work. It almost seemed like a Palace. But, the temple looked totally out of place in its locality. It also has an open structure whereby the idol is seen from the road and is open to a 180 degrees field of view. The queue was small probably because it was late morning on a Sunday and the hawkers didn’t trouble you and the persons who kept your shoe were kind and polite. As I walked in, prayed and sat down for some time soaking in the surroundings, I think I liked this open structure compared to the closed and fortress like Siddhivinayak. The temple is known to be very powerful and you felt it when you sat there. I wasn’t able to sit cross-legged or did not try. There were kind devotees who shared laddus. Inside, there was no push for you to pray fast and move. Everyone prayed at their own speed and in their own styles.

I enjoyed the temple and will probably go there every time I visit Pune.

PSLV C-16 mission successful

Dr Kasturirangan, former ISRO Chairman described today’s successful PSLV-C16 mission the best. “Thank you for a wonderful though tense 18 minutes”. At the end of the 18 minutes, all the stages of the PSLV hadperformed very well and placed in orbit 3 satellites – RESOURCESAT-2, YOUTHSAT and XSat.

This, the first launch of 2011 was done under some tremendous pressures to get it right. This Forbes article that came out a day ago best summarizes the trouble that ISRO has had beginning all the way from the failed GSLV launch in April 2010. The only positive in the last one year has been the PSLV launch. This put extra pressure on the PSLV team to perform well.

Today morning began with this report in the Times of India regarding the GSLV failure of December, 2010. The report implicates a design flaw in the GSLV’s payload fairing which caused the fairing to deform and caused the connectors to snap. This led to a loss of computer control of the four strap-on boosters of the GSLV which caused it to veer off track. The vehicle disintegrated even as the Range Safety Officer destroyed the vehicle for purposes of safety. I thought this could not be a great way to start a launch day! However, these words spoken by Madhavan Nair made sense: “A successful flight of the GSLV is not an impossibility”. Now that we had a fix on what the problem was, it could be corrected and we could have a GSLV flight later this year or early next year.

I was as tense as ever and was surfing the channels and keeping a watch on my twitter account and looking at webcasts which many people had requested a link to. The webcast seemed down although Doordarshan flashed a message about the time when the transmission from Sriharikota would begin – 9:40 am. As the message flashed, the webcast came back online even though it was running through news reports.

As the national channel of Doordarshan went through the documentary about the testing and integrations of the PSLV and the satellites, I kept tweeting the minutes to lift-off at ten minute intervals. By this time I was really tense! The PSLV stood majestically on the launch pad. Close to 14 minutes, the Automatic Launch Sequence was started and the rocket went completely under computer control. 3 minutes…the tension in my living room seemed comparable to the tension in the mission control. The former ISRO chiefs and Russian and Singaporean delegates looked anxiously and seemed to talk to avoid tension of silence. The check out was being read in the south Indian accent in the background – perhaps to provide some comic relief.

As the countdown started 10 … 9 … 8 ……. 3 … 2… 1, the mood in my living room and mission control went into silence as the PSLV rose in splendour and rose above the launch pad. I remembered the GSLV launch and was praying that the PSLV would not lose altitude and fall into the Bay. But, it rose and rose until it went into a cloud bank and erupted out as a round of applause went throughout the room as the Air-lit strap-on boosters fired on cue. Throughout its major timeline events – Stage 1 seperation, Stage 2 ignition, heat shield seperation, Stage 2 seperation, Stage 3 ignition, Stage 3 seperation, Stage 4 ignition, RESOURCESAT-2 deployment and YOUTHSAT and XSat deployments, the mission almost followed the mission plan.

It was all smiles in the Mission Control and at home, as ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan congratulated his team members and immediately went to meet M G K Menon and Kasturirangan who had smiles on their faces. Afterward, as the Minister of State spoke or the former ISRO Chairmen spoke or as the Directors of the Center and the PSLV Mission Director spoke, there was a huge smile and a great sense of relief in everyone’s faces. Conspicuous by his absence was former ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair who was the first Mission Director of the PSLV.

As they began to break up, the clamor from my brother grew because he wanted to play on the computer. I just felt relief. I am sure this was a great confidence booster for ISRO. I hope they will use this boost to work positively towards the other 3 launches scheduled for this year and the various other projects that ISRO has jam packed throughout 2011. There is now a huge backlog for ISRO to clear. And as Kasturirangan said, Thank You, ISRO for a wonderful and tense 18 minutes today morning.

Two Interesting Videos from India

I am sure you have heard of the brilliant TED and TEDx conferences. The talks provided here are a wonderful stream of information that I usually share with friends on my facebook and twitter channels. I listen to these talks during my early morning walks. Today morning, I had the opportunity to hear two wonderful talks.

The first one is by Dr. Vishwajeet Kumar

TEDxChange – Vishwajeet Kumar

This one handles the question of child care after birth and how innovative solutions were suggested by the community in rural Uttar Pradesh. The main thrust is the special scenario in India which makes it vital to involve the community in changing medical practices and how small changes can make a big difference.

The second video is by Manoj Kumar:

TEDxChange – Manoj Kumar

This video concerns a new form of data collection that collects data by talking to mothers and learning of various connections between practices and social concerns.

Swimming Pool in Chembur

I have been around in Chembur since 1992 or so. Since then, the town has changed a lot. The municipal swimming facility in Chembur, now called General Arun Kumar Vaidya Swimming Pool. This was part of the overall naming and renaming exercise undertaken by the right-wing Shiv Sena which swept into power in 1994 in the state of Maharashtra. I do not recollect what this pool was called before being named so.

My experience in this swimming pool has not been great. When I tried to learn swimming here as a kid my skin got discolored and as a result I lost interest in swimming. From then on, I have passed in front of the pool several times without caring to learn its proper name (something I am interested in but not of importance since people just call it Swimming Pool). Hence for a very long time, this pool and its activities didn’t have my interest.

Recently, there was a news report in the local newspaper, Mumbai Mirror reported that there was a danger that the pool may be handed over to private parties through improper channels. The pool has apparently not been used for the past two years and the municipal corporation is spending approximately Rs. 16 lakhs. The picture is murky and RTI activists are digging for information.

This revived an interest in swimming and also revived an urge to spread the word about what was happening to this public space. The first thing to do was to find out what it is called. The above report swaps the names of the two pools at Chembur and Kandivali. The one at Chembur is called the General  Arunkumar Vaidya taran talav. An interest arose in learning more about the General and I reached the Bharat Rakshak website and found the information I was looking for.

The General has served India during the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971 and as Chief of Army Staff he planned Operation Bluestar. Like Indira Gandhi who ordered the Operation, the General was also assassinated for his role in the Operation in Pune in 1986. The General was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra and the Padma Vibhushan.

Interestingly, in the early 2000s, a Sikh businessman operated his hotel out of the premises when the swimming pool was in the name of the General. I am not sure if he knew about the General or his role in the Operation. The hotel did not have good food and so even that didn’t provide me a reason to go there. It inevitably closed operations. Now, the fore ground of the swimming pool is being used for parking vehicles.

PSLV-C16 ready for lift-off on April 20

So, this ISRO press release was posted on the web on April 17, 2011 which stated that the Launch Authorisation Board has given the green signal to the scientists and engineers to proceed with the launch on April 20, 2011. As per press reports, this Launch Authorisation Board is a bunch of people who come and inspect the launch vehicle and spacecrafts and ensure everything looks okay and then give the thumbs up.

Thence, engineers and scientists spring into action and in ISRO’s words –

During the Count Down, propellant-filling operations of the liquid propellant second stage (PS2) and fourth stage (PS4) of the launch vehicle will be carried out. Mandatory checks on the launch vehicle and spacecraft – including charging of batteries and pressurisation of propellant tanks will be performed. Readiness of launch infrastructure such as tracking radar systems and communication networks will also be checked.

The countdown, does not start at 15 seconds before the lift-off. It actually starts 54 hours before lift-off and that is when all the things described above takes place. So, the lift off will begin around 4 am (IST) on April 18, 2011.

ISRO scientists and engineers have been a worried lot. Two of their rockets have fallen into the Bay of Bengal and their top brass have been embroiled in a “scam” that it has never witnessed before. Word is that ISRO is taking extra precautions on this one. Some are even saying that ISRO is in a mess. The PSLV has so far had a great track record and they are pinning their expectations on this vehicle to mark the turning point in its fortunes in the past few months. Whatever others might say, I believe that ISRO engineers will give it their best shot.

ISRO has not written or aggregated information about the various satellites in one place and I thought I could do that here and use it as a reference, just in case. So, first we look at our main payload – Resourcesat-2:

RESOURCESAT-2 is a follow on mission to RESOURCESAT-1 to provide data continuity to Indian and global users. It carries three optical Remote sensing payloads, LISS-3, LISS-4 & AWIFS. It also carries additional AO payload known as AIS (Automatic Information System) from COMDEV, Canada as an experimental payload for ship surveillance in VHF band to derive position, speed and other information of ships. Compared to RESOURCESAT-1, LISS-4 multi-spectral swath has been enhanced from 23 km to 70 km based on user needs. Suitable changes including miniaturisation in payload electronics have been incorporated in RESOURCESAT-2. The satellite is slated for launch during first quarter of 2011.

Then we look at the Indo-Russian collaboration, YOUTHSAT:
In recent years, it has been realised that there is a need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the complex processes of the ionosphere-thermosphere system including its response to the various external forces such as solar radiation during active space weather conditions so as to reach a level of predictive capability. One of the most important aspects still to be understood is the temporal and spatial variability in electron density distribution over the low and equatorial latitudes, and the role of certain large scale neutral and plasma processes therein. To address these issues related to the cause, i.e. solar variability and effect, thermosphere-ionosphere changes, an Indo Russian satellite mission ‘YOUTHSAT’ is planned, which is scheduled to be launched in the first quarter of 2011.Apart from the Russian payload SOLRAD for monitoring the solar X- and g rays fluxes, two Indian payloads: a dual frequency beacon payload for ionospheric tomography named RaBIT (Radio Beacon for Ionospheric Tomography) and an airglow imaging payload namely LiVHySI (Limb Viewing Hyper Spectral Imager), will be onboard this satellite. These two Indian payloads have been developed and undergoing different stages of tests and evaluations at VSSC/SAC/ISAC respectively.For the RaBIT experiment, the already existing CRABEX ground network to receive the beacon signals will be extended to stations located in Russia in the polar latitudes. This would make this receiver chain to be the longest in the world, enabling development of ionospheric tomograms spanning equator to the North Pole.Through the LiVHySI experiment, simultaneous altitudinal profiles of a range of airglow emissions (Hyper Spectral) emanating from the atmosphere between 80-600km altitudes and their spatial distribution across the globe will be obtained. These profiles, in conjunction with the tomograms and solar flux measurements, will help us in understanding and quantifying various chemical, neutral and electro-dynamical processes prevalent in the ionosphere-thermosphere system. 

The last one is on the Singaporean XSat-1:

This is a developmental project undertaken by CREST (Centre For Research in Satellite Technologies) with partners such as CRISP (Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing, NUS), and overseas collaborators (SaTReCi, ISRO, DLR, DTU etc.).


The XSAT project objectives are:
(1) To develop a low cost micro-satellite bus capable of performing remote sensing operation in near real-time scenarios
(2) To build-up in country capability (resources and facilities) in satellite engineering
(3) To promote academic interest for R&D in this areaThe two bits about RESOURCESAT-2 and YOUTHSAT are from the ISRO Annual Report 2010-11 and the information on XSat-1 is from here.

Best of luck, team ISRO!

Chai and Why?: Genetricks

Today was the first time that I went to Ruparel College for a session of Chai and Why?, TIFR’s public outreach programme (fascinatingly, they have a Facebook page but nothing on their own website!). This one was titled, “GENETrICkS” and was given by Sonal on developmental genetics.

After a description of basic genetics and the wonderful play of the genes that gives rise to the field of developmental genetics Sonal went into the fascinating “fluorescent revolution in biology”. What this did was make her study of genes much easier. She also described the brainbow mouse which is definitely worth searching and reading through.

The TIFR team also announced the up and coming Chai and Whys. The next one is titled “Mathematics and Origami”. This is on May 1 which has this phrase inserted –

and in practical applications such as unfolding space telescopes and solar sails

which makes me really itch and want to go! 

Is there a post-industrial political party in India?

Mine is a very naive understanding of Indian politics but it is certainly something that I have been thinking about in the recent past. Wikipedia defines post-industrial society thus:

If a nation becomes “post-industrial” it passes through, or dodges, a phase of society predominated by a manufacturing-based economy and moves on to a structure of society based on the provision of information, innovation, finance, and services.

From where I’m sitting India has certainly done this after the liberalisation of the economy in 1991. For the years that followed, political parties certainly had a hard time in handling the economy and society that emerged after that. In the 20 years since, I do not think any political party has emerged that understands and targets the problems such a society creates. The problems have nevertheless grown. The problem can be seen in manufacturing and agricultural sector. This is the place where people are struggling.

One of the most successful post industrial political party has been the center-right Bharatiya Janata Party. However, this party too has not groked the post-industrial society entirely. So, is there a post-industrial political party in India?

ISRO Annual Report – Space Access Component

ISRO’s Single Person Multiple Post Situation

The Parliamentary Estimates Committee asked ISRO Chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan whether it was legal for him to be holding 4 positions – Chairman, ISRO; Chairman, Space Comission; Secretary, Department of Space and Chairman, Antrix Corporation. It seems to be legal since every Chairman since Vikram Sarabhai has held these posts since the 1960s.

The question raises an interesting point. This may be a special arrangement done for high technology departments in the 1960s like the nuclear Department of Atomic Energy to enable easy and quick decision making and also enable smoother functioning. It remains to be seen if this has been misused.

This ‘concentration of power’ has never seemingly been questioned before. The mixture of the failure of GSLV and the Antrix-DEVAS deal seems to have brought this question to the fore.

This multiplicity of posts may have been created to satisfy Government requirements. However, having one person in charge may cause problems related to transparency, accountability and decision making.