Dune (1965)

I listened to the audiobook version of Dune, the 1965 sci-fi book written by Frank Herbert.

I had started my Audible subscription to listen to non-fiction books that I could just not get through reading. I expanded it for reading science fiction and fantasy books which also tend to be really long. I thought that the audiobook format would be the perfect way to consume this content. Especially the older ones.

The story is a political thriller set in a science fictional future. If you removed the frame of a futuristic planet and interplanetary rivalries, it is just political intrigue.

I would probably watch the movie and not read the rest of the series.

Balcony Scenes

Pune skyline is red and purple. The city roads in the foreground. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

For the past few days we have been taking pics of the horizon at sunset. We have been sharing these on my Instagram account. This one had me thinking.

The horizon is beautiful in a palette of red, blue and purple. There are several mixtures of these colours in striated layers at the horizon. There are stray clouds throughout the sky. Some are black and menacing but most are white and look almost lazy. The winds carry them.

At the level of the road, I am not sure how many notice the colours mixing on the celestial canvas. I am sure a few boys and girls look up. I am also sure a few men and women also look up. Some prodded by the aforementioned boys and girls and some of their own curiosity. Some may have looked by mistake looking for metaphors to compare their loved ones.

But the streets are busy mostly. It is full of people rushing here and there. Some scooters and bikes shuttling between traffic. A few car drivers also forget they are driving four-wheelers and not two-wheelers.

But amongst this mass of people who move like an organism, you can spot a figure or two stop. This irritates the aforementioned organism. But those that stop, look up. Some of them are looking at awe at the cosmic canvas, not able to do anything but stare. Some point their smartphones and try to capture the infinite scenes in the rectangular boundary.

Not all are satisfied. No camera seems to capture the beauty quite like their eyes.

Writing a Novel

November is celebrated as National Novel Writing Month in America. It’s called NaNoWriMo for short. Although it began as a US phenomenon, it has turned into a global movement. There is growing global participation each year of authors writing every day in the month of November. They hope to write about 50,000 words in the month of November. Consistent daily writing with global accountability.

My tryst with NaNoWriMo began in 2012. I do not have any public record of this. I had emailed a bunch of people in 2012 asking if they would be my beta readers. There is no record of this novel on my private storage or on Google Drive. I seem to also not have informed these people about the status of this novel.

In 2018, I started writing chapters of a science fiction novel. I had called it One in Malayalam – Onu. I had published the chapters on Medium. Although I call them Chapters, the number of words in each was very low. I don’t think the whole thing together would qualify as a short story. I was also not sure where the story was going after Chapter 8. Hence, I abandoned that effort.

In 2019, I took to a physical notebook and started writing a nation-state fiction. The first book in the series was called William Horsborg – Life and Times. I wrote about 1200 words before I gave up on that. I will take this up again. It is a story I used to tell myself as I drew maps in a notebook as a 11 year old child. I have the stories in my head and they will not leave me in peace until I have told them.

I gave 2020 a hard pass and did not attempt NaNoWriMo.

In 2021, I had mixed feelings about writing a novel. I see-sawed between wanting to write and not wanting to write. An opportunity to write for about an hour a day opened up for me yesterday. I took the time to read the story I had written in 2018.

Although, I started writing it in the month of November, I am not counting it as an entry for NaNoWriMo 2021. But, I would like to acknowledge the part that NaNoWriMo played in remembering about writing the novel.

I am calling the novel, Return to Earth, tentatively. It is not a final title and it may change. Once each chapter is over, I will share it here and on my About page. I finished writing about 1000 words of the first chapter today morning.

Bookend November 2021

This is a post after a long time of no writing and no reading. This post is just to bookend things.

We drove back from Kerala in the first week of October. We moved rental houses within Pune in the last week of October. The strain of moving houses has been more mental than physical. For quite some time, I have not been able to read or write anything much. I have been much more active posting on Instagram.

I had intended to use the blog and write more seriously after putting out Pradeep’s Space Newsletter #28 on October 7. VM at The Wire Science re-published it on their website.

What they talk about when they talk about the GSLV?

The GSLV-F10/EOS-03 mission failed on August 12, 2021. The vehicle faced an issue in it’s third cryogenic stage.

What does ISRO mean when they say GSLV? There is a lot of confusion between the GSLV Mk I and the GSLV Mk II. The YouTuber Gareeb Scientist raised this question in a video he posted on August 8, 2021. He provides the reasons for this confusion.

I believed the first version of the story shared in Gareeb Scientist’s video. I believed that the Mk I was a reference to the GSLVs which flew with the Russian cryogenic engine, KVD-1. And, thought that the Mk II referred to the GSLV which flew with the Indian cryogenic engine, CE-7.5.

This version was shared by ISRO in the brochure of the GSLV-D3 which flew on April 15, 2010. ISRO has removed this brochure from it’s website. But, there is an archived version online as well as on the VSSC website [PDF]. Page two of this brochure carries this explanation.

The Wikipedia page for GSLV still references this explanation and describes variants in this manner. I think that this has contributed to this confusion.

ISRO seems to have changed this version of the story in 2015 in an e-book published on its website, Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet. You need an epub reader to read the book. In an essay by R V Perumal titled, Evolution of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, he mentions that the GSLV Mk I was actually a modified version of the PSLV with a cryogenic upper stage. However, since the Cryogenic Stage did not work out for the PSLV, hence the idea of the GSLV Mk I was dropped. Perumal was the Project Director for the PSLV and GSLV and later the Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC). I think I would trust this version.

Since there is no Mk I and all the flights of the GSLV are what ISRO called the Mk II project, it seems ISRO just dropped the Mk II and began calling the launch vehicle GSLV in 2017. This change is also seen on the ISRO website on the GSLV page from 2017.

The GSLV Mk III is a totally different project. I think the GSLV tag got attached to it only because it primarily delivers its payload to a geostationary transfer orbit.


Addendum – August 17, 2021

In response to this blog post @zingaroo replied on Twitter stating that ISRO had always called the GSLVs with the Russian cryogenic engines as the Mk-I and the ones with the Indian cryogenic engines as the Mk-II. He provided two examples of the same from the past.

He presents evidence from the magazine, SPACE-India April-June 2003, Page 11. Also from Gopal Raj’s book Reach for the Stars published in 2000.

It seems ISRO is also re-writing history in a way. It seems that the project started somewhere after 2010.

Does ISRO have any plans?

India’s space programme seems to be stuck in a rut.

India has three broad tracks in it’s space programme – satellites and launch vehicles programme for remote sensing, communications and navigation, planetary exploration and human spaceflight. We are trying to outsource the first to a private industry that is not prepared to handle the responsibility yet. The second is moving in slow motion. The third seems to be pushing really hard to achieve the unachievable. In the recently held, Global Space Exploration Conference 2021, Chairman, ISRO had this to say:

This is a statement that the media in India has run several times. Hence, his statement did not get any media coverage in India. ISRO is going through tough times with the spaceport under lockdown because of the large number of COVID-19 cases.

The United Arab Emirates seems to be having more ambitious planetary exploration plans than India at the moment. They are talking about two lunar missions, they have signed up for the Artemis accords and are planning to send the second astronaut to the ISS soon.

UAE has grown rich on an important natural resource, oil. This resource is limited on Earth. This has helped the nation learn important lessons in importance of natural resources for the development of the country. Hence, they want to be part of the space faring nations who get to decide how space resources are used just like OPEC controls crude oil prices on Earth.

India used to announce plans like this before. Before the Chandrayaan 1 launch, we spoke of landing humans on the Moon by 2020. While factors beyond ISRO’s control delayed the realization of these projects by years, it gave everyone a broad idea of where India was headed. Now, there is just silence in this regard.

Chairman, ISRO in his New Year message had said that the various centers had drawn up decadal plans but so far we have not seen any. When there is no action physically due to valid reasons, this is the right time to think of things. For example, China has been putting out studies about how to get humans to Mars. ISRO has been doing these studies but not publishing them.

The civilian space programme is not secretive. The idea is to use this programme to raise the morale of the workforce, inject excitement for science and commerce in the country and project India’s rising capability in the sector. This communication is an important task that is assigned to Chairman, ISRO.

My Understanding of Cryptocurrency

I am not an expert. I am using this space, my personal blog to help me understand cryptocurrency from various sources. These have been mostly international. This is not investment advice.

Each cryptocurrency is a project that solves a certain problem. Bitcoin tries to transfer value from one individual/organisation to another without the need for an intermediary. Ethereum tries to use the blockchain to build applications. Some of these applications are famous for supporting applications like NFT. Other, some other so called alt coins try to solve specific issues based on Bitcoin and Ethereum by tweaking some of the underlying mechanisms. As an example, Basic Attention Token (BAT) try to provide a part of the value companies make by monetizing people’s attention.

When I invest money in any cryptocurrency, I look at it as investing in the project. Just like you would donate to an open source project or pay for subscription. I put in money that I do not mind losing.

The utility of the blockchain and the value of the cryptocurrency are intertwined. Higher the utility of the blockchain, more the value of cryptocurrency, leading to improvements in cryptographic security, leading in turn to more utility of the blockchain. In addition to this fundamental value of the cryptocurrency, there is speculation on the price which also affects the value of the blockchain.

Bitcoin has such a high value because it is believed that the longer a blockchain has existed, better is the security and the more valuable it is. Like wine.

The world of cryptocurrency uses memes to communicate and help others understand the projects and speculate on its value.

There are efforts to use some stock market techniques to understand the speculative aspects of the cryptocurrency. There are aspects of utility of the blockchain which also affect the price of the cryptocurrency and hence may not be fully applicable.

These are some of the threads that I have in mind with respect to cryptocurrency.

My Clubhouse Experience

I’ve been spending the last few days on Clubhouse after the app became available on Android. I usually listen to YouTube videos and podcasts. These have two or three people listening at a time. Clubhouse helped me listen to multiple people.

The cultural zeitgeist of the times point towards many Malayalis thronging to Clubhouse. There were a lot more rooms with people talking in Malayalam than English. I started listening to these conversations on Clubhouse. It felt great to listen to others talking in your language.

I found the Malayalee Club, Barcamp Kerala club, Kerala Ohari Vipani (Kerala Stock Exchange) club and even a few car enthusiasts.

Clubhouse only has audio. There is no chat option. Hence, I’ve seen everything from Instagram DMs, WhatsApp groups and Telegram chats being used to share links and pics that people were not able to share on Clubhouse itself. But, I saw people doing their best to not have to use these other platforms. Clubhouse could make content accessible to a group of people who cannot read the written word.

I’ve seen my own behavior mirror my behavior offline and other online fora. I’m mostly a lurker and a listener. In the first week or so, I spent close to 18-20 hours. It helped that D was away at her parent’s place. When she got back, I limited it to working hours. I have seen people use music during working hours but I feel listening to people who talk helps me better than music does.

I guess listening people talk gives me the experience of being in office. You catch snippets of what people say. It gives me a connect unlike anything I have experienced. It helps me focus on work better.

There are a lot of music related rooms which has people playing many kinds of music (lo-fi is the most popular) and has people singing if that is the kind of thing you are into.

Things are not all that rosy, though. Being on Clubhouse has destroyed all of my other information consumption patterns. I had stopped going on Twitter, listening to podcasts and reading my books. I am slowly getting back on track. But, the going has been slow and hard.