Snow Storm 2/5-2/6

Sunday, 14 February 2010 13:04 by salim

This is the first of the record breaking snow storm.

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Categories:   Nature | Secret Garden
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NASA and the Moon

Wednesday, 3 February 2010 01:54 by salim

After the announcement of 2011 budget by Obama administration, a lot of people who love science, technology and space travel (like me) has been complaining about the lack of funding to NASA to pursue the back to moon program. These comments were anywhere from mild protests to complete denouncement.

I got to thinking! Is NASA the right place to innovate? It is basically a huge bureaucratic conglomerate involved in everything from Defense research to space flight. It is completely dependent on the government to fund, which, in turn has a very low tolerance to failures. Over the years, it has made NASA into this overly protective, extremely secretive organization with very low risk thresholds. It is not the bunch of mavericks from the 60s who were driven by the nationalist agenda of beating USSR.

On the other hand, I do not think the commercial ventures are going to be the way either. There is still a lot of basic research and technology development needed in space travel. The current industrial climate, which only rewards quick money making schemes with a potentially prolonged recession is not the most conducive of such research to be undertaken in private sector.

May be what we need is a global agency that operates in a very transparent way. Currently national space agencies work in extremely secretive manner. This causes a lot of duplication (reinventing the wheel) and sub-optimal production processes. If there was a global agency, even with a fraction of the money that all the nations spend on space research, we could have achieved much more. Especially if the agency works in a transparent manner with as much participation from everyone.

There is also the question of manned versus robotic missions. Here too, I am not sure which one is better. It is true there are so many things a human being can do on the surface of mars than a robot like Sprit or Opportunity. But, there are a lot of things a robot like the MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) can do that no human beings could ever. Our robotic and remote sensing capabilities are growing exponentially (sadly powered by the wars) and there are a lot of things a robot can do that human beings cannot in remote planets. For e.g. I would be more excited to hear the mission to Europa to explore the underlying ocean (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1786) like Endurance.

But again, is space research the right priority? We are still struggling to get a consensus on climate change and how to resolve it. Going to mars is a very good thing. Going to Alpha Centauri phenomenal. But I am sure we can wait a few more decades to do all that. They are not going to go away.

Will knowing about life in other planets finally make us think more rationally? Most of the religions will have a problem to accommodate extraterrestrial life. Undermining religion is always a good thing. May be, it is worth to look for ET.

Laws of Nature as God

Sunday, 8 November 2009 23:06 by salim

I have been reading a few books/articles the past week about world views, universe, God etc. In many of these, a repeating meme is Laws of Nature as an absolute, external phenomenon.

For e.g., two of them talk about Einstein’s statement about God being the laws of universe. In another one the author uses the fact that if the initial conditions of the universe just after big bang was just a bit off, we would be in a radically different world.

One thing, I think, we tend to forget is that, all these laws, mathematical equations and a priory assumptions about universe is our way of coping with reality. These are artifacts that we use to understand nature around us. Reality does not need to “obey” any of these rules. It just that, our observations tend to show that, interpretations according to our laws – the artifacts we use to describe nature – seem to be consistent.

At any point in time of human history, these laws are limited by our observations, and our logical and intellectual capacity to understand them. A good example is the presence of singularities and their usual side effect, black holes. Our current laws are incapable of describing this phenomenon, so we do not have a law for it. It doesn’t mean singularities do not “obey” the laws of universe, rather, it shows WE do not have a law to describe and understand it.

Nature – universe – on the other hand just exists, irrespective of what we think and what laws we formulate about it. There is no requirement for the universe to have uniform behavior and/or existence throughout its history and expanse. It is just convenient for us to assume that it is so.

So, when someone says that their god is synonymous with the laws of nature, it just means that their god is a manufactured artifact they use to feel comfortable.

For me, I am quite comfortable not knowing everything about the universe!

Categories:   Religion | Science | Nature
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The Rainy Rainy Fall

Thursday, 29 October 2009 00:58 by salim

This probably is the rainiest fall that I have seen after coming to the US. But, coming from one of the rainiest place in earth, I have always had very different feeling towards rain than most of my colleagues and friends here.

Kerala gets an average of 3000 MM of rain an year mostly from two monsoons. One of the main things that fascinated me when I first came here was the very distinct seasons. Back in Kerala we have only two seasons. The rainy season (monsoon from June to November) when it rains all the time and the dry season when it rains only every other day.

The South-west monsoon comes to Kerala almost always the day when schools open after midsummer vacation (one of those British legacies which we still continue for reasons beyond my comprehension, but that is in another post). The correlation is actually uncanny. If the government decides postpone the school opening for any reason, the monsoon will also get postponed! Anyways, when it starts, it rains for several days without a gap. One of the main things between the monsoon and the rain is the noise level. Well, I wouldn’t quite classify it as noise. It is very loud, but it is also quite rhythmic and sometimes even melodic.

When I listen to rain, even here, I try to identify the different sounds it makes when it falls on different surfaces. Each kind of leaf has a very distinct sound when the rain drips falls on it. The long tender closely weaved coconut leaves makes an almost hissing sound. The huge oily Taro leaves makes a very bass ringy tone. The leaves of jackfruit tree makes a sound almost like a kettle drum (well more like a Chenda). it is like a huge percussion orchestra. May be that is how we got our affinity towards percussion.

The rain while continue unabated for several days, it changes it intensity from time to time. Almost like waves. The sound rise and fall periodically. Sometimes, the rain becomes almost a shower and the rhythm becomes very truncated. Soon, there will be a rumble, almost like a train coming from a distance… the next wave of rain. One can feel it comes closer and closer, soon the sound engulfs everything else. Yet another wave….

Sometimes I do miss the monsoon rain. So, these periods of fall rain, while much less in strength makes me feel home.

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Categories:   Nature | Self
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I love singing insects

Sunday, 9 August 2009 20:41 by salim

Crickets and Cicadas are always a fond memory to me. In the rainy nights at home in Kerala (which is most of the year) they sing incessantly. Any memory I have of my childhood nights are accompanied with their singing.

So, finding the same song here was quite refreshing. Here too, their song is starting to burn in my mind with so many memories. Some good, some bad.

Today they are so loud and prompted me to do some reading about them. I found two very interesting sites about cicada. One is http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/.

Here is an amazing video of the 17 year cicada emergence. It is wonderful.

Well, I am once again humbled by these small creatures, and glad that I have their voice to guide me through all those memories.

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