Kerala Ginger Curry (Inji Curry) Recipe

Image of ginger curry

Ginger Curry

Ginger Curry or Inji Curry in Malayalam is perhaps the tastiest of all curries in Kerala cuisine. According to legends, a good ginger curry is equivalent to 1000 curries.  Vararuchi was a brahmin in ancient Kerala. He used to travel to distant places and during his trips he used to have food from the Brahmin families he visited in those places. One day he visited a house and was attracted to the daughter of the family. He however wanted to test her before he proposed his interest to marry her. So he asks her to prepare him food with 1000 curries.

The girl’s mother was baffled because she thought it was impossible to prepare 1000 curries in such a short time. However, the clever girl asked her not to worry and prepared Inji Curry. Vararuchi was very impressed with the meal that consisted of rice and just Ginger Curry. Since then Ginger Curry is said to be equivalent to 1000 curries.

If you are interested in preparing this legendary dish as it is prepared in my native Quilon (Kollam) district, then here is how you can do it.

Ingredients

  • 100 gm of ginger (peeled and cut in small, thin pieces)
  • 15 large shallots (peeled and cut in small, thin pieces)
  • 6 green chillies (cut in small pieces)
  • Tamarind of the size of a small Indian Gooseberry (Amla)
  • 6 garlics (peeled and cut in small pieces)
  • 15 curry leaves
  • Asafoetida (1 cm diameter piece)
  • Pepper powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Fenugreek

Preparation

  • Put the tamarind in water and stir until it becomes a juice.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a pan and deep fry the ginger pieces until golden brown and set aside.
  • Repeat the procedure with the shallots.
  • Repeat the procedure with the 15 curry leaves and 6 garlics.
  • Once all the fried items have cooled down, you have to mix them and grind them into a paste by adding a little water.
  • Filter the oil that you have used for frying and use it again to fry a small piece of asafoetida. Once fried, you have to powder it.
  • Heat the mustard in the same oil after you have taken out the asafoetida.
  • Once the mustard starts popping reduce the flame and add 2 spoons of coriander powder and 1 spoon of red chilli powder to it. Immediately after that add the paste that you had prepared before. Make sure that there is no more than 2 seconds delay since the chilli powder may get burned out.
  • Once you have stirred it well, add the tamarind juice along with salt and two pinches of fenugreek.
  • Add powdered asafoetida and pepper to this.

This is the Kollam style ginger curry. Try it out and let me know how it tastes. This can be a side dish for both rice as well as drinks.

Image Courtesy:

Lazzy Cook (http://lazzycook.blogspot.in)

Mars One – Aren’t We Going Too Fast?

Mars One is perhaps the hottest news in the aerospace and astrophysics fields. It gives hope to our species as a next step in becoming in a multi-planet civilization. This highly ambitious project of landing groups of brave men and women on the red planet does however have its fair share of critics some of whom include researchers at MIT and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. So I am curious to ask. Aren’t we going too fast with this project? Is 2024 the right time for human settlement in Mars?

Lessons from the Past

Every space mission prior to this have had several trial runs. For example the lunar missions involved first sending an orbiter around the moon followed by impactors/landers. While America went onto send humans to the moon the Soviet Union did unmanned sample returns. So it is clear that space missions to any celestial body should be done in stages.

NASA and other space agencies including India and Japan have achieved orbiting and landing capabilities on other celestial bodies. Therefore unmanned missions to Mars with the capability of returning samples from Mars in my opinion should be the next stage. Russia in 2011 attempted the Fobos-Grunt which was a sample return mission to the satellite of Mars called Phobos. The failure of the mission to even leave the Earth orbit proves how difficult it would be to pull off ambitious space programs.

When we talk about Mars missions, most of us only look at the success stories. We must all take a look at the number of Mars missions by both America and the Soviet Union which failed.

The Challenges

The challenges involved in long term spaceflight are quite different compared to missions to Earth orbit or even to the Moon. The biggest challenge is communication. Calculations show that the time delay for radio signals between Earth and Mars can vary from 3 minutes to up to 22 minutes depending on the position of the two planets at any given time. This makes all sorts of “real time” communication known to us useless. It is possible to have a web server orbiting around Mars that periodically synchronizes with servers on Earth. That way a copy of the world wide web can be provided for the astronauts in Mars. Emails can also be taken care with this solution.

However, the early astronauts going to Mars are not going there to use YouTube and Facebook. Their mission can go critical anytime and the time delay between the two planets will make a distress call an impossibility. Further, even if distress call does reach Earth, there is no way a rescue team can be sent and by the time a communication is sent back, the mishap could have already occurred.

This brings us to the second challenge – training. What type of training can equip a person to handle critical situations in an alien environment with no hope of getting help? Can the team be divided in qualifications or should every team member have all the qualifications. I remember one of my previous professors who said that a degree in medical sciences is important for every astronauts going to Mars despite their work. So dual degree specializations like engineering + medicine or physics + medicine should in his opinion become part of learning curriculum for astronauts to Mars. The justification he gave was that no crew would want to be in a situation where their only doctor is dead.

But is medicine the only compulsory specialization? How about instrumentation? Shouldn’t the astronauts who wishes to colonize Mars be masters in instrumentation? Teaching every crew member in everything will increase the cost and not teaching would be risky. So there is a tradeoff between cost and risk. According to Mars One website, the crew will undergo training starting this year until 2024. That is a total of 9 years training. It would be amazing if the crew does survive that training.

The Return

Some candidates selected for Mars One have told that many English people migrated to Australia and never returned. That may be true, but if they really want to return to England they can do that tomorrow. Christopher Columbus did return to Spain after his voyage to the West Indies. Vasco da Gama did return to Portugal after his voyage to India.

I am not being paranoid but let me give a scenario. Like in many science fiction movies, what if there is a life form on Mars that we haven’t yet found? What if this life form infects humans in negative ways? In such scenarios, the uninfected/unaffected crew members must have an option to escape the planet.

There is a difference between being brave and being foolhardy. A mission to Mars is amazing. But it shouldn’t be a suicide mission and definitely not a one-way trip. Even if the intention is to colonize the planet the crew members should have a chance to return home if the mission fails. And when it comes to Mars missions, the past teaches us that failure is part and parcel of it.

The Right Method

With all the problems described above, going to Mars is certainly the most risky and the most costly exploration program ever conceived. As Dr. Tyson already pointed out, private companies aren’t interested in investing in an endeavor with so many unknown parameters and huge risk. According to him this can cause Mars One to fail to get funding.

Should we then abandon the mission? Of course not! We are explorers by nature. Mars One or any other similar missions should never be abandoned. However, there must be some tweaks done to the existing methodology. As I said before, it should be done in stages. The following is a rough sketch of what can be done.

  • Sample Return – All space agencies in the world including the private ones should at least try one unmanned mission that involves going to Mars, taking samples and returning them to Earth. The more such missions we try, the better equipped we will become in preparing for a human spaceflight. This will also teach us about landing and take off with heavy payload on Mars.
  • Manned Orbiter Missions – It is a good idea to send a manned orbiter mission around Mars. Astronauts can spend a few orbits around the planet and return. This will simulate all the necessary physiological and psychological aspects in deep space missions. simulate long term manned spaceflight by send humans in an orbit around the Sun.
  • Space Stations – Orbiting space stations around Mars is a solution to the safety and return problem. The backup crew can live in the space station while the landing party conducts their business. Further, the landing party can come aboard the space station for the backup crew to go down. This will ensure better efficiency. In addition, during distress, the entire mission is not at risk. Perhaps a secondary landing party can be deployed to investigate problems. At least there will be one person to come back and tell the story.
  • Data Banks – Huge data banks with information crafted by specialists from around the world should form the primary reference of the astronauts in addition to the internet facility that I mentioned before. Every possible scenario involving medicine, engineering, planetary geology, biotechnology etc. that the astronauts might find themselves in should be thought out and the solutions must be given. It may take months, years or even decades to develop. But it needs to be done nevertheless.

Conclusion

Though a huge fan of Mars missions, I think we as a species are still not equipped with the technological prowess to pull off a manned trip like Mars One. I certainly believe that we are going too fast with the Mars One mission. 2024 is only 9 years away and we still haven’t fully understood the effects of long term manned space missions in deep space. The only data we have are from long term space station missions and the psychological impacts on the astronauts and cosmonauts who spend a long time in space are not that good. A well planned and well coordinated effort is the way to go. There is no need to rush. There is no space race between any superpowers these days.

References

Mars Orbiter Mission – The Journey Ahead

Mars Orbiter Mission - "Mangalyaan"

Mars Orbiter Mission – “Mangalyaan” (Artist’s Impression)

It makes me proud to write the sequel to the article I had written on 5th November 2013, the day India launched her first mission to Mars. The remarkable level of precision achieved by ISRO scientists while inserting the Mars Orbiter spacecraft also known as Mangalyaan into orbit this morning shows the technological prowess that the country has achieved ever since it started its space programme.

Today as ISRO is celebrating its most critical success, I can’t help but remember the scene from the film Contact where Eleanor Arroway played by Jodie Foster talks about what it means to be a visionary. Seeing far into the future is the mark of all visionaries especially those working on space programmes. It takes a lot of thinking to stop oneself from asking the question, “Will this help common people?” I was asked the same question back on 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider was started. Whether scientific endeavors help people immediately is not the right question to ask in my opinion.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous writings, it is hard to predict what would come out of a new scientific project. For example, nobody knew that nonstick frying pans, PET Scans, WiFi and other things that make our lives more meaningful would come out of research in space sciences and technology. These are things that came as spinoffs while scientists worked on various space related projects. Thus there is no way we can disregard endeavors into space just because they are too expensive.

MOM Mission Summary (Image by ISRO)

MOM Mission Summary (Image by ISRO)

Since I mentioned expense, the MOM is actually less expensive compared to the Mars missions of other countries such as the USA and the former Soviet Union. Even our neighbor who recently had the audacity to declare hostility to us after a bilateral meeting failed to achieve what we have. Even though the mission is less expensive with a small payload, I think we should look at it as a stepping stone to greater missions.

MOM has made India the only country that succeeded in a Mars mission in the first attempt. It won’t be enough to just admire our scientists on a blog post like this but I have to do it nevertheless. Now that we know how to put a satellite around Mars, the next logical step obviously would be to make a landing. But before going that far we must launch more satellite-like missions. Also I think we should try missions that are similar to the Phobos-Grunt of Russia. The ability to bring back samples from such a far away place should be the next stage in our space programme. Returning to Earth is also important for human missions to Mars. Settlement is one thing but the ability to return to Earth equally important

Since we are developing our indigenous lunar rover, we will also be able to develop a Mars rover like the ones used by NASA. So, looking into the future, I can say that we will soon be able to achieve whatever USA and USSR did during the Cold War era. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the level of success of future missions by ISRO would be even greater than what was achieved by the cold warring nations considering the advancements in technology.

PSLV - The workhorse of Indian Space Programme

PSLV – The workhorse of Indian Space Programme

What more can we think about? Will there be a human spaceflight to Mars by ISRO? Will we overtake NASA before 2030? A quick look at the ISRO website and Wikipedia will reveal that India is indeed taking deep space missions seriously. Next year the solar mission called Aditya – 1 and a mission to Venus is planned by ISRO. And there are preparations already underway for a human spaceflight of a crew of two. And of course there is the Chandrayaan – 2, which as I mentioned before will use a rover.

Thus the time is not far before Indian astronauts walk the surface of Moon and Mars and also venture into the far reaches of deep space. To quote Star Trek, “To boldly go where no one has gone before” will be and should be the motto of our future endeavors into space. As we advance into a high-tech future social issues such as poverty and war would cease to exist as we become a technologically advanced super civilization!

Why Study Astrophysics?

The study of our universe

Cosmology – The study of our universe

I am often asked why I am so obsessed with studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology etc. which serves no practical purpose to anyone. The people who ask such questions entertain the notion that anything that does not give immediate monetary benefit is not worth pursuing. In this article I will try as much as possible to highlight the benefits of pursuing pure science such as astrophysics. I will be using the words astronomy and astrophysics interchangeably as differentiating the two is not the main aim here.

Astrophysics to me is an eternal subject. The study of our universe will continue as long as the universe exists and therefore the subject of astronomy will stay on for trillions of years into the future (or at least till any intelligent species can make the study.)  We exist because the universe exists and that makes the study of our universe the most important of all subjects in my opinion.

A person who does not have any training in astrophysics or for someone who thinks he or she is too “practical” may not be convinced with this answer. For such people, any subject should have the potential of generating immediate revenue. In their point of view, the trendiest subjects that have a career potential in the market are the ones people should be pursuing. That point of view is not essentially wrong. However, these so called trendy subjects are like soap bubbles. They form and then get destroyed after a period of time. People pursuing them always run a risk because if the subject of their choice goes down in popularity, they are forced to learn the next trending subject in the job market.

Space science as a subject does not suffer from this problem. It has lived on ever since the dawn of human civilization and is bound to continue into the foreseeable future. Besides, making money in my opinion should not be our pursuit as a race of intelligent beings. Our world is slowly moving towards a non-monetary one and thus our real pursuit should be the attainment of knowledge and its applications.

Astrophysics - A pure science

Astrophysics – A pure science

As I said, astrophysics is a pure science. If you ask any astrophysicist as to whether a particular theory found by him or her has an immediate application in daily life, he or she may say that there aren’t any. However, the same thing can be told about many other subjects. I have added some references that will tell you about many subjects that fall into the category of being “useless” to the “practical” folks but are still pursued by thousands. Hence, it is not something that one must criticize astronomy with. No subject is useless. In the hand of the right person, the scope of any subject is limitless.

If you are willing to delve deep enough, you will know that astronomy is actually a field with a lot of practical applications. Of course the applications come indirectly and eventually but the impact is profound. Astronomy is a frontier research field. In order to do any kind of research in it, you need cutting edge technology. The study of astronomy thus pushes the limits of our current technology thereby contributing to the development of new and innovative methods in terms of instruments, processes and software to get things done. Therefore, pushing research in astronomy will push research in other fields when these technologies are used in the broader sense.

The benefits of astronomy comes from technology transfer i.e. by transferring the technology that was originally invented for astronomy into various applications in the industry. Some areas where we can see the fruits of research in astronomy are optics, electronics, advanced computing, communication satellites, solar panels and MRI Scanners.  Even though it takes time before an application of a research in astrophysics finds its way into our daily life, the impact it eventually makes is worth the wait. Astronomy also has revolutionized our way of thinking by constantly giving us new ideas throughout history.

Let’s now look at a few examples where the research in space sciences and technology is helping humans around the world:

Medicine

MRI Scanner

MRI Scanner

Perhaps the most important application of astronomy for us would be its technology transfer to medicine. Both astronomy and medicine requires us to see objects with ever more precision and resolution in order be accurate and detailed in our analysis. The most notable among the applications is the method of aperture synthesis. It was developed by the radio astronomer Martin Ryle of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His technology is now used in Computerized Tomography which is commonly called CT scan. It is also used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI and Positron Emission Tomography or PET in addition to other imaging methods.

The Cambridge Automatic Plate Measuring Facility has collaborated with a drug company whereby blood samples from leukemia patients can be analyzed much faster. This helps in better accuracy in medication.  The method that is now used for non-invasive way to detect tumors was originally developed by radio astronomers. It helped increase the true-positive detection rate of breast cancer to 96%.

The heating control systems of neonatology units, i.e. units for newborn babies were initially developed as small thermal sensors to control telescope instrument. The low energy X-ray scanner used for outpatient surgery, sports injuries etc. was developed by NASA. It is also used by the Food and Drug Administration of USA to study the contamination in pills. The software that is used for processing satellite pictures is also helping medical researches to do wide scale screening of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Earth System

Asteroid 2011 MD

Asteroid 2011 MD

Our planet is under the constant influence of the Sun and our climate depends on it greatly. Studying the dynamics of the sun and other stars thus help us have a better understanding of Earth’s climate and its effects. Studying the solar system, especially asteroids tell us about the potential threats that they pose to the Earth. We do not want to be wiped out like the dinosaurs and studying potentially hazardous objects give us insights into how we can protect ourselves in time of a catastrophe. Even the recent passage of the asteroid 2011 MD dangerously close to Earth is a reminder that we should accelerate development of technologies to prevent an impact. Missions to asteroids also give us opportunities to test our technologies in future space exploration and also give insights into subjects such as geology.  It is also important to do space exploration as part of our long term exploitation of space based resources.

Industry

Charge Coupled Device

Charge Coupled Device

In industry, there are many technology transfers that can be cited. For instance, the Kodak Technical Pan was a film originally developed to use in solar astronomy to record the changes on the surface structure of the Sun. It is now used by industrial photographers, medical and industrial spectroscopy specialists and industrial artists. Until recently, the Technical Pan was also used to detect diseased crops and forests, in dentistry and medical diagnosis. It was also used for probing layers of paintings to check for forgery.

The Charge Coupled Devices or CCDs were first used in astronomy in 1976 as sensors for astronomical image capture. This Nobel Prize winning discovery not only replaced film in telescopes but also in personal cameras and mobile phones.

IDL or Interactive Data Language is used for data analysis in astronomy. It is now also used by companies such as General Motors to analyze data from car crashes. This means that astronomy is contributing to research in vehicle safety.

IRAF or Image Reduction and Analysis Facility is a collection of software written by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. It is used by AT&T to analyze computer systems and to do graphics in solid-state physics.

Communication

GPS - Global Positioning System

GPS – Global Positioning System

Radio astronomy has given birth to excellent communication tools, devices and data processing methods. For example, the computer language FORTH was first developed in order to be used at the Kitt Peak Telescope. The founders of the language also created the company named Forth Inc. and the language is now being used widely by FedEx for their tracking services.

The satellites of Global Positioning System rely on distant astronomical objects such as quasars and other distant galaxies to determine accurate positions. So, next time you use GPS, remember the stars.

The most common everyday communication application of astronomy would be Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN. Astronomer John O’Sullivan in 1977 came up with a method to sharpen images from a radio telescope. It was later found to be useful in strengthening radio signals in computer networks thereby giving birth to WLAN.

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Astronomy and the aerospace industry share many technologies that include telescope instrumentation, imaging and processing techniques for images. A defense satellite is basically a telescope that is pointed towards earth and thus use very identical technology and hardware to that of astronomy. The methods used to differentiate between rocket plumes and cosmic objects in stellar atmosphere models are similar as well. They are studied for use in early warning systems.

A device called solar-blind photon counter was once invented by astronomers to measure particles of light from a source without being overwhelmed by the particles from the Sun during the day. It is now used to detect the ultraviolet photons coming from the exhaust of a missile thereby aiding in UV missile warning system. It can also be used to detect toxic gases.

Energy Sector

Solar Panels - A source of clean energy

Solar Panels – A source of clean energy

The techniques developed to detect gravitational radiation produced by massive bodies in acceleration is used to determine the gravitational stability of underground oil reserves. That is a fantastic application in the energy industry.

The methods in astronomy can also be used for finding new fossil fuels in addition to evaluating the possibility of new renewable sources. Companies such as Texco and BP use IDL to do analysis of core samples around the oil fields. The graphic composite material that was initially developed for an orbiting telescope array is now being used by Ingenero in their solar radiation collectors.

The technology used in X-Ray telescopes to image X-Rays is now being researched for plasma fusion. If successful, it would lead to a boom in clean energy in future.

Education and International Collaboration

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy is a great tool to stimulate young minds. If you want children to pursue careers in science and technology, astronomy can help a lot. It engages the minds of kids and helps them keep up to date with the happenings in the scientific world. This therefore affects not just astronomy but other subjects as well. Modern science is a more collaborative effort. And astronomy has been instrumental in bringing together many countries to collaborate on projects that require telescopes and other instruments located at multiple points in the world. Researchers travel around the world to work on these facilities. This brings in many other advantages such as cultural transfer as well.

From the examples I mentioned and countless other examples that you can find online, it is pretty clear that the study of the universe is very beneficial to humanity. There are many people around the world who are interested in the study of the universe but are thwarted by the pseudo-pragmatic folks who think the subject is useless. My suggestion to anyone who wishes to study the subject would be to not let others tell you how practical or impractical that subject is. If they do not like what you are doing, it is their problem, not yours. Half the people who advice you against the subject do not really know anything about its breadth and depth.

The Sextant - An ancient celestial navigation tool

The Sextant – An ancient celestial navigation tool

As mentioned before, astronomy changes the way we think and look at this world. Even before writing was invented, humans have looked up at the sky to make decisions regarding when to plan the crops, how to keep track of the days and months or how to navigate the seas. Some of the greatest quests of human kind would not have been possible if methods to study the skies weren’t invented. Where we came from and where we are going are deep philosophical questions that are yet to be answered. In my opinion, studying the cosmos using rigorous science is the only way to finally know the answer.

Before I end, I must thank astronomers Marissa Rosenberg and Pedro Russo and all the other eminent people whose insightful articles I have referred to create this write-up. I have added them as reference for anyone who wishes to read more about the advantages of investing their time and effort in studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and related areas, which are considered pure science without any immediate practical value by many.

My father often quotes the old saying, “People will come and go, but the institution remains.” I would like to rephrase that and say, “People who oppose the study of our universe will come and go. But the universe will remain.

Bibliography

  • Aperture synthesis. (2014, Apr 22). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aperture_synthesis
  • Astronomy and the Modern World. (2011, Feb 17). Retrieved from Canadian Astronomy: http://www.castor2.ca/07_News/headline_110310.htmlz
  • Astrophysics. (2014, Apr 22). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrophysics
  • CASU Astronomical Data Centre. (2001, Feb 1). Retrieved from Cambridge Astronomy Survey Unit: http://casu.ast.cam.ac.uk/surveys-projects/adc
  • Gallagher, B. (2013, Apr 11). The 10 Most Worthless College Majors. Retrieved from Complex City Guide: http://www.complex.com/city-guide/2013/04/10-most-worthless-college-majors/
  • Hall, S. (2013, Nov 11). How Astronomy Benefits Society and Humankind. Retrieved from Universe Today: http://www.universetoday.com/106302/how-astronomy-benefits-society-and-humankind/
  • Loose, T. (2012, Jan 12). College Majors That Are Useless. Retrieved from Yahoo Education: http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm
  • Odenwald, S. (2001, Feb 1). Why is astronomy important in our lives? Retrieved from Astronomy Cafe: http://www.astronomycafe.net/qadir/q1138.html
  • Rosenberg, M., Russo, P., Bladen, G., & Christensen, L. L. (2013). Astronomy in Everyday Life. Retrieved from International Astronomical Union: https://www.iau.org/public/themes/why_is_astronomy_important/
  • Rosenberg, M., Russo, P., Bladen, G., & Christensen, L. L. (2013, Nov 3). Why is Astronomy Important? Retrieved from Cornell University Library: http://arxiv.org/abs/1311.0508
  • Why is astronomy important? (2004, Aug 3). Retrieved from Clearly Explained: http://clearlyexplained.com/technology/science/astronomy/why-is-astronomy-important.html

The Illusion of Consciousness!

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Recently I have come to discover that there are so many great movies that I have been missing all these years. I am particularly referring to the Alien film franchise starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, an officer who is in an endless battle with an alien species in all the four installations of the movie. I can’t help wonder why I didn’t bother to watch this great movie so far. Today I finished watching the fourth installation and I must admit that I feel inspired by her character. I would certainly like being an officer like her in a spacecraft on a deep space mission. Anyway, the one thing especially in the fourth movie that caught me thinking is the resurrection part. Ripley was resurrected through cloning using the blood sample collected before she kills herself in Alien 3.

I am perfectly okay with cloning Ripley to resurrect her using her blood samples. But what puzzles me is that she possesses the memories of her past life once the process is complete. That simply doesn’t make sense. There was no way the memory could have gotten stored in her DNA. Obviously the memories weren’t stored in any retrieval unit either because there was no mention of that in the film. My problem is not whether she had her old memories or not. My problem is with the concept of consciousness. Let’s take cloning itself for example. If I clone myself completely and then transfer all my memories into this new person, he will lead his life thinking that he is me unless of course the final memories which contains information about the cloning is transferred as well. Even then there will be a confusion as to who is the “real me“.

Quantum Teleportation in Star Trek

Quantum Teleportation in Star Trek

So, unlike the villain’s point of view in the movie The 6th Day, we don’t get to live forever as our clones are the ones who look and feel exactly the same way as we do and also can possess our memories through transfer. But they are still not us.  A similar problem exists with Quantum Teleportation. The information of me is first transferred to the destination. For that the quantum states of all the particles that in my body must first be retrieved and stored into the teleportation system. Then I should be destroyed at the source. The information transferred will then be used to recreate “me” at the destination just like in Star Trek. Again it is a problem because the person at the destination will be my copy and not me. If the process fails to destroy me then I will be here at the source and to make matters worse, there will be another person who looks exactly like me and having my memories created at a destination thousands or even millions of miles away.

Atoms and Consciousness

Atoms and Consciousness

I don’t know how can the people who say this is not a problem justify it. However, when I think about it, the person sitting and typing this blog post right now is really not “me” either. Since my birth, the atoms in my body has been replaced through life’s processes such as consuming food, expelling waste, taking bath and so on. It is entirely possible that none of the atoms that originally made up my body in 1984 exists in my body today. But I still have the feeling of self or the feeling of consciousness about myself. That is quite hard to explain. Why do I feel this “uniqueness” about myself? So much that creating a clone of myself will not assure me immortality. It only assures the existence of another person like me.

Most of us are afraid of death as it brings to an end all the beautiful experiences that life offers us. Being truly immortal thus would mean keeping alive all the cherished memories and experiences forever. With more advanced technologies, the time is not far before we can backup our own memories. But will there be a way to store and retrieve the feeling of “self“? If I transfer my awareness of self to a computer, will the “self” leave me to enter the computer or will I still have it? If I still have the feeling of self then what is it that got transferred to the computer? These are not easy questions to answer and I am not sure whether theology can answer them any better because of the problems I just described.

Future Spacecraft to The Stars

Future Spacecraft to The Stars

I have a lot of faith in science. I feel that some day science will understand what exactly it means to be self-aware and also find a way to transfer this consciousness of self into a machine or a clone without creating the paradoxical situation mentioned above. I wish such a breakthrough happens during my lifetime. When the human race leaves Earth and starts to colonize other planets and reach distant stars in the future, I would certainly like to have a piece of that action. I seriously don’t wish to be in a situation where my consciousness dies with me and I miss all the great things the future human race will achieve. I would want my consciousness of self with all its memories to live forever either in a being like me or as a sentient being if the technology of the future allows.

The Imperfect Design – Evidence for Evolution!

Image of a beatufiul eyeOf all the species in the world, the evolution of human beings is the most controversial. People, especially religious ones cannot stand the idea that humans don’t have a divine origin and existence and that we are related to the other animals. For fans of creationism or intelligent design, it is hard to accept that humans underwent the process of evolution to reach the current state. They often site the human body especially the eye as a perfect example of design as our body is too complicated to have evolved naturally according to them. Well, I am okay with it provided when a trained person looks at this so called “design”, he should not be puzzled as to why certain parts are in a particular way because when we look carefully at the human body, that is precisely what we feel.

Therefore I would like to call on the scientific and engineering outlook of the reader in this article because I am going to site a few examples where it is required for you to think as to whether we are actually designed or not. Let me first talk about design as we understand from our lives. Any good designer would design a machine or a drawing with the minimal amount of defects. Further he or she would make sure that the design is simple and optimized enough so that troubleshooting is easy later on. Furthermore, he or she would make sure that there is a logic behind putting a component in a particular place. Therefore a good designer can easily make out whether a machine’s design is defective or illogical in some way by looking at it.

I request you to look at the following few examples to have an insight into what I mean:

  1. The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve – It is a nerve that supplies motor function to the larynx and travels from the brain to the larynx. However, it does not take a direct route. Instead it goes all the way to the heart, wraps around a major artery and then goes up to the larynx. It is puzzling as to why the nerve takes such a detour for no reason. In fact, in giraffes, the nerve travels 15 feet to the heart and then goes up to the larynx which doesn’t make sense. If we were designed, then the designer would simply put the nerve in a direct route from the brain to the larynx. It’s as simple as that. What really happened is that  the fish like ancestors of modern tetrapods had the nerve direct as the heart was above the gills, as it is in modern fishes. But over the course of evolution, as the neck extended, the heart became lower in the body and unfortunately the laryngeal nerve got caught on the wrong side of the heart. A designer’s eye would easily dismiss this as a bad design. In the following video, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins will demonstrate the detour of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in a giraffe.
  2. The Human Eye – This is cited as the most perfect example of intelligent design.  But from an engineering perspective, it is not perfect at all. A person who make a camera will make sure that all the wiring is at the back of the film and not in front of it. Similarly if a eye is designed, then obviously all the nerves should be behind the retina. Unfortunately in human eyes, the nerves are in front of the retina. And where the optic nerve leaves the eye, there is a hole that creates a blind spot, which is the reason why our eyes jiggle. We don’t have a functional reason for our eyes to be this way except that historically the common ancestor of all vertebrates did not have a better retina available to work with. Now, those of you who want to bring in God’s “divine purpose” behind this should know that an octopus’s eye doesn’t have this problem. All the wiring is behind the retina for the octopus. In fact, the octopus eye is a much better “design” compared to humans. This link will tell you exactly what I mean by blind spot. The famous German psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz once said that if an engineer had given him the human eye, he would send it back. The video here would show you how the eye can actually evolve naturally without any divine intervention.
  3. Vestigial Structures – An engineer or designer would want his design clean. He wouldn’t want an unwanted component in the machine without serving a purpose. As in the human body and in other species, there are plenty of structures that do not serve any particular purpose. Right from the DNA to visible organs, one wonders why a designer would put them there. The answer as to why these vestigial structures such as the pelvis in snakes, human appendix, the male nipples, the tail bone etc. exist comes from evolution. These are relics from a common ancestry where these structures once had a function. As humans evolved, some of these functions either stopped or changed thereby creating these vestiges. Not only in the organs but also in the DNA we find vestiges. There are several genes that form part of what is called genetic junk. The only reason they are there is because evolution didn’t clean it up properly.
  4. Fatal Errors  – Image of Ectopic Pregnancy - Courtesy Mayo FoundationThere are some really fatal mistakes in the human body. Only because of modern medical care that we can counter death caused by these flaws. For instance,  in women, the fertilized egg can mistakenly implant into the fallopian tube, cervix or ovary instead of the uterus  causing ectopic pregnancy because of a cavity between the ovary and the fallopian tube. Before modern surgery, this used to kill both the woman and her baby. In men, the testes develop first in the abdomen and then migrate to the scrotum. This creates weak points in the abdominal wall where hernias can form in future and without modern surgery, it is a sure way to die. The human pharynx is yet another design flaw. It is the passage used for both ingestion and respiration, which increases the risk of choking. And as mentioned above the appendix is a vestigial organ that serves no known purpose. However, if you get appendicitis, it is a sure shot way to die. 

These are just a few examples of imperfections in the seemingly perfect human body. There are hundreds of such examples and in some cases the design flaw is so much that it can be fatal as described above. A designer with any level of logic or common sense would never create a body like this. Therefore the only conclusion that can be made is that either there is no designer or the designer is a very bad designer. Everything from top to the bottom in our body is trade-offs that came about through millions of years of evolution. It’s an undeniable fact.

Naadan Chilli Chicken Recipe

You may call it Naadan  or Country chilly chicken or whatever you want but it is one of the tastiest versions of Chilli Chicken I have ever had, thanks to a famous chef who described the dish to us and my parents whose exceptional culinary skills inspired me to learn cooking. This version is different in its preparation and the exquisite taste that it derives out of it. Without further ado, let me get on with the materials required.

Requirements:

  1. Chicken, cut in small pieces – 500 gm
  2. Green chilli, cut along its length – 8
  3. Ginger, cut in very small pieces – 2 table spoons
  4. Garlic, cut in small pieces – 2 table spoons
  5. Vattal Mulaku (Refer: Capsicum annuum),  ground into paste after boiling in vinegar – half a cup
  6. Refined oil – half a cup
  7. Tomatoes, cut in small pieces – 1 cup
  8. Capsicum, cut in pices – half a cup
  9. Salt – to taste
  10. Onion – cut in cubical pieces – 1 cup
  11. Water – half a cup

Preparation:

  1. Shallow fry the chicken pieces after applying salt and red chilly powder
  2. On a hot pan, add half cup refined oil and saute the ginger and garlic along with onion and green chilli
  3. Add Vattal Mulaku paste and salt to this mixture along with the half cup water and stir for a couple of minutes
  4. Add the fried chicken and tomato and close the pan for 10 minutes
  5. Add the capsicum and turn off the flame.

The particular aspect of this chilli chicken preparation is that it does not use any artificial color. The red color of this dish comes from the paste that we prepare after boiling the Vattal Mulaku in vinegar and grinding it into a paste. Some people fry the chicken after chilling it from 2 to 24 hours. I don’t suggest that because even otherwise the dish is perfect. It is better to serve this chilly chicken dish with bread. You may try it exactly the same way as described here or make your own modifications. Let me know your feedback.

Mars Orbiter Mission – A step in the right direction for India

mangalyaan

Mangalyaan in orbit (Artist’s Impression)

People often criticize scientific endeavors especially the ones pertaining to space travel as a waste of time and money. The Mars Orbiter Mission of India also known as Mangalyaan had its share of criticism throughout its development. In the midst of all this, the craft lifted off to space today, 5th November 2013 at 2:38 PM IST and was inserted into an orbit around the Earth with remarkable precision a few minutes later. This first step is a remarkable milestone in the history of Indian Space Program. Of course it is only the first of the three stages of the entire mission but it is something worth to be proud.

When the Indian Space Program was started in 1969, little did anyone know that India would become part of an emerging Asian Space Race. Our technologically superior neighbor has made excellent strides in the field of space travel. They had their first man and first woman in space using indigenous technology and now they are building their first space station. However, India’s achievements should not be seen in a lesser light because the focus of ISRO is more on unmanned missions. And having been able to start off successfully in a Mars mission is something that should invite our neighbor’s envy.

PSLV-C25 Rocket on the Launchpad

PSLV-C25 Rocket on the Launchpad

Mars has never been an easy target for space faring nations. The first ever mission to Mars was by the erstwhile Soviet Union as early as 10 October 1960. The heat of Cold War would have been probably the driving force to attempt a Mars mission just 3 years after Sputnik. The high failure rate see throughout the historic timeline of Mars exploration had made many a person including me quite apprehensive of the Mangalyaan mission. Even the recent failure of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 mission of Russia and China in 2011 made people raise their eyebrows when it was announced that India is eyeing the red planet. It is exhilarating to finally see the probe lift off the ground in the PSLV-C25 rocket. ISRO’s faith in PSLV has paid off once again and we are on our way to become the fourth nation to reach Mars if everything goes according to plan.

India is a country with great economic and cultural divide. It may be justified to ask whether the mission was worth the 4.5 billion rupees spent on it when other national priorities such as women’s education and healthcare in rural India could be easily met with the amount. After all it is just a satellite that will orbit around Mars and send back signals of what it studies. People can ask what difference is this mission going to make. It is a difficult question to answer and would require vast amount of research. However, one thing can be said about it. Comparing India’s Mars mission to that of United States or Russia may be utterly unfair in my opinion. United States and Soviet Union had too much funding during the cold war to perform mission after mission despite the number of failures they encountered. And still they can afford to send rovers and other advanced instruments to deep space and afford to fail in it. This is India’s first interplanetary mission and should be compared to Mariner – 9 of United States which was launched back in 1971. Mariner – 9 was an orbiter mission and that is exactly what Mangalyaan is all about and must be seen as such. It is true that USA and USSR were having landers and rovers back in the ’70s but that fact should not be used to demean India’s mission.

Mars Orbiter Trajectory

Mars Orbiter Trajectory

Mars Orbiter Mission of India is a step in the right direction. We may have poverty and prejudice within Indian society but one must see the bigger picture. As part of the human race, it is our duty to explore and colonize other planets. Saying that it will ensure the continuity of our species might be too much of a cliche but that is most certainly a part of interplanetary mission. Interplanetary missions in its true sense has not yet taken place since that would mean going to a distant planet and coming back. For that reason I am not very fond of the Mars One program that is currently seeking volunteers. A true interplanetary mission must ensure that participants are capable of going back and forth between the planets. Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama did not maroon themselves in the places they explored. They did go back to their homes to tell the stories about their journey. It is important thus for any manned or unmanned Mars mission to go there and return in order to be fully interplanetary. Anyway, I feel very proud of my country’s capability to perform a feat that many have failed in. Our two hostile neighbors in my opinion should learn from us instead of taunting us unnecessarily over petty border issues.

Uzbek Plov Recipe

Uzbek Plov or Pilaf or Osh

The Uzbek Plov also known as Pilaf or Osh is an exceptionally delicious style of biryani from Uzbekistan. Widely claimed to be Stalin’s favourite dish, this rice and mutton based recipe from Uzbekistan is easier to prepare compared to other conventional biryanis. It can be prepared as follows:

Materials Required

  • Lamb Meat cut in squares (preferably of a fat lamb) – 0.5 to 1 kg
  • 2 – 3 cup Basmati Rice (or Uzbek Rice)
  • 3 – 4 big carrots cut in very small pieces
  • 2 Onions cut in medium pieces
  • 5 Green chilly cut in small pices
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 4 – 5 garlic with skin
  • Salt – 2.5 teaspoon
  • Black Pepper powder – 1 teaspoon
  • Other spices if necessary (cinnamon, clove etc.) – 1 teaspoon
  • Coriander powder – 2 teaspoon
  • Coriander Leaves

Preparation:

Uzbek Plov or Pilaf or Osh

This dish is to be prepared in good flame in the beginning and hence the vessel you use must have a thick bottom. This ensures that the meat doesn’t get charred.

  • Wash the basmati rice and keep it soaked in lukewarm water before you start the preparation.
  • Pour the vegetable oil in the main vessel and wait until it gets heated.
  • Once the oil gets heated up, add the mutton pieces and fry them until they become light brown.
  • Add the onion, carrot and green chilly to this and mix them until the the onion turns golden brown.
  • Add salt, pepper powder and other spices that you have selected and continue to mix. You can reduce the flame at this stage.
  • Spread the mixture evenly. Filter out the water and add the rice to this mixture. Make sure that the rice completely covers the mutton, carrot and onion mixture. You should stop mixing at this stage.
  • Pour water to this without disturbing the rice distribution. The water should completely submerge the rice.
  • Once the water starts boiling, close the the lid. Reduce the flame further.
  • Wait for 10 minutes and check whether the water has been absorbed into the rice.
  • Place the garlic pieces on top of the rice.
  • If the rice hasn’t got cooked at this stage, create a small opening at the center of the mixture and add water there without disturbing the structure.
  • Close the lid and wait for another 10 minutes.
  • Repeat this process until the rice is cooked.
  • Turn off the flame and keep the vessel undisturbed for 30 minutes.

You can add coriander leaves after 30 minutes and mix the dish well. When adding water the second time, be sparing in the quantity used because you should not overcook the rice.

Uzbek Plov or Pilaf or OshYour Uzbek Plov is now ready. You can use Yougurt Kachumber as a side dish. What makes the taste so exquisite is the lamb fat. The mutton gets fried both in the vegetable oil and the fat that comes out of the meat. The first time I prepared this, it didn’t come right. So don’t be disheartened. Try again and you will be fine. The day I saw this recipe in the newspaper, things were a mess but I learned from my mistakes and so should you. This recipe has one extra ingredient, which is green chilly but trust me, it makes the dish amazing. Let me know your feedback!

Mother of All Martial Arts? Think Again!

I added a question mark in the title because the term mother hardly applies in this context. Mother means a direct ancestor. Hence, mother of all martial arts means an art to which all martial arts in the world trace a direct lineage. This title is often given to the South Indian martial art Kalaripayattu. Being a person from Kerala, I was proud to see Kalaripayattu referred this way. However, my skepticism grew overtime and recently I have started to question the very premise of Kalaripayattu being the originator of all the other martial arts practiced in the world. I had written on similar grounds in a previous blog post and was met with violent criticism from devotees of Kalari. I don’t maintain any grudges towards the people who were abusive in their comments but I thought it was necessary to reiterate some aspects I discussed in that post for the sake of clarity. As I said before, and will say again, this article does not demean Kalaripayattu in any manner.

image of kalaripayattu

Kalaripayattu

Origin of a martial art like any other art has two levels viz. the historic and the legendary. It is hard to trace history to a time when data redundancy was much higher when compared to modern times. Further, it is often the legendary version that grows out of proportion overtime and overshadows the historic part. For example, it is said that Parasurama created the state of Kerala by throwing an axe which caused the water to recede away from Gokarna to Kanyakumari. Well, on the face of it, the story is funny and unbelievable. What kind of a person can pull off such a feat? Similarly, legends say that there existed aircrafts in ancient India such as the Pushpaka Vimana, which is quite questionable. The Vaimanika Shastra written by sage Bharadwaj was studied by the Indian Institute of Science and was proven to be just a fanciful text without any scientific credence. Legend attributes many superhuman feats to Jesus, which are scientifically impossible since he was nothing but a normal human being. Hence, legends are unbelievable without investigation.

The reason I spoke so much on legends is because the famous Bodhidharma is also a legend. The alleged creator of Shaolin Kung Fu could be just another ancient legend which went out of proportion due to poor data management. Just as I spoke about Jesus, the person Bodhidharma would have very well existed. And it is also possible that he had gone to China. But then attributing the currently existing martial arts forms to him is incredible. Especially the claim that he taught Kalaripayattu to the monks of the Shaolin monastery since he wanted them to have a fit body to cope with the strenuous sitting meditation. However, there are a few logical errors with this claim as discussed below:

1. Kalaripayattu as a martial art came into prominence during the 11th and 12th century. Some claim its existence as early as 9th century. One must understand that India was not a single country in the past. Kerala itself was divided into many small kingdoms. Fighting arts were required for survival since each of these kingdoms fought among each other. Bodhidharma was a person who lived in the 6th century, which was well before the emergence of the art of Kalaripayattu. Therefore, his attribution to this martial art is questionable and hence the claim that he went to China and taught Kalaripayattu breaks down.

2. If Kalaripayattu did not exist in 6th century, what was the art that Bodhidharma practiced? Was it called by a different name? These are questions that historians find difficult to answer. If the art that Bodhidharma practiced was an earlier version of Kalaripayattu, then it could be an ancestor to both Kalaripayattu and Wushu if that is what he taught the Shaolin monks. But then the notion that Wushu came from Kalaripayattu would not hold. Humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. It means that humans did not come from chimpanzees but are cousins to them. Similarly, if Bodhidharma indeed teach the Shaolin monks a primitive Indian art that is an ancestor to both Wushu and Kalaripayattu, then it cannot be claimed that Wushu came from Kalaripayattu.

3. The Chinese civilization existed in different dynasties over 2,500 years before Bodhidharma arrived and allegedly taught the more “superior” martial arts which he brought from India. It is quite hard to believe that the Chinese waited for over 25 centuries without a superior fighting art for themselves. Throughout the history of China, there have been wars both internally and externally. The need for a superior fighting system was paramount since the beginning of their civilization. They would not have waited for Bodhidharma in any case.

4. As discussed in my previous post, even after the creation of the martial arts at the Shaolin, the real application of that in combat outside the temple came much later. The events between the 8th and 15th centuries are not well documented. What were the monks doing during that period? And then from 16th century onwards the martial arts of Shaolin flourished and spread across. Either the systems of Shaolin were kept a secret during that period or there wasn’t much to show outside. There were and still are martial arts that are superior to Shaolin kung fu that were developed outside the temples.

5. The martial arts practiced in China today have little or no influence from Hinduism, which is an integral part of Kalaripayattu. If Chinese Wushu is a direct descendant of Kalaripayattu, there has to be at least a trace of Hinduism in it. I never found it and neither has any martial artist I know. Even non-Hindus who practice Kalaripayattu worship and abide by the covenant of the Kalari Gods. Even though Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk, if he did practice Kalaripayattu, there would be at least some reference to the Kalari Gods in his teachings. We don’t see them mentioned in the Shaolin martial arts at all. Hence, him being the practitioner of Kalaripayattu is quite questionable.

My previous post mentioned about several martial arts that existed before the arrival of Bodhidharma. And it is quite evident that the currently existing arts are descended from those arts and not from Kalaripayattu due to the reasons stated above.

I would also like to bring into light the concept of independent development. There is a limit to the type of movements that can be performed using the human body. We may use permutations and combinations to find out the number of movements that are mathematically possible but physical limitations drill down the number. Hence, any martial art used in war would eventually settle down to a few practically possible moves. There would of course be extra movements that are practiced to maintain flexibility and strength. Therefore, martial arts can and do indeed develop indigenously and independently without requiring an ancestor.

To summarize, the following issues need to be addressed by people who taut up Kalaripayattu as the mother of all martial arts:

a. The temporal disagreement between Bodhidharma’s arrival in China and the documented origin of Kalaripayattu.

b. Existence of martial arts in China before and after Bodhidharma. Especially those that have direct links with the martial arts practiced today.

c. Lack of Hindu Gods and teachings in Shaolin as well as other martial arts in China.

If anyone wants to address the points mentioned in this article without getting emotional, nationalistic, ad hominem or outright wrong, I would welcome the discussion. As a word of caution, unlike my previous post, if someone resorts to ad hominem in this, I would simply remove that comment without wasting time answering them.

References

1. Bodhidharma. (2013, September 21). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhidharma
2. Brief History of Gongfu. (2013, May 19). Retrieved from Wu Taiji Quan: http://www.wutaijiquan.com/wutaijiquan_history.html
3. Chi You. (2013, September 22). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi_You
4. Chinese martial arts. (2013, September 23). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_martial_arts
5. Chinese Mythology. (2013, July 11). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_mythology
6. Eighteen Arms of Wushu. (2013, September 24). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eighteen_Arms_of_Wushu
7. Is there a relationship with kalaripayattu, indian martial arts, shaolin kung fu, and bodhidharma? (2013, May 19). Retrieved from Mystic Banana: http://www.mysticbanana.com/is-there-a-relationship-with-kalaripayattu-indian-martial-arts-shaolin-kung-fu-and-bodhidharma.html/
8. Josey, J. (2010, January 20). Kalaripayattu – A Game of Eyes Shut And Mouth Wide Open. Retrieved from Tales and traumas of a ‘Teenage Pretty Boy’: http://my.opera.com/prettyboy/blog/kalaripayattu-a-game-of-eyes-shut-and-mouth-wide-open
9. Kung fu (term). (2013, August 20). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_fu_%28term%29
10. Kung Fu Styles. (2013, May 19). Retrieved from Learn Me Kung Fu: http://www.lmkungfu.com/styles.html
11. The Mother of All Martial Arts : Kalari or Kalarippayattu. (2007, June 23). Retrieved from HitXP – A Blogzine by Gurudev: http://www.hitxp.com/articles/sports/kalarippayattu-oldest-martial-arts/
12. Yellow Emperor. (2013, September 18). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Emperor