2011 MD leaves warning to Earthlings

Image of 2011 MD Path
2011 MD Trajectory

The Asteroid 2011 MD, discovered on 22nd at the LINEAR near-Earth object survey in Socorro, New Mexico by the amateur Australian Astronomer, Peter Lake flew by the Earth on 27th at a close proximity of 7600 miles which is closer than most satellites. The approach did startle scientists but the prospect of the asteroid burning up in the atmosphere on entry was a relief.

The asteroid flew over the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, during its closest approach. Though a relief now, such rocks are expected to brush Earth every once in six years. As part of the program to identify potentially hazardous objects, scientists are tracking threats like these regularly.

In February, 2011 CQ1, detected just 14 hours before approach passed even closer with a proximity of 3,400 miles making it the closest known flyby asteroid till date. You can view the images of 2011 MD captured by astronomer Tom Glinos and Wireless Beehive website here and here.

2011 MD belongs to a class of asteroids known as Apollo Asteroids that are known to be “Earth Crossers“.  Their orbital semi-major axes are greater than that of the Earth (> 1 AU) and the perihelion distance (q) is less than 1.017 AU. Initially thought of as a space junk, the asteroid gave only a brief period of observability since it appeared close to the Sun during its nearest approach.

The bigger news is that a larger 400m asteroid named 2005 YU55, will make a close return on November 8. However, it is already being tracked by JPL’s NEO scientists in addition to over 75 rocks on the watch list that might make close approach to earth between now and mid-October. Asteroids like these remind us about our vulnerability to an impact and to prepare the technology to thwart such an incident if it happens.

The Clove Reaction – How I quit smoking!

A Smoking Lady

One of the most widely spread and nasty habits in the world, smoking claims millions every year. There are of course smokers who manage to survive for a very long time, but they have other factors in their favour like diet, exercise etc and as the saying goes, “exceptions don’t make the rule”. For all other people, smoking is a sure passport to the grave. This post is the interesting story of how I managed to quit smoking against my will. But now I have no regrets and if this story does save lives,  I would be much too happy to hear about it.

A typical smoker is often “initiated” into this habit by a fellow mate. In my case, it was a colleague during one of our training sessions. The brand was Wills Navy Cut. I remember the first experience of tobacco rich smoke going down through my larynx. It was a burning sensation when I dragged that first puff.

Marlboro

There was a couple of initiation processes like that in the subsequent days by many others as well. However, I did not get much into that habit. I tried other brands, like Marlboro Lights and Kings, Gold Flake Filter, Lights and Kings, which are the favourite in Chennai. Anyway, I found that I was allergic to the mixture of smoke and saliva that finds its way into the stomach while we smoke. This was particularly true when we had tea or soft drinks along with cigarette, as is the common practice. After a few months of non-habitual smoking, I took up the habit seriously and started smoking in every break at work. There was even a “cool factor” associated with it since most of my colleagues, managers and people high up in the ladder had this annoying habit. It was very easy to build rapport with even the senior program manager if he was a smoker. You just need to ask for a light when you see them smoking and start the conversation.

Wills Navy Cut Ad

The “Made for each other” ad of Wills Navy Cut

Navy Cut continued to be my brand until people started warning me against it. They said that, when you go to the cancer centre, there is a board hanging outside that says, “Wills smokers are not allowed”. Though I never visited the cancer centre, I bought into the story and switched to Kings as did many other people. Kings was smoother and there was some sort of “pride” when I smoked it.

Smoker Lungs X-Ray

A smoker’s lungs X-Ray showing the oval black spot I described

It went on for a couple of years until I became a trainer/mentor. I had plenty of time then and the number of times I smoked also increased. During that period, I had a weight loss issue and the doctor asked me to get an X-Ray of lungs in addition to other tests. The lung X-Ray had a black oval spot in it and I was scared as to what it was. The doctor however told that it was just gas since the spot was below the lung area.

Gudang Garam

Gudang Garam

Anyway, my parents were scared and asked me to quit the habit. I on the other hand did not care much. The summer of 2009 went by with loads fun and smoking sessions. I was loving being a trainer. The rains started at the end of summer and it was a morning during 1 AM shift. The sun was just coming up and a rain had just finished. Both me and my friend had cold and we needed some warming up. He asked for Gudang Garam instead of Kings at the shop. I asked what was special about it and he lent me a couple of puffs. It is an Indonesian brand and was really cool. It contained clove along with tobacco.

Djarum Black

From that moment onwards, the brand was Gudang Garam. A couple of months later I switched to Djarum Black which was another famous (infamous?) clove based cigarette. People used to ask me what was this black thing that I was smoking. One day a lady smoker friend of mine said that I do not know how to smoke strong brands and that is why I smoke these kind of stuff. I wanted to prove her wrong and switched back to kings. But alas! The unthinkable happened while I was smoking at home. I vomited. The old allergy to the smoke and saliva mixture returned. This time the allergy was very severe. Whenever I smoked, I felt nauseated and vomited when I swallowed the saliva. It was impractical to spit after each puff and also my lungs started severe reaction to smoke. It looked like the clove brands had made my lungs allergic to regular cigarette smoke.

After about a week’s struggle, I had no other choice but to quit smoking. I tried again after a year when I went to Trivandrum but to my surprise, the allergy was still there. I never smoked after that. To summarise, the steps followed were:

1. Switch to clove based cigarettes for up to three months.
2. Switch back to the regular brand to instigate allergic reaction.

I do not know whether this method will work for everyone, but it is sure worth your time. Please let me know if this helps you in quitting this dangerous habit. Thanks for your time.

Origins of Kung Fu – The Intricate Reality!

Image of Wushu

Kung fu Wushu

Kung fu” or “Wushu” is one of the most lethal methods of unarmed combat in existence. The origin of this incredible martial art is poorly recorded and often subject to many debates especially by scholars studying the Indian arts who claim inaccurately that it is a direct descendant of the South Indian martial art Kalaripayattu.  I feel it is a shame that despite the advent of the information age, people still entertain inaccurate notions about kung fu and its origins.

In this post, I would like to debunk the belief that kung fu came from kalaripayattu, especially the accounts pertaining to Bodhidharma (or Bodhidharman if you prefer) and his contributions to the Shaolin monastry based on all available information. I request the reader to read the article completely before making comments. I was stimulated into writing this because recently I happened to watch a two-part video in YouTube titled “Birthplace of Kung fu: China? Wrong! Guess Again!” that attributes kalaripayattu as the mother of all modern fighting arts. When I viewed these videos, I found many logical inconsistencies and historical anomalies. You can view those videos here and here.

Image of Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

In order to counter the hypothesis that kung fu originated in India than in mainland China, we need a thorough understanding of what kung fu is, how the art originated and flourished and its various techniques and philosophies. I will give a brief account on all these aspects and then move on to attacking this inaccurately expressed theory.

The video shows practitioners of Contemporary Wushu and Kalari performing a few movements which according to the creator of the video, are similar. However, those few movements portrayed probably are the only forms of resemblance to wushu has to Kalaripayattu. Another resemblance cited in many websites is the “eighteen hands of Buddha” and the “eighteen arms of wushu” which is claimed to have been derived from the “eighteen techniques” or “pathinettu adavu” of Kalaripayattu.

Image of Shaolin Monastry

Shaolin Monastry

The story originated probably with the knowledge that Bodhidharma, an Indian monk traveled to Northern China in the 6th century AD, where he established the earliest form of Zen Buddhism in the Shaolin Monastery. This combined with the fact that Shaolin has been a famous branch of Chinese Wushu led people to believe that Bodhidharma had experience in Kalaripayattu which he taught the monks of Shaolin thereby giving birth to the Chinese martial arts as we know today. This theory led people to analyze Shaolin systems and compare the movements with kalaripayattu. But those comparisons are often skewed and inaccurate. Besides, resemblance, if at all any, is not proof of origin since it is poorly recorded whether Bodhidharma had any sort of martial arts training at all. Hence it is not clear whether he introduced martial arts to Shaolin or someone else did after him. Even if we buy into the premise that Bodhidharma indeed taught Kalaripayattu to the monks of Shaolin, it still cannot be attributed as the mother of all modern martial arts, especially Chinese wushu. We know this by looking at the evolution of the art and its various styles which not only pertains to just Shaolin (as we shall see later) but also spread throughout mainland China.

Image of Incredible Kung Fu!

Incredible Kung Fu!

Kung fu, also known as Gong fu or Gung fu is a generic term used to refer to the many styles of Chinese infighting though the original meaning of this word is unrelated to martial arts and refers to any type of skill achieved through hard work and practice. The Chinese use the term “Wushu” which literally translates to “war art” to describe martial arts. The term kung fu is a compound word with two components viz “kung” which means “achievement” or “merit” and “fu” which means “man”. Hence combined, it means an “adept man” or “human achievement”. “Kung fu wushu” thus would mean “a man adept in martial arts”. It was not until the 20th century that the term “kung fu” started slowly replacing “wushu” to describe the fighting arts of China. In this article, both kung fu and wushu are terms used interchangeably since they are basically the same thing (please do not confuse with Contemporary Wushu, which is a sports variety of the traditional systems developed for athletic purposes).

Numerous styles of wushu developed over many centuries of Chinese history and it is estimated that the number of kung fu styles may range between 300 and 500. It is impossible to fully classify and label all the different fighting systems of China since a single style may fall under multiple categories. It is however possible to approximately classify most of them into certain groups as follows:

Image of The Five Sacred Animals

The Five Sacred Animals – Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Leopard and Crane

1. Based on “families” or “jia”, “sects” or “pài” and “schools” or “mén” of martial arts. These styles flourished in closed groups or families and were passed on from one generation to the next. Examples are Choi Gar, Hung Gar, Lau Gar and Mok Gar.
2. Based on whether it is a mimic boxing or not which means whether the style has adapted the movements of a bird, beast or an insect or arachnid. Such styles are influenced by movements of birds like eagle, peacock and crane, animals like tiger, snake, monkey, leopard, elephant, horse and fox or insects and arachnids like the praying mantis and scorpion.
3. Based on what type of philosophy the styles follow. Almost all Chinese fighting systems have a spiritual aspect influenced by philosophies like Confucianism, Taoism and Zen in addition to various religions, myths and legends. Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua and Liuhebafa are Taoist while Drunken Boxing, Wing Chun, White Crane, Monkey, Eagle Claw and Praying Mantis are Buddhist. There are also Muslim styles like Tan Tui, Baijiquan, Zhaquan, Qishiquan, Piguaquan and Huihui Shiba Zhou.
4. Based on how the manipulation of internal energy or “qi” called “qi gong” takes place, the styles are classified as internal or “nèijiaquán” and as external or “wàijiaquán“. Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua, Xing Yi, Liuhebafa and Yiquan are examples of internal systems while almost all others can be classified as external. Styles like Wing Chun, White Crane etc fall midway because they include aspects from both extremes.
5. Based on the geographical location in China, the styles originated. Styles are labeled as northern or “beiquán“(examples are Changquan, Tai Chi Chuan, Northern Praying Mantis and Baijiquan) and southern or “nánquán” ( examples are Hung Gar, Wing Chun, White Crane, Choi Li Fut and Dragon).

We need to pay particular attention to the concept of mimic boxing here because there is an assumption that the concept of mimicking animals in fighting came from Kalaripayattu. That is also far from the truth because the animal concepts taught in Kalaripayattu speaks only about certain postures, jumps etc. The animal systems in Chinese martial arts are much more advanced since they mimic the animals and adapt from it in highly refined manners which includes fist positions, stances, footwork, shouting etc. In Chinese wushu, the practitioner must temporarily transform himself into the animal while practising and the “dim mak” or pressure point attack is performed so as to mimic the effect of the said animal’s attack. For instance, within the snake style itself there is cobra and viper systems which affects the opponent in different ways just as the bites of these two snakes affect their victims. Further, the concept of birds, insects etc are unique to Chinese fighting systems and have no relation whatsoever to any Indian fighting system. In addition to that, there are weapon systems unique to these animal styles like the monkey staff and the straight sword and spear in snake style. Apart from all these, the Chinese Dragon style kung fu is a highly unique animal kung fu style totally based on the philosophies and myths pertaining to the mythical and legendary Chinese Dragon found in folklores.

Image of Yellow Emperor

The Yellow Emperor

Like any other martial art, wushu evolved because of the need for self defense, hunting and military training. All these requirements created unique styles of hand to hand as well as weapons techniques for soldiers, imperial guards, merchants etc. Chinese legends attribute the origin of wushu during the oldest “Xia Dynasty” over 4000 years ago when the Yellow Emperor Huangdi who according to legends reigned from 2697 to 2597 BCE created the earliest fighting systems in China. The Chinese describe him as a famous general who wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and martial arts before becoming the ruler of China.

Another legendary figure during the same period was Chi You who is credited as the creator of “jiao di“, which is thought to be the predecessor of the modern Chinese Wrestling. According to Chinese Mythology, he was a tribal leader and tyrant who fought against the then future Yellow Emperor during the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors era.

The best examples of ancient Chinese martial arts practiced before the arrival of Bodhidharma are “Shoubó“, practiced during the Shang dynasty (1766–1066 BCE) and “Xiang Bo” (similar to modern Sanda), practiced from the 7th century BCE. It was in 509 BCE that Confucius suggested Duke Ding of Lu that people should practice martial arts alongside literary arts thereby beginning an era of martial arts where laypeople outside the military and religious sects started practicing them. The “Classics of Rites” written in the 1st century BCE describe a combat wrestling system called “juélì” or “jiaolì” which used strikes, throws, joint manipulation and pressure point attacks. During the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BCE), Jiao Di became a sport.

Image of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai Chi Chuan

The Han History Bibliographies have accurately recorded on the distinction between no-holds barred weaponless fighting called shoubó, for which “how-to” manuals were written and sportive wrestling, then known as juélì or jiaolì during the Former Han (206 BCE – 8 CE) period. Further, information on wrestling can also be found in the Shi Jì, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (ca. 100 BCE). The theory of hand to hand combat that includes integration of the concepts of “hard” and “soft” techniques have been expounded in the story of the “Maiden of Yue in the Spring” and “Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue” written during 5th century BCE. The Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai has written accounts of sword dances. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, contests of an art called “xiangpu” were sponsored by the imperial courts and by the Ming and Qing dynasties, the modern concepts of wushu were fully developed.

Image of Art of War

Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Chinese philosophical texts have extensive accounts on the martial arts. For instance, in the “Passages in Zhuangzi“, a Taoist text written by the eponymous author Zhuangzi who is supposed to have lived in the 4th century BC, describes psychology and practice of martial arts. Another Taoist text, “Tao Te Ching“, written by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism contains several principles applicable in martial arts, especially in the internal systems. In the classic Confucian text “Zhou Li“, archery and charioting were an integral part of the “six arts” or “liu yi” which also included music, rites, calligraphy and mathematics during the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BC). The “Art of War“, written during the 6th century BC by Sun Tzu deals directly with ideas on military warfare and martial arts.

These examples demonstrate how wushu changed with the evolving society over time and acquired a philosophical basis. many practitioners of Taoism used to perform a set of physical exercises similar to today’s qigong called “Dao Yin” as early as 500 BC which many believe is the predecessor of Tai Chi Chuan. The “Han Shu“, written during the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku included “Six Chapters of Hand Fighting” in the years between AD 39 and AD 92. Noted physician Hua Tuo composed the “Five Animals Play” which included the movements of tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird around 220 BC.

The role of Shaolin Temple in influencing the development of Chinese martial arts happened much later in the history of China. The oldest evidence of the participation of Shaolin in combat has been recorded in 728 AD which describes two incidents in which defense of the monastry took place from bandits around 610 AD and the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 AD. There are no documented evidence of Shaolin’s participation in combat from the 8th to the 15th centuries. However, from the 16th century onwards, the Shaolin system flourished to epic proportions when it became an integral part of monastic life of the monks. The theory also revolves around just one Shaolin temple in Henan province when in fact there are many such temples in Fujian, Omeishan etc teaching and practising different forms of wushu.

Image of Kalaripayattu

Kalaripayattu

Thus, it is very clear and evident that martial arts were well established in China centuries before the arrival of Bodhidharma or the construction of the Shaolin temple. Almost all of the philosophical as well as technical aspects of Chinese Martial arts were already well developed before Bodhidharma or Buddhism itself (which arrived in China between only 221 – 206 BCE). It is also logically fallacious to assume that Bodhidharma had introduced martial arts to China. Because assuming that would mean the warriors of China did not have a fighting system for 2500 years and they waited for Bodhidharma to come and teach them kalaripayattu in the 6th century.

I am in no way trying to demean the contributions of Bodhidharma or the art of kalaripayattu. However, based on historic and technical evidence, it is clear that India is not the birthplace of kung fu. Both kalaripayattu and kung fu are two great martial arts that developed in two separate cultures that have more differences than similarities. A detailed analysis of each system will reveal staggering differences between the execution of techniques practised in them. Even if we accept the theory that Chinese martial arts came from kalaripayattu, it is still not going to make a difference since the art has undergone over forty centuries of refinement making it one of the most advanced, most in-depth and most scientific methods of combat in the world.

Anyone who has a counter opinion is welcome to post their comments or email me. Thanks for your time.

The 3G Saga – TATA Docomo and Me!

Image of TATA Docomo 3G Data Card

TATA Docomo 3G Data Card

It is a warm evening of March and I am writing this post from my new TATA Docomo 3G Internet connection. Since I moved to my new house, there had been no Internet and I feel as if I stumbled upon some magic elixir.  This post is named “The 3G Saga” because there is a long story behind how I got this connection and how we got it up and running. We faced many issues with it. This is the story of how we isolated each issue and what we did to finally solve each one of them. This post is dedicated to those poor souls who have taken the TATA Docomo 3G connection and are finding it difficult to make it work in Linux. You can treat this post as a tutorial as well.

In my earlier house, I used the horrendous TATA Indicom wireline broadband. I never changed that connection because all my attempts to change it failed. Anyway, when I moved to my new house, I approached them to move my connection. For any kind of Internet connection, there is a feasibility study conducted by the concerned ISP in the area applied for. In my case too it was done. Eroor apparently is not an ISP friendly area and TATA Indicom found the area not possible for their wireline internet.

The same was the case with Reliance NetConnect. Reliance guys should be penalized for using the word “feasibility“. Their big bosses are capable of constructing helipads on top of their houses and do ever grander things across the country. Nevertheless, I moved on with my other options like Asianet, Airtel and BSNL.

After a two month-long fight with BSNL, I finally got fed up and canceled my request. My only option remaining was using wireless broadband. A previous experience with Reliance wireless dongle caused some reluctance but apparently I didn’t have much of a choice. My manager had taken TATA Docomo 3G and she said it was okay. So I went ahead with the same.

Image of White Shark

White Shark

I always consider the behavior of mobile and Internet guys tantamount to white sharks. One drop of blood in the water and the sharks appear immediately and these guys behave exactly the same way. I applied and they came running. The dongle they offer is however the ZTE MF631 HSUPA. The Chinese company ZTE had released this model quite some time back and it seems to be an outdated one since their website no longer lists this device. What I believe is that TATA purchased large numbers of these old stock devices from ZTE China and is selling them at a higher price to the unsuspecting customers in India.

Image of Ubuntu 10.04

Ubuntu 10.04

Anyway, the guy who came to my house was not able to make the device run on my Ubuntu 10.04. When he saw Linux, he got scared and lost all hope immediately. He did not even know the APN of the connection he was providing. Terribly annoyed, I started working on it nonetheless. They did have a driver in the device for Linux and after struggling with the terminal for a few minutes, I got it installed. The device was getting recognized as a modem; however it did not connect to the internet.

I thought there was some issue with the device or their driver and I asked him to go find the fix. He went and another guy came but the story repeated. He said that I was the only customer in the city who asked this connection to be configured in Linux. I asked him to go and check it on another Linux computer. It is ironic considering the fact that Linux has a huge user base in India.

Image of OpenDNS

OpenDNS

Meanwhile, I called their customer support and asked for help but they refused to help me without buying that device first. But I observed another thing. My laptop was not able to connect via GPRS either. But I did have a faint memory of connecting using GPRS. I suspected whether this had anything to do with my attempt to prevent network manager program from updating my resolv.conf file with OpenDNS addresses.

My brother, who has more expertise in Linux called yesterday and I updated him with the status and my doubts. He asked me what exactly I did to get rid of OpenDNS. I told him that I  ran the command “sudo chattr +i /etc/resolv.conf” in the terminal. He looked up the man pages of that command and told me that the resolv.conf is now immune to any sort of updates, let alone OpenDNS. He asked me to check the “/etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf” file as well. I did and sure enough, there were the two OpenDNS addresses viz 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220.

Now everything fell in place. The network manager took the addresses from this file to update the resolv.conf. I immediately appended the two addresses in the dhclient.conf. Then I ran the command “sudo chattr -i /etc/resolv.conf” to undo the security I imposed on it. He asked me to me to check the GPRS and hung up.

Image of ZTE MF631

ZTE MF631 - The outdated device sold in India

I connected my phone to the laptop and voila! There was the connection! I called up the TATA Docomo guys on the morning of 5th March and informed them that I had found the solution. The guy came and I plugged in the dongle and ran the wizard and there came the connection. I didn’t have to install any software to get 3G. Ubuntu can detect 3G devices automatically and connect and I knew it was going to work without that software. And yet the representatives kept blaming Linux.

So I got connected on a Saturday. It worked fine except for the heat in the device. Once it got heated up, it didn’t connect and once the connection is kept idle, it didn’t connect. I went to my native to attend a marriage on 11th and when I returned, still it was  working. But the next day it stopped working.

I hadn’t given the address proof since they were not ready to accept the rental agreement as proof. Those buggers deactivated my connection because of that. I asked the representative whether they will accept the postpaid mobile bill. He checked with his manager and told that they won’t. I told him that the postpaid connection is also from TATA Docomo and asked him why should the company reject its own bill.

I asked my dad to intervene. He called that guy up and asked him the following.

1. “The current district collector of Ernakulam lives in a rented house. Won’t you guys give him an internet connection if he asks?

2. “26 out of 30 high court judges live in rented houses. Won’t you guys give them internet connection if they ask?

Image of TATA Docomo SIM

TATA Docomo SIM

He said that he will try something and get it reconnected. In the interim, I gave him a copy of the postpaid bill and PAN card. Yesterday he called me up and told that the SIM was manufactured for 2010 and they have issues reactivating the SIM in 2011. I wonder what kind of problem would that be.

He finally called up and told that he reactivated it. I was able to browse but the connection was intermittent. It kept switching between 2G and 3G networks and when it did, it disconnected. Finally I called up their support on Wednesday and asked what was going on. The guy told, he would send someone on Friday. I waited and no one came. I called again and another guy promised that a person will come on Saturday. I waited and still no one came.

 

Image of 3G Only

3G Only

In the interim, the guy who gave me the connection finally came with the bill. Also another guy, a chartered accountant, called me to verify my address saying that all postpaid customers have to go through that procedure. He also added that the connection will get fully activated only after he submits a positive report. I asked the guy who gave me the connection whether this was the case and he agreed to it. I also told him about the 2G-3G switching issue. He told that I need to use the software provided by them to get rid of that problem since it has the option to choose “3G only” setting.

 

Image of usb-modeswitch

usb-modeswitch

My brother and I again started troubleshooting on the phone to get this software working. He suggested that if we install “usb- modeswitch“, may be we can connect using the network manager itself rather than using their software. But whenever I tried to install or uninstall anything related to “wvdial” or any other program pertaining to USB internet, I get the error “E: crossplatformui: subprocess  installed post-installation script returned error exit status 2“. Though the programs used to get installed and uninstalled, it still gave the error. I thought it was some issue with synaptic. Further the software provided by TATA gave another strange error “Fail to connect! Link ppp0 wasn’t built !” to which no one has a clue on the internet.

My brother said that it was 1 AM there and he wanted to sleep. So we wound up the troubleshooting and I too went to bed. Today I called up their support and spoke to a girl who said that my number has been forwarded to the concerned persons. I said that they are forwarding it every day but no one calls me or comes to my house. TATA Docomo call center is located somewhere in Gujarat. I kept pushing to get the number of someone here in Kochi. Finally she gave two mobile numbers of one Renu Moncy, the Nodal Officer in Kerala. However no one picked the call when I rang.

Image of Reliance Netconnect

Reliance Netconnect

Anyway, my brother had figured out that crossplatformui had nothing to do with linux and that is some program from Reliance. That was news. I checked synaptic immediately to see whether there was something with that name. There was a crossplatformui listed and when I looked at the manufacturer of the package, sure enough, there was Reliance Netconnect written there. I wonder whether it got installed when the Reliance guys were trying to connect their wireless connection few weeks back.

So my system was more corrupted than I had actually imagined. I removed crossplatformui and usb-modeswitch. I also ran “sudo killall TATA_DOCOMO_3G” and then ran its uninstaller. Once done I reinstalled the driver and the software and it connected. But the issue didn’t end there. The software doesn’t create an entry in the network manager which continues to show that we are offline even though we are connected. And because of that my Pidgin didn’t connect since it keeps looking for a connection in the network manager with a message “waiting for a network connection“.

Image of Pidgin

Pidgin

My brother called today and he gave another solution too. He asked me to run “pidgin -f” in terminal. I did and it opened up fine and connected. I asked him what this command meant. He said that this workaround was actually meant for Red Hat but it works in Ubuntu too. This command forces pidgin to find the available internet connection and get connected. Further, when I run the TATA_DOCOMO_3G program with admin privileges, there are less number of disconnections.

Today, on 13th March, one week after I took the connection, I finally have a consistent way of connecting without being at the mercy of the device. Hopefully it will continue to connect and things may go smoothly. I will keep you informed with further updates as I use the connection. Thanks for your time.

When we played outside – A Retrospect!

Computers may eventually turn us into machines!

Computers may eventually turn us into machines!

A few days ago I had a conversation with my friend. Season 4 of The Big Bang Theory was out and we just finished watching Episode 4. We exchanged views about how the series had gone down in popularity recently because it seemed the public got a hang of what the characters could do and the jokes have become trite. He asked questions about my new company and its environment and I described it in detail.

Then all of a sudden I said, “I somehow feel that Internet is getting a boring place to be.” He just smiled. I continued, “I think we should go out and play than lock ourselves up in air-conditioned rooms with a machine in front of the eyes.” He smiled again.

The Psychic Vortex

A Scene from the TBBT Episode – The Psychic Vortex

There was something that prompted me to say this. In TBBT, there is an episode called “The Psychic Vortex.” In that Koothrapalli tries to persuade Sheldon by saying, “Come on, Sheldon. I want to go outside, let’s go outside. Outside is good.” to which Sheldon responds, “If outside is so good, why has man spent thousands of years perfecting inside?

Despite the humorous intend of this dialog, there is a deeper meaning in it. I felt like we are losing out on a physical part of ourselves and I wanted to discuss it.

I started first by describing my school days which I miss so much. Many of my current friends think that I hate sports. But I was not always like that. Long back, during school, I used to play football, cricket, kabbadi, volleyball, kho-kho etc. Also I was involved in all sorts of mischiefs that children commit when they are young and hyperactive like fighting, running, jumping, falling etc. We played Kallanum Policum for almost 8 years continuously. My friend agreed that those days are something he too missed because he used to play them as well.

There are a lot of incidents of my school days that I would like to share and I will be posting about all of them subsequently.

School Days

A reminder of the good old days…

When we compare our school days with our present life, most of the time the weltschmerz sets in. It is true that we can’t have that life again. But there are certain parts of it that can still be part of our present life. It is just that we don’t bother to include them. It is one of those that I wanted to discuss with him. The physical aspect.

I started my description of school days with some weird games that we used to play which he was not aware of.

The first game I explained was called “Dhaaba Dhoobi.”  It was introduced by the North Indians in our class. The game starts by creating a ball using paper, plastic and rubber band. It is smaller than a cricket ball. Then we team up. And we will throw this ball at the ass of any of the guys in the other team. And then they will try to throw back. It pains nicely when it hits hard and people run around to avoid being hit. We played this game from about 4th to 8th standard. Four years of exhilarating experience playing the great Dhaaba Dhoobi!

My friend commented that this game was gay. I just laughed because there were more at my disposal awaiting description.

Keeping what he commented in mind, I started with the next game which we called “Ba Ba Ba.” Actually the term originated from my brother and I used it to name this game. It was a fighting game of the wrestling genre. The winner wins by making the loser’s ass touch the ground. So everybody tries to force his opponent to sit on the ground. Initially it was hand on the ground but the rule was later changed and hand was replaced by ass. This was played for about a year or two between 5th and 7th standards.

Wrestling

This is how we used to win in Ba Ba Ba!

Again my friend asked whether I was gay and I told him that we didn’t know that such a thing called gay existed back then.

Anyway, I started with the third game . It was more intricate than the previous ones and only existed for about a year during the 6th standard. It was named again by the North Indians as “Ghoda Gaadi”. As the name suggests, there was a horse involved. But not a real horse. A guy will assume the role of a horse and another guy will assume the role of the soldier who sits on the horseback. Teams are divided and the horse-soldier pair of one team has to fight with the horse-soldier pair of the opposite team.

An example of the Human Horse

The Ghoda Gaadi looks similar to this

Winning or losing was depended upon whether the pair fell down or whether the soldier climbed down his horse before the fight ended. I learned about the power of momentum long before it was taught from this game though I didn’t know that it was called momentum. This game belonged to the hand fighting genre because the legs were held by the horse to prevent the soldier from falling.

My horse was Naveen and I named him Chetak after I got “inspired” by a Vinod Khanna movie. We had comparable sizes but he was stronger than me. We were a very famous pair because we used to win most of the time despite our small size compared to our competitors. The mystery was in the physics involved which we subconsciously exploited. This was particularly true when we fought against Sandeep-Shyamlal pair(yeah, there was another Sandeep). This Sandeep was strong and stout but Shyamlal was thin. Both were taller than me. Sandeep was Shyamlal’s horse.

Initially we used to lose the fights until I found a way around. What I did was, I will grab Shyamlal when he approaches and ask Naveen to rotate. Once we reach a sufficient speed and I start feeling the centripetal force, I simply let Shyamlal go and the pair will move under their own momentum to their inevitable fall.

This game was fun but often ended up being a real fight if the losers don’t admit defeat. I had tried biting my opponents a couple of times but then when the opponents too started doing it, I stopped.

Sandeep said that it was a very weird game. I told him that out of the three, I liked “Ba Ba Ba” and “Ghoda Gaadi”.  He commented again saying that I liked the gay ones because they were all about ass. Anyway I didn’t care what he said because those games were the best we ever played in school.

Then there were general fights in the class, in the ground, in the bus stops and practically anywhere we found “fightable”. There were two main teams in our class. The Hindi Team and Malayalee Team. And the Malayalee team had two factions viz Rijith Team and Binil Team. From 5th Standard Harilal took over Binil Team. All these teams fight for every other reason they have. There were occasional jumps that people did from one team to another following a dispute. Often these kind of disputes were settled in “the ancient way”. A one-on-one fighting tournament takes place with the team members standing around encouraging the fight.

An example of a School Fight

An example of a School Fight

There was a competence to fight and win when we were in teams. We used to send spies in order to find out the strategy of the other team before the PT period so that we can have an edge over them in football or cricket.

Football disputes were sometimes settled by the cane of Paulose sir if it reached him. Since cricket was played after the school timings, disputes were settled by ourselves.

The reason I wanted to talk about all this violence is because there is something we lack now a days. The fighting spirit. We lock ourselves in air-conditioned rooms in front of computers trying to make a living. It is not that we shouldn’t do that. But we hardly go outside and play. We don’t engage ourselves in combat. The reason I took over martial arts training at 16 was because I wanted to get that fighting spirit back. I still go to my instructor’s place and get some practice whenever I have time.

The fighting spirit is something we need to have throughout our lives. It is a fundamental nature of us. In the olden days people got involved in physical activities throughout their lives. But now it is different and it is that aspect that one should nurture. We need to regain that spirit which has been lost in the ravages of time!

The Vivekananda Decomposition – A New Type of Destructive distillation!

Destructive Distillation
Destructive Distillation of Coal

We learned about charcoal and coke during 8th grade but we didn’t learn how they are produced until 10th grade  when  our beloved Prema madam taught us the process of destructive distillation. I kind of liked the idea since the process reminded us of another experiment I conducted with my brother at home. Most ordinary light bulbs have a component inside that  resembles a miniature test tube which we have used to conduct experiments on projectile motion.

Filament
Inside of a light bulb

We found at an early age that the inflammable material at the tip of a match stick can be utilized to launch projectiles. My brother and I were introduced to the test tube like thing by our neighbors. We put the inflammable stuff inside it thing and compressed it from outside. When we applied heat at the open end of the tube, it shot forward like a bullet.

I thought that this tube could also be used for destructive distillation. Science freaks like my friend Shyamlal and I used to sit  in the class and mock spiritual concepts. In Hindi we were taught many lessons depicting stories of Buddha and Vivekananda. This is about an incident centered around a biographical lesson on Vivekananda and his contributions in our 10th grade Hindi text book.

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

The lesson was nice and at the end of it , there was a couple of paragraphs about his death. It was written that his body which was made of panch bhoot or five elements (earth, ether, fire, water and air) finally got separated from its soul and disintegrated into the earth. I was puzzled and asked Shyamlal who sat next to me “What does that even mean?”. He joked saying, “May be we can do a destructive distillation of his body to find out whether he is composed of panch bhoot!”. I stared at him for a while thinking about what to say.

It was a funny incident but it raised some fundamental questions in our minds. For instance, “Why do we still believe in pseudoscience even though we know that real science says something else?” “Why is it that yoga instructors and Ayurveda practitioners still preach about the vata, pitta and kabha doshas when the actual explanation of the symptoms in the body is different?”

My friend’s joke didn’t decompose Vivekananda. It instead decomposed our views on pseudo-scientific notions about the world around us! And now I like Vivekananda who caused this initiation.

Life giving formula!

Electroplating in Copper Sulphate Solution

Yeah I know. You must be thinking I am crazy! But read on and you will find out what I mean. It is funny that I don’t exactly remember in which standard this story took place. It is probably 9th or 10th. I went to my friend Shyamlal’s house with my brother to work on our electroplating project. (There are actually multiple stories centered  electroplating which I plan to include in a different post.)

Molecular Structure of Sulfuric Acid

After working on the plating stuff for a while, we got bored and wanted to try something different. We took a wide plastic lid of a jar and added copper sulfate solution to it. I don’t remember what the second ingredient was. It was something of green color. To this green solution, we added a little sulfuric acid. Since we didn’t have a stirrer, we used a paint brush to stir the solution. This caused some of the bristles to come out of the brush and fall into the solution.

Brush Bristles – Ours were thinner than this though

We kept the solution for sometime and went to the terrace to play. Later on we came back inside and looked closely at the solution. To our horror, we found that the bristles were moving very slowly even though the solution was static. The motion was random, something that resembled the motion of a worm. We thought, “Oh my, this formula gave life to bristles.

We stirred the solution again and let it settle down to see whether this conclusion was true and it was. Once settled, the bristles started moving like worms again.

Brownian Motion – A visualization

I wrote down the formula and took it home. For many days I was thinking what the hell happened to the bristles that resulted in this random motion that created the illusion of life.

After a while it clicked: “Brownian Motion!” It was the same stuff that led Einstein in 1905 into thinking that Boltzmann’s conclusions on atoms were in fact true. What he observed was the movement of pollen grains in water. We observed the same effect with brush bristles in a denser solution.

The puzzle was finally solved. Even though we didn’t invent a formula that gives life, it was enough to cause me headache for many days trying to figure out the meaning of that experiment!

Calorific Value!

Working of Rocket Engine using Liquid Propellants – Courtesy NASA

My 8th and 9th standard science texts were replete with concepts like calorific value, ideal fuel, molarity etc etc. Fortunately I was one of the few who could understand those conundrums. I was thinking about rocket propellants in those days. I knew that it burned rapidly and completely without leaving residue and that it generated huge volume of gases that drove the rockets forward based on Newton’s 3rd law.

A typical Home Laboratory

In 1998, we moved from our house at Pottakuzhy, were I setup my first actual lab to a house at P.S Road in Azad Road. I was wondering where I could set up my new lab. At Pottakuzhy, the windowpane had some designs made of metallic wires which enabled me to build a platform using the cardboard plate that the bakers kept beneath my birthday cake.

In this new house, I was disappointed because the windowpane didn’t have wired designs. They were just trite metal bars laid horizontally across the window. Anyway, I was able to get a hold of the small table that was previously used to keep the idols of Gods since we moved our Gods to the top of our bookshelf next to our television. By then I had collected so many things that it almost filled my table.

Monomethylhydrazine

Let me get on with the actual incident now. I wanted to develop a propellant that worked like an ideal fuel with great calorific value and all the other attributes I mentioned above. I didn’t have liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, methyl hydrazine, dinitrogen tetroxide or neoprene solution. But I didn’t really mind all that because I was confident about my capabilities and the chemicals I already had.

Brandy

So there I went with the quest for the ideal fuel. I took the experiment to my study table adjoining the lab table since there was no space on it and mom had hung some clothes on a rope above that. I took my usual vessel(brandy bottle cap) and added a little brandy to it. I had actually created a handle using thick copper and aluminum wires so that I could hold the vessel in my hand.

Step #1: I lighted the candle. I added a piece of solid NaOH into the brandy in the vessel. I held it to the candle flame. Nothing happened!

Step #2: I added a little candle wax and heated again. Nothing!

A Kerosene Stove – I extracted the Kerosene out of this

I was thinking why nothing was happening. May be another ingredient was missing. I thought about the other possible chemicals that I could add. Copper sulfate was a good choice but thinking about the chemical equations, I didn’t think it was a good idea since I thought it wouldn’t bring forth any favorable outcome. Sodium bicarbonate? Well, I already had Sodium hydroxide which didn’t do anything so far. Then I knew what I could add. I went to the kitchen and brought some kerosene and added a little into the solution.

Step #3: I started heating the new solution on the candle flame. Just 30 seconds and BANG!!! The whole damn thing burned up. The fire in fact spread outside and the whole vessel burned. I got scared and dropped it and extinguished it!

Candle Wax

I was exhilarated. This was really cool. When I checked the vessel, I found that except for the little candle wax I added in Step #2, the whole thing had burned. I thought that probably NaOH catalyzed the mixture of ethyl alcohol and kerosene giving rise to this spectacular combustion!

But was this really a propellant? Did it pass the tests required for it to be called a propellant? The young mind in me was disappointed because a part of me said that I had successfully completed stage one of my quest and that I need to move on to the next stage. But another part of me told that this is just a stupid experiment I did using the stuff in my house and that it is of no use and even if I wanted to pursue this experiment, I needed advanced equipment which I couldn’t afford.

Geotechnical Engineering

Anyway, I wrote down the results in a collection of papers which I maintained in my lab(a lot of which I lost in the ravages of time.) Years passed and I was in my 12th standard. One day at my native, I met my cousin who was then doing his masters in Geo-technical engineering. He asked me which field I wanted to take up after 12th. I told him that I needed to contribute to the field of aerospace science and technology. He was impressed and asked me to pursue it. We then discussed about the various aspects of the field.

The International Space Station – A masterpiece of Aerospace Engineering

During the discussion, the concept of ideal fuel came in. I told him about my experiments to find the ideal fuel. He smiled and told that this is not the right time to speak about ideal fuel. He asked me to do at least a doctorate in aerospace sciences before I even speak about this to anyone. I was partly discouraged but a lot motivated because I knew that someone did know that I had stuff in  me and was ready to guide me in the right direction!

The experiments continued…..

Antaradahanayantram – The Internal Combustion Engine!


Image of Internal Combustion Engine or Antaradahanayantram

Internal Combustion Engine or Antaradahanayantram

Don’t worry about the title. It means “Internal Combustion Engine” in Malayalam. In my taravadu at Kollam, I came across a book named “Kandupidithangalude Katha” or “The Tale of Inventions”. I got this word from that book. Being a fan of technology, I read about it. This was long before I learned about engines in school.

One day, I went to the back yard of my house at Kochi with a few items in hand. The intention was to create an antaradahanayantram! I took two caps of whiskey bottles and checked whether they closed on each other, which they did. Then I put a hole on top of one of them. Then I took another cap and made it a bit perforated on the side. I fixed that at the bottom of the other cap that did not have the hole.

Image of Whiskey Bottle Caps

Whiskey Bottle Caps

So in effect I made a cylinder with several holes here and there. Then I made a small fan and fixed it on top of the single holed cap. I filled that cap with water and the perforated cap with kerosene. Then I put fire into the kerosene. The idea was that the kerosene will burn inside and then boil the water which in turn will make the fan spin through its steam.

I don’t know why I thought this was an internal combustion engine since it looked as if it was both internal and external. Anyway it was burning and boiling the water. Nothing was happening to the fan though. Then my dad came and asked what was I doing. I said proudly that this is my internal combustion engine. He asked me what is that and I said antaradahanayantram! He just warned me not to create an explosion and left.

Image of Steam

Steam

I waited for some more time but nothing happened still. I was wondering what was going on. Then I noticed the flaw in my design. The steam has to come out of a narrow tube in order to utilize its power. I had just put a hole on top of the cap. So the steam was coming out just as it would if I am boiling water in an open vessel.

The design failed! I wound up my experiment and went inside. Sigh!

The wonder ink formula!


Image of Chemistry

Chemistry

My 9th std Chemistry was taken by three teachers. Usha madam went on leave and then Bindu madam took charge. But then the unkind KVS transferred her elsewhere. Finally Devaki madam took over towards the end of the term. The reason I mentioned this is because of one project in Chemistry that Devaki madam asked me to submit. It was nothing special. I made a bathing soap. But the interesting story is what I did with it. Here is the whole story:

Image of Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium Hydroxide

I bought sodium hydroxide to prepare the solution for producing soap. I was glad because it was a new chemical to add to my lab. Anyway I dissolved some NaOH into water and then mixed coconut oil and Eau de Cologne into it. After a while the solution solidified into a white substance. I left it for a week and then cut it into pieces. We first tried it as a washing soap and it worked. Then I took bath with it and I was happy because it worked as a bathing soap as well. I took it to school and submitted as my project.

Image of Bad Handwriting

An example of bad handwriting - Mine was worse though

Since time immemorial, my teachers have complained about my handwriting. It hasn’t improved to this day and I am glad that I took writing to my computer so that I don’t have to write on paper anymore. Be that as it may. On the day of submission of my project, I was sitting in maths class and as usual scratching the paper with my shabby “calligraphy”. It was a blunder I committed because one of my friends wanted the exact same pen that I had. I bought him one and then he wanted to exchange the nib since mine was smooth.

Image of a Nib

The nib of a pen

After I exchanged the nib, I realized my blunder but still bore with it. In the middle of the class I had an idea. Will adding soap to the ink tank make the writing smoother? To test it, I took a small piece of soap and put it inside the ink tank of my pen and sure enough, I had the most slippery smooth writing experience in my entire life!

Image of Eureka

Eureka!

But I noticed something strange, the ink was decolorized! Just a faint azure hue remained and it looked as if I was writing with an invisible ink. Nevertheless I continued writing. I went onto the next page and the next page. Then I just returned to the previous pages and EUREKA! The writings were visible again as if it was written by normal ink. Just a little lighter but that was okay! I had discovered something!

I started to show off my new found “invisible ink” which I called “wonder ink”. Later I experimented with pure NaOH to see whether that worked the same way but that turned the entire ink into purple color.

Image of Litmus solutions

Litmus solutions

During the beginning of my 10th std, I went to tuition at Paul Manjooran sir’s tuition center. I told him about this discover of mine and showed him this purple ink. He told that this is analogous to litmus paper used in laboratories except that the color code will be in the reverse order. He told that if I put some acid into this solution, the blue color will return. I tried mixing some lemon water into it and sure enough, the blue color came back in. I also found that this experiment works better with Bril brand of ink than Chelpark.

My experiments continued…