Apophis! – Earth’s death knell?

Image of Apophis
Image of Apophis as a snake in Egyptian Mythology

Egyptian mythology has a character called Apophis which was an ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon determined to plunge our world into eternal darkness. Astronomers reason that the name befits a menace that is currently hurling towards Earth from outer space.

Scientists for the past few years have been monitoring a 390 metre wide asteroid which is currently classified under the “Potentially Hazardous Objects” category because of its calculated collision course with the planet. Governments have already been alerted to take necessary actions to avoid any catastrophe that might arise if this rock collides with our planet.

According to an estimate by NASA, an impact from Apophis, which is scheduled to take place on April 13 2036, would generate over 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres from the impact site would receive the direct effect of the impact and the rest of the earth will see the effects of huge amounts of dust released into the atmosphere.

Image of 99942 Apophis
99942 Apophis – Courtesy Wikipedia

Scientists insist on every Near Earth Objects meetings that there is very little time left to decide and act since the technology required to thwart an asteroid would take decades to design, test and build.  Meteorite experts say that it is a question of when and not if such an object will collide with Earth. A meteorite of the size of 1 km and above will cause mass extinction to species inhabiting our planet including us. The possibility of such collisions is in every hundred million years and it seems we are already overdue for a big collision.

Apophis has been a concern since December 2004 after astronomers projected the orbit of the asteroid into the future and found that the odds of it hitting the Earth is alarming. It was predicted that if it missed Earth in its first approach to Earth in 2029, then the next approach in 2036 might most certainly end in a collision. The object currently has an Aphelion of 1.0987 AU, Perihelion of 0.74604 AU, Semi-major axis of 0.92241 AU, Eccentricity of 0.19121 and Orbital period of 323.58 d or 0.89 a. It has an Average orbital speed of    30.728 km/s, Mean anomaly of 339.94°, Inclination of 3.3315°, Longitude of ascending node of 204.43° and Argument of perihelion of 126.42°.

Image of Radar Image of Apophis
2005 Arecibo Radar Image of Apophis – Courtesy NASA

Currently Apophis is placed at 4 out of 10 in the Torino Scale which measures the threat posed by an NEO where 10 is a certain collision that causes global catastrophe marking it the highest for any asteroid in recorded history. However, the collision in 2029 was eventually ruled out as more data poured in.

Astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University, Belfast said that Earth’s gravity will deflect the asteroid on 2029 and that there is a small possibility of the asteroid moving through a region in space called the keyhole. If that happens, the chances of a collision during its next pass in 2036 will be even higher.

There is no shortage of ideas as to how to deflect asteroids like these. Even dangerous technologies like nuclear powered spacecraft is under consideration. The Advanced Concepts Team at the European Space Agency is leading the effort in designing a range of satellites and rockets to nudge these potentially hazardous objects. According to Prof Fitzsimmons, the advantage of nuclear propulsion is the amount of power it generates though it has not been tested so far. Solar electric propulsion, another promising idea is already being used by several spacecrafts giving us hope that projects like these would work.

Another interesting method favoured by ESA is the proposed Don Quijote mission which intends to send two spacecrafts at the asteroid. One of them called Hidalgo is supposed to collide with the asteroid and the other called Sancho is supposed to measure the deflection caused by the collision. The test launch is supposed to take place in 2013. Another idea is to use explosives on the asteroid but no astronomer has so far supported the idea since if the explosion takes place close to impact, we might have several fragments hitting us than one thereby increasing the area of damage.

Image of Apophis Path of Risk
The path of risk where Apophis may impact in 2036 – Courtesy Wikipedia

Currently we cannot rule out the possibility of the 2036 impact. However, we need to get our next chance in making an observation of this object which unfortunately will not come until 2013 when we can use radar observations and work out possible future orbits of this asteroid more accurately. NASA argues that the final decision of what needs to be done has to be made at that stage.

Astronomers like Fitzsimmons and Yates say that the preparation should start before 2013 itself. In 2029, we will know for sure whether the object will hit us or not. However, if the worst case scenario turns out to be true and if Earth is not prepared, then it will be too late. Hence we cannot wait until 2029 and start preparing now itself.

New planet discovered in trinary system – Another milestone in exoplanet research!

Image of Hot Jupiter
Most exoplanets are Hot Jupiters

Though the number of extrasolar planets continued to grow over the years, exoplanet researchers were sceptical about existence of planets around multiple star systems since it was suspected that if the stars are not sufficiently farther apart, the constantly varying gravitational force would eventually tug the planet out of orbit. However, recent discoveries of planets in such star systems have proven this hypothesis otherwise.

Planetary scientists last week announced the discovery of a new planet in the HD 132563 trinary star system in the constellation Auriga after a 10-year long study of the system which also made several other discoveries. The system consists of two stars with masses equivalent to the mass of our sun orbiting around each other at 400 AU. The main star of the system called HD 132563A is itself a binary star making it a trinary star system. According to the team led by Silvano Desidera of the Astronomical Observatory in Padova, Italy, this fact was not previously known about the system which was initially considered to be a binary.

Image of HD188753 Orbit
Orbit of HD188753 – Courtesy NASA

This new planet orbits the secondary star in the system called HD 132563B and was discovered spectroscopically using the SARG (Spettrografo Alta Risoluzione Galileo) at Italian Telescopio Nazionale Galileo or TNG. It is estimated that the planet is at least 1.3 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits around its parent star at a mean distance of 2.6 AU with a moderately high eccentricity of 0.22. The team has tried to image the planet directly using adaptive optics  since they could not initially rule out the detection as an instrument effect in the star’s glare.

This discovery brings the total number of planets discovered in multiple star systems to eight. Though the number is small, it seems planets can be commonly found orbiting around more remote members of trinary star systems for good periods of time. The age of the H132563 system is estimated to be between 1-3 billion years in the shorter end and up to 5 billion years. The two estimates have been drawn by measuring the amount of stellar activity and lithium (which decreases with time) and fitting the mass and luminosity onto isochrones respectively. Either way, the planetary system is dynamically stable.

Image of Gliese 667 C
The “Super-Earth” Gliese 667 C – Artist’s Impression

The team has suggested that based on these eight discoveries, it is possible that the occurrence of planets on remote members of multiple star systems may be just as common as planets around wide binaries or even single stars. The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia thus received its 565th member. The HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher), the spectrographic component of the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6 meter telescope in 2009 discovered a “Super-Earth” in orbit around Gliese 667C, the third star in multiple system located in the constellation Scorpius. This earthlike planet is 5.7 times the mass of Earth and revolves around its parent star, a red dwarf, every seven days.

Astronomers celebrate Neptune’s Birthday!

Image of Neptune Planet NASA
Image of Neptune showing the Great Dark Spot – Courtesy NASA

Neptune turned “one year” old yesterday when it completed its first revolution around the sun since its discovery 165 years ago. Astronomy world celebrated this event as Neptune completed its one year which is 164.79 earth years yesterday. Named after the Roman Sea God, the 8th and last planet of our Solar System, Neptune’s location was mathematically predicted and discovered by Urbain Le Verrier, John Couch Adams and Johann Gottfried Galle putting an end to decades old question “Who was tugging on Uranus?”

Galileo observed Neptune on December 28, 1612 and again on January 27, 1613 and recorded the findings in his drawings. However, he is not credited with the discovery of the planet since he mistook Neptune as a distant star that appeared in conjunction with Jupiter. Neptune had turned retrograde on the day when Galileo discovered it, however, according to physicist David Jamieson, Galileo was at least aware that the “star” he discovered moved relative to the fixed starts.

Substantial deviations from astronomical tables of Uranus’s orbit published in 1821 by French astronomer Alexis Bouvard was subsequently observed leading him to hypothesise that an unknown body was perturbing the orbit of Uranus through gravitational interaction.  British astronomer John Couch Adams in 1843, began work on Uranus’s orbit using the data sent to him by the then Astronomer Royal Sir George Airy through James Challis, the then Cambridge Observatory director. His mathematical work through 1845-46 produced several estimates of the existence a new planet.

Image of Neptune's Orbit
Neptune’s Orbit compared to other planet – Courtesy Wikipedia

During the same period, French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier independently developed his own calculations about the new planet but did not stimulate enthusiasm in his fellow astronomers. In June 1846, Sir George Airy, upon seeing the similarity of Le Verrier’s first published estimate of the planet’s longitude to that of Adams’s estimate, Airy persuaded James Challis to search for the planet though the search that lasted throughout August and September of that year did not produce any results.

Meanwhile, a letter was sent to the German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle of Berlin Observatory by Le Verrier requesting him to search for the new planet using the observatory’s refractor. A student at the observatory, Heinrich d’Arrest suggested to Galle that they might be able to make the discovery if they compared the chart drawn about the region predicted by Le Verrier and with the current sky to seek the displacement characteristic of the planet as opposed to a fixed star.  It worked and that very evening on September 23, 1846, Neptune was discovered within 1° of where Le Verrier had predicted and about 12° from Adams’ prediction. James Challis later realised that he did observe the planet twice in August but failed to identify it due to his casual approach to the work.

There have been much debate between France and Great Britain as to who should get the credit of the discovery of the planet. However, it was decided through international consensus that both Adams and Le Verrier should be credited equally even though to this day there are people who do not credit Adams with the discovery.

Image of Neptune by Hubble
Neptune shot by Hubble at four time intervals – Courtesy NASA

Neptune is 2.8 billion miles from the Sun which is about 30 times farther than Earth making it slow and freezing cold.  The image shows the planet in four hour intervals within Neptune’s 16-hour day. The white fluffy streaks are clouds, but not of the Earth variety. Due to the low ambient temperature of the planet, they are high-altitude swaths of frozen methane. Neptune has a 29-degree tilt, which, like Earth’s tilt of 23-degrees, causes the planet to experience seasons. Currently Neptune is experiencing summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north. While a season lasts only a few months on Earth, it lasts up to 40 years on Neptune.

Planetary scientist Dr. Craig O’Neil of Macquarie University says that we still haven’t learned much about Neptune since its discovery.  “It’s location at the edge of the solar system makes it a bit of a black hole from a knowledge point of view,” he says. According to him, the huge distance from the sun makes sun look like a point of light in Neptune no brighter than Venus does from Earth. Most of what we know about Neptune today comes from Voyager 2’s fly-by of the planet in 1989 and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image of Neptune Rings
Neptune’s Rings shot by Voyager 2 in 1989 – Courtesy Wikipedia

Neptune does have a planetary ring system, though it is less substantial than that of Saturn. The rings may consist of ice particles coated with silicates or carbon-based material giving them a reddish hue. The three main rings are the narrow Adams Ring, 63000 km from the centre of Neptune, the Le Verrier Ring, at 53000 km, and the broader, fainter Galle Ring, at 42000 km. A faint outward extension to the Le Verrier Ring has been named Lassell; it is bounded at its outer edge by the Arago Ring at 57000 km. Observations show that the rings are more unstable than previously thought. Images taken from the W. M. Keck Observatory in 2002 and 2003 show considerable decay in the rings compared to images by Voyager 2.

Most of the atmosphere of Neptune is made of hydrogen, helium and methane. The blue colour supposedly comes from methane absorbing red light. However, Uranus, that has a similar atmosphere is cyan in colour. Scientists are still speculating about the supersonic winds of Neptune which are the fastest in the Solar System since their speed of 2,000 kilometres per hour do not conform to the large distance from the sun.

The Sun can’t be powering what’s happening there. Given Uranus has fairly mild winds, Neptune’s dynamics are a mystery. One idea is that if you put methane under enough pressure deep in Neptune’s atmosphere, it could convert to diamond which would fall as rain. This conversion process releases heat which could power the winds. That’s a little more speculative, but speculation is all we’ve got, ” says Dr. O’Neil.

Image of Neptune's Moons by Hubble
Neptune’s Moons by Hubble – Courtesy NASA

Shown above is a composite image of Hubble shots stitched together by NASA. You can see multiple moons within the same orbit due to the time lapse between shots. In order to get the true hue of Neptune’s atmosphere, NASA took numerous photos with three different colour filters. Over 30 moons have been discovered orbiting Neptune but the majority orbit farther away to fit into this shot.

Spacecraft captures sungrazing comet’s demise – A historical event!

 

Image of Sungrazing Comet's Demise
Sungrazing Comet’s Demise Captured by SDO and SOHO – Courtesy NASA

Scientists witnessed an extraordinary event for the first time in history when NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory stationed in outer space captured a “sun-grazing comet” descending into its demise by melting under the solar heat while grazing the star, reported MSNBC. The high definition imagers of the spacecraft spotted the disintegration that spanned a 15 minute period on 6th July, 2011 which according to SDO officials, has never been observed before.

This marked the first time a comet has been observed in real time as it disappeared though comets have been spotted near the sun before. “Given the intense heat and radiation, the comet simply evaporated away completely,” said the SDO official. In addition to SDO, another NASA-ESA spacecraft called the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory too captured the comet’s demise and recorded the video of the event. SOHO Scientist Bernhard Fleck said, “This is one of the brightest sun-grazers SOHO has recorded, similar to the Christmas comet of 1996.”

Due to the angle of the comet’s orbit, it passed across the first half of the sun and appeared to brighten as it was struck by sun’s hotter particles. Astronomers call these type of comets as sun grazers since their path is extremely close to the sun. They are relatively common and are also known as Kreutz comets, after the 19th century astronomer Heinrich Kreutz who first discovered them. Astronomers believe that these comets initially began as a single, giant comet and then broke apart centuries ago.

2005 YU55 to arrive on November 8, 2011

Discovered by Robert McMillan of the Spacewatch Program near Tucson, Arizona on December 28, 2005, the third near-earth asteroid of 2011, named 2005 YU55 will pass between the Moon and the Earth on November 8. The dark, near spherical rock of 400 meters diameter will move as close as 0.85 lunar distances from earth, confirmed NASA marking it the closest approach to date by an object this large that we know about in advance.

Image of 2005 YU55 Approach
2005 YU55 Approach (Click image to see animation)

Though classified as a potentially hazardous object, 2005 YU55 poses no threat to Earth for at least the next 100 years, reported NASA’s Neart Earth Object Program.

The approach of 2011 MD had created a news earlier this week, when it passed roughly 7,500 miles close to Earth. Earth’s gravity sharply altered its trajectory, preventing it from hitting the planet. However, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts, USA did put out an alert.

According to space scientist Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, USA, there is a roughly 50 percent chance of a 30-meter-plus asteroid striking Earth each century. We can expect the next event of this type in 2028 when asteroid (153814) 2001 WN5 will pass within 0.6 lunar distances to earth.

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!