Sunday, October 25, 2009

My first view of the Tata Nano

Despite all the hype and coverage that the Nano got, it had so far been tough to actually see one on the road. Today on a cab ride from Pune to Bombay, I got my first sighting of this little wonder. The cab driver told me of a couple of cases of nanos catching fire spontaneously. Turns out, it was due to some electrical short in the steering column some molten plastic due to the heat.

Good to see it on the road after all the controversy and adversities that this car had to suffer through. It was an ambitious undertaking of "thinking Big" by "thinking small". Kudos to the Tatas!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lobby of the Mojave desert inn

Managed to get a couple of shots before checking out this morning. We will be back at this inn on Friday.

Btw, We did drive past the airforce base earlier this morning. We did have our hopeless fantasies of catching a glimpse of the shuttle from the highway, but as rationally expected, saw nothing more than a vast desert.

Oh well!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Astro-vacation - day 1

It is only fitting that we take an astronomy themed vacation during 2009 - the international year of astronomy. Malvika had heard of B&Bs in Arizona run by astronomers where you have access to scopes, the best dark skies around and tons of expert guidance provided by the host. We decided upon "The Shooting Star Inn" near Flagstaff, AZ. Check it out We started today in a rental car (see photo) and plan to spend the whole week there.

Initially, we thought we could do the 12 hour drive from San Francisco to Flagstaff in a single day. Now I know that would have been crazy. We looked up an appropriate mid-point and chose Mojave, CA to spend the night.

As we checked into the Desert Inn in Mojave, we saw a bunch of photographs of the space shuttle in the very modest looking motel office. It suddenly struck us that we must be pretty close to the NASA facility in the California desert. The inn-keeper later confirmed that we were just a couple of miles away from Edwards Airforce base where the space shuttle landed just yesterday!!! What a great and surprise start to this Astro-vacation!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An awesome idea for Earth Day !!

Malvika got a gift from her company as part of Earth Day. It is a shopping bag that easily packs into a small size and can be fitted to your key chain, your belt or back pack. This solves a major problem I have been having with avoiding plastic bags i.e. remembering to take my own shopping bag. Great example of what you can achieve when you apply your mind to a certain problem.
You can check out the bags at

I for one have attached the bag to my car keys. A couple of weeks from now, I should know how useful this concept really is.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bandipur Jungle song - now with a video

A while back I had posted our original song inspired from the trip to Bandipur National Forest.
Now I have a video to go along with it. All the video clips are from the trip we made to Bandipur. Most of the stills at the end are from awesome paintings in the rooms at Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

I made the video with Cinerella. I used the version that came with a dynebolic distribution of linux. It has a huge learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it is quite powerful. This is my first attempt at doing a full video with Cinerella. In hindsight, I do wish I had a tripod or a much more steady hand with the camcorder.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What will you be doing on September 9th, 2040 at 7:00 PM?

I will have just enjoyed a beautiful sunset with Malvika and will be looking up at the Western sky with a telescope, admiring a relatively rare celestial show. At around this time, I will be able to see a lovely crescent moon and 5 planets in close proximity in the sky (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn).

Click on the picture to see a larger resolution version and to be able to read the labels.

I learnt about the solar system in school like everyone else, but I never "really" got a feel for it. I never connected that knowledge to what I would see when I would look up at the night sky. I vaguely remember visitng a planetarium (Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai), but do not remember any astronomical insights I gained from the visit. My wife, Malvika, is an astronomy enthusiast. She volunteers during the summer programs at the Lick Observatory. Thanks to her, I have seen Jupiter and other sky objects through a couple of large telescopes. (a 36-inch refractor and a 40-inch reflector) That experience definitely awed me, but more for the awesomeness of the telescopes than that of the sky.
Until recently, I have never been able to look up at the sky and "feel" my place in the solar system and the galaxy.

What finally gave me that feel is this interactive sky chart at Sky and Telescope. The chart allows you to see the sky as it looks from any place on earth at any given time. That alone would not have done much for me. What was cool is that I figured out a way to quickly change the time and see a kind of a time-lapse. See notes at the end of the article about how to do this. The most meaningful time-lapse I was able to see was the state of the sky at the same time every night. i.e. Imagine making a movie with each frame being the state of the sky at the same time every night and then extending this over multiple years. The resulting movie gave me more insight into the sky and the planets than anything I have encountered so far. Here is a youtube upload of the screen capture. It does not do justice in terms of resolution or frame rate, so you should definitely try this out for yourself.

Insights I gained:
  • If you look at the sky each day at the same time, the view shifts ever so slowly. This is a direct result of the earth moving around the sun and thus pointing to a slightly different direction in relation to the sun every day. It completes this cycle once every year. Hence, based on which constellation you are seeing at a particular point in the sky at a particular time, you could tell with precision which day of the year it is.
  • I had always heard that the planets move through the constellations. Think about it and it is obvious that as the planets move around the sun, they will appear to move in the cosmic backdrop of stars. However, I never had a feel for exactly how that "looked" in the sky. You see Jupiter and Saturn move more slowly against this backdrop than Mars, Venus and Mercury. (hinting at their relative distances and orbit times).
  • You could deduce that Mercury and Venus were in an inner orbit because of the fact that they never cross the sky from east to west in this time lapse like Mars, Jupiter and Saturn do.
  • Jupiter and Saturn seem to come really close to each other from earth's perspective every 20 years. The next time this will happen for us is in 2020. Being able to see all 5 planets at the same time in relative close proximity in the sky is pretty rare and the moment in 2040 that is the title of this post is very rare indeed.
and finally...

  • The plane of the planetary orbits is not the same plane as the galaxy. You can see this in the movie by seeing the planets cut across the milky way. Had these planes been more aligned, we would have seen the planets move "through" the milky way. For some reason, my internal mental image had always aligned these planes.

This chart turned out to be an awesome tool to let me really "feel" my position in the solar system and the galaxy. I wish this was available to me when I was first learning about the solar system.

How to create this timelapse using the interactive chart:
There are small controls on the left side which allow you to change any component of the time (i.e. year, month, date, hours, minutes, seconds, etc.). There is a "+" and a "-" button which increments any of those selected components. If you press the "+" button and just move your mouse around, the value keeps incrementing.