Friday, November 26, 2010

Childhood Blues

The boy on the Goan beach had his eyes fixed on the elders of his group having fun in the sea. The belongings by his side and his partly wet clothes suggest that he was pulled out of the sea before time to keep a watchful eye on the things left at the beach.
All of us, as children would have passed through phases in life when we felt that we were denied simple things, like the one in the boy’s case, for not being a grown-up.

Conservation of Energy

“Hey! Coming for tea?”, queried my colleagues, as the clock ticked to our usual tea time. I nodded in assent and rose after switching the PC to standby mode. An accidental, fleeting glance at my neighbour’s PC revealed that it was in full power mode. Hastily, I turned it into sleep mode and switched off the lights, on my way out. A friend, who happened to witness my actions, commented mockingly,” You are really stingy!” I retorted indignantly,”This is conservation of energy, not miserliness.”
Such is the attitude of many among usunknowingly, unintentionally, we are contributing to the colossal waste of electricity in this world. Despite the advent of nuclear power, Kerala still relies primarily on our water bodies for meeting a huge chunk of our power needs. About 2100MW of the total 2350MW electricity generated here is from the 24 hydel plants in our state. In Kerala, conventional non-renewable resources (like coal) and emerging renewable resources (wind, solar, wave energy) constitute only a tiny portion of the generated power. The steady growth of population, coupled with wanton deforestation and pollution, has caused much of our hydroresources to dry up. Conscious avoidance of power wastage is a very simple, but highly effective means by which we can contribute our mite in energy conservation. Let us always remember to switch off all the lights, fans and other electrical equipment while leaving rooms, both at home and office. Switching the PC to sleep/standby mode saves considerable power. For instance, the PC (combined with monitor) consumes about 175W when it is operated in full power mode. In the sleep mode, this is brought down to 35W. When it is known apriori that we will be absent for a few hours from a room, (while attending meetings, etc.), the PC can be shut down and the AC can be turned off. At home, the TV can be switched off while it is not being watched by anybody. Use of CFL lamps in place of incandescent bulbs, taking care to switch off unnecessary lamps, keeping the fridge turned off for 2-3 hours everyday- all can go a long way in saving power. With the entire country plagued by power drought and prolonged hours of power cuts, such practices are the need of the hour.
Whenever I go to the canteen or bathroom, I perceive mindless wastage of water- from taps
carelessly left running or not closed properly. My friends watch amused, as I go around the wash area, closing the taps. Water is a precious resource and it is our duty to conserve it. There are millions of people deprived of water even for their basic needs- drinking, bathing, cooking and washing. Water is also inevitable for irrigation. Every drop of water saved by each one of us counts. As the saying goes- tiny drops of water make the mighty ocean.
Another invaluable resource that is squandered commonly in offices is paper- as printouts, xerox copies etc. Manufacture of paper requires felling of trees. Thus, wastage of paper is equivalent to mindless destruction of trees. Let us vow to minimise the use of paper to essential purposes alone. Instead of printouts of pages for verification, correction or reading, the soft copies can be utilised. Only the final, corrected copy needs to be printed out. Similar is the case with xerox copies. Further, for rough work or calculations, unwanted one-sided sheets can be utilised. We can exhort our kith and kin to keep these simple points in mind and follow them. This will assist in safeguarding our environment.
As all of us are aware, petrol and diesel are fossil fuels, on the verge of extinction. By relying more on public transport and walking or cycling to places of close proximity, vast quantities of fuel can be saved. Walking and cycling have positive implications on our health also. Instead of four or five individuals travelling alone in separate cars, pooling of vehicles can be practised in offices. Such measures can decelerate the pace of depletion of the reserves of fossil fuels.
Let us also lend our hands in alleviating the problem of plastic menace. The plastic wrappings of toffees and snacks are often carelessly flung onto the pavement by many of us. Throwing such non-biodegradable waste in garbage bins is the first step in solving this pressing issue.
This earth was a beautiful, clean place when we arrived. It is our responsibility to ensure that the future generations inherit atleast as much and not a deteriorated planet.

Touching Lives

Three people play an important role in shaping the life of a child; his family, friends and his primary school teacher
-A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
“Guru” or teacher is placed before the Almighty in Indian culture. What if we get to play the role of a teacher? What if we get a chance to shape the lives of the future generation? Lectures @ School Programme organized as part of the World Space Week (WSW) Celebration provides just that opportunity; or should I call it- a privilege.
As a resource person for the programme, I had covered 12 educational institutions in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. The experience was enlightening and I consider it one of the best services that I have rendered in my life. The greatest contribution that an individual can make to the society is to impart knowledge to children and thus train the young minds helping them to grow as responsible citizens.
ISRO has always been a technical organization with a humane face. Its’ roots are embedded in changing the lives of the common man by the use of space science and technology. But in spite of working in ISRO, we seldom get the chance to mingle with the “aam aadmi”. This programme presents us an opportunity to interact with ordinary people; especially the teachers and students, and to experience the amount of respect they have for our organization.
The programme is primarily aimed at instilling scientific temper in children and to make them aware of the applications of the various physical principles that they study in their text books. When children realizes the fact that the fundamentals of rocket science are based on the very principles that they learn in school, it inculcates interest in them to study science and mathematics with much more vigour and appreciation.
The programme starts with the identification of the resource persons by the organizing committee. They provide the volunteers with the presentation material and WSW kits, which is to be distributed to the schools. They also arrange for projector and screen that is to be taken by the resource persons to deliver the power point presentation to the children.
The volunteers get the details of the schools in the respective districts from the Directorate of Public Instruction website. Usually, a set of schools in the same area are selected for ease of travel and most importantly to ensure punctuality. The school authorities are contacted and a convenient schedule is fixed. A maximum of 4 or a minimum of three institutions are covered per day.
A sum of Rs.5000/- per resource person team (usually a team of two) is also given towards travel expenses. This is utilized for hiring a vehicle, usually a Qualis/Scorpio for travelling across the schools carrying the peripherals required for presentation. The agency supplying the projector sends a person with a foldable screen, laptop and LCD projector to our planned location.
I will briefly describe some interesting experiences that I had during this programme in 2009 and 2010.
One thing that amazed me during my visits to these educational institutions was the awareness
that students have about the developments in space science and technology.
During the question and answer session in the first school I visited last year at Kozhenchery, one clever boy asked “Did Chandryaan-1 find any evidence of Helium-3? What will be its state of existence on Moon and how are we planning to bring it back? Surprised by his pertinent question and awareness of one of the mission goals of our moon probe, I could only reply that the spacecraft is yet to find any evidence of the element and thus its state of existence is unknown.
I mainly dwell on three things in my presentation: to explain what is a rocket, satellite and payload. While describing the increasing number of satellites that are launched all over the world, one smart girl (should be from the upper primary) was curious to know whether satellites ever collide. I explained her that they are all far apart, but in 2009, one Russian defunct satellite collided with a working Iridium satellite and destroyed it. So clearly, all the nuggets of knowledge that we gather always comes in handy during this programme.
Another question that caught me off guard was from a college professor, about the failure of the Apollo probes to detect water on the moon. I could convince him by saying that all Apollo probes mainly landed near the lunar equator and that, water is found in large quantities at the lunar poles due to the prevalence of low temperature there.
During one of the visits to a school in Aranmula, the lecture was conducted on a Youth Festival
Stage. The school authorities were kind enough to stop their ongoing competitions and gave us a slot in between, on the stage itself. My colleague Deepa, made the presentation and the response we obtained from the students was unforgettable. The students watched with awe the 10 minute video of PSLV C-11 launch and Chandryaan-1 mission. Many of them were biting their nails watching the various stages of separation of the rocket and broke into applause at the sight of separation of the spacecraft.
During the second day in Kozhenchery, we accidently went to a school that was not on our list. To our astonishment the authorities still agreed to give us a slot to conduct the programme. But I had to politely deny as I had already scheduled it in another school. This made me realize the demand for the Lectures @ School Programme.
During one of the afternoon sessions, one primary school teacher, wanted to know whether, the Rs.400 crore that was spent in Chandryaan-1 mission, was to cater to the whims and fancies of the bourgeois. Being already briefed by the organizing committee not to reply to political statements and questions related to policy decisions of the organization, I politely refused to answer the question. I requested him to limit his doubts to technical aspects of the mission. But he started insisting. I somehow wound up the programme and escaped.
This year I could go only for a day but it was full of action. After finishing my first session which was marred with power interruptions, we were moving to the nearby school in our hired white Scorpio. One of the important personalities I always remember apart from Vikram Sarabhai and Madhavan Nair during the course of these presentations is Murphy and his famous Laws. I especially “experienced” one of his famous law throughout the programme- “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”
While I was paying my respect to Murphy, by explaining my experiences to my colleague Femina, a KSRTC bus scratched past our brand new Scorpio. The driver got tensed (as he was not the owner) and he accidentally drove the vehicle into a nearby drain. We somehow pulled the vehicle out and moved forward. But the driver stopped the vehicle and informed that he cannot take the vehicle further without registering the case with police. With very less time to reach the next school; three of us me, Femina and Shibu (the person who was carrying the projector) decided to move. We could not find an auto and was thus were forced to enter a crowded local bus. Hail Murphy!!! The bus caught up in a traffic jam due to a demonstration staged in the town during that time. We abandoned the bus, walked for some distance and picked up an auto and reached the school 35 minutes past the scheduled time. While KSRTC has already ‘blessed” us on the way, at the school the “boon” was from KSEB: no power. Coming out of all the confusion, shock and tension, my colleague Femina handled the class without a microphone. I could hear her voice breaking at the end of the session. But we pulled it off successfully.
The greatest gift one can get from the programme is to experience the respect people have for the ISRO. We have seen that the entire nation celebrated with us during the successful launch of Chandryaan-1. More importantly, the support prevailed even when we reported the premature demise of the mission. The support was also evident during the failure of GSLV-D3. A slice of that support and appreciation can always be seen in all the educational institutions that I visited during the course of the programme. This makes one more responsible and highly motivated to do ones duty. As one person in the organizing committee said succinctly “… this is an annual recharge programme.”
Hail Murphy!!