Friday, November 14, 2008

Chandrayaan - making us proud !

It is truly a red letter day in India's history. We've become the fourth nation to drop our flag on the lunar surface. Chandrayaan has made each one of us proud. We now join one of the very few countries in the world to have demonstrated the capability to carry out space missions. This is a very good answer to all the cynics who say, "If it is made in India, then it'll surely break down". As Madhavan Nair put it, there are not many countries who've been this successful in their first attempt. And the most important thing is that we've done it with one of the smallest budgets.

Our scientists are truly amazing to have carried out such an enormous task with a very high degree of precision. This is truly a moment for each one of us to be proud of being an Indian. I only hope that we replicate this achievement in every other field.

Kudos to the Chandaryaan team for making us proud with this successful mission !!! Kudos to all the scientists and workers of ISRO !!! We salute your achievements and wish you success in each one of your future endeavours !!!

I sincerely hope that the probe functions with the same precision seen so far, for the rest of its lifetime. Plans are already on for Chandrayaan-2 and talks are circulating about a possible mission to Mars or Venus.While it is nice to dream of such things, we should not get carried away by our initial success. We should take one step forward at a time, with great care and planning.

ISRO's mission have made significant contributions to our economy and provide tons of data that have significantly boosted weather prediction models, agricultural practices, remote sensing, mapping terrains, communications, entertainment etc. In my opinion, following an indigenous space programme is one of the best decisions taken by our governments.

Having said all this, I also find ISRO's home page to be really pathetic. It is very informative, but it is no way appealing, especially for such a high-tech institution as ISRO. On top of that, we're the outsourcing capital of the world with an IT company in every nook and corner, any of whom would do a very good job of designing the site. The site looks like a collection of HTML pages designed as a school project.There is a link, "Suggestions for website" on the main page which then opens the "mail compose" page to send a mail to the webmaster. I'm planning to send in some of my suggestions :). Such a world class institution deserves a world class brand and site.

ISRO Homepage:

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Parangikai Errisserry

It's Halloween season here and the markets are full of pumpkins. I had bought a small piece, a few days back and was looking for something different to do with it. That's when I came across the popular Kerala dish - Errissery. I tried the dish today. It came out well. But I'm not so sure if this is what an Errisserry should taste like. I'm hoping to give to some of my Keralite friends and get their feedback :) In the meantime, I'm sharing the recipe here. (Whatever it is, it tasted good).

Pumpkin (parangikai) - 1 1/2 cups diced into small cubes of around a cm wide
Shredded Coconut - 1/4 cup
Red chillies - 7-8 (depends on your spice level)

Cumin seeds (jeeragam) - 1 tsp
Salt - as per taste
Turmeric powder - around 1/2 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves - for garnishing
Coconut oil or any other cooking oil

  1. Boil the pumpkin with around 3/4 cups of water along with salt and turmeric powder.
  2. Fry the shredded coconut, red chillies and cumin (you can add a very small amount of oil) till the coconut is reddish. Grind this mixture into a thick paste.
  3. Once the vegetable has cooked well, add the ground mixture to it. Add some water to it if required (take care not to make it too watery). Allow this mixture to boil well, letting the masala blend with the vegetables.
  4. Fry some mustard seeds and curry leaves and add to the dish. You can also add some coconut oil to the dish to give it a nice flavour and smell.
  5. The dish is ready to be served :)
We had a nice lunch today with this Errisserry, Paruppu thuvaiyal, Rice, tapioca curry and curd. The Errissery tasted good when mixed with rice. It was also a good combination with the thuvaiyal and curd rice.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

US elections - acceptance speeches

The main leg of the US elections are over. The electoral college has been decided. All that remains is the formal process of the electoral college selecting Obama and Biden as President and Vice-President of USA. I followed the election coverage on TV yesterday. There were a few words that were repeated so often by everyone - Bad economy... Change... New young voters... Once the poll projections forecast an Obama victory, both the candidates gave acceptance speeches in front of their respective home crowds. Both were them clear, courteous and did not express any resentment towards the other candidate.

The poll results started coming out as soon as polling closed in each state. The early closing states on the east coast started giving out the results hours before polling closed in other western states. In addition to this, the news channels gave out their projections and by 11:00 pm Obama was decisively projected to be the winner. Actually both candidates gave out their acceptance speeches even before polling closed in Alaska.

Both of them are very good orators. They did not have notes or papers and spoke as though they feel each and every word that they spoke. The crowd responded to each and every word of theirs. There were joyful tears all around in the Obama meeting. You could see the expressions of pride, happiness, achievement and determination on all the faces as he spoke.
First, McCain delivered his acceptance speech from his home state, Arizona. I liked it very much. He was quite gracious in accepting defeat and then wished Obama on his victory. He termed this to be McCain's failure and not the people's and asked them to cooperate with Obama. There was no complaints, no accusations and no drama. This is a very good example of how a democratic process should go. Here's the video of his speech.

Obama then gave his acceptance speech from Chicago, Illinois. He also wished McCain and Sarah Palin. He gave much credit to Mccain by saying that "the man has made so many selfless sacrifices for the country that many of us cannot even begin to imagine". He then went on to describe the tough days ahead and gave the example of an old lady in Atlanta who voted at age 106 and reinforced the faith that "together as Americans, we can bring change".

Obama's victory seems to carry a new meaning to most Americans here. The African Americans take this as an example of how anyone can achieve great heights in America regardless of race, colour etc. This has given them a lot of hope and energy. Obama has energized the younger generation of voters who had become disillusioned with the electoral process. This election apparently saw record turnout of young voters. Every demographic category seem to find something in Obama to be proud of. Let's wait and see how the next 4 years turn out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

US election - How is it held?

The entire world is now closely watching the US presidential elections. The entire country is caught in the election fervor and as I write this post, the preliminary results have started appearing and all news channels are continuously discussing the outcomes. There has been lots of discussions on the electoral process here. I've made a small attempt to explain the process to all the non-Us folks following this.
  1. The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States of America, consisting of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. As the name suggests, the senate has senators and the House of representatives consists of representatives. The number of representatives from a particular state depends on its population. The Senate house has 2 senators from each state.
  2. The US president is not elected directly by the people. Through today's election, the U.S. citizens elect an electoral college (They need not be senators / representatives). The number of people elected to the electoral college from each state is equal to the number of representatives and the number of senators from the state. For example, California has 53 representatives and 2 senators and hence has 55 electoral votes. Each member of the electoral college has one presidential and one vice-presidential vote.
  3. In 48 states and Washington D.C., all the electoral votes go to the victorious party. For example, let us assume that the democratic party secures majority votes in California. Then all 55 electoral votes will go that party. So, it will not matter if one county in California has voted overwhelmingly republican. Only the total number of votes at the state level is considered.
  4. In the states of Maine and Nebraska alone, they are counted on a district level. So, it is possible that democratic party wins a few votes while the republican party wins the rest.
  5. Once this election is over, members of electoral college who got elected, will gather on Dec 15 and will vote for the president and vice-president. On Jan 8, these votes will be tallied in front of both the house and the winner will be declared as president and Vice-president. And obviously, the president will belong to the party that has got the most electoral votes as the members of the electoral college will definitely support their party.
  6. There are totally 538 electoral votes. Of this, the candidate should get at least 270 votes to be elected as president / vice-president. This system makes it possible for a person to become president even if he/she has got lesser number of votes from the public. For example, the democrats might have got 49% votes in Florida and the Republicans might have got 51%. The margin is very less. But this proportion will not be reflected in the electoral college, as the republicans would get the entire 27 electoral votes of Florida.

Now, some features of this election :)

  1. The elections are held by the respective states themselves. As a result, there are different rules.
  2. Polls close at different times in different states. For example, polls close at 8:00 pm in New Jersey while it closes at 9:00 pm in New york. Polls close at 9:00 pm in California. But due to time different, it'll already be 12:00 am in New York.
  3. As soon as the polls close, the states start counting and release the results. Counting mostly take place in the voting centers itself. As a result, the earlier states start releasing results even before voting completes in others. This sometimes affect the mood of the public and form trends. This has been criticized by many.
  4. In addition to this, the different news agencies continuously release exit polls throughout the day affecting public opinion.
  5. The candidates campaign even on the election day. They cast their votes and then continue campaigning.
  6. Since the states hold elections, each follow a different method. Some of them have paper ballots, some have electronic machines and others have machines with touch screen. If a state has electronic voting, but a voter wants a paper ballot, then he/she should be provided with a paper ballot.