Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright

He paced around the cage nervously. Another had been let into his cage, by the outsiders, earlier that the day. The other lay in the corner with weary eyes.

His primal instinct was to show his agression and establish dominance, but he feared coming off second best and remained in his corner. The two never took their eyes off each other.

When food was lowered to each via separate hatches on top of the cage, they rushed forward to lay claim to their shares, hungry.

A large number of their captors, young and old, walked by the cage, staring curiously at the duo, sometimes making strange noises that only scared the two.

Once, long ago, when he had been very young, he'd made the mistake of trying to attack the outsiders. The consequences had been painful.
To add insult to injury, he hadn't even managed to cause any damage.

Even the youngest of the outsiders, though scared, seemed to know that they were completely safe from the caged beasts.

After a while, curiosity and loneliness got the better of the two and they edged closer, warily. The outsiders were oblivious to the fact that they could talk.

"How long have you been here?" the other asked him.

"I forget... quite a long time I think.

"Well, I've been here for a much much longer time. Once though, I used to be free" said the other

"Freedom? For our kind? Do you expect me to believe that?" he almost growled

"Indeed, once upon a time, we ruled the plains, we spread over all corners of the land, and no animal walked, but that feared us. Then it happened.

"What happened?

"We cannot tell for sure, but the outsiders changed in strange ways, they became cunning and skillful. They avoided our attacks easily. Of course, I only speak of what my father told me, and what his father told him in turn. It has been a long time since we all roamed free.

Fortunately though, I had managed to experience freedom in my youth. I was born in captivity, but I escaped and wandered the forests freely for many years, until I was recaptured

"Why do they treat us so?

"For ages we..." the other was cut short by a loud ruckus outside.

A young male of their kind had somehow escaped from another cage through the food hatch, and the outsiders had reacted fast.

He was immediately struck down and lay dead with blood pooled around his head.

The two humans in the cage cowered back as several tigers surrounding their cage threateningly, fully on guard, and alert, fangs bared. Despite their fierceness, the humans could not but be breath taken by their grace and sleekness.

"For ages we caged and killed their ancestors... Is it surprising that they cage and kill us now?" the elder human whimpered.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

global tea party #1

With sincerest flattery of imitations from 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

So this local tea party fellow, he is everytime writing something so that ki people are saying - "what a post macha", or awesome and all. Some educated people are even using foreign words like "erudite" and "eloquent" or something.

Anyway, other day I thought, simply I will also write off like this fellow only, even that "anti local tea party" fellow is doing, so why I should not? Half of Bangalore people anyway are talking like this.

So, I am having one Nokia 1100 and before that 3220 phone... Many times I am thinking, "Arey yaar, I must get one smart phone", but never only I can actually.

See boss, when I was small, we had that black color ITI telephone - with finger, you had to rotate round and round, and if you dial 161 and keep it down, it will ring back at once "trrring trrring trring" and if you dial 162 and keep it down, after 5 seconds it will do "trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr". How I found out you are asking? I saw one phone repair fellow do it and we asked him off, and he told that number.

After Ambani and all made Reliance CDMA phone, then only I got actual cellphone. Mostly some 5 to 6 people I call mainly in life, rest all rarely, once in awhile I am having SMS conversation to and fro with people.

Nowadays everyone has smart phone, minimum some 12000 they are costing, and everytime people are buying newer and newer models. One huge economy itself is there from appstore and all, and they are keeping some tasty names like Ice cream sandwich for god knows what. Everyone is sliding their finger on the screen again and again like that number puzzle we used to have in young age - only in that puzzle, there was an ending, when you got all the numbers 1 to 25 in order. In smart phone no ending only. Also these people are eating bajji and bonda, rubbing their hair and then again using this touch screen - It is looking like one greasy dosai-kallu from Shanti Sagar restaraunt only.
Now you may be thinking ki boss, this fellow is one waste, he doesn't like progress and all, so he is making a fuss, but I am also one geek only and I know ki what amazing technology is in iPhone etc.
But think also, for two minutes only people are not able to leave this phone - When jogging also measuring speed, when travelling also using GPS, when going to bathroom also some are using. Some are even using when sleeping, to measure snores it seems.

In younger days, I was going off on 100s of kilometers journey with no chance of contacting home anywhere in between... If bus had fallen down the mountain also, family would have come to know only after many days.But nowadays, when walking the dog also I am keeping cellphone with me - thinking ki, "Who knows! Always better to have one phone.."
Too much only.... 

global tea party #2

This is one of my many facebook notes that I am going to copy into this blog, with suitably anonymized comments...
I wrote the following in the wake of the reactionary posts that people made on twitter and facebook after the really horrible Delhi gang rape incident of December 2012 (The bangalore-speak style is intentional)

All of you guys, waste buggers only... 
First of all scaredy cats, you will be scared of black cat crossing your path. You will be scared of exams, whole year you will do masti, on exam day only suddenly start praying off. You will be scared of parents, can't dare to smoke or drink or get stoned without hiding from parents. Internet history also you will delete off.

Full year you will stand near college gate and say "this figure, that figure", you will put marks, refer to girls as "maal". In films you will die for item number, whistle for Sheila and Munni, make "fraanship" on internet. You will join "AXE angels" group on facebook and like all the posts. Every sunday you will party, get drunk and discuss "isko pataunga, usko pataunga" ( or "ivalai correct pannren, avalai correct pannren" ).

Every third word you will say MC and BC and BKL and DK Bose and what not. 99% of girls on dating sites you will chase away with your country/kantri approach.

Then one day, you will hear in NEWS about something like the the awful incident in Delhi and suddenly you will start thumping chest like Tarzan -  "Like this we should beat the molestors, like that we should torture the rapists". For you greatest grief is that your friend can afford iPhone 5 and you can't because his parents are more misled than yours, but you will act off as if you really know anything about pain or suffering.

You will do nothing to change your sorry views and attitude on women, but as soon as one scapegoat was found, who is the extreme end result of your mindset, you will demand his blood and support capital punishment, support torture - If you wan't to talk like that, go live in some Taliban country where they condone this sort of eye for an eye stupidity. You will start saying how great in Saudi Arabia where they cut off peoples heads or hands for punishment - go die there only.

You got offended only after this all happened and now you are talking about iron rods and stuff? Daily so many thousands got offended by idiots like you, who only respond with hate to anything. Luckily all those did not take up any swords.You guys are the real scary people, you look and act literate online, but in your mind you are very backward- If some random guru or politician says something, he can hypnotise people like you into beating and oppressing other people. You think just because you are on a scale of 2 out of 10 in disrespecting women, you are better than the rapists who are 10/10 and can judge and be smug.

You guys are the type of people who write that America deserved the school shooting. Hateful scum.

If you really had concern for suffering and pain of others, long ago you would have become vegetarian, stopped drinking Coke and Pepsi, stopped buying Apple products and fireworks from Sivakasi. You wouldn't sit there with your 30000 Rs dumbphone and haggle for 20 rupees with a barely surviving auto rickshaw driver. Bullshit people you are.

Go do your work, be more respectful of women and keep your trap shut. Your violent words are worth less than your IQ (~0) 

Summa don't be off one "akil ka bakil" (free lawyer for everyone).

Let those who really can do something do it, don't pollute their effort with your medieval crappy reactionary violent mindset.  


N B :
Well written.

That being said, let me be quick to point out that while I'm no fan of the KSA and it's views (as you might be aware), I'm actually in favour of extremely stringent punishment that sets an example for would-be perpetrators of such crimes. In the outrage following what happened to that girl, we seem to be forgetting the umpteen cases of girls as little as three years and six years of age being raped; they barely get a column or two in the papers. 

Girls so young can't go identifying perpetrators, nor can they be expected to go learning and displaying martial skills (!) to protect themselves. If a change has to be brought about, it has to be at a societal level; inculcation of values, respect for women and children. This will take a generation or two.

Human nature being what it is, it has to be done via both education as well as with the fear of a punishment so dreadful that it makes one think ten times before committing such heinous crimes. Exemplified by Sun Tzu executing the two favourite concubines of the king who refused to follow orders; after that everybody fell in line.

No, I'm certainly not Talibanesque. Yes, I am vegetarian. And I respect women. For the record.

Me :
I think the bigger disease here is violence, rather than anything else - If a man is comfortable hitting another living being, any small deviant behavior becomes a full scale crime. The only difference between a loser and a rapist is that a loser is not violent enough to force himself upon a woman, the only difference between a frustrated youth and a killer is that an average frustrated youth has not the violence to pick up a semi-automatic weapon.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Solarian Mirage

The sun shines bright
We live in an age of fear and guilt, because we realize that the oil and coal are running out, and we've (puportedly) carbonized the atmosphere to a level high enough to cause weather changes.

While the first point is true and quite serious, the second is debatable (I won't debate it here, not today at least). Green is the new gold, and people are apt to jump on the "Solar solves all problems!" bandwagon at the drop of a sun hat.

I don't buy into this meme, because unlike almost all of you, I actually lived along with my family on solar electricity for several years, and what I and my brother have forgotten about the practicalities of solar electricity is much more than most will ever learn.

Now though, I (obviously) live in an urban home, and last month I consumed 326 KWh of electricity which runs :
  • A fridge for 24 hours
  • TV for upto 8 hours
  • 3 CFL Lights for 6 hours
  • Desktop PC for 6 hours
  • 2 Laptop chargers for 12 to 16 hours
  • Water heater for 30 minutes
  • Microwave for 30 minutes
This is a very meager amount of energy consumption compared to most households.
Let's calculate what it would cost me to go solar, given that I need a paltry 10 KWh a day...

Let's assume I get 4 hours of peak sunlight every day, which is very optimistic, given that it is tropical weather and urban atmosphere to boot.

I would need get a power output of 2.5 KW from my panels. That DC voltage would need to be converted to AC, at an efficiency of about 80% (again very optimistic) so that makes it 3.125 KW.

Since I need power at night, I need to store energy in lead acid batteries, at an efficiency of 70% (not including the loss caused by charge control circuitry). This gives me 4.46 KW of peak power requirement from my panels.

I looked at some listings on e-bay for poly crystalline panels and they need about 5 to 7.5 sq. m. per KW of peak power. We will think about pricing later.

Thus I need anywhere from 22 to 35 sq. m. of panels, installed on the roof of my house, which is a lot!

Also consider that I would like to have about 50% extra power, so that In a span of two sunny days, I can save up enough energy for one cloudy day (once again rose colored glasses).

I wish I had a dollar fifty for every time I prayed for sunny weather back when I needed it.

As of now, there is no widely available alternative to Lead Acid batteries, and while the technology has improved in the 15 years since I last used them, they are still heavy, expensive and short-lived.
For my hypothetical green home, I would need to store power for about a week shall we say? Let's be more optimistic and say 3 days.

30 kilowatthours - that is 2500 Ampere Hours at 12V

The best deep cycle tubular batteries are about 200AH capacity so I need about 12 of them. At 75 KG a piece, that is pushing close to a ton of equipment, including a 5KW inverter and all the associated paraphernalia.

About 15000 Rs a piece for the batteries
About 15000 Rs per sq. m. for the solar panels (based on rates of 300 USD /sq. m.  as seen on e-bay)
About 15000 Rs for a good 5KW inverter, I'm guessing.

Panel Life? They say 30 years, and it seems like that is a reasonable estimate.

Battery Life? Don't believe the manufacturers hype, if you can preserve 75% capacity of the batteries after 5 years with a few deep discharges in between, I will present you with an iridium asteroid.

So it costs me :
  • 4.46 * 1.5 * 15000 = 100,350 for the panels 
  • 15000 for the inverter
  • 15000 * 12  = 180,000 for the batteries
Total is about 2.8 lakh rupees initially, assuming I will do all the wiring and installation myself  (You could too,  if you just master one simple formula V=IR)

Every 5 years I would need to replenish the batteries, so I buy say 4 batteries to supplement the aging ones - That is 60,000 every 5 years or 12,000 per year after the first 5 years.

After 30 years... 
Assuming prices are constant, my power usage does not rise, sunlight remains plentiful and so on.

I would have spent 1500 a month on regular power from BESCOM - that's 1500 * 12 * 30 = 5.4 lakhs of rupees.

For solar, I would initially spend 2.8 lakhs and for 25 years after the first 5, I would spend a 1000 a month on battery cost = 1000 * 12 * 25 = 3 lakh rupees.

Does not really work out cost-wise!!

Let's look at what variables I could have misjudged by a great margin.
  • Panel costs  - perhaps they could be cheaper by another 15%
  • Battery costs - lead acids not likely to be cheaper than what I mentioned unless technology inevitably leaps and bounds, but halving the price of batteries would probably take a decade.
  • Sunlight - I counted ampere hours day after day in the Himalayas, where the skies are actually blue, and I declare that 4 hours of peak power a day is extremely optimistic, as is 2 sunny days for 1 cloudy one. 1 week without sunlight is not uncommon. And if you just deep discharge your batteries a few times, they will be scrap!
  • Rising costs of conventional power - this is very much what can throw my price numbers out the window
  • I don't consume much energy! I bet most households are consuming at least 2 to 3 times as much.
  • Energy costs of making the panels, the batteries, and the costs of installation (let me pretend I can't understand V=IR)
What about cooking?
That itself consumes almost as much energy equivalent as I use electricity. Once again there are only 2 people in my domicile, and we don't cook or eat much by most standards.
Then again, what about transport?
I burn 20 to 50 times more energy in the form of gasoline when I ride my bike - If I had a car, I would use probably 1.5 to 2 times as much of that again, not to mention the immense energy required to smelt, cast and forge three quarters of a tonne of steel and aluminum into an automobile!
Should I choose to use an electric bike and forgo the beloved noisy IC engine, I could reduce the energy needed by my bike to about a tenth but even then it's a very big amount.

So it all adds up to some dismal numbers, cost wise and carbon wise - and these numbers do not paint a good picture for solar. Don't even mention wind to me, because it is even worse.

I'm not saying solar is useless, but it's a bad choice, considering the demands of energy we have - and I haven't even considered heavy industry or jet transports or ships.

The wise thing would be to push for nuclear - whether you like it or not, in 25 years most of our energy needs will be from fission reactors. The French are doing it, so are the East Europeans - it works...

There's no other known way to run all those zillions of automobiles and air conditioners and what not. If you have huge amounts of nuclear energy, you can split water to make hydrogen and make almost totally emission free automobiles. It's been done decades ago. Even if hydrogen storage is an intractable problem, we can still use electric vehicles.

Nukes are the only technology that can be implemented right here, right now, to provide reasonably cheap and emission free energy for everything except air transport (and maybe that too, once they master hydrogen burning jets).

Anyway, 20 years from now, I will be reading this blog, either feeling like a complete idiot or a prophet! But somehow the idea of square kilometers of panels and tonnes and tonnes of batteries, just does not look very doable.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On wealth

Perhaps nothing else takes up so much of human thought as money, the endless worry, the hankering, the planning, the portfolios, the strategy… Apply that much effort and planning to acquiring knowledge or skill, or even love, and the results would be unbelievable.

Forget the tomes full of vague economic theory; essentially, money is a measure of desirableness. Something more desirable is more expensive, but this is purely subjective - I would gladly pay 1000s of dollars for an antique motorbike, but I don't see myself buying an iPad for a few 100. 

Business models and advertising work in two ways
  • Detect a latent desire in the customer and exploit it subtly - "You must look fair and beautiful!" and sell pureed edible matter with Freudian ads - as if the skin would eat that food stuff and be nourished.
  • Create a desire within people where none existed - Nobody but nobody needs a 2 gigahertz processor on a mobile phone - seriously!

This can work well only if there is consensus, so over time, certain things have come to be agreed upon as being "Most Wanted" - Throughout history there have been bouts of weirdness when some commonplace thing was driven into an upward price spiral by frenetic demand - like the Tulip craze in Holland a few centuries ago, and the steep price climb of second hand classic Royal Enfield's, RD 350s and classic Jawa's here now!

Most of the world's currency today is not backed by anything of "real" value. There is no gold in Fort Knox, nor will the "Governor" on the rupee note be able to fulfil his whole "I promise to pay the bearer the sum of hundred rupees" declaration if you held him up to it. Blame it on the reservoir dogs - I mean the fractional reserve dogs….

Thus, it's essentially bits of storage on some huge high-MTBF database server, that decide how wealthy you are - A single bit flipping due to a cosmic ray may throw you wildly across the wealth spectrum - but maybe not, there's all sorts of mechanisms (mostly redundancy) to prevent such glitches.

Some people are willing to wait for the things they desire, and will sacrifice time, in order to have the illusion that money is under control, while others will see money as a flowing phenomenon ebbing and waning, but flowing nonetheless. Some know the skewed nature of capitalism which lets you ride the wave of whatever is currently the fad. It would be quite unwise in this age to make any predictions about the financial state of the world 5 years in the future, let alone 25. Which is why the whole "save it for a rainy day" concept is not quite graspable for some people.

There is one investment that is the most fruitful, fully within your control, 100% guaranteed returns. That is your own precious self.

Whatever it takes to improve your physical, mental or digital self is way more useful an investment than any sort of material or property. An investment grows wealth from a seed - Any idiot can make 2 million if s/he already possesses 1 million. The challenge is to create wealth out of practically nothing, and no, building a marketable product with investment, while quite an impressive skill, is nowhere close to being able to create something valuable out of nothing at all.

In the (near) future…

Imagine a world where energy becomes free or extremely cheap - I'm taking about 1000 kilowatt-hours per dollar or less. In that case manufacturing anything is possible. There's enough energy to melt down and recast any bit of metal, enough energy to suck the CO2 right out of the air, enough energy to distill all the water in a river, enough juice to transport icebergs en masse from the Arctic to the Sahara. Enough to grow zillions of tonnes of food in hydroponic farms indoors. Enough to melt yourself a home out of a block of granite, with furniture to boot.

Once that happens, survival commodities will become free or trivially cheap, and economics as we know it will go for a full toss. In such a world, generating demand for anything will be extremely hard. Wealth as we know it will no longer work. Everyone is well fed and almost everyone will have no use for a number of things that solve problems that exist only today. Money is popular because it is mostly scarce, and it is scarce because it gets used up mostly for survival. Re-balance that equation, and suddenly we're not in Kansas anymore.

It will most certainly happen in the next half century or so.

And then the whole concept of virtual wealth - There are a number of online communities/games/virtual worlds where there exists some sort of karma or brownie points or whatever, and people are already directly or indirectly trading them for real money. Eventually memories, dreams, experiences will be up for download/sale, and most probably virtual goods will be traded in virtual money - Entire parallel economies will get created, and perhaps when physical necessities are not so hard to get, virtual commodities will become more valuable - If you're well fed, only then you look for mental stimulation.

In a way, money is an illusion, a vague measure of desirability of things tangible and intangible, which the marketing and advertising worlds try to force into homogeneity. A reduction in desire means a reduction in exchange of money, which is why materialism and "entrepreneurship" are promoted. You MUST buy a lot of stuff, or you MUST sell it, or you MUST market it, otherwise you are not in the club, you are an outside (wo)man in the Skonk Works. And stuff can't last too long, it must fall apart or be considered obsolete, otherwise no one is interested in selling it. Steel is passé, Plastic's in - whether in motorbikes or utensils. 
Most things are only replaceable, not repairable.

I have a simple way of measuring wealth - I look at how much I make a day, and when I need to pay for something, I calculate how many days of work went into that. That gives a very clear picture of what something is worth and how much I should worry about prices.

For e.g. I spend about 3% of my income on fuel, that's less than one day per month's work (about 8 hours). Even if the price of fuel doubles, It will simply add in theory 24 minutes of extra work per weekday to make up for it. Thus fuel prices are not even worth bothering about in my case. The same applies to things like taxi fares, electricity, internet and food bills. None of them are significant enough expenditures to worry about if the prices do go up, and I gain nothing by trying to economize on them.

Perception is everything, and stories abound about what the value of one minute of a person's time is. Some will say "It's harder to program in Java than to pull a rickshaw, therefore the software guy deserves more." - On the other hand, almost anyone with less than half a brain can program in Java, but it takes real guts (and calf muscles) to pull a loaded rickshaw.
There were times on the earth where art was highly valued in some cultures, while in other times and places, including India now, the artist are more seen as an artisan, a lowly life-form who performs for the entertainment of king and court. 
The same goes for craftsmen… in the US, a plumber can make more per hour than a manager, whereas here, a plumber is a mistri, a skilled laborer and his job is supposed to be so demeaning, that someone with knowledge of such a subject itself can cause eyebrows to raise, if it is brought up in a social gathering. One is reminded of Isaac Asimov's tale Strikebreaker in which a certain Mr. Ragusnik is held with similar disdain.

There is elitism about certain ways of making wealth, that is a cultural meme of the current age - Almost everyone who makes a decent amount of money today, does so by shifting dead trees (paper), and I will go so far as to say that 98% of these tasks are automatable.

It's a crying shame that a dancer, or a teacher, both individuals (my friends) who bring color and light into this world with great effort and enthusiasm, do not receive their deserved due - not only in monetary terms, but even as respect and encouragement.

Change. Need.

Monday, August 8, 2011

9 lessons from Ladhak

It is more than a year now since we’d been to Ladhak, and I’d like to record here some of the interesting stuff  that I learned along the way, I’m not censoring the events described here in any way, I might sound a bit rantish in places, but that’s how it was.

There were seven of us, each on a different bike:
  • Naren on a Bullet Classic 500 EFI, with Santosh on pillion
  • Myself on a ‘06 Electra 350
  • Akash on a ’94 Std 350 (all of 18 years old, probably the youngest guy ever to ride to Ladhak)
  • Jaideep on a Classic 350
  • Himanshu on a Karizma
Before we started, a vague set of rules was made about the riding order, and keeping headlights in rear view mirrors – Logic says that behind every rookie an experienced person must ride, but experience is a vague term, and the pecking order is hard for some to get. The rules were not really followed with discipline – this would lead to some grief later on.

Ideally I would have liked it if Naren had been in charge 100%, with everyone doing exactly as he planned and advised – after all he’s done more tortuous kilometers on hilly, icy, slushy, snowy, roads and highways than the rest of us put together (later events would vindicate this truth) – but well everyone knows better until the time when something goes wrong, so preparations were not exactly as Naren (and I) would have liked.

Lesson #1: Riding long distance on rough roads is a dangerous thing – you must have a proper hierarchy and command in the group, and a follow the leader approach – The person whose riding, mechanical, logistical and managerial skills is a superset of the others is the leader - as simple as that. A mission critical approach is necessary; it’s not all fun and games.

Having started out from Dehradun, we rode towards Chandigarh; we were taking the J&K route to Leh.
We rode on into Punjab and the only way to beat the sun was to soak our shirts and helmet at every possible location. I will omit the obligatory descriptions of what we ate and where, because you ride to ride, not to eat – No morsel so tasty as could exceed the pleasure of a well ridden curve, or drink with so much “kick” as that of the beat of an Enfield at peak torque.

Through Nahan, Chandigarh and so on we rode… somewhere near Gadshankar the head gasket of my bike gave out – 350s are not meant to do 80 to 90 KPH all day in the summer heat, especially those whose engines have not been examined or overhauled. First day of a ride, everyone was enthusiastic and the bikes were pushed hard. At one point I was both appalled and awed by some Jat munda doing 90 on a Honda Activa – May he rest in peace.
When an Enfield starts sounding like a choo-choo train – head gasket it is, blown it is. No sooner than we pulled over to assess the damage than some dudes hurried over and told us there was a mechanic close by. So the next three hours we waited until the chappie could dismantle the head (took a while for it to just cool enough to be handled) and refit a thicker gasket – “Moti gasket daali hai, ye knocking khatam kar denda hai” – that’s what he said.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped to admire the view on a small hill. Himanshu had a cig. lighter fitted on his bike and Akash was messing with it, and somehow it ended up with Himanshu grabbing the hot end with this thumb and getting a spiral “branding” on his thumb. That lighter would cause more grief later.

Lesson #2 : Don’t fool around – playing is good, but tomfoolery often leads to pain and sourness.

We rode on in the heat, and as we started wondering about lunch, we spot a “MacDonalds” in the middle of nowhere – A small town called Dasuya, which we will forever remember as the “MacD” place. It wasn’t really about the burgers but the fact that we’d get to sit in an air conditioned space and get plenty of cold water to drink, and a bathroom!

We reached Pathankot late that evening – A very depressing place, seedy and messy, and there was a bit of indecision amongst the chaps as to where to stay and how much it cost. Then there was the chore of unloading everything from the bikes, a tiring ritual that we would have to repeat everyday – I and Naren swear that the next time we go, we will travel light - One cramster and one rucksack per bike should be all – If you cant carry each bikes luggage it singlehandedly, it’s too much!
We were concerned for the safety of our bikes – the place had a ghetto air about it - so we parked them in a complex configuration in a small shed, in such a way that no one bike could be removed easily and cable locked the wheels of the outermost ones.

That night Akash was in bad shape, stomach upset, exhausted and he refused to eat much or take any medicine. He kept moaning that someone put him out of his misery. We had half a mind to…
He wasn’t helped by the fact that he’s not quite the fittest 18 year old, and his heavy “Harley Davidson” jacket, while looking cool and providing good safety, was not ideal for the ride in the heat, besides it was a heavy thing with shoulder padding stuff and would have weighed heavily on his slender frame.

Lesson #3: Get the rookies to prepare for the journey – I myself had never ridden in the hills, I’d ridden all of 15000 KM perhaps, Akash perhaps only a couple of thousand, and he wasn’t really prepared for such a ride physically. Santosh himself rode pillion with Naren, but having never been on a bike much, he didn’t balance well, and considering his huge heavy frame, it wasn’t ideal for Naren – Thanks to the power of the CL 500 he managed fine. Jaideep and Himanshu had probably ridden the distance, but I didn’t think they had “biker” written on them anywhere.

The next day we reached Udhampur, passed through the picturesque Patni Top, Peed, and finally bedded down in Ramban – Not much to describe about these places, go see for yourself!

Lesson #4

The real mountain roads started after Pathankot and for a novice biker like me, there was much to learn – It helps if you use common sense and a knowledge of physics, you can work these things out. I’ve always believed that theory is more important then practice, practice should be done after the theory is known.

Here I list some of the simple “common sense” stuff I learned
  •  “Apex driving” – This was something Naren explained – Ideally, if you were on a race track, and were making track records you would drive on a racing line – outer to inner on every bend, but on an unknown mountain road with two way traffic, blind corners and poor traction, you really don’t want to do this, not unless you are some Isle of Mann TT champ, riding a Ducati or something. Simple physics – A bike is most stable when travelling in a straight line, it moves the fastest, it brakes the best and it wants to be in that state – therefore, if you can see a distant point on the road across multiple S bends, and you see that no traffic will approach the line from you to that point, you aim and ride arrow straight to that point, not swinging left and right following the bends. You essentially “apex” each S curve whenever possible.
  • Don’t brake uphill! Why would you ever want to be so fast uphill that you need to brake!!! Back off the throttle and you anyway have some fraction of a G of braking. I found it odd that everyone except me and Naren were doing this.
  • Early braking on bends – Leave late braking to Schumi and The Doctor – Brake well before you approach a tight curve, if you are on the tightest possible curve when you enter, you can accelerate and widen your curve in an emergency. If you enter wide and fast and expect to tighten the curve by braking, you put your faith on the least reliable parts of a motorbike – the traction and the brake – and on dusty, sandy, rough roads, you are mocking death by braking late.
  • Downshift before entering bends and keep the engine revved close to peak torque when taking a bend – A turn involves change of velocity which means force is required, in order to maintain speed along the curve – At peak torque you get maximum force and you are at the right RPM to accelerate rapidly to control the curve diameter – Don’t be lugging the bike at 1000 rpm in top gear on a sharp bend – it leaves no margin for error or emergency.
  • Throttle modulation – Control the bike with the throttle, gently, keep the rates of change of velocity low. Don’t rev out and accelerate or slam the brakes, anticipate changes in speed and do it gently.
A lot many more things, things the body learns as the connection between man and machine grows… As I’ve said before, at least for me, it was all about the ride – the destination being Ladakh was the icing, but the ride itself was the cake.

The next day we crossed the Jawahar tunnel, 2400 meters of darkness, with the thump of 4 Enfields and the whine of one Karizma resounding through the length.
On that “note”, an interesting phenomenon that happens with a thump of Enfields riding together on the road is the amazing effects caused by the harmonics of each bikes RPM. Each of the Enfields we rode was a different one and none have the exact same gearing, so when we did ride abreast at the same speed, the sound effects were quite mesmerizing.

We were well and properly into J&K by this time and all the military presence was conspicuous. When we reached Srinagar, we heard that there had been some violence that morning, things seemed ugly and there was a soldier visible every 20 meters, loops of barbed wire (the high tech kind) blocking off certain areas. A general air of unpleasantness…
We’d accommodations at one Ashram place and A lone bottle of Fanta amongst a sea of Sprite was how Naren put it. After some discussion on whether to take bikes or not, we decided to hire a SUV and see Gulmarg.
The ride was picturesque and so was the destination, for the most part, except that it’s a huge tourist spot filled with Chunni, Munnu, Mummy, Daddy, Didi, Bhaiyya and Dadi times 500, all wrapped up like Eskimos against the “cold” June weather.

The next morning, we had a nasty surprise when we discovered the CL500 would not start. Naren quickly noticed that someone had ripped out some wires – surprising, sice we were parked within an “Ashram” premises. The previous evening had also been discordant, Naren and couple of the others had been on a walk near Dal lake and saw some eighth graders chanting some partisan slogans, and had also observed that the lake was rife with pimps dealing their “ladies of the lake”. Nothing like the lake that Shammi Kapoor fell in.

After some “jugaad”, Naren spliced the wires back, and we were off – We were never going to miss this place…

Soon all the follies of humans were forgotten as we were enveloped by raw nature riding onto Sonamarg, steep grassy slopes, the river below, cold dark morning… We climbed higher and higher, road got more and more rugged, as we climbed towards the dreaded Zozila pass.

Somewhere along the way there was a huge traffic jam, about a kilometer long, I managed to weave in and out of the stalled vehicles and rode on ahead…. Despite wearing inner and outer gloves, my hands started freezing, so I stopped by the wayside, waiting for the others to catch up, and warmed my hands on the toasty hot timing cover of the bike.

After regrouping, we rode on, and then hit “the bends” – Oh what bends, 21 hair raising hairpin bends, the road mostly rubble. On the second bend, I saw the first Shaktiman truck, and pulled to one side. It’s damn hard to stop a bike on a steep slope – Holding the front brake is useless, it just slides back. You can press the rear brake, but you need purchase with the other leg first, and that’s quite difficult on the rubble. Somehow you need to manhandle the bike until it stops sliding, then hang on.

First came one truck, then another, then another, and another, and so on – I believe 40 trucks passed in the convoy. Whew! After that the problem of getting the bike moving arises – there’s not enough traction, not enough balance, not enough torque (Yes, I know the 350cc Enfield has 2.8 KGM of peak torque,  but it’s still not enough). 

It got colder and colder and we saw huge mounds of frozen snow and slush – we were crossing little pools of melt water, and inevitably boots and pants were soaked. The temperature was dropping fast, dark and gloomy weather. We finally reached the Zozila war memorial and no sooner than we stopped for the obligatory picture-taking, than a couple of army chaps told us it would be wise to leave, since it had started snowing, a flurry of light snowflakes blowing around.

We were off, descending down towards Drass, and the snow turned to pouring rain, and gusty winds made the face numb, and drove the cold right into the bones. After what seemed like hell frozen over, we finally reached a military encampment, where we’d arrangements to stay. There was really no heat, and we had to eat lunch shivering, observing decorum with the Major who was our host.

The saddlebag that my bike had, was a “Desi” one and it finally showed its true colors… The splashing water had gotten in and everything was damp or wet.

Lesson #5 : Never compromise with substandard stuff! Take a Cramster saddlebag!

After some hours of being tucked into blankets, life returned and sleep had never been sweeter. That night we sat chit chatting with the Major, he told stories about his time in Siachen, how he’d seen Kashmiris who didn’t consider that they lived in India. I was feeling a little under the weather and some rum was most welcome.

The next morning was cold and blustery, windy and misty, we planned to get off to an early start, but that camp was officially “The coldest military encampment in the world” and it was about 8 AM by the time we had laden our bikes.

Then Akash’s bike would not start – ignition problems or a weak spark, it would fire once and sputter out. After some relentless kicking, it finally started to eight stroke! Instead of the DUG-DUG-DUG  it was more like DUG-SH-DUG-SH. The slightest modulation of the throttle would make it die.

A few patient minutes later, it came to life finally, perhaps something dried up or perhaps the battery came back to life.

Lesson #6 : Electricals are the most vulnerable part of a bike. Later events would show why.

We rode off in the cold, passing Dras town, along the Dras river, a lovely section of road, no greenery anywhere, but patches of pink flowers growing on bushes, randomly. Passed by Tiger hill and stopped at the Kargil war memorial and museum – what a wretched region to fight in!

At a point, there was a board saying “You are under enemy observation” and there was apparently a Pakistani border outpost visible across the river on top of a hill.

Speaking of boards, the BRO (Border Roads Organization) had some catchy ones like “Difficult will be done immediately, Impossible will take some time”. It’s quite amazing that they manage to keep that road open and maintained. Hundreds of army trucks and perhaps hundreds of motorbikes in the touring season ply that route and three cheers to the BRO for keeping the road working.

Kargil was a messy unpleasant town, we tanked up and were out of there as soon as possible. It reminded me of several places I’d seen before in the mountains, a “bazaar” kind of town with filth and decadence all around.

The terrain got picturesque soon – dry rolling mud hills and mountains, we climbed and climbed, and we reached Fotu La, a high mountain pass about 4000 meters high. I, Akash and Naren took a break there and we hob-nobbed with another group of biker guys on an R15 and Pulsar.

After a while Jaideep and Himanshu reached and once again we set off. After several miles on some really lovely hairpins and bends, in the glorious evening sun, we found that Jaideep and Himanshu were nowhere to be seen (the road was visible for several KM, but no trace of them). Naren decided to turn back to investigate. Jaideep soon turned up and told of how there had been a tiff between him and Himanshu and that Himanshu’s bike had issues.

Apparently, at Fotu-La, Akash had lent Himanshu’s lighter thing to one of the guys in the other group. Here is the thing about modern Japanese (or any) bike – They’re precision engineered, made to be used as is – you don’t go messing with it and modifying it unless you really know what you’re doing. That lighter attachment in Himanshu’s Karizma, somehow managed to blow the electricals of his bike completely.

The Karizma would not start – when Jaideep pressed to offer assistance, Himanshu was irritated and words were spoken – “Let me off” – this phrase was often repeated when this incident was recounted.

So Naren took my Electra back uphill and I gingerly rode the CL500 down to the Lama Yuru valley a few kilometres away (it’s real hard to ride with a heavy pillion!)
We waited and then Naren and Himanshu arrived… Himanshu decided he would stay at Lama Yuru, and wished to separate from the group. We “let him off” and wondered whether we should visit the monastery or what. It was quite late now, 6ish and we decided that we would press on and reach Ladhak – It was not the wisest thing to do, but it ended up being a nice adventure.

Then we discovered Akash’s bike had lost air – No problem… Akash had brought this glorious brass cylindered antique foot pump – Only problem was that when we tried it, it did not work. So much for delegating responsibility... The guys from the other group saved the day, they lent us their pump, and we decided to all ride together till Leh.

It was darkening now and we dropped right down into the valley, riding beside a stream in a narrow space. The rocks all around were of a peculiar purple color and the road was not quite a road, but rubble and dust and gravel. We crossed this stretch of about 20 kilometers on this really rough road. It was quite difficult. At one point I stopped and was unable to hold my bike upright, the ground underfoot was so full of gravel and rocks that it was quite impossible to even lift the bike up. It took me, Akash and Naren to get it back on track again. Riding down that road was a continuous sliding sort of motion, the bikes losing traction at every possible stage, rocks flying off the tyres, jolting and juddering… In the dark!

I think perhaps no ride has ever felt so difficult in my life – teeth on edge – the realization that we had to cross this stretch fast, falling down was not an option. Somehow, I found what it took to ride that section out without mishap. The road got slightly better and when we got about 80 Km from Leh, it turned into this glorious stretch of black smooth tarmac. We let it rip – It was fully dark now, it was past 9 PM and there were millions and millions of stars in the sky – We’d never seen so many, even in the Himalayas where we had once lived.
It was bone chilling cold and the wind chill didn’t help either, but it was a glorious ride and we reached Leh finally.

We lodged in one of those nice boarding houses, bed and breakfast kind of place. Sleep at last!

We’d talked about what we’d do the next day, go here, go there, this and that, the next morning however, we were greeted with chilling rain, I was down with a cold and everyone decided to snuggle in and make it a rest day!

In the late afternoon we roamed around Leh, a lazy relaxed day after so many days riding 12 hours or more.

I’ll skip the obligatory tedious descriptions of the places we roamed around – The Bactrian camel farm, Chang-La pass -  halfway to Khardungla, the Monasteries, The T-Shirt places (where you can get custom monograms embroidered)

Khardung – la!

That was the very peak of the whole deal – The highest motorable road in the world 18360 feet above the sea level!

The day we got the new that the pass was possibly open, we rode up and waited for quite a while at Chang-la to get confirmation. A military chopper arrived, tried to land 3 times, and they gave up and left. Some people came downhill and we decided we should attempt the steep 14 KM.

Chilling wind, flurries of snow, slushy gravely road, big gutters right in the middle, asthmatic bike revved out in 1st gear, slipping, sliding, losing traction – The blowing wind and snow made keeping the eyes open almost impossible – My strategy was to hunch over and focus on the road one meter ahead of my wheel. There was no room for error or pauses – If you stop, it’s unlikely you can restart again, there’s just not enough traction.
We’d replaced the Air filter of my Electra with a kids sock, but I’m not sure whether it helped!

Lesson #7 : Don’t take a bike with less than 20 horsepower on tap – Considering that the CL500 did that stretch comfily with a pillion rider – There’s no point flogging a less powerful bike, you just set yourself up for a fall

On the return journey, Santosh left via flight to Delhi and Naren gave me the CL-500 to ride back – It felt awesome – To quote Waldo Weatherbee : “Sheer raw bestial power! Unconstrained by the rules and conventions of civilization!”

We blasted along at a great pace on the slick black road, and reached the “Magnetic hill” place. Some simple tests showed there was nothing magnetic about it… Water flowed downhill, bike rolled downhill, apples hypothetically fell from trees and there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary as far as I could see. Disappointment – So much for other-worldy phenomena

We pushed hard on the ride back, went via Hambotu-la and Batalik - a lovely section of the road - There was a huge mountain there across the valley whose sheer cliff showed the entire rock strata in a wavy curved pattern– Rock can bend and flow!

The ride back seemed effortless on the CL-500 – That extra power and good tires make all the difference – Awesome roll on, effortless passing manoeuvres, great brakes – over all tension free riding.

Somewhere near Kargil, some villagers were hammering steel rods on the road, Akash panic braked, I panic braked even harder to avoid hitting him and took a small fall. Nothing bad happened except the bike would not start for about 5 minutes – It has some kind of safety mechanism that shuts off the engine for a while after a fall.

On to Zozila we rode, the entire road was soaked and slushy – You dare brake much, just mild feather touches – just sidle along in 1st gear on the slick mud, hoping you can reach the next bend at low enough speed not to die. Even downshifting too fast was enough to lock the wheel for a couple of feet and give me the ol’ shiver-me-timbers.

The first evening we made it to Dras town and halted there for the night – Seedy place, unpleasant and shabby, cold and dingy.

The next day we pushed very hard on the way back, everyone was in a hurry to get home, and at one point in the early evening Akash rode off very much ahead. Jaideep was just ahead of me and Naren brought up the rear…

At one point disaster struck – Jaideep overcooked a bend and took a fall – I had a grandstand view of the fall : He must have been doing about 60 kph downhill and the bike slid to the left. He was sliding ahead and the bike tumbled a bit, rotated and slid inexorably towards him – “This guy is dead” I remember thinking. The bike ended up in the gutter and he lay nearby – I cut across into the inner side pronto and raced to Jaideep, Naren was right behind – Luckily jaideep had no major injuries, and was just a bit dazed. The bikes headlight and front console was smashed, but it seemed OK otherwise.

Apparently the cause of his error had been twofold – He had just received a call from one of our friends whose family had been involved in a bad car crash (no one was hurt bad thankfully) and he was irritated at Akash for racing off into the blue – He’d wanted to catch up to Akash and ended up pushing much too hard – At least that’s what he said.

Lesson #8: Don’t push hard! 250 to 300 KM everyday for many days is not wise on mountain roads, especially if you are in a tense state of mind and in a hurry to get home

After some rest, he decided he would ride on anyway, he didn’t want to truck his bike or anything, and we rode on beyond Patni Top and halted for the night at a guest house. There was some kind of amphibious assault vehicle parked there, a mean bestial looking hunk of metal, with tracks and wheels and guns and all. Wonder how much peak torque it had…

We rode into Punjab the next day and stayed at Jalandhar at the house of some relatives of Akash, had a good rest and were treated very well by our hosts.

The next day once again the pace was pushed hard, once again Akash was way way ahead, eventually it was lunch time and we’d still seen no sign of him. Patience wore thin and Jaideep especially was quite upset with him – After lunch we eventually got Akash on phone and asked him to halt until we caught up – After we did, a few kilometres downhill, Akash’s bikes electricals gave out – complete death.

Within no time Naren hot-wired the bike and it was back on the road! With Naren by your side, great things are possible...

Lesson #9: Remember lesson #6! Learn bike theory, whether it’s changing your rear tyre single handedly or hot-wiring the ignition, changing oil or adjusting brakes, if you always depend on a mechanic, you will be in trouble when bad things happen

We were not very far from home now, and we rode in, after a glorious 2600 KM or more across some of the most awesome roads in the world. Despite all the glitches and little annoyances, the trip was the best ride I ever had in my life.

Now we plan to do it again this September!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Who do you listen to?

Who do you listen to?

All humans are arrogant, and ego(t)istical – In 98% of the cases, it is an unjustified ego, based on a skewed evaluation of ones abilities. The very few rare people whose ego is justified, are generally so able, that one can consider them extremely eccentric and not entirely human. Feynman and Hawking come to mind in the realm of science. Kasparov or Torvalds maybe.

As for the rest, the mental reality distortion field is quite intense and things connected with one self are artificially inflated, ones thoughts, words and actions seem to have importance. Nothing bad about it – "It is simply the nature of the beast" - as the Denebian Diaboli would say.

In any case, a little common sense will tell one that even if one is an outlier in terms of ability for a few dimensions and skills, that does not mean one has any inkling about certain other things. In such cases, the humbly wise will defer their opinions to anyone who knows even a little better. The one dimensional however, will falsely assume that their own needle of ability, can somehow pierce through the veil of the unknown.

The average physics guru would not realize that when fitting an axe-head to a handle, you strike the handle from the bottom not the head from the top… or that a log must be tied with a timber hitch and not a granny knot. Every skill has it’s own “kung fu” and not much of it transfers across, even if some folks feel that certain kinds of learning encompass others.

It’s all fine for the sciences - Probably the “ideal” physicist would come up with the “bang the handle, not the axe-head” system on his own, but it gets dicey when it comes to the non-deterministic parts of life. The expertise in a field of study does nothing much for the development of a person emotionally and behaviorally, thus we see the occasional “star” acting like a toddler.
I for one, have the privilege of knowing a person who, despite a blindingly brilliant intellect, has the humility to be able to listen to folks and learn from them without dismissing them off as idiots. I aspire that should my intellect ever be so stellar, my humility ought to be that grounded too.

Who do you listen to? – Is there someone who you can listen to when you are aware that your own sense of judgment is unable to cope with some situation? Major Vukalovic said to Captain Boris - “When all is lost, when there is no hope, there is that one (wo)man you can turn to”.

The question is… do you have that one person and will you turn to them and accept what they say? It may not be the same someone always…
What about in a simple day to day situation? Can you take you ego off when deciding the simple trivial things? Are you OK with things not going exactly as you fancy? Do you realize the folly of demanding perfection or everything according to your limited standards?

Can you listen and not just hear?