Seasons of my life

The last few months I lived through an actual climate fiction (called cli-fi) story.

We lived through a very hot summer. The temperatures reached levels where it felt like an air conditioner would be necessary to survive. We were tempted twice in the last few months to install an air conditioner. We may need it to survive the October heat.

We survived with an air cooler that was not working at its peak and that was not able to cool the room. It broke down twice. Once when my year-old son tugged the wire and broke it. Another time when it just gave up trying to cool the room.

We provided it with chunks of ice to support it on its mission. The general stores that sold ice for drinks repurposed it to be used in air coolers. We froze the ice on our own. We found that the air cooler had a provision to drop the ice inside the cooler.

I drove in the hottest part of the day twice (during emergencies) on my two-wheeler and realized how torturous the Sun was. It took me hours to recover on both occasions. My father faced a similar situation and then stopped me from going out in those hours.

We used curtains to block out the Sun and ran the air cooler for long hours during the day. An air that blew early in the morning provided some respite on certain days. When I read Venkatesh Rao’s Ribbonfarm studio post about why solar punk makes sense for people in temperate climates and not for people who come from equatorial or tropical climates made a lot more sense given this background. When I hear about solar, I can remember only these hot days survived with an air cooler. It does not give me a picture of living in harmony with nature.

The hot sunny days were punctured by rain on a few days. The surroundings grew dark, the winds died down, and the rain would pour for a few minutes to an hour. I realized how little I look up at the sky nowadays.

The frequency of rains grew through the end of May and early June. The anticipation for rain grew. People cursed these short-duration rains because the rains raised the temperature thereafter.

The rains were cursed by city folks as soon as it started raining. This was because it flooded the over-built roads. Human construction did not give water anywhere to go, so the water just stayed on the roads.

There were several reports of water logging on the roads that I normally take to work. I took the road that was least likely to get waterlogged because it was older. Older roads tend to have drainage that is either human-built or natural.

An old road that I had used flooded because it was rebuilt with concrete. It had a wide human-built drainage ditch on both sides. But they forgot to link it to the road so that the water from the road would flow into the ditches. This meant that they had to find and physically open the hatches that covered the ditches at great risk. When the water receded, workers were building temporary connections between the road and the roadside stormwater drainage.

Cal Newport writes in his book, Slow Productivity to plan your life in seasons. He uses the word seasons to mean human seasons of life and not the natural seasons. For India, I think natural seasons would make more sense.

I think monsoon is to get things done which can be done remotely or by having people visiting your home to get things done. Monsoon is the time to get home maintenance done. It is also for spending more time at home with a digital newspaper, cups of tea, and hot food. You still need to go out to get some things done. Getting wet is unavoidable. It is a time to let my children enjoy the rain.

The monsoons are days of trouble to get your clothes dried after washing. The lifts have already stopped working because the water leaks through its roof and has flooded the basement. There are heavy winds that rattle our windows, shut our doors, and leak through the bedroom walls. The solar water heater does not do its work all the time. This makes us rely on the water heater in the bathroom.

The rain brings relief from the relentless heat of the summer. It transforms the ghats near me from dry plants and grass, rocks seem to trap the heat or reflect the Sun into green plants and grass and water plays off the rocks.

The monsoons are also a time to hunker down. I feel the need to protect my office bag with an extra layer of rain cover. I feel the need to carry extra footwear. I feel the need to add a layer of protection for electronics from the thunder and lightning. I try to avoid going out unless necessary.

The monsoons which have their source to the seas connect land and sea. When we lived in Mumbai where the sea was right there, I did not see the connection. Now, living on the leeward side of the ghats, the monsoons bring the sea closer to you. It reminds you of the seas.

The hills were once your refuge from the heat. But climate change has meant that there was not much of a difference between the hills and the plains. You need to go higher to get the same cold that you got at lower altitudes earlier. People are now going to the mountains that you could once get by going to the hills.

I wrote about the weather today because I did not have much else to write about. I did not know that I was so affected by the climate. If you think about it, you will realize that climate change has more of an impact on your life than you think. For now, I am enjoying the rain, the humidity, and the heat of the days.

June 10, 2024

Weekly Notes 23/2024

Writing

I heard about the #1000daysofsummer from a member of Amit Varma’s Clear Writing Community (CWC). I shared the idea with another writing community I am a member of — The Purple Pencil Project. I shared my writing progress with both groups.

I wrote many posts under the aegis of #1000daysofsummer:

1.          I visited Tamhini Ghat in May but wrote about it on the first day.

2.          My father visited us and we went to Panshet Dam together. I wrote about that visit for the second day.

3.          I wrote a piece of fiction for the third day. This was an attempt to write linear fiction and try world-building there. I was not very happy with this attempt.

4.          I wrote fiction again on the fourth day. This was an attempt to write recursive fiction. I enjoyed writing this.

5.          I got back to writing my space newsletter. This was written on the fifth day but published on June 6 on Substack.

6.          I don’t remember when was the last time I enjoyed watching a launch before. I wrote about the excitement of watching SpaceX’s Starship’s IFT-4.

7.          I wrote a private note trying to build on characters based on the characters created by Prateek Arora for his MahaMachinist Politica. I did not publish this.

8.          Did not write.

Some of the other things that I wrote that found some traction:

1.          I wondered why there was a lack of writing for people in their 30s and 40s, compared to writing for people in their 20s.

2.          Post on X and Mastodon about how a daughter attending school brings discipline to our life.

3. Post on X and Mastodon about my daughter’s efforts to switch on a feature phone.  

Reading

I did not read much as my father was visiting. The little available time was spent writing. I did read a wonderful piece by Venkatesh Rao on how solar punk as an idea worked better for temperate climates than tropical and equatorial climates.

I made a little progress on reading Cory Doctorow’s Red Team Blues. I gave up on reading Book 1 of The Hidden Hindu by Akshat Gupta for now. I also gave up on reading Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert.

I have got the book, Saboteur by R V Raman from the Pune Public Library in Vishrantwadi. It is a look at the world of e-commerce.

OTT

I watched:

  1. New Amsterdam - Season 4 - English
  2. Game Over - Hindi
  3. Dhak Dhak - Hindi
  4. Scoop - Hindi
  5. Atlas - English
  6. Sisyphus - Korean (English dub).

YouTube

Why Does the Culture Feel Dead? | Ted Gioia | How I Write Podcast

David Perell talks to Ted Gioia for his podcast, How I Write Podcast. I think Ted Gioia is talking about Asia in the 90s when he speaks about The Honest Broker. He was given this advice by a drunk Australian in a bar, whose name he does not know but who had worked in Asia for a long time. The drunk Australian told him that the only way to get things done in Asia was to find an honest broker where he wanted to setup a factory or a business. An honest broker was a person respected by the community and who knew how to get things done with the help of the community. The drunk Australian warned him that he would do it for free now but expect things in return at a later time.

 

the attention economy is killing us.

This is a video by a YouTuber named Alice Cappelle. She introduces a philosopher from Korea who lives in Germany named Byung Chul Han. An idea of his that he shares here is that we have moved from a discipline society to an achievement society. I have bookmarked him here to read the book itself.        

SolarPunk Cities: Our Last Hope?

This is a video by a YouTuber named Dami Lee. She is worried by the fact that the best representation of solar punk that we have in the world today is an ad by a consumer brand. She looks at the various architectures possible and those tried out in the real world (most are in the Netherlands).

I agree with Venkatesh Rao (see section on Reading) that solar punk is a misnomer.

Elections

The elections for the National Elections in India were declared on 4 June 2024. Maharashtra’s politics has been a confusing ride. I wish that at least at the state level, the two political parties, the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party get merged again and return to their formal alliances with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress respectively. Given the news reports circulating, it may be happening.

I went from Pune to Mumbai to cast my vote after a request for a change of address I tried last year did not work out.

Miscellaneous

I was reading way too many self-help books in my 30s. A few years ago it was my wife who asked me how reading books had improved or changed my life. I had not stopped to consider this. I was reading books and adding them to the tally of the books I had read. I also found that most of the books that I was reading assumed I was somewhere between 25 and 35. I was two years past the age for which books were written for people.

I don’t remember a thing about what I read, what systems to implement, or what to learn to change my life now. Everyone’s situation is unique. So everyone must implement the system that works for them. Then with gradual improvement in the system over the years, you will have a system that works for you. This is what Cal Newport suggests in his new book, Slow Productivity.

The above insight helps me to do something, improve, and iterate.

I had read in Dan Koe’s book, The Art of Focus that when you share what helps you and then can charge for it, it may help you become a single-person entrepreneur. By the time I do this, this would be old advice.

June 9, 2024

Watching the Starship IFT-4 launch

It has been a long time since I had so much fun watching a launch. I did not watch the full thing but the news reports I read thereafter made it seem like just another launch. Hence, I wrote this!

I missed watching the lift-off and the separation of the Super Heavy Booster and Starship.

Full flight

When I joined the stream on X, it was playing elevator music with the video showing a rotating model of Starship. I loved watching this GIF with background elevator music. We were waiting for the re-acquisition of the signal just like we were waiting for a lift to come to your floor.

The mission was the fourth Integrated Flight Test (IFT-4). In the third flight (IFT-3), Starship had hard landed in the southern Indian Ocean. For this flight, they hoped to soft land in the southern Indian Ocean. While the elevator music was playing on the main webcast, I saw the clips of the launch and Super Heavy Booster separation.

Launch

Super Booster separation and splashdown

The exhaust from the 33 Raptor engines (powered by liquid oxygen and methane) that powered the Super Heavy Booster formed an asterisk when you looked at it from the top view. It looked like the asterisk one sees in all advertisements that warn about there being various Terms and Conditions that apply.

I also watched the video of the Super Heavy Booster (added in the second link above) falling back and splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico in a controlled manner. But this did not prepare me for the drama surrounding the splashdown of Starship.

The IFT-4 mission was collecting data on many parameters. The launch commentators kept repeating that on this mission, data was the payload.

When the signal returned Starship was floating over Africa at an altitude of more than 200 km above sea level and coasting at a speed of more than 26000 km/hr. It then began to descend back to Earth. As it hit the Earth’s atmosphere, we got to see the plasma generated by the atmosphere from an onboard camera under the first flap that controlled the vehicle. These were visible in vibrant colors on the body of Starship. Both speed and altitude numbers on the screen began to fall.

Plasma around Starship

Starship then went through regions of maximum temperature and maximum pressure. This exerted so much stress that the camera showed the flap controlling the front of Starship tearing apart. We saw the pictures in real-time and live thanks to the data being sent back by the camera through SpaceX’s Starlink satellite. The camera lens then was filled with debris but was still working and transmitting live images back to us.

I think that at this stage all eyes were on the video. There was no one paying attention to the various statistics displayed on the screen (spacecraft attitude, speed, and altitude). All eyes were on whether the fin would hold.

A little while later, we could see the plasma passing through the rupture on the camera. The debris from within the rupture could be seen flying past the camera and covering the camera’s lens. Kudos to whoever designed or worked on this camera!

The last time (IFT-3), the signal from Starship was lost was when it was 65 km above sea level. The employees at SpaceX rejoiced when they realized that Starship had gone below this altitude. The live feed from the camera got cut off twice this time. Each time it returned, one heard the roar of approval and applause from the employees.

All eyes were still on the fins. They were holding despite the immense damage they suffered as it passed through the atmosphere. The immense temperature and pressure the Starship had survived reduced as it came closer to sea level. Despite the debris on the lens, we could still see the fins intact!

Hope rose every kilometer that Starship descended. As it reached an altitude below 5 km, the grids still seemed to be working and keeping Starship in the right orientation.

Starship flipped and remained vertical for a while just above sea level. The camera showed the flames from the Raptor engines that powered Starship as it floated. You could see the seawater around Starship. As the burn was completed, Starship fell into the southern Indian Ocean. Starship became a ship.

I understand that for the engineers at SpaceX, this was a great achievement and the real work begins now. It was awesome to watch it as a space enthusiast as well. I love watching launch vehicles fly and be tested.

Thank you, SpaceX! This was a great thrill to follow.

It has been a long time since I watched a live webcast on X. I have not always had a good experience watching things on X. But this was completely different.

The next launch (IFT-5) is expected in late June or July 2024. They are expected to try doing a booster tower landing. Starship would then land on land!

Will Starship make everything else redundant?

I heard several people on X say that Starship would remove the need for every other launch vehicle. I do not think this will happen. Miniaturization means an increase in the number of micro and small satellites. There could also be scaled models to test new technologies. These may not prefer to wait for a Starship to be ready for a launch. They may prefer vehicles like SSLV, Agnibaan, Vikram, etc.

There will still be a demand for medium lift vehicles to launch some of the satellite constellations in low Earth orbit if not to launch a few remote sensing satellites. I do not think the demand for these will be reduced.

There may be less demand for other heavy and super heavy-lift launch vehicles given Starship is available but that depends on the number of launches it can do in a year. Reusability reduces the need to manufacture many Starships. I think that it still makes sense for India to develop an NGLV and for rocket entrepreneurs to build small-lift launch vehicles. These are good skills to learn and keep updated.

The lesson to learn from our space history is to not rely on one company or one vehicle to provide all the launch services. We may either have none or unreliable ones.

June 6, 2024

Panshet Dam

My father is visiting us from Kerala. We went to Phoenix Mall at Viman Nagar on Saturday. I wrote this post about the drive to Tamhini yesterday after we returned. A line I wrote there reminded me that I had originally planned to visit Panshet first. That trip was forever postponed as life kept throwing things at us. Since my father was here, I took the opportunity to drive to Panshet.

Drive to Panshet

The drive to Panshet took us right through the heart of Pune and out the other side. We started late in the morning. The road extended up to Lavasa went past Khadakwasla before it reached Panshet. The dam seems to have created two catchment areas. I did not fully understand the geography and having just returned, I do not understand it completely. There was minimal traffic in the city itself. There were multiple road closures because of construction of the Metro. Once we were on the road to Khadakwasla and at the lake side, there was enough traffic as there was parking only to one side of the road. Bamboo sticks were used to stop vehicles from parking on the lake side of the road. But the views were lovely. We did not stop here. A little bit up the road, past the defence lands, there was a Mankar dosa point with multiple other eateries. It also had a clean, decent toilet facility since it was new. We stopped here for a bathroom break and had basundi tea. There was still some heavy traffic headed towards Khadakwasla but as we turned away from Sinhgad Fort at Donaje, the traffic was lighter. We made good time on the road to Panshet but the views slowed us down. At Tamhini, we saw a lot of jackfruits being sold on the road sides but mangoes dominated the road to Panshet. We also drove past a lot of paddies on the banks of the Mutha river. We saw some terrace farming examples of paddy as the water gushed down the sides of the hill to meet the Mutha. We passed the little town of Panshet before the dam dominated the view on one side. The canals taking water away from the dam seemed to be full but the river itself had dried up. We took a road to the side which took us past the MTDC resort where we briefly considered having lunch at. My father wanted to go to the top of the dam but we found a small road down one side which took us unexpectedly to the boating place.

At Panshet

Unlike Tamhini, where we just drove to a point and then took a U-turn, we decided to do at least one activity while at Panshet. We went boating. My wife is crazy about boating and everything related to water. On the side of the hill, we looked at the lake that had been formed by the dam. The water level had gone down considerably. When we left the parking lot, the hotel was on the lake side and one level down. The boating place was at least a few levels down from there. One could fit an old Bombay styled two story building between the lake side hotel and the boating place. We had standard Maharashtrian food at the hotel. It was delicious because of the taste and because of the hunger. My son caught my father’s hands and walked up and down the length of the old Bombay style two story building between the hotel and the boating point. We chose a standard motor boat. I am queasy about boat rides but got in without too much hassle. I somehow expect the boat to sink on one side while I get in. The boat went a distance to the side to get some paddlers away from trouble. After that we resumed the boat rides. We acted touristy, posed, and took pictures. I found it harder to get off the boat. The walk up the cliff to the hotel was a hard one. My son encouraged us on the way up. He took one step at a time. We rejoiced and took a step behind him. So reflective of life. Once we got up the cliff, my daughter wanted to play in the park filled with rickety old park things — swings, slides, etc. After a while even she found it hard to enjoy there and we decided to return home. Ride back home The ride back home was disappointing. I guess the same scenery didn’t excite us. Or we were just too tired to notice. We stopped at a roadside sugarcane place, one of those operated by a bullock. The sugarcane juice was lovely. We had just got network back on our mobile phones and the first things I saw was an alert about how sugarcane juice was bad for you. We stopped at the same place at Donaje for some cold water, some tea and bathroom breaks. We then drove home non-stop. At some point the road was not the way we had gone. But it was standard Pune fare. Nothing noticeable. On the way back, I showed my father my work place. We got back just in time for evening tea.

After travel

For certain parts of our journey, we make use of the mobile to lull our son so that we get a good attempt at eating some food. This is not possible when you try to stream content he likes. We must remember to download it for such times when network isn’t available. We made the same mistake at Tamhini but did not learn our lesson. But I used this opportunity to tell my daughter of a time when this was how it was done. She expressed happiness that she did not live in such times. I guess she doesn’t know what she is missing. We did not carry clothes for change this time and we had multiple places where we could have enjoyed the water otherwise. I may not have stopped for this, but the possibility existed and we weren’t ready for this scenario.

June 2, 2024

Tamhini Ghat

My prior understanding of Tamhini Ghat was that it was a dangerous place to drive.

My wife wanted us to go somewhere to escape the heatwave that hit Pune in the month of May 2024.

May 19

I was going to give a talk about space policy at the Fat Labrador Cafe for its Policy Adda. I usually don’t talk to the Uber driver but he had come in a Maruti Suzuki S-presso. I asked him about the car and he spoke of how he tolerated it more than drove it. He said it was a wonderful city car but not one that could be taken out for a long drive. The talk of long drives led to a conversation about how only the Harihareshwar Beach was the only Konkan beach worth visiting. We spoke of many other things. I spoke about space policy. I returned home late that night but slept early.

May 20

I went to Mumbai with Rakesh in his Old Monk to cast my vote in the Indian General Elections 2024. I was discussing the conversation I had with the S-presso driver on the day before. I mentioned about Harihareshwar Beach and wondered what was the best way to reach there from Pune. This was when Rakesh mentioned Tamhini Ghat.

May 25

Through the very hot month of May, my wife and I were discussing getting an air conditioner for the bedroom. The nights seemed to be hotter than the days and she had to be at home with two infants through the night and the day. For the n th time, I said no to buying an air conditioner. It was at this time she asked that we at least go somewhere. Since the conversation with the Uber S-presso driver was so fresh in mind, I suggested that we go to Harihareshwar Beach in the morning of May 25.

We carried some clothes in hand just in case we actually did drive to Harihareshwar Beach. I was preparing my mind to face the dangers of Tamhini Ghat. We even considered going to Mumbai just before we started the car. We got a very tempting invite from my aunt. But, I put my foot down (not on the accelerator) and said we should drive up Tamhini Ghat if not all the way up to Harihareshwar Beach.

My daughter’s close friend’s birthday was one of the prompts for this rethink in destination.

Then, I put my foot down on the accelerator and we were on the way to Tamhini.

Drive to Tamhini

I had come to Pune in July 2019. By the time we got setup at our new house, it was the pandemic. After we got out of the pandemic, our second child was on the way. The aforementioned second child was not someone who was easy to take on a drive. He cried, felt uncomfortable in enclosed spaces, and wriggled out of his mom’s hands all through the drive. Contrast this with my first child who fell asleep when the car began to move.

We slowly drove towards Tamhini in the late morning of May 25. We passed several hotels which were full upto the brim despite lunch time being an hour away. We did not pay attention to these cues. We drove past the village of Tamhini. We were mesmerised by the views of the dried up Mulshi lake. There was still some water.

We saw some wonderful geological features up-hill. I cannot name them nor did we take photographs of them.

We drove for half an hour past Tamhini when we spotted a clearing with road side food places on both sides of the road. We stopped here and turned around.

Return from Tamhini

We turned back home an hour after what should have been our normal lunch time. We had not had lunch. We had seen a pair of hotels on the way to Tamhini. We decided to eat there. We drove about twenty minutes to reach there. Between running behind our second child and eating, we did not feel full but felt confident about returning home. We shot a few videos, took a few photos, and had much better conversations.

On the way back, unable to help myself, I taunted my wife to have Mutton Bhakri. I annoyed her enough times that she asked me to stop at one place I was pointing out to her. We stopped but it looked quite shady. She lost her appetite for Mutton Bhakri and I quit taunting her. The son fell asleep at this point and we drove back in silence.

Post travel

I was very calm about the whole trip despite the prior negative information that I had heard about Tamhini. The roads were good. The traffic was sparse. The drive up was awesome. It generated in me some confidence about driving here in the rains, if need be. You can never be too confident about driving in the Western Ghats.

I did some reading about the Western Ghats to understand its geology but not enough to identify landforms that I saw there.

If the rains have not started, I want to drive down to Panshet. That is the first place that I had in mind for a drive since it has a MTDC resort.

June 1, 2024