Sunday, June 27, 2010

The post count matters.

Not really.

I planned to do a lot of blogging during this vacation, but things rarely go according to plan in the Chavieverse (oh no he didn't!) and those plans fell apart. But I'm going to write a brief recap of the things I did in these two months, so that I won't forget so that my post count goes up by one. :D
  • Went to watch Elected, and almost saw PapareBoy beat someone up. Almost! :( Also met Tulie for the first time! :D
  • Drew a webcomic after a loooong time, for Dee's TLC. Thanks again, Dee! :)
  • Took some pics in Hanthana. Got ripped off by a leech (ironically on the same day that I read Amila's leech post!).
  • Almost got to visit Pasikudah buh cancelled that to go watch Buddhi De Mel and Wagon Park instead. I don't regret it yet. :D
  • Visited the best friend's place in Mathugama, after delaying it for like 3 years. Had another leech episode! :D
  • Watched quite a few movies. Sita Sings The Blues is mind blowing for the fact that it was almost entirely created by a single animation artist named Nina Paley (also the first Creative Commons movie I've watched! Way to go copyleft!!!). Up, like WALL-E before it, just left a huge hole in my heart. Those Pixar guys really know how to tell a story, don't they?
  • Started playing Civ 4, my first turn-based strategy game (Yes, I'm always late to the party!). Highly recommend it, though I'm still learning how to play it myself! :D

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Computers (and I)

Computers crash at the most inconvenient of times: when a friend comes over and you need to copy something off his flash drive, or when you've got a report due the next day, or when you're expecting an important E-mail. I was tearing my hair out just over a month ago when my PC went down, and my mom was seriously questioning what they taught us at uni about fixing computers. That was one of those rare occasions when I felt like I had made a big mistake in picking the path that I have chosen.

I've got a really good friend from my A/L class, with whom I used to hang quite a lot at school. We'd be there in the computer periods, idling and checking out the latest Alienware laptops. He was into gaming and introduced me to Alienware, and signed me up for their E-mails, which I still get. So I met him at the reunion, and he delivered to me shocking news. He's in a uni in Malaysia and he was going to get himself a laptop, and he got himself a MACBOOK! EGAAAAD! A little hugeass part of me died. Apple, in my books, is the worst thing that ever happened to the computer trade. (Yeah, I hear you macs in the back piping in about how they never crash...) They're elitists, their software and hardware are as closed as can be, and they treat the customer like an idiot. I mean, look at the iPhone 4 and how they're handling the reception issues! "Don't hold it like that, hold it as if it's made out of human excrement.", old Steve Jobs said. Nice! N-I-C-E!!!

Talking about the computer trade, the computer trade in Sri Lanka makes me seriously want to lob a grenade up someone's rear quarters... And I mean seriously! A laptop that is worth roughly 65K LKR in the international market can be bought for a fabulously low price of 93K LKR from the local 'Authorised Distributors'. And I thought we didn't tax computers... meh. :/

P.s. Uni's back on from Monday. No more late nights. I am a little excited about it now, but all the drama that will invariably take place when it starts is going to test my enthusiasm. Orsum! :(

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In a moment of clarity...

... I write this. No, I didn't smoke anything (although weed featured prominently in tonight's conversation), but I did have the next best thing: a batch reunion.

I tend to over-think. I was worried shitless (I tweeted about it too) that my friends would think I had forgotten them, even though I had never intentionally avoided them, or ever missed a chance to meet up. People drift, and when distances involved are measured in continents rather than an hour's ride on a 138, people tend to drift even more. But when I met them, the guys who used to sit around me in my A/L class, it felt like we had last spoken just yesterday.

A wise person (I think my mom) once told me that the people you befriend in your A/L class will be there with you throughout life. I never really understood what she said till today. I had forgotten the conversations we had, the classes we would cut together, the punishments that a whole class would take as a group rather than rat on who was responsible. I had forgotten the deep intellectual conversations, I had forgotten how open our minds were in some regards, and I had forgotten how damn smart all of them were.

I hope I don't forget again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


These pictures were taken almost a month back, and since I got my PC back I finally got a chance to upload them! :D (please click on the images to see them at the proper resolution)

The famous communications towers atop Hanthana.

Two Eagles/Hawks in flight. Sorry about the quality since I had to crop the image.

I saw this dragonfly and was reminded of the LBO ad... 
"Hmmm... Is this a Pink Skimmer?" I thought! :)

The reason we went there: The gingerbread guest
houses my uncles were building.

The view from the restaurant.

Sorry about the wonky/tilted panorama. Got a 
bit carried away taking the shots! :D

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spaced out

Long post alert: This is what happens when a space buff starts rambling!

Come November, the Space Shuttle will leave on its final journey into Earth's orbit. During the stone age of space exploration, the earliest space modules used a small spherical or conical capsule mounted atop a powerful multi-stage rocket to get people into space. That was how the Mercury, Vostok, Gemini, Soyuz and Apollo programmes worked, and how the Russians and Chinese send and retrieve their cosmonauts and taikonauts from space to this day. The Space Shuttle was the first and only major deviation from this tried and tested method. Instead of using a capsule that could be used only once, the Space Shuttle had an orbiter that could be reused. Instead of using parachutes to land a capsule into the Kazakh steppes or the Pacific Ocean, the orbiter landed on a normal runway like a glorified glider. Instead of using a multiple staged rocket, the shuttle used 3 separate rockets. The main engines on the orbiter were fed fuel from a giant orange fuel tank, and two huge solid-fuelled booster rockets on either side of the tank gave extra thrust during take off, and subsequently jettison from the shuttle and return to Earth to be reused.

Space Shuttle Orbiter (from here)

There were obvious benefits to this new system: The orbiter and booster rockets can be reused multiple times, the payload bay of the shuttle can carry a Spacelab - to carry out experiments in zero gravity - or satellites to be launched by the shuttle. The robotic arm on board can be used to capture and repair satellites and space stations. The shuttle could carry 12 astronauts, as opposed to the 3 or 4 that a capsule could carry.

There were not so obvious drawbacks as well. The booster rockets were solid-fuelled, which meant that they could be relied on more than liquid fuelled rockets to fire, but once they did fire, there's nothing much you can do to control it, a fact that was made brutally clear with the explosion that destroyed the shuttle Challenger in 1986. The main safety feature of the capsule era, the escape rocket, was also missing from the shuttle. The capsule is positioned on the very top of a large rocket, and a small rocket would be attached on top of the capsule. If anything went wrong during lift-off and the astronauts wanted to bail out, they would detach the capsule from the last stage of the rocket and fire the escape rocket, which would blast them off out of harm's way.

Escape rocket from Mercury era (from here)

But the main problem with the shuttle, and the one that eventually lead to its retirement, is the cost. It costs much more to launch a shuttle than it does to launch a traditional capsule-atop-rocket spacecraft. This is why the Russians, even during the tough economic times after the Soviet Union collapsed, were able to launch their Soyuz capsules, while even the world's leading economy couldn't keep launching their shuttles. Don't get me wrong here, the shuttles carried out more missions during this period than the Russians could even dream of, but it was eventually realised that the reusability of the shuttle was not going to pay back for the cost that it took to blast one of these things off into orbit.

SpaceShipOne (from here)

And while NASA is looking to return to its roots by getting rid of the shuttle and going back to old capsule technology, space enthusiasts like Burt Rutan are building next generation reusable space shuttles (Like SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X-Prize) that are so cheap to launch that they can even carry space tourists. The commercial space industry is bound to grow from the niche satellite market that it is in right now and move onto bigger things like space tourism and even settlements on other planets and moons (including Luna, our own). Costs will continue to come down, and more powerful rockets and propulsion systems are bound to emerge.

A golden age in space exploration occurred in the 50s, 60s and 70s due to Cold War competition between the US and the Soviets. As competition between various space companies grows, we're bound to see a similar golden age in the future too. But I can't help but wonder if the Space Shuttle was a costly misstep in human evolution into a space faring race.