A Journey Too Far

What happens when the act of observing changes the very nature of what is being observed? What happens when Science transcends the boundaries of Politics? What happens when Man decides to play God? These questions troubled me as I flicked through some less-frequented pages in the local daily. So I decided to Google it, to find out more. Turns out, it was all true !!!

What happens when the act of observing changes the very nature of what is being observed?  What happens when Science transcends the boundaries of Politics?  What happens when Man decides to play God? 

These questions troubled me as I flicked through some less-frequented pages in the local daily.  So I decided to Google it, to find out more.  Turns out, it was all true !!!

NASA did intend to crash a probe into the Moon in its quest to hunt for water.  And, Denmark was really planning to assert claim on the Arctic!

Space.com:
NASA Adds Moon Crashing Probes to LRO Mission

NASA’s next mission to Moon will not merely orbit the gray satellite, but crash two vehicles into its South Pole to hunt for water ice, the space agency said Monday.

Set to launch with LRO in October 2008, the $73 million Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is a bare-bones spacecraft designed to use cameras and spectrometers to watch its 4,409-pound (2,000-kilogram) upper stage slam into hydrogen-rich Shackleton Crater, mission managers said.  The 1,940-pound (880-kilogram) LCROSS probe will fly through the resulting plume and use its instruments to scan for water while taking photographs, then – 15 minutes after the upper stage booster’s impact – the “shepherding” satellite will also crash into the crater floor, Andrews said.

… LCROSS mission managers expect their crash-destined duo to carve a Moon crater 16 feet (4.8 meters) deep, about 100 feet (30 meters) wide and toss up about 2.2-million pounds (1,000 metric tons) of lunar material.

CapeTimes:
Danish Arctic bid to dispute Russian claim

A Danish expedition to the Arctic will map the sea depths north of Greenland which could allow Denmark to assert claims on the North Pole that the Russians have been keen to grasp, Denmark said yesterday.  This may enable Denmark to prove that the Lomonossov Ridge, an underwater mountain chain that extends from Greenland to Siberia, is an extension of Greenland and lay claim to its rights in a region believed to contain important hydrocarbon mineral deposits.

The US Geological Survey says the Arctic holds a quarter of the planet’s yet untapped oil and gas reserves…

Needless to say, I am disappointed.  Not that my being disappointed will change the course of either of these two events.  But, I am disappointed.

Like many young boys, my adoloscent dreams involved adventure and excitement… I wanted to grow up to be Indiana Jones… go to the Antarctica on a National Geographic expedition… join NASA as an astro physicist!  Now, I was having second thoughts.

If I were working for NASA today, would I condone this “experiment”?  Certainly not.  What right do we have to alter the geography of something so cosmic in nature as the Moon?  And, even if some of us feel like debating it a bit, who gave the United States and NASA the right to decide on behalf of the entire planet

“Crashing a probe” doesn’t even sound remotely like it imbibes the values that science has cherished for centuries.  And, if this is allowed, what stops Russia, or even India, from causing a nuclear explosion on Saturn, just to see the effects it causes?!

And then,  there’s the issue of the Arctic.  Agreed, there is some serious money to be made from all the oil under the ice sheets.  But, the North Pole and the South Pole are the last possible places left on Earth, not yet spoilt by man!  What will come next?  Billboards of Shell en route the Arctic?!

I believe it was Einstein who once remarked that “God does not play dice with the Universe”.  Evidently, Man has a mind of his own.

Two Square Meters

I was researching Hong Kong as a destination of work, for a friend who was thinking of taking up a job there, and came to the realization that good information on what it is like to live in a city, is hard to find. Anyway, through the course of my excavations, I chanced upon a rather interesting website – Batgung – maintained by two expats who’ve been living in Hong Kong for over a decade… And, through them, learned that Hong Kong makes an intriguing contribution to saving the Earth !

I was researching Hong Kong as a destination of work, for a friend who was thinking of taking up a job there, and came to the realization that good information on what it is like to live in a city, is hard to find.  Anyway, through the course of my excavations, I chanced upon a rather interesting website – Batgung – maintained by two expats who’ve been living in Hong Kong for over a decade… And, through them, learned that Hong Kong makes an intriguing contribution to Saving the Earth !

Well, we get told over and over that using up too much land for development is one of the primary environmental sins. You constantly hear about the terrible ‘footprints’ we humans leave on the earth’s surface. Clearing land to build on lies behind deforestation, species extinction, and so on.

I started thinking about this the other day as I was jogging around my ultra-high-rise neighborhood in Hong Kong. What kind of ‘footprint’ was I leaving on the earth’s surface, i.e. how much space was I taking up?

3 people x 8 flats x 50 stories x 15 towers = 18,000 people in my housing estate

Next, I reckoned my estate occupies a plot of land that’s around 400 meters long, and averages just under 100 meters wide – let’s say 90… the Tall Estate’s area: 36,000 square meters…. 36,000 square meters divided by 18,000 residents means each member of Mr Tall’s housing estate occupies just about exactly two square meters of the earth’s surface.

What’s even more interesting is when the authors put the figure of “two square meters”, in perspective :

That is, to house the world in Mr Tall style, we need a housing estate that covers 14,000 square kilometers… To put this into some perspective, Ireland comprises 70,000 square km, so our estate would take up just one-fifth of that one small island… And, oh yeah, the rest of the whole world would be free for a farm or two, and maybe for some parks and wildlife preserves.

How much space would it take to house the world at the Hong Kong standard, i.e. at an actual density of 31,000/square km (assuming its stated population density of 6,200/square km is based on the entire land area of the SAR of which at most 20% is actually built-up), in an urban area that took up 20% of a broader area that could remain unspoiled?

Using our figure of 7 billion people, I come up with an overall area of roughly 1.1 million square kilometers. That comes out to just .74% — i.e. not even one percent — of the world’s total land area (which is 148,000,000 km2).

Think about that for a minute: 99.85% of the world’s land without buildings of any sort.

Imagine…

Small is Beautiful

Why are SMEs small? And why is Rural India poor? I think part of the problem lies in our not being able to use *indigenous* technologies to the extent possible. There is also no dearth of Business Management graduates in this country, with business schools mushrooming in every nook and corner. Yet, a very small percentage of them end up becoming entrepreneurs or take up employment with SMEs…

Rajesh Jain of Emergic.org raises 2 very important (and relevent) questions with regard to Rural India and SMEs (i.e. Small-Medium Enterprises) :

1. Why are SMEs small?
2. Why is rural India poor?

Rajesh’s analysis throws up some pertinent facts :

They are both very large markets and suffer from coordination failure ; There are huge information inefficiencies that exist in both, and significant gaps where Technology can help meet the needs.

In addition, I think part of the problem lies in our not being able to use *indigenous* technologies to the extent possible.

Very often, we make the mistake of trying to import a technology from a foreign land without adapting it suitably to local conditions. And then we blame extraneous factors when the implementation fails.

E.F. Schumacher advocates an alternative in his book – Small is Beautiful – where he profiles a number of “technologies”, developed locally, in response to local needs, that result in sustainable development and economic growth.

Closer home, I am told, a small unit in IIT(Bombay) is also trying to develop some home-grown solutions to home-grown industrial problems. So is the HoneyBee network of Professor Gupta in IIM(A).

There is another facet to this problem that has often bothered me : There is no dearth of Business Management graduates in this country, with business schools mushrooming in every nook and corner. Yet, a very small percentage of them end up becoming entrepreneurs or take up employment with SMEs.

I don’t know if the blame lies with an education system that is designed to produce “workers” not thinkers / leaders, or with our society for bringing up each generation with the belief that a “secure job” is the only way to a secure future, and that business is only for a fortunate few who have wealth in their family that they can afford to squander.

SMEs (and Rural India) would benefit tremendously with the influx of new ideas and learnings from these management graduates, if only they allowed themselves to contribute. And the students, in turn, would also get a chance to put their education to good use, instead of joining the corporate ladder on the 80th rung, hoping and wishing to make it to the top before they reach the ripe old age of 60 ! The way I see it, it would be a win-win situation. And the economy would benefit too.

Here’s hoping that we will see more such initiatives in the days to come…