Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Light, Gravity and Inter-Galactic Travel Plans

Conventional wisdom is that light travels in a straight line. It is also wrong. This is not an outrageous claim and has been well known to anyone following Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. The explanation is also rather simple and everything to do with gravity - yes, the same gravity we all were taught in high school.

This post is not to explain General Theory of Relativity (I gather that there are very few who understand it - so I'd imagine I don't). The post is around how we can actually travel across the universe without breaking the speed barrier. Current science puts the max. speed limit of any object at c - the speed of light. Weird things start to happen as an object approaches light speed - its mass becomes close to infinity, but more importantly, TIME STOPS for that object at the speed of light.

1) There is indeed a way to stay young forever and ever - just keep traveling at the speed of light.
2) The old Hindu mythology I read in my childhood often made references to a strange concept - that a second ("ek pal") for the Gods is equivalent of eons and eons of life here at Earth. They probably travel at a speed very close to light.

I digress. The cosmic problem is that the universe is so vast, it would take a near-infinite amount of time to get to its edges (at least 14 billion years traveling at light speed since that's the age of the universe as per the current scientific wisdom). Even to get to Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way, it would take 2.5 million years when traveling at the speed of light.

So even if we devise a way to travel at the speed of light (and stop time, i.e. aging for us), it would still take 2.5 million years for a person to go explore Andromeda. That just seems useless.

I do think there is a way - and that we can rely on our old friend Gravity to help us here. You see, Gravity is nothing but a warp in space-time. Bigger the object, bigger the warp. See picture on the right (courtesy  (c) NASA).

The warp is what pulls nearby objects to the bigger object - objects essentially "fall" towards the bigger object. P.S. If you are curious why Earth just doesn't fall into Sun, it's because of the angular momentum Earth has (google for more info).

Here is the important piece though - Light travels along the warp created by gravity.  It doesn't travel in a straight line but along the curve (warp). Now this has some huge implications, one of which is gravitational lensing, allowing us to see galaxies that are hidden behind other galaxies (again, google it).

So how is this relevant to my inter-galactic travel plans. Well, you see, gravity is directly proportional to the mass of an object. So, my gravitational warp is less than that of Earth's, and the Earth's is less than that of Sun's. Imagine the gravitational warp that'd be created by the galaxies themselves - Milky Way and Andromeda. 

And light has to follow the warp to get from Milky Way to Andromeda - in other words, light is taking really the long, curvy route to get between these two galaxies. See picture on the right.

What if we figure out a way for us to travel really using the shortest path, and not along the gravitational warp (i.e. not along the path light takes). Then the distance we'd have to travel will be cut down massively. The reduction in distance will be proportional to the mass of the two objects we are trying to travel between. Given that galaxies are massive, the reduction in distance would also be massive when we travel using the shortest path.

The key issue is that we would be traveling across a completely new (as yet undetermined and undiscovered) vector, since the space-time vectors we know are warped (curved). I imagine it is only a matter of time (?) we find that vector. And then, off we go to Andromeda and beyond.

While on the subject, think about the gravitational warp created by the whole universe itself (meaning all the objects in it combined). I'd imagine the warp to be so deep, and the distance for light to travel from our universe to perhaps an adjacent universe so long, that for all practical purposes, our universe would appear as a block hole to another universe!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Selling FREE STUFF in lieu of FREEDOM - A Perspective on US Presidential Election 2016

There is a place where people can get free food, free housing, free medical services. No, that place is not a utopia. It is called a PRISON!

You see, it is indeed possible to get free stuff just as long as you mortgage your freedom. This is as much true at an individual level as it is at a societal level. It is just that it takes time for this to be realized at a societal level. Thankfully(?) we have seen this numerous times in the recent past. Let's just take two examples:

At its simplest, the entire communist system can be summarized thus - people mortgage their entire decision making authority and freedom to a central authority (party, politician, council whatever). In return, that central authority promises to take care of all the people - food, education, health and so on. Millions of people have found this idea appealing (and millions still do). There is only one problem - it doesn't work as evidenced by Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, East Germany and so on (if you thought China, it is one of the most capitalistic economies currently with an exceptionally large private business, with Ali Baba, Foxconn etc. as examples).

Socialism, the half-brother of Communism, is essentially in the same economic boat. It allows politicians to promise everything free but creates a society where nothing is ever available. Look at post-independence India as its biggest example (of failure). Within 44 years of independence, all the free stuff promised brought India to its bankruptcy. India was saved only by the political chutzpah of PM Narsimha Rao and mastery of Manmohan Singh, one of the best finance ministers India has ever seen.

One of the greatest mysteries to me is how people ignore all of these recent events, and want to march towards their next road to serfdom. Just look at the United States and the ongoing political debates. Here is what I see (this is a selective view):

1. A march towards Socialism, big government and in general, FREE STUFF - Of course, we all like free stuff. I'd very much like if government can take care of my medical expenses, my kids' education etc. But I also know(from history) that NOTHING IS FREE. I may not be mortgaging my immediate freedom but I sure would be selling my kid's future to get these free stuff. Do you want your country to become the next Venezuela, or remain the United States.

2. A march towards lawlessness - It is often useful to stretch an argument to its extremes to see if it makes sense there. If it doesn't, one should immediately become suspicious of that argument. And that's what I am - suspicious - of arguments that profess that US must provide a path to citizenship to its 11 million illegal immigrants because it would be too time consuming, too inhuman to take legal actions on them. Really? So, if the numbers of criminals (drugs, sex, murder - pick your crime) become large, we should just forget about them because pursuing all of them would break too many families? Have you ever stood in line, and experienced the frustration when others break the line and get ahead? Well, then you know the frustration of LEGAL immigrants in the US with the current discourse on immigration.

3. A mindset of entitlements - $15/hour minimum wage is a reality in California, promising effectively a 50% raise to many workers over the next six years. Good for all of them. Guess who is not getting a 50% raise - everybody else. So essentially everyone else just had their effective buying power reduced, by government dictum. I have a simple question - why $15/hour? Why not $100/hour or $1000/hour? Imagine some government official sitting at their desk deciding what's the minimum private enterprises should pay to their workers, and you have imagined the stepping stone to road to serfdom.

4. The rise of religious nutcases - For the first time in decades, US is seeing a return of measles, thanks to a sustained anti-vaccine movement by nutcases. States are actively promulgating laws making discrimination to LGBTs legal on the pretext of religious freedom. So if I form a religion that professes slavery, misogyny, discrimination etc, it would be okay? In the same vein, religious fanatics are routinely making it harder for women to control their bodies and health. And these people are allegedly for "less government" except when it comes to women issues.

Freedom is precious. Millions of our ancestors have lost their lives so we can live in a free society. We are privileged to be born and live in a world (at least in most countries) where we can take freedom for granted. We shouldn't. The most important gift we can give our next generations is the gift of freedom. Let's not mortgage our kids' futures for our comfort and political correctness today.

Monday, December 28, 2015

India trip: KLM's costly delay, Jet Airways corruption and the high-fives

During my recently concluded India trip, a few things stood out that I thought were worth calling out:

1. KLM systems are inefficient and probably need an upgrade.
The longer version: Our SFO-AMS flight was timely. However, our AMS-DEL flight, that was initially on time, kept getting delayed, first by two hours and then by four hours. Now, flight delays are not uncommon. What I thought was remarkable (sic) was the lack of empathy one of the ground staff showed to the weary passengers.

After the first delay information (of two hours), we asked how it would impact the flight arrival time in Delhi. Clearly many of us had onward journeys from Delhi and hence wanted to make arrangements if needed. We were very clearly told that there would be NO IMPACT on arrival time.This was obviously great news and we laid easy.

Then, after two hours, the flight got delayed by an additional two hours. Just to be sure, I again asked for the anticipated arrival time in Delhi. This time, I was told that arrival in Delhi would be delayed by FOUR HOURS. This was a surprise for us since just some time back, the attendant had informed us that there would be no delay in arrival time due to the first two hour delay. So why this four hour delay in arrival just with an additional two hour delay in departure.

The answer could have been (and as it turned out, it was) that the original information about "NO IMPACT on arrival time" was wrong. However, the attendant really got pissed off at me for asking what I thought was a reasonable and logical clarification. She refused to accept that just a few minutes back, her own system was showing NO IMPACT on arrival due to the original two-hour departure delay.

Any way, another attendant came to our rescue and apologized for the original mistake. Good for her, not so much for me though. I had to cancel my current DEL-IDR flight, getting only 20% of the original amount back. Then, I had to book another flight, at THREE times the original price. So in summary, I ended up paying 3.8X of the price, thanks to a KLM goof up. And because I was travelling with my spouse and our kid, the damage was amplified 3X. Ouch! Thanks KLM...

2. (Unexpected) corruption shown by Jet Airways Delhi Ground staff
The general feeling in India is that the public services have endemic corruption, the private services are generally clean. General day to day encounters in India typically reinforce this. So it was a great surprise (and dismay) when I experienced first hand corruption in Jet Airways, one of India's premier airline carriers. Here is how it went:
After reaching Delhi, we proceeded to check in with Jet Airways to fly to Indore. Yes, this is the ticket we had booked at 3X the original price, thanks to the KLM delay I covered above in part one. At the check in counter, we were told that we had about 15KGs of extra luggage. This was not a surprise to me since we had weighed ealier and knew the domestic flight luggage rules. The conversation went like this:
Jet Airways check-in staff - Sir, you have about 15 KGs of extra luggage. This will cost you about Rs 5000.
Me - Yes, fine.
Staff - How much can you pay?
Me - I have already paid a lot for the tickets. Perhaps you can take that into consideration and reduce the price.
Staff - Ok, how much can you pay?
Me - you tell me...
Staff - How about Rs 3000
Me - Sure. I took out Rs 3000 in cash and attempted to give him in full public view at the counter.
Staff - No, no, don't pay here. Go with that person (pointing to the baggage handler).

He completes the formalities (even adds priority to my baggage). Then the baggage handler takes to a side and signals me to hand over the cash, which I do. He slyly pockets it.

This entire episode is happening right in front of everyone, a very busy series of check-in counters. Although small, this episode of corruption was sad to see happening at Jet Airways. I can only hope this was a one-off.

In contrast, I must mention the following five positive service interactions (the high-fives):
i) I was able to submit paperwork for my land mutation formalities in Bangalore (Mugalur Gram Panchayat office) without any bribe. The officer was especially helpful and considerate.
ii) The security guard at my housing complex in Bangalore refused to accept a tip of Rs 100 for a small favor he did for me. To put this in perspective, these guards are very poorly paid and Rs 100 is a reasonably high amount of money for them. Still, he didn't accept the tip.
iii) The bell boy at Royal Orchid hotel (Whitefield) also refused to accept any tip for bringing my luggage up. Very pleasing experience.
iv) On my return, the Indigo ground staff in Patna promptly charged me Rs 5000 for my excess luggage.
v) The KLM flight crew during my return flight (both DEL-AMS, and AMS-SFO) were very kind and considerate, especially towards our 5-year old. Thank you!

So overall? Well, I guess a generally positive travel experience except for an unnecessary deep hole left in my pocket due to KLM flight delay and mis-communication.

Next blog on my Indian Railways experience and how a Railway GM delayed my already late train by another hour.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

No Country for White Men

Like most people, I listen to the public radio (NPR/KQED  San Francisco Bay Area) while commuting to work and back every day. On most days, the (obvious) liberal bias is annoying but on some days, the bias is so strong it leaves me frothing with frustration. The liberal narrative makes it appear as if all the problems in the world can be blamed on USA, and in particular, on its white population.

And I am not even white.

Sample some of the narratives in the recent times:
Black Lives Matter 
Of course they matter! But doesn't this movement sound exclusionary, at least a little bit. What if I substitute "Black" with "White", or "Christian". "White Lives Matter" is so Ku-Klaxian, the liberal media would have certainly been horrified should such an organization was forming anywhere - and rightfully so. But then why is saying BLM ok? Imagine being a white person being told in your face day-in day-out that "BLACK Lives Matter". Wouldn't a sense of frustration start building up - slowly yet surely.
Instead, can we look at the media and prominent black organizations to change the narrative to "All Lives Matter" - something that is more inclusive and that we can all associate with.

Shooting Tragedies
Am I the only one to have noticed a distinct difference between the media narratives describing different kinds of shootings. In case of police shootings, even though more whites die at the hands of police, the liberal media only wakes up when the headline reads "WHITE police office shot and killed a black...". To be clear, this is not an apology for the despicable murders some police officers seem to have committed from what we can see in videos circulating in the public media. But it begs the question - why does the liberal media wake up only in one situation. What about cases where blacks are murdered by blacks - something that accounts for the vast majority of black deaths? Why is there a near-zero outcry about crime rate of Chicago - a city governed by democrats since 1931, and that is now synonymous with crime and corruption. Isn't the silence of liberal media on utter failure of a once-great-city under the democrats incredibly dishonest at best and racist at worst? 

Ideological nut cases driven tragedies
This is where the liberal media really shines in their bigotry. Should the perpetrator be anyone other than radical islamists, they will make it clear in their opening statement that the perpetrator was a "". People start going crazy blaming gun-owners so much so they don't even want them praying for the victims.  However if there is the slightest hint of radical islamism at play, the great liberal media circus starts, with them doing every kind of gymnastics just to avoid stating the obvious. The latest tragedy in San Bernardino caught even the POTUS off-guard with his completely orthogonal and nonsensical response. 
How many times have we heard the line "let's be clear, a vast majority of muslims are peace-loving..." in an effort to not generalize the issue. And THAT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO - Of course, we can't blame an entire community for the actions of a few nut-jobs. But why can't the liberal media follow the same standards when the shooter is a white gun-owner, in which case they seem ever so enthusiastic to generalize the entire gun-owning population. 

We are not going to have gun reforms by vilifying a large part of our population. 

Illegal Immigration
The left does their best to conflate legal immigration with illegal. As Douglas Murray put so eloquently, there is a big difference between the two - the law is on the side of one and NOT on the side of other. USA is still considered the land of opportunities by many, and it draws talent from around the world. However, to come here, most of them follow the laid-down process, a process that is lengthy, excruciating, and sometimes seemingly unfair. But following the process should be the ONLY way to get here. However the liberal media talks endlessly about the plight of illegals. The politically correct term I believe is "undocumented", as if it is merely an issue of documentation. Platitudes like "no human being is illegal" are thrown around. Of course that's true. Should we then invite about 30% of India's poor and nearly whole of Africa as well? The bastion of liberal hypocrisy, NY Times, has nothing but disdain for Indian IT workers affecting 250 jobs at Disney and yet their complete and active support for the 11 million illegals here. 

It is no wonder the liberal media can't get their head around Donald Trump's appeal (they have been predicting his demise for ages now). If you are a white guy, sick of getting liberal hypocrisy shoveled in your face every morning and evening, you would even consider a guy as blunt as Trump for President. 

I consider myself a liberal progressive, the kind that believes in freedom of speech, human and constitutional rights, less government, women's and LGBT rights, freedom of and from religion, environmental protection etc. Alas, today's "liberals" are mostly the leftists of yesterday's - an ideology that completely failed in the twentieth century and resulted in unspeakable misery for almost half of humanity. They are not progressives but regressives. The true liberals amongst us must speak up and claim the right liberal narrative. We cannot let NPR and NYT turn USA into USSR.