Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
It is the principle based on which a nuclear bomb is made. In an implosion-type nuclear weapon design, a sphere of plutonium, uranium, or other fissile material is imploded by a spherical arrangement of explosive charges (neutrons, protons, etc) . This decreases the material's volume and thus increases its density by a factor 2 to 4, causing it to "go critical" and create a nuclear explosion. A similar process takes place in celestial phenomena such as the formation of blackholes where stars collapse upon themselves and become so dense that their gravity simply absorbs everything around them.
As a student of science, I had learnt about the chemical reactions in a nuclear bomb. Balancing those equations was an easy task. I just had to see the difference in the atomic number and the atomic mass between the products and the reactants and I could measure the number of neutrons, protons, electrons and helium atoms that would be thrown out. I would marvel at the fact that man could replicate something that is more common in stars. Though I had studied about the effects of such radiation on life, I don't think I thought about it too seriously. Maybe I was naive but I didn't really know how the bomb worked.
It was only after a recent reading of David Bodanis's book E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, did I actually understand why the bomb that America dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 was so powerful, so much so that it's impact would have been visible from the moon. It's in the book where I read about what happened within the 'Little Boy' once it was dropped by a B29 aircraft till it fell on the roof of a surgical clinic in Hiroshima.
Imploding plutonium atoms, gave rise to several chain reactions that lead to more implosions. As a result, the plutonium-uranium mass kept collapsing into itself, radiating extra-short wavelengths and emitting charged particles. Meanwhile, the high-density core, started sucking in matter from the outside (air) creating a zero-density layer (nearly vaccuum-like). Any resistance the particles would have encountered in the natural atmosphere were nullified and they spread far and wide, creating further implosions. The fires covered an area of nearly 11.4 sq km, burning all life forms. Those who came in the zero-density radius had air sucked out of their lungs (a death most would have never conceived). Those who survived the impact of the bomb had to live with the impact of the radiation - gamma and X-rays attacked the nucleotides in their DNA, leaving them exposed to the risk of cancer, not for a few years, but for a few generations.
Had it been an explosion-type bomb, it would have cause immense destruction, no doubt, but the effect would have been short-lived. Or better still, if that energy from the 'imploding bomb' have been used to light up an airbase.
So why am I talking about this? Because we have an N-deal issue that has required the Indian government to pass a trust vote in the Parliament.
From what I understand, nuclear energy is one of the best solutions to power crisis. France manages to light up the Eiffel Tower everyday, even as we face loadshedding in suburban Mumbai. Why? Effecive conversion of nuclear energy into electricity. Let's face it. Uranium ores in India are scarce. Worse, with a yeild of around 0.04 per cent, they don't even live upto international standards. (Canada has the best ores that contain 40 per cent uranium). Hence, if we have to rely on them, we will have to spend a lot of money on plant and technology to yeild even meagre quantities of uranium. Forget generating energy with that.
Bottom-line: We need to look at 'nuclear' options for power generation. As for the instability, it works for a nuclear device, not for a government that runs a country of one billion people.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I was happy with my 'acquisition'. It was only when I reached home late at night and fished them out to show them to my mom, when I realised that I had got them all wrong. Date: 7 Jul 2008. Pity me, guys. I was crushed.
It's in times of crisis, we come up with great ideas. Mine was practical. Simply change the 7 into a 14. When I reached the theatre, I realised that I needn't have bothered. The guard never even looked at it and allowed us entry. Phew! That was easy.
As for the movie review: Those who were in Xavier's will love it because of the images of the campus on-screen and those who weren't, will know what Xavier's is like. It may be the same old romantic story, but its fresh and fun.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Pickle queen, my aunt remarked as she saw me scraping the bottom of the glass jar for the last of the green chilli pickle my maternal grandmother had made. I smiled. I love pickles and have a palate that allows me to experiment with stuff such as radish pickle, olive pickle and even chicken-and-egg pickle.
I wasn't born with a stomach for achaari delights. As a child, I would rather tuck into a honey or butter-sugar mix with my bread and chapattis. “My son likes the sour and spicy stuff; and my daughter has a sweet-tooth,” my mother would tell neighbours. But pickles were very much a part of my life and the lives of my near-and-dear ones, especially that of my maternal grandmother in Patna.
She would spend a fortnight every winter making pickles out of every conceivable vegetable — beet-root, carrot, cucumber, onion, Indian olive, garlic and ginger. She would neatly line them up in glass jars in cupboards with iron-net doors to let in sunlight. Making pickles was her hobby and I liked assisting her. She never told me her recipes though. She said that we would have to return to her for more.
And so we did.It was during one of those annual visits to Patna that I developed a liking for my grandma's special red chilli pickle. I even sneaked into the kitchen one night to watch her mix the masalas and the chillies with mustard oil. The aroma was overpowering, but strangely comforting. While the super-spicy pickle was a favourite accompaniment to the aloo ka paratha, it be came a sandwich filler, quite accidentally. The Mumbai-Patna train journey takes almost 36 hours. In those days, you could call yourself lucky if your train was less than 10 hours late. My grandmother would always pack food for us for the lengthy return journey.
On one such occasion, she packed parathas, pickle and a loaf of bread (“For the kids. In case they get hungry”). The parathas we had for dinner, but the bread was too dry (thanks to the AC) for next morning’s breakfast. So mom buttered two slices of bread and dabbed some of the red chilli pickle and we had our first pickle sandwich.
Over the course of time, the sandwich made its presence in my school lunch-box (my friends loved it). Mom innovated too – mixing grated cucumber with the pickle sometimes, or grandma’s pickle with Bedekar's mango pickle and even honey, butter and pickle (simply awesome!)
Thank God for innovation, and thank God for grandmas!
"This cabbie can speak English. We'd better shut up"
It reminds me of this incident in Byculla last year. My photographer and I were on an assignment to do a story on the fledging Byculla vegetable market. I wanted to interview a few shopkeepers about the business. I started off in Hindi, only to get a response from one of them in pucca 'Oxbridge' English - "There was a time when people would come here from far-flung suburbs to buy fresh veggies, but now we don't see any of that. Those days are gone." I felt silly that I had assumed that a vegetable seller may not know English.