Bike away while the sun shines…

Motorcycling (or riding a two-wheeler) is often taken for granted by most people in India, since it is usually the fastest means to go from A to B. Riding has always been special to me. The initial seeds of interest were sown by my dad with his Yezdi 250 Deluxe. It was later cemented by the easy access I had to the various bike and car magazines. (Having a library near a street food place is a good business model) I found myself poring over pages having ‘Shootout reviews’ filled with torque-speed curves, and engine specifications.

Intro to riding –

As the Yezdi went away way before I could get to the legally rideable age, I had to wait till I was about 17 to have my first ride. My cousin’s goodwill (and a bit of luck 🙂 ) made my first bike ride the then coveted TVS Suzuki Fiero F2. These were the days when Bajaj’s Pulsar had toppled the market-defining Hero Honda CBZ, and was ruling the Indian bike market. Every manufacturer was trying to capture the 150cc segment and it was a good time to start riding. Bangalore used to be more navigable than it currently is as well. Since buying a motorbike was a few years away, I improved my motorized riding skills using the affable TVS XL-Super which Amma (mom) bought for my daily commute 🙂

The XL super was a brilliant first vehicle. It was powered by a 2 stroke 70cc engine which had a power of 3.5bhp @5000rpm and a torque of 5Nm @4000rpm. To put those numbers in perspective, it could go to a top speed of about 55 kmph (35mph) without any issue, and comfortably take a load of about 100kg (220 lbs) around the city quite easily. Having a low powered vehicle is the best way to learn balance (as lower speeds require more balancing skills) and vehicle control while driving in a fairly crowded city like Bangalore, these were the early 2000s. I looked forward to my grocery-shopping trips with Amma around Jayanagar. 🙂    

Cut to a couple years later. I had been showroom-hopping to understand the different bikes that were available in the market. I was not keen on the Pulsar as I did not find the rider position to be comfortable, the initial models had a bulged tank which compromised on rider safety and comfort for looks; it still sold pretty well though. The other 150cc options were Honda Unicorn and the newly introduced TVS Apache. I had my opinion about the Unicorn being a make-or-break bike as the Honda engine was seemingly ‘delicate’; the first 1000km (600 miles) would be very very critical for the life of the bike. I liked the looks of the Apache, and the specs that TVS had. It seemed like the next big thing after the Pulsar to be hitting the Indian market.

The Apache Chapter –

After very little convincing, I was able to take Appa (dad) to a nearby TVS showroom to ‘check-out’ the Apache as it had just about started hitting the roads. My intention was to get him acquainted with the bike and the features, so there would be a possibility of getting one in the near future 😛 We walked up to the showroom. The manager was a gentleman in his mid-50s. As two bike enthusiasts, Appa and the manager got talking on the various old bikes; they spoke at length about the Yezdi 250, Java and the Bullet. We then got to exploring the features of the Apache, and took a short test drive to get a feel of the bike. As I depressed the clutch and teased the throttle, little did I know that we would end up booking the model the same evening!

We rode on a few streets near the showroom to check the response and navigability of the bike. At the end of the test ride, appa nonchalantly asked me “So, do you want to book the Apache?” to which I shot a boyish grin and nodded vigourously. 🙂 We booked a matte-black Apache 150 for about 48k rupees. Amma’s XL Super was traded in for about 8k, a huge value for a trade-in. I was supposed to get the bike in about a month’s time.  

I got the bike in a month as promised. It so turned out that the matte-black model was not made anymore because of logistical issues, so I got the glossy black finish instead. As a 19 year old, I was super excited about my new toy and took it out for no reason, as and when I could. 🙂 I used it for grocery shopping, daily ride to college, visiting friends and relatives and so on. The highlight would be the road trip which my cousin and I did from Bangalore to Chennai; much against my mom’s wishes but with a steady, nuanced support from dad. We did 350 km in 6 hours with status calls to mom every hour, and a 15 minute break for snacks. (On the way back, we improved the time to 5.5 hours :P) I had my Apache for a good five years, doing around 12000km. This also included the ~1 year I was at Mumbai, so it was effectively 4 years of riding. With a heavy heart and loads of memories, I sold my Apache before I shifted to the US for my studies.

Rebirth –

Since I’d found a job in the bay area, the thought of getting a motorbike had been haunting me from time to time. The weather is congenial most of the year for riding, gets neither too hot nor too cold. I had been putting it off for a long time since I had a car already. I checked different options: superbike, cruiser, touring. Narrowed down on the cruiser category since it would be the most practical, budget-friendly and fun bike to ride for a longer time. Also, my wife does like the cruisers more than the others. We had ridden the Harley Iron 883 to Nandi hills in Bangalore, the rental of which our good friend had gifted for our wedding :). I thought about the Harley 883, the Yamaha Bolt and the Kawasaki Vulcan. I preferred having a liquid-cooled engine over air-cooled as the ride would be cooler; and a belt driven system instead of a chain, as the durability is higher and maintenance is easier.

The groundwork had been done. Options had been considered. Engineering differences had been compared. The desire to have a bike reached a tipping point. An encouragement boost from my wife pushed me over the edge. I finally gave in to the urge and bought a Kawasaki Vulcan 900!  

It weighs a little short of 300 kg, but feels remarkably fluidic while riding! As with most bikes, you can feel the engineering at work. A rocker switch for the ignition sets the 4 stroke engine going. The 55 degree V-twin comes to life with the  dual-beat note. The clutch is slightly loose owing to it being a new bike. Switching to first gear meshes the engine to the drive and off we go, using about a third of the max 78Nm of torque! The gear ratios are set to climb to 60mph with ease. I haven’t exceeded 60 yet as the engine needs to break in.

Many years ago, I wrote a post about wanting to ride a Ducati in New Zealand. I never imagined back then that I would be outside India, and then own a tried-and-tested cruiser! About 7 years later, I am happy to say that I have been lucky to go New Zealand and now own a Vulcan. It helps to have a family that enables your addiction 🙂

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-19 at 10.14.00

   

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Back to 1^2

I started blogging with the intention to learn something new, as I was preparing for competitive exams almost a decade ago, and that is the intention with which I’m planning to resume soon. Over the last few years, I’ve realized that it is easier to write a work related email than penning down my thoughts about something that I care about. It wasn’t a conscious decision to take a long break; school happened, work happened, the thinking mind probably got polarized in the work direction, putting my writing abilities in a state of inertia. Putting finger to keyboard brings clarity in thought and expression.

As I’m resuming blogging after an incredibly long time, I’ve started to get my dormant neurons to work on some food for thought. Here’s to attempting to get more electrical impulses flowing in the head… \m/

<Hits Ctrl+T — Youtube…. Sigh>

 

Let there be light!

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still” – Dorothea Lange, Photojournalist most well known for her Depression era work

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of imagery to convey meaning and form perceptions. I’m not sure if this was sparked by my interest in comics since I was a kid, or my father being a photography enthusiast himself. Photography is a hobby which I’ve wanted to pursue since I was in high school, when I started observing dad’s Yashica; and I got off to a start a good decade later with a modest Nikon D3200 [Yeah, I’m a Nikon guy :P].

One of the perks of living in the San Francisco bay area is the immense opportunity it offers for photographic pursuits. Throw in a good group of friends, pleasant weather, a love for travel and enjoyable drives; the setting is near perfect to grab my camera and get outdoors to absorb the world on an otherwise lazy weekend.

A bunch of us friends set out last weekend to attempt to capture sunrise from Battery Spencer, one of the many scenic spots in San Francisco. The Golden Gate bridge never ceases to excite me. The mere thought of seeing this grand structure with the sunrise at the background, let alone photograph it; made waking up at 330AM seem a less arduous task. We reached Battery Spencer at 530AM and were greeted by a friendly breeze with a light wind-chill. It was neither too windy, nor too cold; these conditions are a blessing considering we were at an elevation of 150 metres in San Francisco. There were about 3-4 fellow photographers already shooting away in near perfect silence.

From the viewpoint that slips into the bay, the sight is overwhelming – there stands the Golden Gate in all its glory. To me this symbolizes the peaceful coexistence of man and nature. The first sights of the sun bring about mixed feelings. It is a moment of pride, and is humbling at the same time.  I take pride because we belong to a species which has evolved over millions of years, developed intelligence, made our lives better and built this huge bridge to temporarily hone nature to suit our needs. And yet there rises the sun, as it has for about 3 billion years, and would continue to do so for many more millions of years to come. We are here just for a few fleeting moments considering the ‘lifespan’ of nature, makes one feel so small. Being that close to nature brings about an intimate connect and a sense of belonging with the cosmos. Reminds one of his/her place in this self-sustaining system spanning universes where each entity, living or otherwise, is a significant and indispensable part of the whole.

I’ve been fortunate to be among the lucky few who get to live these experiences, here’s looking forward to more 🙂
Serenity The Accession

‘Car’mic vibrations

Buying a car is one of those events which have a range of emotions depending on the kind of person there is. To the showroom staff, it is just another day at work. To some, it is another shopping experience [at least in the USA]; but for most of us, it is a lifelong dream. Right from saving up to buy the car of choice, to customizing the features that are needed before delivery; there is a good amount of planning that goes into this experience.

As mammals that have evolved over several thousands of years, we have an advanced brain which is said to be categorized into two broad functional areas. The left brain deals with the logical and analytical aspect of thinking, and the right brain is said to be responsible for the emotional and artistic aspects. Let me cut to the chase. I have been fortunate enough to buy a car in recent times and this post is about the internal conflict / synchronization between the two halves of my brain while I am in it.

Action: Press the unlock button on the car remote.

Left brain: Ok, the 40 bit pseudo random code is transmitted to the receiver in the car. This code contains information that tells the receiver to perform the unlock operation. The receiver uses the same pseudo random number generator as the transmitter, which keeps them in sync. Now that the code is recognized to be valid, the relevant actuators kick in and unlock the doors for me to enter. 

Right Brain: That’s a brilliant blue exterior! Love those metallic blue grains that give the body a shine. Is the door unlocked, let me press it again to make sure. Yes, I can hear the doors unlock now. Yay! Time for another drive!

 

Action: Perform preliminary driving prep

Left brain: Fasten Seatbelt. Plug in the key, turn clockwise till you hear the click and the instrument panel comes alive. Check the dash for any warnings.

Right brain: The white dial on the black background looks gorgeous! So glad that I have an analog speedometer instead of a digital one.

 

Action: Start the car

Left brain: Step on the brakes. Turn the key clockwise to start the car. The intake valve opens up. Fuel enters the cylinder. Intake valve closes. Piston moves up, compressing the fuel. Spark plug ignites the fuel. Piston moves down due the energy generated. The momentum gained by the piston brings it back up, the exhaust valve opens to let the exhaust gases out. But wait, I am in the Parking gear [P], that’s all I have for now. But before I go I want to inform you that the wheels aren’t coupled to the engine yet via the gears.

Right Brain: The hum of the engine feels so good. Just the right amount of bass, just the right amount of vibration that resonates with my soul. <Goosebumps>

Left brain: Hey maybe you have Goosebumps because the frequency of the hum produced matches your resonant frequency! Point to ponder upon…

Right brain: Shut up!

 

Action: Start driving

Left brain: Step on the brakes. Shift the gear stick to Drive mode [D].Basic 4 stroke engine functionality going on. Crankshaft rotates transmitting power from the engine to the gear train. Gear train couples to the wheel to transmit the energy generated. Release the brakes. Step on the gas. Camshafts are responsible for timing the opening/closing of the intake/exhaust valves. Dual Overhead Camshaft [DOHC] engine has one camshaft for the intake valve and one camshaft for the exhaust valve which gives better intake/exhaust control to optimize the fuel consumption during idling and high speeds.

The transmission is Continuously Variable [CVT].So there are no discrete gears, we have gear cones instead of gears which means that the engine is at optimum RPM for a given speed at any point of time Cool isn’t it?  🙂

Right brain: DOHC with CVT, yeah! Just what I wanted! I have a car which uses a more precise timing control with a transmission suited for better mileage. Let me see if it gives a burst of speed when I need it. <Steps hard on the gas> <Car lunges forward> Duh, I don’t need a turbo! <Goosebumps> <Head blanks out>

A few seconds later – <Head clears>

This has been a relatively short journey in life. A few months ago, I never had the slightest idea that I would buy a car, especially the one that I had dreamed of owning in my teens. Being here is flattering and humbling at the same time. Flattering because I get to live this moment; humbling because I realize that I am standing on the success of my parents, forefathers and well-wishers. Many people have extended their support in making this possible, and the best I can do in return is to live the moment and cherish their relationships.

‘Accord’ingly, thank you Soichiro, it’s a Honda!

Calling all Anti-rapists!

Hear one. Hear all. Come forth with your solution to rape.

The best 500 solutions will get a cash prize of $1000 each evaluated at the lowest value of the rupee within the last calendar month*

The top 200 solutions will be given gold at half the market rate without exercising the impact of import duties, for 5 buying cycles without imposing a maximum weight limit **

The top 100 solutions will have free electricity and vegetable supplies for the next one year ***

The top 10 solutions will be given a grand prize of free petrol/diesel for 3 years from HPCL/IOCL bunks for 2 registered vehicles per solution****

Think. Speak out. Act. Make a difference. The next victim could be your friend/fiancée/sister or simply a person whom you neither know nor consider as a fellow human being.

*Values of the US dollar above 70 rupees will not be considered under this scheme
**Maximum weight per transaction is limited to 10kg. 5 buying cycles are to be completed within 1 calendar year or at 30kg, whichever occurs earlier.
***Limited time offer: Onions included! Hurry, offer lasts till imports continue from Pakistan!
**** Privately owned trucks and buses are currently not included in this scheme

Disclaimer –
We offer no guarantee that these solutions could be implemented by the government. We are merely interested in bettering the lives of our fellow citizens, atleast monetarily if not physically.

Rant of a superhero fan…

This post is triggered by the numerous hate responses to Man of Steel. As a person who loves comics in general and a fan of Christopher Nolan, I would like to address these concerns directly in a Q & A format. This will be split into two parts, first analyzing the Bat trilogy and the second addressing Man of Steel. Those who haven’t seen Man of Steel yet can still read the second part of the post as it does not contain spoilers. Skip it if you want to watch the movie with an open mind.

Part I – The Bat Trilogy

  • Why pick Batman?

Warner brothers had no idea of giving this a reboot. Batman has a riveting story that any director would want to tell. The previous movies and the old TV series might have been “good” for the time, but they had deviated way too far from the theme and essence that the comics conveyed. There was a new dimension that had to be brought to Batman to establish his true identity.

  • What was the story that was intended?

Nolan’s vision was to explore the character and build a story that was justifiable. The story had scope for character development, from showing the inner scars of Bruce Wayne to go on and show how he overcomes them to become a better person.

  • There are many villains in the Batman universe, why choose those who were chosen?

Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed by a street thief for petty money, which was during the depression. Bruce chooses to avenge his parents, but doesn’t have a roadmap as such. After numerous experiences in life, he chooses to use his wealth and intelligence to create a face that criminals would fear.

The first step would be to battle the gangs in Gotham, or the “mob”. The muggers and the crime lord Carmine Falcone are interconnected. A psychotic doctor, assuming the name Scarecrow, plans to release a fear toxin that will paralyze Gotham. It is also revealed that the Scarecrow was pressurized by Ras Al Gul to create and release a fear toxin. Henri Ducard is a detective who trains Bruce in the comics, but Nolan merged Ducard and Ras Al Gul to make an intricate plot for Batman Begins. Scarecrow uses the city’s organized crime to smuggle his toxin, acting on the orders of Ras; this makes way for a believable plot; as against bringing in a Penguin or a Riddler for the opening movies. The first movie established a solid foundation for the subsequent movies that followed.

Batman isn’t complete without the Joker. Nolan’s version of the Joker and Ledger’s rendition of it will probably be the best in the movie franchise; in parallel with Mark Hamill’s version in the cartoons. The origins of the Joker are as mysterious in the movie as they are in the comics. Nolan chose to expose the chaos that the Joker could unleash as a sociopathic character. He merged the origins of Two-face as an outcome of Joker’s actions, by adding a personal tragedy that pushes Harvey Dent to the ‘dark side’. Harvey’s killings form an important part of the story which lays the premise for the third movie.

Bane is a product of a drug test, as per the comics, and increases his strength by pumping the drug ‘Venom’. As for Catwoman, she was never a killer, Nolan stuck to the comics and treated her as a hired professional thief. He extrapolates the story of the League of Shadows and links Bane to it so create a continual contemporary storyline; thereby making a logical and realistic trilogy.

Throughout the trilogy, there is always a mix of villains that work together, to make to plot as believable as possible. Debates about the other villains like Poison Ivy, Riddler, Mad hatter, Killer Croc, Hugo Strange etc can be silenced; because frankly we didn’t miss them!

Now that we are done with the Bat trilogy, let’s get to Superman.

 Part II – Man of Steel

  • Why Superman?

This was another superhero franchise that never quite got what it deserved. It was very well worthy of the reboot. Riding on the success of the Bat trilogy, who better to be on board than Nolan, Goyer and Snyder; all of whom have a good track record.

  • What was the story that was intended?

The writers’ vision was to explore the character and build a story that was justifiable. The story had scope for character development, from showing how a misfit alien tries to align himself to the society to go on and lay a foundation for subsequent movies.

  • Why General Zod?

To explain this convincingly, we need to explore the origins of Superman as per the comics as and per the movie.

First, the comics –

Jor-El predicts that Krypton would cease to exist, but by the time he figures it out it is too late to save its entire people.  It becomes wildly unstable due to its radioactive core which results in frequent quakes. Kal-El [Superman] is sent to earth just so that he can be saved. Earth was chosen as it has a lower gravitational field and a brighter sun than Krypton; which implies Kal-El would possess superhuman powers.

Now the movie –

Krypton is shown to have births from separate incubation chambers and Kal-El is supposed to be the first natural birth in Krypton [after centuries]. Jor-El is the person who cracked this code for natural births and saves Kal-El and the code containing genetic information for natural births. I will avoid discussing about the code as it involves spoilers.

All that we need to understand is that there are reasons why Zod comes looking for Superman.

One – He believes that Kal-El has access to the genetic code which can help him rebuild Krypton

Two – Earth is a good planet to ‘terraform’ to Krypton [terraform = create the properties of one planet to match that of the other]

  • Character development of Kal-El

Kal-El is brought up as Clark Kent, by Jonathan and Martha Kent. The trauma that he undergoes as a child is depicted quite well, and I don’t find a reason to complain. Examples – Trying to adjust to the various sounds in daily life, focusing only on what he wants to hear or use his X-Ray vision only when needed, controlling his anger while bullied in school etc. His foster father is his greatest inspiration and is instrumental in molding him during his formative years. The father-son moments have preachy moments but it blends well with the story. The numerous instances where Clark does superhuman feats and the consequences that he and his parents face are portrayed well too.

  • What people wrongly think went wrong –

Ok, there is good justice being done to Kal-El and Superman. So why are most people disappointed with the movie? The answer is simple. Superman is not Batman. Most people expect a Dark Knight when they walk in to Man of Steel. I would be surprised if they are not disappointed. It is like walking into a ‘Fast and the Furious’ movie and expecting Bruce Lee to show you his cool Jeet-Kune-Do or Karate moves!

In all fairness, Batman and Superman cannot be compared; even with Nolan+Goyer+Snyder at the helm of things. All we need to ask ourselves is one question – Did they do justice to the story of Superman? Hell, yes!

Superman and Batman are two different characters. Frankly, Superman is less exciting because he is too perfect. He doesn’t have the dark past like Batman, or the quick wit of Iron Man, or the bad ass demeanor / adamantium fists of Wolverine. Superman is intended to be an ideal superhero and an ideal man which is why certain amount of suspension of disbelief is needed to appreciate him. Batman is supposed to be a believable character – he is a guy who has his limitations but still goes on to fight his demons and rise above them.

Anyway, all said and done; for the people who think that there wasn’t enough character development that went into Superman, maybe we need to look deeper. Take off your Dark Knight cape, and wear the Superman hat; you would definitely enjoy this effort.

Keep calm and trust in Nolan.

Formul(an(archaic)) argument

Well, to start off, I must confess that I have lost the high levels on interest I had in F1 about 2-3 years ago. The reason behind this lack of enthusiasm to follow races was the guilt that struck me about the amount of fuel that is pumped to move those machines. While I have always adored the engineering that goes behind running them at about 300 kmph, the fact that fuel prices in India are increasing way beyond the range that a common man can afford plagued me from getting into the sport.

During the course of a casual discussion with my sister, I was provoked to finding out the details so that I can dispel/root my perception of the sport and its impact on the ongoing fuel crisis.

Outlined below is a summary of my findings.

Petrol consumption in India – 

Volume of one oil barrel = 42 US Gallons
1 US gallon = 3.78 L
Crude oil consumption in India per day = 3500 k barrels [ Source: Energy Information Administration]

Percentage of oil from a barrel that becomes gasoline = 45% approx

Petrol consumption per day in India =
42*3.78*3500*1000*0.45 = 250047 kL per day

Petrol consumed in F1 –
Consumption by one team in one season = 200kL [As per the official F1 site]
Number of teams in F1 = 11
Total fuel consumption by all teams in one season = 2200 kL

Comparison
Case 1 – F1 v/s India
Petrol consumed in one F1 season = Petrol consumption per day in India / 113
Petrol consumed in one F1 season = Petrol consumed by the whole of India in 32 min

Case 2 – F1 v/s a Boeing 747 aircraft – assuming that the same quality of fuel is used [frivolous, but anyway!]
Fuel consumption of 747 = Average of 19L per mile = 12L per km [From the Boeing site]
Distance that can be travelled by a Boeing 747 using 2200kL of petrol = 2200kL/12L = 183334 km
Air Distance from Bangalore to London = 10500 km approx [basic googling will get you this info]

Petrol consumed in one F1 season = Petrol consumed by a Boeing 747 aircraft to make about 9 round trips from Bangalore to London.

Those are interesting figures. At the end of this exercise, I don’t know if I should be happy that the fuel consumed in F1 is not as high as I thought it to be [kudos to those engineers!], or if I should be disturbed by the fact that we are fast depleting the fossil fuels which have formed over the last 600 million years!

PS – I hope I got my math right!