By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ochi Chorniye!

On October 20, when I posted my random reflections on the discovery of water on the moon, I had no idea that from the very next day onwards the whole world would reverberate with exciting fresh news and reports on the same topic!  

I need some time to review and respond to the voluminous onflowing information.  Meanwhile, when looking for some data about the Luna moonshots from Russian sources online in this connection,  I found myself humming the famous song Ochi Chorniye (Dark Eyes), so let me just talk about it today!

Although this is a Russian gypsy song,  it was actually derived from a poem written by a 19th century Ukrainian-Russian writer called Evhen Grebinka;  and its fascinating tune had actually been composed by a German musician called Florian Hermann as a waltz.  It isn't very clear how such poetry originally set to alien art music had got transformed subsequently as an authentic Russian traditional folk song!  

Endowed with extreme flexibility, this beautiful blend of fine melody and fast rhythm has been rendered by master vocalists and instrumentalists in Europe, America and elsewhere in different musical idioms as divergent as opera,  jazz and classical piano.     

There are several websites where you can hear the song online.  But it may be a good idea to begin with Sophie Milman's jazzy but clearly-rendered version on YouTube.  hearing it several times while glancing at the lyrics simultaneously.  When these become familiar,  you can proceed to hear other related versions, in styles ranging from gypsy to jazz  --  vocal or purely instrumental,  ranging from trumpet to balalaika.  

I've done the following transliteration and translation in consultation with my lifelong friend S. Rangarajan (alias RJ) who had lived in Moscow for several years and now lives near Washington, DC.   They're as close to the Russian sounds and meaning as we can get.   
Ochi chorniye,  ochi zhgoochiye,
Ochi strastniye i prikrassniye!
Kak lyublyoo ya vass! 
Kak bayoos ya vass!
Znat uvidyel vass
Yav nyedobriy chass!

     Dark eyes, burning eyes,
     Passionate and beautiful eyes!
     How I love you!
     How I fear you!
     Oh, I had met you
     At an unkind hour!

Ochi chorniye,  ochi plamyenny!
I manyat anyee fstranny dahlniye,
Gdye tsareet lyubov,
Gdye tsareet pakoi,
Gdye stradanya nyet,
Gdye vrazhdy zapryet! 

     Dark eyes, fiery eyes!
     They lead me to a far-away land,
     Where there's love,
     Where there's peace,
     Where there's no suffering,
     Where enmity is forbidden!

Nyef strichal bi vas, nye stradahl bi tak,
Ya bi prozhil zhizgn oolibayuchiss!
Vi zgubili mnya,  ochi chorniye,
Oonyisli na vyek mayo schastye!

     If I hadn't met you, I wouldn't suffer so,
     I'd be spending my life cheerfully!
     Oh you've wrecked me, dark eyes,
     You've ruined my joy for ever!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Water On The Moon

So last year ISRO and NASA had collected what looks like conclusive evidence
of the presence of water on the moon!  (Articulations Online, Oct. 20).  I have
some significant  comments on this;  but meanwhile, let us see what our friends
Bill Concorde and Joe Goodfellow discovered on the moon last week!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bravo, ISRO! Bravo, NASA!

When I started writing this online column last month with an awesome vision of the Internet's apparently infinite dimensions, I knew I would find it necessary to follow it up with some reflections on the impact of modern science and technology on individuals and society.  And I now realize it will have to be a very long series of essays, because the theme is extremely complex and bristles with so many intricate aspects.   But rather than risking mental fatigue by considering the same issue week after week, let us spread out the core series a little, and take up some other lighter topics in the intervals!    

In the context of the steady scientific progress made by India during the 20th century, I had made the following comment in the preceding essay (Psychology Of Turbulence, October 13):  "....  And in the frenzied field of the ongoing information revolution today, India seems to be running a neck-to-neck race with the most advanced countries of  the world". 

Well, India today seems to be among the front-runners in other scientific fields also, like space exploration, for instance!   Its very first moon mission, which seemed to have been on the brink of failure last year, actually turned out to be a great success.

Troubles and....

I am, of course, referring to the unmanned lunar vehicle Chandrayaan-1, launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). which carried some instruments developed in India,  and also some others sponsored by NASA in America, ESA (European Space Agency), and BAA (Bulgarian Aerospace Agency). 

Chandrayaan was launched into lunar orbit in October 2008, and was expected to remain there for a couple of years.  But within a few months,  there was serious malfunction of some vital systems (including solar panels and star sensors which were essential for power supply and direction-finding);  and there were no radio signals from August 29, 2009 due to failure of electronic components.   Meanwhile, the vessel had gone round the moon more than 3,000 times, undertaken various useful experiments, and transmitted more than 70,000 images to the earth, some of them with very fine resolution upto five metres.  

Back home, in India, there was great disappointment as the mission was declared closed prematurely.  But although there was some resentment that ISRO hadn't fully disclosed the troubles as they arose, by and large there was no hostile criticism of ISRO's efforts, as there was a general awareness of the immensity of the venture and the equal chances of success and failure.

In an editorial rather emotionally titled  Adieu, Chandrayaan-1, India's most responsible newspaper The Hindu  made a rational assessment on August 31: ".... Yet these problems make what has been achieved all the more remarkble.  It is a tribute to ISRO’s mission management team that they could find ways to keep the spacecraft and its instruments operational for so long....  In the months and years ahead, data from the Indian probe will help scientists better understand the Moon’s origin and evolution, its mineral composition, and whether water might lie trapped in its permanently shadowed polar craters".

.... Triumph!

And sure enough, the prediction came true very soon,  perhaps much sooner than even The Hindu had expected!  For within a few weeks, towards the end of September 2009,  the prestigious international  magazine Science reported that NASA's instrument M3 (moon mineralogy mapper) had discovered the presence of water molecules on the moon. 

Moreover, following extensive analysis of the data collected,  it was reported in an international science congress in March 2010 that NASA's Mini-Sar (miniature synthetic aperture radar) had found extensive masses of ice in several huge polar craters with diameters ranging from two to fifteen kilometres.

What this meant, of course, was that there's a precious natural resource on the moon for the benefit of  manned space missions, in the vital forms of drinking water (H2O), breathing air (oxygen), and rocket fuel (hydrogen).  As a delighted Dr. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, declared:  "Now we can say with a fair degree of confidence that a sustainable human presence on the Moon is possible.... The result.... seen in the last few months are totally revolutionizing our view of the Moon."

Bravo, ISRO!  Bravo, NASA!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Psychology Of Turbulence

Reviewing the triumphant march of modern science and technology during the past 100 years or so (Tempo Of Transformation, Sept. 29), I had roughly divided the 20th century into three uneven segments -- marking the milestones at 1940 and 1990, and extending the last decade upto 2010 -- and pointed out that the pace of technosocial change in the  world had dramatically accelerated in those successive phases, turning quite turbulent in the last one.     

     Obviously the extent and tempo of change wouldn't have been identical all over the world at any given point of time, or during any given time-span.  But the overall impression conveyed above -- which is based on my cumulative perception of the global scenario as an intelligent and educated citizen of India --  would be more or less true of all economically advanced regions of the world as well as many steadily developing ones.

 Perspectives and perceptions

     I was a schoolboy when my country was transformed from a British colony into an independent, strongly democratic Republic in 1947.  And although India was (and to some extent, still is) a 'developing' nation, it had actually made very impressive technological progress by the beginning of the Second World War -- and, thanks to the political and commercial concerns of the British regime, had excellent roads and railways, dams and bridges, ports and factories, mills and machines, and so on.    

     Thus, by the middle of the 20th century India had harvested many  technosocial benefits of the industrial revolution without actually going through the initial and intermediate processes of ploughing the fields and sowing the seeds.  It had then steadily made further scientific and economic progress during the next half-century.  And in the frenzied field of the ongoing information revolution today, India seems to be running a neck-to-neck race with the most advanced countries of  the world.      

     One of the finest assets inherited by independent India from the late British Empire was the well-entrenched English language, which has made successive generations of educated Indians very familiar not only with the wonderful treasures of English literature,  but also with the scientific and social scenarios prevailing in Great Britain and other developed nations of the world throughout the 20th century.      

     Given all these relevant facts,  it isn't really surprising that there would be a certain similarity between my environmental perspective and the average senior English citizen's!   Naturally, it may clash with the impressions of someone with a very different background altogether.  To that extent my own opinions may need to be modified with reference to some specific regions of the world;  but that's unlikely to dilute their intrinsic logic.
Passive role

      I had been a student and civil servant throughout the half-century (1940 to 1990) which marked the second technosocial phase of the 20th century,  and became a senior citizen in the third phase (1990 to 2000+).  As a little boy I was  fascinated by the romantic sights and sounds of railway stations and steam-spewing locomotives, and later on by the sheer thrill of ever-faster rail travel after steam power was replaced by diesel and electricity.   
     By the time I had any opportunities for flying, jet planes had already  arrived in India;  and my very first flight was in a Caravelle, from Bombay to Madras.  Later on I had to fly very frequently in much larger and far more sophisticated  aircraft, till a stage was reached when flying was no longer an adventure but had become a routine affair.
     But no matter how frequently and extensively I travelled by rail or by air, I never actually felt disturbed or overwhelmed by the concerned technological marvels, just taking them for granted --  because for enjoying the immense benefits they brought to me, I didn't have to take any technical initiative or responsibility of my own.         
     I've mentioned trains and passenger aircraft just as a couple of examples, to illustrate the passive role played by the ordinary users of most products of 20th-century technology.  Many other wonderful inventions too -- such as radio, television, recording or motion picture machines, etc. -- which had enormous mass appeal, made no technical demands whatsoever on the beneficiaries, peacefully insulating them from all related tensions.       

Psychological pressures
     By contrast, the endlessly voluminous Internet -- reinforced and extended by the ever-more-sophisticated innovations in computer and cell-phone technologies, and constantly stretching the horizons --  seems to call for a very high degree of technical competence and involvement even from the ordinary beneficiaries, whose numbers have started swelling into billions and are still soaring.      

     But that's only one of several significant factors which, taken together, apply tremendous psychological pressures on individual users as well as the ever-expanding community of consumers,  making the social impact of 'information technology' resemble a furious hurricane blowing all around the world.    The vital forces causing such universal turbulence include the phenomenal growth of professional opportunities and 'social networks',  the unlimited sources and storgage of information, the progressive invasion and loss of privacy,  the incredibly rapid obsolescence of basic tools and systems, the menace of malpractices -- and, above all, the dramatic changes in lifestyles and cultural affairs. 


(to be continued) 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Transglobal Vision

     Somehow infiltrating into the mysterious universe of the Internet and occupying my own personal space in it,  I've naturally started writing this online column with some far-reaching reflections on the fantastic progress of modern science and technology and its increasingly tumultuous impact on the whole world in social terms.  Perhaps it will strengthen my credentials if I mention here that there was a time when I had a fruitful professional relationship with the scientific community, and that I can count some eminent scientists among my best friends.           
     In the course of my varied experience as a senior civil servant in India, I had served as Financial Adviser to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in New Delhi for several years, having very close and critical encounters with enterprising scientists and technologists engaged in nationally important development-oriented research. 
     One of those distinguished colleagues (and a lifelong friend) is Dr. Mallela Ramaiah, who had done some precious pioneering work as the Director of the Structural Engineering Research Centre in Chennai, where an immense suburban hillside station built by him for testing  transmission line towers has acquired an international reputation as one of the best among such facilities in the world. He had also established the Indian Concrete Institute, and made a vital contribution to applied science and social welfare in several developing countries in Asia as a civil-engineering expert associated with important UN-Habitat projects.
     By a pleasant coincidence, both Dr. Ramaiah and I happen to be visiting our children and grandchildren in Portland (Oregon) right now.  Having this unexpected opportunity to discuss my inaugural theme with an old scientist-friend here in America -- exactly on the opposite side of the world from where we normally live and often meet for a rational exchange of  views -- I do get a feeling that this is probably an ideal place and time for me to project an objective transglobal vision of technosocial trends!
      (to be continued... )