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When I looked into the distant past…

Universe - Timeline

Universe - Timeline (Image courtesy - Wikipedia)


 
The Universe has always fascinated me. Doesn’t matter what level of understanding you have, Cosmology will always blow your mind. Have you ever wondered that when you look up to the stars, you are actually looking into the past?

  • When  you look at the moon, you are looking a little more than a second into the past.
  • When you look at the sun, you are looking a little more than 8 minutes into the past.
  • When you look at the pole star, you are looking about 430 years into the past.
  • The list goes on. There are stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters which could be your window to the past ranging from a few years to billions of years!

You could actually go on into the past until about a few hundred million years after the Big Bang (I wouldn’t get into the technicalities of why we can’t see beyond). We don’t even know if some of these exist as of today when we are looking at them.
 

With naked eyes you can only see up to a certain limit. Telescopes can push you into the realms ranging from a few  seconds to a few billion years into the past. I always wanted to push beyond what I could see with naked eyes. I started with a pair of astronomical binoculars. Little did I know that just a small magnification can help you improve the visibility into the past drastically.
 

I wanted to push this further. And luckily I got this opportunity a few weeks ago. I came across a large enough telescope and a very knowledgeable and generous guide, Kiran. When you look through a telescope, you  don’t get to see the planets, stars and galaxies like those glossy high resolution images. You need to use your imagination to understand what you see.

 
When I first saw Saturn with its rings clearly demarcated, I somehow felt a personal connect. There was a feeling of possessiveness. After all I was not looking at an image. I was directly looking through the air. The galaxies looked like sugar sprinkled on paper. A few galaxy clusters again looked like salt sprinkled on paper. And when I paid a little more attention, I could make out that they were concentrated towards the center. I thought, could there be a black hole at the center? To my delight, Kiran confirmed that there is a black hole at the center indeed! It was like attaining nirvana! Can you imagine? I was staring at a black hole. Wow!
 
And it was not over yet. It turned out to be a lucky night for stargazing. The lazy city of Mysore provided an amazing backdrop for an exciting starry night. I saw a white dwarf! Yes, a dying star!! It had exhausted its fuel and had blown into a giant white shell, with a black dot, which was the core.
 
I stopped for a moment to think that I am looking at something which happened millions of years ago. When humans still hadn’t evolved. Probably when dinosaurs  walked the Earth. Or maybe beyond that. I wanted to push back further. But alas! You can’t get into the billions. You probably need to get over the Earth’s atmosphere to look back to that scale. That is what the Hubble has been doing.
 
But I was more than satisfied with what I saw. I saw the child inside me waking up. I would never forget that night.
 
Some day, I wish to push the limits and get closer to the big bang by looking through one of the giant telescope arrays.
 

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Trekking in Uttaranchal

I was looking to explore Uttranchal for a while. And I stumbled across Thrillophilia. An adventure travel company run my my college mates! Wonderful, isn’t it? And I readily got some tips. Sharing with everyone who intend to explore Uttranchal and have some fun and adventure:

Uttaranchal is heaven for those who want to experience trekking and adventure sports. The routes to trail and trek on are a plenty to choose from, ranging from easy to tough. Trekking in Uttaranchal helps you to discover the potential of the place and to embark on lesser travelled routes as well. One gets to figure out more about life and being in sync with nature when the trekking expedition is on.

Uttaranchal trekking has many routes for you to choose from, each unique and with an intensity of its own. While trekking around you would come across various towns, famous temples, picturesque lakes, silent glaciers and roaring waterfalls. The locals around are warm and friendly, always willing to help you have a good time, and your trekking guide would take you along paths which have been unspoiled and well maintained, far away from crowded towns and locations.

It is the remoteness of such trekking routes around Uttaranchal, which has played a major role in exciting adventure seekers to come here from various parts of the planet. And if you are looking out for serene landscapes, rolling hills, snow capped peaks, breathtaking flora and fauna, wildlife spotting, jeep safaris, camping, rafting, kayaking, or simply trailing along the beautiful flower beds of Uttaranchal, this region wouldn’t disappoint you at all.

Here are some of the famous trekking routes in Uttaranchal you could have a great time on;

 

  • The “Chandrashila Summit Trek”

Duration: 1 week

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Summer

  • The well known “Dodital Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Year Round

  • The “Har Ki Dun Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Moderate to Strenuous

Best time: Year Round

  • The “Lakhamandal Trek”

Duration: 1 week

Rating: Easy

Best time: Year Round 

  • The “Nanda Devi Sanctuary Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Tough

Best time: Summer

  • The “Roop Kund Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Summer

  • The “Gangotri Tapovan Nandavan Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Strenuous to Tough

Best time: Summer

  • The “Chopta Deoriatal Tungnath Trek”

Duration: 1 week

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Year Round

  • The “Auli Kwaripass Tapovan Trek”

Duration: 8 days

Rating: Moderate

Best time: June to September

  • The “Khatling Sahastra Trek”

Duration: 15 days

Rating: Moderate

Best time: June to October

  • The “Panwali Kedarnath Trek”

Duration: 14 days

Rating: Tough

Best time: Summer

  • The “Hemkund Sahib Trek”

Duration: 8 days

Rating: Tough

Best time: Summer

  • The “Nagtibba Trek”

Duration: 1 week

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Year Round

  • The “Kuari Pass Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Strenuous to Tough

Best time: Summer 

  • The “Kedarnath Vasukital Trek”

Duration: 1 week

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Summer

  • The “Panch Kedar Trek”

Duration: 16 days

Rating: Strenuous to Tough

Best time: Summer

  • The “Valley of Flowers Trek”

Duration: 10 days

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Summer

  • The “Jwala Devi Trek”

Duration: 1 week

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Year Round

  • The “Binsar Trek”

Duration: 1week

Rating: Moderate

Best time: Year Round

So folks, these are the most popular expeditions for trekking in Uttaranchal. Some of them are tough, some strenuous and then you have the moderate and easy ones as well. No matter which trekking expedition you embark on, the cloudy region kissed by mists and frosts would always take your breath away. The dotting landscapes rolling side by side, the wild rivers, the frozen glaciers and the brightly colored floral treats around, all of them would keep you hooked to this heavenly adventurous place. And if you need any more help find the right deal and package, I would suggest getting in touch with thrillophilia!!

 

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To the Standard Chartered Bank…

Dear Standard Chartered Bank,

You offered me a shining Manhattan Credit Card almost 7 years ago when I was in Bangalore. I was a kid out of my college who was fascinated by plastic money and loved to get them swiped once in a while. Then came Citibank where I had my corporate salary account. I got a complimentary credit card which offered 5 times the limit you offered. But I was a kid. At that time having 2 credit cards in my wallet made me feel even better. Yours was a silver card. And Citibank gave a gold card. I loved both of them.

I stopped using your card after one year. I still use my Citibank credit card which has been upgraded 5 times since I got the first one.  There’s one very simple reason. Let me explain:

On a given month I have a Rs. 10,000 outstanding on both my credit cards. I only have Rs. 10,000 to spare so I make a partial payment of Rs. 5000 to both (though now I understand I should have actually cleared off one of the two to enjoy a month of revolving credit for free. But that is not the point here.). When I get the bill next month, the interest charged on your card is twice that of the interest charged on the Citibank card. No, your rate of interest is not twice that of Citibank. Your interest calculation policy is deceptive.

Your policy says unless I clear off each penny of my outstanding, you will charge an interest on the total outstanding as of the last bill. So even if I paid Rs. 9999.99 and have an outstanding of Rs. 0.01, you would have charged an interest on the total outstanding i.e. Rs. 10,000. Citibank doesn’t do so. They charged interest only on the partial balance.

I call up your customer care to explain. First the gentleman on the other side doesn’t understand a shit about the interest charging methodologies. And then he says he holds 7 credit cards and all of them charge interest on the entire outstanding even if a partial payment is done. To nail it down he says it is a regulatory norm. I ask him to cancel my card. He says request taken. I follow up a few more times. But I don’t get any confirmation. I cut the card in 4 pieces and throw it out of the window.

For two years, you keep sending me a printed bill with Rs. 13 Cr. in my account. I keep throwing it in the dustbin. You suddenly send me a new shining platinum card. But I am no longer that innocent kid. I cut the card into pieces and throw it out immediately.

From then until now, you keep sending me bills. Two bills. One has a credit of Rs.13 and the other says Rs. o.00. So for the last 3 years, you’ve sent both the bills to be without failing. I did some calculations. If it costs Rs. 2 for the bill and another Rs. 5 for the postage, you have spent Rs. 672 over the last five years. And I have not spent a single penny through your cards in that time. You have already spent more in the bills than the interest I ever paid.

It’s time to stop now. Use the money to buy some sense.

At least stop sending those paper bills and save some trees.

Never yours for life!

Amit Srivastava

Readability

 

“Simplicity is the best policy”. I had read it as a kid. Little did I know what does it exactly mean. As I grew up, I still didn’t appreciate this. However esp. in the last few years when technology has infested our lives, I am beginning to realize how cluttered and complicated everything is.

  • My average reading span for an article on the web had reduced to a few seconds. I had trouble reading beyond the article headline.
  • 3 years ago, I could watch a complete video on TED (which was usually less than 20 minutes. No more. I hardly have the patience to watch them now.
  • I often lost context due to the web sites trying to squeeze everything in the world on their pages.

Enters the Kindle which I won’t write about (for various reasons).

Enters Readability. It is a simple service which allows you to mark articles to be read later. Nothing great so far. But that is not just what it does. It has a cool reading mode, which just makes reading fun. Just install this extremely recommended Chrome readability extension and transform your reading experience on the web for ever. It not only simplifies everything, but also allows you with options to control the font sizes, width etc.

And there is more to it. It allows you to push those articles to Kindle so that you can read them at leisure. I just can’t explain what good this does to my reading experience. Even if Readability starts charging for this service, I would be happy to pay.

There are other services like Instapaper ,which is good as well. I prefer Readability over Instapaper simply because the former can handle images when converting the article for Kindle.

Don’t ask me about the digest feature not being there in Readability (for free). Read article by article. And delete article by article. We are talking about simplifying things. Digests do not really help.

Very few things in the world simplifies life, and Readability (and Kindle of course 😉 ) does.

 

Writer’s block!

I had heard about the writer’s block. Didn’t exactly know what it was. But once I started blogging I could make out. I thought that the block is due to shortage of ideas. One does not know what to write. May be doesn’t have enough in mind to express.

But it is exactly the opposite I guess. Everyday I can think of so many articles to write. But I am not able to do so. Getting time is of course an issue. But more than that it is the block. I just can’t start.

And now, this is seeping into my profession as well. Of late my job involves writing proposals, creating presentations etc. I am facing the same here as well. Someone has rightly said. Well begun is half done!

But there’s one area where this hasn’t impacted me so far. And that is email. I can respond to emails almost instantly, no matter how complicated the response might get. There’s a twist though. Starting an email is tougher than responding to email. Responding is easier as someone has already started.

Nevertheless, starting emails is a lot easier than documents or presentations. Now here’s the secret. I’ve started starting blog posts, proposals, presentations etc. as emails. It is helping me tremendously.

That doesn’t mean you would see lot many posts from me. But this is making my life a hell lot easier.

When I thought through it today, I realized that emails have become more natural to us. Probably this is why the block doesn’t exist there!