Sunday, July 21, 2013

Do you know your Moon?

Moon, the satellite which moves around our planet Earth, is the most extensively observed celestial objects by humans.   We do look at the Sun, at sunrise and sunset, but rarely do we look at it during the day (and it is not advisable to look at the Sun when it is up above in the sky).  Looking at Moon conjures benign and romantic expressions.  Different phases of the Moon give humans something to talk about - full moon and new moon have taken on mystical interpretations by different civilizations.  Stories of werewolves are interwoven with full moon, while most Indians consider new moon to be inauspicious, except Tamilians who believe in the opposite.

So well do we know our nearest neighbor?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

‘All Life is one’

When I quote ‘all life is one’, I don’t say it in a philosophic way, spiritual way, the new age holistic way, the Gandhian way, or in some kind of karmic sense, or tantric sense, nor is it in a biblical way or koranic way, nor is it in post-modernistic, gaia-ic, dharmic, sanatanic, nor is it in poetic, metaphoric, satiric, or ironic way.

I say it in a scientific way. It is an ‘empirical fact’ that all life on planet earth is one.

Until 1950s we did not know this.  But in the last sixty years, man has come to understand the language of genes and it has become clear that all life forms on earth come from a single set of molecular organisms providing the initial set of genetic material.   That life on earth includes all life forms, including the bacteria, the virus, the algae, the fungi, the seaweed, the grass, the oak tree, the fish, the snake, the crab, the rhino, the cow, the monkey, the chimpanzee and the human.   All life forms owe their genes to one single ancestor (or a set of molecular organisms) and they are all coded in the same language.  They share the same language, same syntax, same grammar and same interpretation, and most important of all, they share the genetic code.

Unlike humans who speak thousands of languages, all life forms on earth are coded in the same language.   Like English, the language of genes has alphabets.  While English has twenty six alphabets, the gene in all life on earth has four alphabets, denoted as A, C, G, T (which stand for adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine).  While English has different sizes of words, some are one letter, some two letter, and some very long (like Antidisestablishmentarianism), the language of life has only three letter words, CGA, GCG, etc.   

All life on earth is coded in a language which is very simple to understand.  It has only 64 words (4 x 4 x 4). Each of those words specifies an amino acid and is the same in all life forms on the planet.  
And since most of the life on earth (except some bacteria) inherits the genetic material from its parents, who inherit from their grandparents and so on, it becomes evident that all life on earth must have inherited the genes from one organism or a single set of organism a very long time ago (few billions years ago).

Humans share nearly 98% of genes with chimpanzees.  Humans and chimpanzees share 97% of genes with gorillas and so on.  Humans separated from chimpanzees around 5 to 10 million years ago.  Chimps and humans separated from gorillas around 15 to 20 million years ago.  We can go back in time to see when we separated from other life forms and we will start seeing that we share genes with most other mammals, then reptiles, and we can go back in time to see common genes with crabs, worms, and seaweed.

All life is one is now a scientific fact.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tata is in a bid to buy UK’s Cable & Wireless

When James Cook died in Hawaii in 1779, it took 11 months for the news to reach London.  Fifteen years later, when Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, it took 10 days for the news to traverse 1200 miles to London.  In 1840, it took 29 days for the fastest news to reach from Bombay to London, but it took 40 days for London to know about Indian Mutiny of 1857.

The word ‘telegraph’ was coined by a French civil servant and it meant ‘to write at a long distance’.  Before telegraphy, news spread through ships, horses, carriages, by foot.  Many societies employed smoke signals, flags, and semaphores to send messages over long distance.

In 1824, Encyclopedia Britannica wrote about telegraphy as: “It has been supposed that electricity might be the means of conveying intelligence but, ingenious as the experiments are, they are not likely ever to become practically useful”.

Samuel Morse developed his famous Morse code of dots and dashes and demonstrated telegraphic equipment in 1840s in United States.   By 1848, most of the Eastern United States was connected by telegraphic lines.

William Thomson, rechristened as Lord Kelvin,   developed a highly sensitive galvanometer which enabled sending Morse code over submarine cables.   Michael Faraday suggested that submarine copper cables should be coated with gutta-percha, which was later used to make golf balls.

Cyrus Field, a paper merchant from New York, made 5 attempts to lay the transatlantic cable.  The first one snapped after 400 miles of cable was laid.  The second one was laid, after combining two halves midway, but then parted.  The cable was 2500 miles long and a cigar thick with gutta-percha covering 7 copper wires.

In 1858, a 98-word message from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan of USA took more than 16 hours to type.   But soon the signals became weak, and many telegraphic lines went silent after few weeks.  After seven years, Cyrus Field and Atlantic Telegraph raised money once again to lay the cable but it snapped after laying 1200 miles.   They raised money again to lay the cable in 1866.

Telegraphy changed the newspaper reporting.   Many incumbent newspapers were initially skeptical about use of telegraphy.  But a German named Israel Ben Josaphat Beer, later renamed as Paul Julius Reuter, settled in London and started world’s first telegraphic news agency in 1851 (which we know as Reuters).    When Tsar Nicholas I of Russia died in 1855, it took only few hours for the news to reach London.

John Pender, a cotton merchant from Manchester, put 10,000 pounds into the Atlantic venture, and eventually laid a submarine cable to India, from Porthcurno in England through Mediterranean and Arabian Sea to Bombay in 1870.  Now, it took only few hours for London to know the news from India making Secretary of State for India a powerful man in London.  Pender’s Eastern Telegraph Company became Father Eastern, which eventually became Cable and Wireless in 1934.

So, why Europe suddenly took to sea in the late 15th Century?

After remaining in slumber for thousands of years, Europe suddenly woke up in late 15th century to explore the world.  Christopher Columbus set sail towards West in the hope of finding a route to Asia in 1492.  Vasco Da Gama went around Cape of Good Hope (Africa) to reach India in 1498.  Within few centuries, most of the world was discovered, including a major land portion Americas (28% of world’s land mass) hitherto unknown to the civilized world.  Magellan’s expedition circumnavigated the world in 1522.  Captain Cook discovered most of Pacific including Australia in 1770.

Prior to these explorations, Atlantic sea was unknown and unchartered (except some voyages taken up by Vikings in distant past).  The sea was feared and nobody dared to venture.  It was believed that many monsters reigned in these deep waters.  Also, there was need for taking up such a venture.

Europe was heavily dependent on spices from India and East Indies, for preserving their meat and for bettering its taste.  The route for spices was by land through Constantinople.  In 1453, Ottomans conquered Constantinople, disturbing the trade routes.  This and few other events caused Europeans to venture out and seek sea routes to India.    Thus the taste for spices might have triggered the discovery of Americas and colonization of India.