What ‘I Fucking Love Science’ actually means is ‘I Fucking Love Existing Conditions.’ But because the word ‘science’ still pings about between the limits of a discourse that depends on the exclusion of alternate modes of knowledge, the natural world of I Fucking Love Science is presented as being essentially a series of factual statements.

Plus a takedown of everyone’s favorite scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

I love vintage art and we’ve a set featuring national parks framed in our family room. So when I saw this set of space travels as envisioned by NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech, I immediately downloaded them for printing.

NASA Celebrates Mars Rover Landing

Source: YouTube.

This has to be one of the coolest geeky moment of our times. It was heartening to see so many people tune in to watch it live on the Internet.

Apollo 11 Launch in Slow Motion

[via Kottke] “This clip is raw from Camera E-8 on the launch umbilical tower/mobile launch program of Apollo 11, July 16, 1969.” Excellent narration that highlights the importance of checklists.

Travel to Titan

Interested in a once-in-a-lifetime journey to space and get paid $25,000 instead of shelling out millions for a joy ride? There is a catch – the trip is one-way.

The New Solar System

Three more planets [Ceres, Charon, and Xena] ‘admitted’ to our solar system [source]. This is a part of a controversial proposal by the International Astronomical Union.

Parag, the amateur astronomist has more on what defines a planet. I guess, he will be training his camera on the new ones soon

Back to Space

Space Shuttle DiscoveryNASA is all set to launch Discovery, the space shuttle on July 13; the first after the Columbia disaster in early 2003. Astronauts will be leaving for space after a gap of more than 2 years. Recently, I had the opportunity of seeing the shuttle on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral being readied for launch. If you remember, Kalpana Chawla was among the seven astronauts who died aboard Columbia. Life since then has moved on for her husband, J.P. Harrison. He is doing his bit to keep his wife’s memory alive and striving to further her dedication to science:

“J. P. Harrison, who was married to Dr. Kalpana Chawla, a Columbia astronaut and aerospace engineer, has established a foundation called Montsu Inc., named for the traditional birth name of his wife, who was raised in India. The foundation awards scholarships to students in third world countries for study in science or medicine, Mr. Harrison said. Because his wife had a deep love of the outdoors – mountain climbing and bird watching, especially – the foundation is also raising money for projects to help protect the environment, especially in India, he said.

Into space on the Discovery, Mr. Harrison said he was sending a photograph of his wife from her college days in India, where she is sitting in her dorm room surrounded by photographs of aircraft and one of a space shuttle.” [via NY Times]

Although everyone around the world was saddened by the disaster, we still will support space exploration. Man’s thirst for reaching beyond the known frontiers is not easily quenched. Rocket science is as nerdy as it can get but even during my visit to the launching station, I sensed a deep sense of commitment to furthering knowledge. The human stories filled with rich emotion are far more compelling than the complex science that sends them to space. Cape Canaveral has a simulation on the Apollo 11 moon landing’s final minutes. Most of the tourists watching the show were non-Americans but you could sense the feeling of quiet accomplishment amongst all. Nothing unites us all better than pure science.

Save Hubble

Such precious images in the future might be lost forever, if the Hubble isn’t rescued soon. The Hubble celebrated its 15th birthday yesterday. After the Columbia disaster, all plans to service the Hubble were put on hold:

“Without a maintenance mission, Hubble’s batteries and remaining gyroscopes are expected to fail by 2007 or 2008. This would force mission controllers to shut down operations and, eventually, steer the telescope through Earth’s atmosphere and into the ocean.”

The new director, Michael Griffin plans to revisit that decision. I hope love for science and space prevails. The Van Gogh-esque ‘starry night’ captured by the Hubble never fails to draw a sigh of amazement and wonder.

The Solar System drawn to scale

Solar System

Currently I am reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything; recommended heartily by Varnam. The distances in the universe are simply unfathomable and beyond human comprehension. I was particularly fascinated by one particular paragraph in the second chapter, Welcome to the Solar System:

“Such are the distance, in fact, that it isn’t possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. Even if you added lots of fold-out pages, to your textbooks or used a really long sheet of poster paper, you wouldn’t come close. On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway).”

As you see, our textbook depictions are horribly out-of-scale and all those science fair project of suspending balls in elliptical wire frames were totally false. As taught in any technical field, any diagram not drawn to scale is as useful as sandpaper on a toilet paper dispenser — can use it but you in reality rather not. But of course, how can scientists not try?

As part of the National Science Week, The UK is setting up a scale model of the solar system, built at a scale of 1:15 million (and I thought 1:200 was a big scale for a site map in college). Except you may have to go up in space to get the full picture; nevertheless an interesting exercise in bringing science closer to the truth rather than simply drawing pretty spherical pictures in all hues and tones. It is projects like these that make science interesting and fun.

Form follows Function

I was browsing through the Wired Rave Awards when I paused for a moment whilst reading the section on Burt Rutan (Rave Award for Industrial Design). In architecture colleges, we are often imbibed (sadly, with little or no effect) with Louis Henri Sullivan’s classic and now-cliched adage – Form follows function. That philosophy often permeates every design field. Read the following; you will know what I mean.

Though Rutan’s aircraft always look stunning, he says he never considers aesthetics beyond the paint job. “Any airplane designer shapes the wing for performance, the tail for stability, and the fuselage to hold the payload and the propulsion. Then he blends the shape for low drag. Once that’s done he might step back and say, ‘What a beautiful airplane.'”

Bhoot: An Archi Review

Bhoot sparked many a review ranging from the most effusive praise to the delusional “Duh!”. I thought a different perspective might be of interest. My ex-principal, Mustansir Dalvi, who is not much of a hindi-movie buff drafted an excellent architecture-oriented Bhoot review. I found it refreshing to see not-the-run-of-the-mill literary piece so thought to share it with the blogging world. Not much input from me today, I quote verbatim hereon:

“Just saw ‘Bhoot’ this evening, and this set me off wondering how architecture is depicted in films. There are many film theories, but let that go for another time. I enjoyed this film, and here are some ruminations about its effective use of space.

The first half is the more effective. An ordinary high-rise residential apartment building (definitely not Hafeez, could be Khareghat) is one of the main ‘actors’ in the film, It is shot though various distorting lenses to give it a Bhootly appearence, but what makes it menacing is its utter ordinariness. What hits you is the view from the terrace: the horizon is filled with buildings- each ordinary and mediocre, you cannot differentiate one from the other. The skyline is jagged, and there are no landmarks to give it focus. Is this the view that most of the upper classes in Bombay look at out of their windows? Thank God for Panvel, just think of the view to the east from the top of our college building.

The ordinariness is reflected in the couple (Ajay Devgan and Urmila Matondkar) who move into a duplex flat with a terrace on one of the building’s upper floors. The fact that they have to rent the apartment is itself an act of disassociation. They have come from somewhere, we don’t know. They live in the anonymity of an apartment that belongs to someone else in this building that, apart from 1 landlord, 1 Bai and 1 watchman, no one else seems to inhabit.

This vulnerability is seen in the well crafted initial scenes. All they have is each other and the flat. When Ajay goes to work Urmila has the house to herself, with its double height spaces and the ambient sound of the many channels on cable TV. It is a big house for one person to inhabit alone for the day. A prime target for attack: whether voyeuristic, in the form of the watchman, or supernatural in the form of the Bhoot.

The spaces in the flat are interesting. The double heights allow for a bottom up and top down shots which reminded me of Escher once in a fleeting shot with Victor Banerjee and Ajay Devgan. The duplex’s stairs to the upper level figure prominently. There is an unstated menace in the steps, that are unprotected (no railing). Other aspects of the flat show a fuzzy line between safety and danger: the windows have no grilles, the terrace no protection above the standard parapet. The main door seems to open for everybody. But there seems to be no one in the building. The basement parking lot has cars but no people. There is unfinished RCC here and there with the reinforcement bars poking out like knives ready to put out some one’s eyes. The street outside has no character at all. All told, this is a chillingly unfriendly habitat, which nevertheless is home. A particularly dangerous place for children, or the mentally imbalanced.

Seeing the film, I realised that the effect of the depiction of architectural space in Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Bhoot’ is not in what he shows, but what you see. The uneasiness you feel is by reflection. Your everyday fears are ignited by the shots of detail and the relentless roving camerawork: The fear of being alone, the deja-vu feeling that someone else is in your home besides you, the fear of falling off an unprotected terrace or window, the fear of intruders, of attack from outside (the vulnerable main door), the fear of hurt (the jagged corners of the duplex’s stairs), even the fear of being in a public place full of strangers, and suddenly finding yourself naked. All these fears are experienced by a viewer while seeing the film.

Another quality that brings about the effectiveness of the interior spaces is that this film is shot on location: this is a real apartment, this is a real building, there are no sets, even the basement parking lot is authentic enough, except for perhaps the jagged reinforcement (for what is an unfinished column doing in a basement?) The apartment is not very well finished and it is these nicks and burrs that in fact drag us into the story by implying that this could be any one of our own homes. Nothing is perfect; this is no idealized ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’ world. That’s what makes this place spooky. Also the ‘interior decorashun’ seems hurriedly thrown together, with a mix of fresh furniture (a rather usefully designed bed, and some horrendous and large paintings) and pieces left over (a mirror, what else?) from the earlier owners. This is a house that has not yet become a home, not for the couple.

A home is something one needs to root ones self in. A protected space to return to, to take for granted. If the home itself is perceived to be oppressive or menacing, there is no where you can go. This is a clear subtext in the film, as the couple hardly ever leave the apartment throughout. By extension, if one of the partners becomes the object of fear and suspicion, how can you resolve conflicts?

The apartment and the building, as I mentioned earlier, become characters in the film, ‘acting’ along with the rest of the cast. That’s what makes the film enjoyable. Ambient space design that suggests the authenticity of life can go a long way to make a film realistic. The film that comes to mind here is ‘Alien’, the first one that showed the inside of spacecraft as ‘dirty’. Most of the space films that came before, such as 2001 and the Star Wars series showed a clean, well lighted interior, more a virtual mindspace rather than the real world. They always made you aware that this was a set. I can’t remember the last time spaces were so integral to a Bollywood film. The only example I remember with great fondness is the inside of the Qutub Minar shown beautifully with spiralling camerawork around Dev Anand and Nutan in the song ‘Dil ka Bhanwar kare Pukar’ from Tere Ghar Ke Saamne.”

I too loved the movie among the few movies I do end up liking although the second half meanders aimlessly to end abruptly.

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