Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kaii Higashiyama

Wonder why some of the best programs on NHK are broadcast late at night...

 In Japan, as is the case in India, prime-time national television seems to be reserved for mindless drivel - endless foodie shows, teenagers screaming "kawaiii!" (so cute!), and the usual line-up of show-piece occidentals holding forth on everything from current affairs to hair-styles.

If you want to see real home-grown gems, perhaps its better to hit the remote-control early in the morning (kids programs) or late lights (eg. the five-minute filler called "11:55")

Yesterday they were showing the works of a painter named Kaii Higashiyama, and the program was presented by a well known pianist, Shinya Kiyoduka. It was superb.

On the web, I could not find most of the  lithographs presented in the show, but here is one titled "Hakuba no Mori" from gallery-sakura-


Friday, November 26, 2010

Marathon Monks

Which is the toughest, institutionalized, human endurance test?

If you thought it was the ultra-marathon, here is something you should see -

These marathon monks (Kaihōgyō) are Tendai Buddhists and followers of Fudō Myōō (aka Achala-natha or the `immovable-lord` in Sanskrit) - the protector and aide in attaining goals. For them, the ultimate achievement is the 1000-day challenge in which they cover 40 to 84km per day for 100 days a year, for seven years!

Only 46 men have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1585 AD.


Tibetan Buddhism has a similar practice called Lung-gom-pa ("Wind Meditation", lung = “wind, gom-pa = “meditation") which allows a practitioner to run at an extraordinary speed for days without stopping. Milarepa is said to have been one of its exponents.

Yantra Yoga - Tibetan yoga of movement

Hōnen (法然 1133-1212) -  religious reformer and founder of the first independent branch of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism called Jōdo shū (浄土宗?, "The Pure Land School").

Tendai Marathon Monks - The Run of A Lifetime by James Davis, The London Observer

Thursday, November 25, 2010

`Rail Technology Digest`

In 2010, six years after Japan`s Kawasaki Heavy Industries won its first order for supplying high-speed trains to China, a new world record was announced. A  train called CRH380A clocked 420 km/h (262mph).

`CRH` stands for China Railways High-speed and their officials were quoted saying that all the technology, design and equipment for this train had been created in China.

The Japanese、of course, were livid. To them, the CRH series was just a modified version of JR East`s E2-1000 series, but the Chinese were now saying that the technology had been `digested` and that the new trains are fully indigenous.

Deja vu?

This may be exactly how the Americans & British reacted when they saw  the first Japanese three -cylinder steam-engines. In the 1920s Japan had imported some engines from ALCO (built under license from LNER, UK). These were called Class-8200 or  C52, and some of them were completely dismantled and reverse-engineered into a `new`, `improved` model called the C-53. By 1934, Japanese Imperial Railways in Manchuria - the Mantetsu - inaugurated the "Asia Express", a high speed train from Dalian to the Manchukuo capital of Hsinking. This train had a top speed of 134 km/h (83 mph), and was the fastest scheduled train in Asia at the time.

More recently, Siemens too reacted the same way when they saw the first `GreenMover Max` 100% low-floor light transit vehicles (LF-LRVs) in Japan. In 1998, they had supplied Hiroshima city with their Combino-series, which was, at the time, one of the most advanced tram systems. By 2006 a consortium of Japanese manufacturers (J-Tram) came up with the GreenMover Max. The technology had by now been fully `digested`.

When it comes to international technology transfers, I guess it helps to have a good `digestion` :-)  


Kawasaki Wins High-Speed Train Order for China, KHI News, 20 Oct., 2004

How Japan Profits From China's Plans, Forbes, 26 Oct 2009 -

Bullets and Trains: Exporting Japan’s Shinkansen to China and Taiwan, Christopher P. Hood in Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 1 March 2007. 

Discussion on CRH Specs - -

262mph train sets speed record in China: China celebrates the new ultrafast CRH380 train., 26 Oct., 2010.

Discussion - CRH380 -

The Japanese C53 Steam Engine -

Overview of Japan`s Modern Steam Locomotives - Saito Akira -

More Details:

Nigel Gresley - First 3-cylinder steam engines

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Startling Yellows


During autumn, how do the Ginko trees (Ginkgo biloba),come up with the brightest yellow foliage?

Botanists refer to this phenomenon as "leaf senscence in deciduous trees"  and is linked to the changing seasons (a "phytogerontological phenomenon"). The change in leaf coloration is generally due to the progressive loss of chlorophyll cells coinciding with the partial retention of carotenoids.

The big difference between the Ginko and other leaf-shedding trees like Maples and Lindens is that, as the green chlorophyll disappears, as much as half of total carotinoids originally present in the leaf is retained by the time of shedding, which give it a bright yellow color. In the other tree species, carotenoid retention is less pronounced but still high enough to cause a golden appearance of the autumnal foliage.

Now, if you were to ask the why question, explanations are not so easy to find...

It has always intrigued me that as far as plants are concerned, the green color - so soothing to inhabitants of concrete jungles - belongs to the  a wavelength that is practically useless for photosynthesis. And so plants & trees absorb all other wavebands and rejects the green color.

Much the same way, carotinoids appear yellow-red in color but they absorb the blue light. So why is there a longer retention of carotinoids in the Ginko leaves??


Matile, Philippe (2000), Biochemistry of Indian summer: physiology of autumnal leaf coloration. Experimental Gerontology 35 (2000). pp. 145-158

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chase Jarvis & Cameras

"The best camera is the one in your hand"

If I didn't think it was too expensive, maybe I'd have this my my hand...the new Nikon D7000 promo video shot by CJ & friends:

Other interesting pages from his website:
Chase Jarvis Website - especially staff, porfolio and campaigns

Blog Posts - 7 Creative Habits and Proof Vs. Promise

Friday, November 12, 2010

Exhibition Spaces

Yesterday, I visited Makuhari-Messe for the first time to take a look at the "Mass-Trans Innovation Japan 2010".  This exhibition occupied just one hall of this sprawling international convention complex - and what a huge place it was!

While taking a look around, I wondered how it compares with similar sites in India.  But what do we compare? Pragati Maidan in Delhi, spread across 150 acres (0.61km) and has 18 halls with 72,000 sq.m. of exhibition space. At Hyderabad, the first (and only?) privately owned Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC) has one hall covering 6,450 sq.m.

If we were to take the quality and service at HICC, and multiply it a few times over with the area available at Pragati Maidan, the result might be something like Makuhari-Messe. Its exhibition space alone covers 210,000 sq.m.!  And to think that this place is smaller than the space available at Tokyo Big Sight (230,000 sq.m.), right in the heart of the city...

Add to this the facilities on offer - logistic support, connectivity, accomodation and recreaction...and that thought (deja vu?) comes once again - "We have such a long-long way to go..."!


Makuhari-Messe, Chiba, Japan -

Tokyo Big Sight -

Pragati Maidan / ITPO -
PM at Wiki -

Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC) -

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Seeking Orion

My anchor to the night-sky in Delhi, or for that matter anywhere else in India, has always been the `belt` of Orion the Hunter (aka Mriga in Indian mythology). The simple, staggered array of three bright stars (Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka) could be spotted even when the sky was hazy...

Where should I look for the hunter in Tsukuba?

Here is the map for the Tokyo night-sky:

current night sky over Tokyo
Sky map by AstroViewer®

Since Tsukuba is close to Tokyo, perhaps the hunter is sitting somewhere along the edge of the eastern horizon...


Your Sky from Fourmilab, Switzerland (lots of great science stuff here!)
- Horizon view of Tokyo (35°45'N 139°34'58"E)

Stellarium - free, open-source planetarium downloads

AAAD - Amateur Astronomers Association Delhi -

AstroViewer - (pretty basic, with limited locations, but the maps can be embedded)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tech Capability Gaps

Sometime back, while commenting on the BlackBerry encrypton controversy, Saubik Chakrabarti (IE 11 Aug.2010) had pointed out :

"...not all Big Brothers are equally capable. Some tech observers say BlackBerry does not pose a problem to some major countries because their security agencies are in the masterclass of decryption...

"This raises a question for India — a middling power with a self-narrative of technological capability. To what extent are India’s security services’ anxieties a reflection of their less-than-stellar technological capabilities? Do India’s espiocrats sound slightly desperate sometimes because at the high end of the national security business we have a capability gap just as we do at the low end (fighting Maoists with ill-equipped, lowly-paid forces)?"
This thought keeps coming back to me again and again, whenever I read something about India's efforts at absorbing technology, or when I compare it with the proactive way in which Chinese soak in advanced technology. While our neighbor is busy "digesting" foreign technology to create its own high-tech industries - aerospace, high-speed railway networks, communications and logistics - we seem to be busy tying ourselves in knots.

And now Obama is coming to help us with another knot - its called the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA).  This may effectively bar us from retrofitting and adapting equipment to our own needs without the Original Equipment Manufacturers' (OEMs) consent and participation for the entire duration of its service, which, in the case of the U.S. has almost never permitted.

This brings us back to Saubik's point about India's self-narrative about technological capability. For decades fooled ourselves into believing that our bureaucrats knew all there is to know about "indigenous expertise". Along the way we have stifled and red-taped not only public organisations like HAL and DRDO but also our best engineering schools.

And now its time to pay the price - in royalties and license-fees -  for our delusions and day-dreams.


Berry, berry complicated (Saubik Chakrabarti, Indian Express, 11 Aug.2010)

Threat to innovative fix-dependent system (Rahul Bedi, The Hindu, 3 Nov. 2010)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Chinese Superlatives

Over the past ten days, there has been yet another deluge of Chinese superlatives:

The Biggest, Most Expensive World Expo Ever: Shanghai Expo attracted about 73 million visitors over six months; built at the cost of $ 45 billion

World`s Fastest Train: The high-speed railway link between Shanghai and Hangzhou now covers the 200-km distance in just 45 minutes (av. speed 350kmph)

World`s Fastest Computer: The Tianhe-1A supercomputer at NCS-Tianjin performs 2.5 Peta-flops is about 50% faster than its closest US rival.

Yet, the Western media seems to be busy underplaying these achievements on one hand and feeding that frenzy about the Yuan valuation on the other. It makes you wonder if such a response is out of petulance, resentment, fear, paranoia...or all of the above!

So it was interesting to see the paragon of American enterprise & ingenuity, Bill Gates, take a contrarian position. In an interview to UK`s Financial Times (30 Oct 2010), this is what he had to say about the speed and energy with which China is developing:

“If all you care about is the US or the UK’s relative strength in the world, then it’s particularly scary...In the US case, 1945 was our relative peak. Since then other countries from Europe to Asia have rebuilt and become more prosperous...but I guess I’m just not enough of a nationalist to see it all in negative terms.”
And he reserved his sarcasm for those who complain about rising Chinese energy use –
“I mean, these Chinese are actually using as much energy per capita as the average in the world today, how dare they! How did that happen? The US uses four times the average and the Brits double. But now these Chinese are trying to use the average.”
Here is another rare columnist who prefers not to play the Blame China Game - Zachary Karabell in Time (30 Oct., 2010) - `Blaming China Won't Solve the U.S.'s Economic Woes`


Lunch with the FT: Bill Gates (Gideon Rachman, FT, October 30 2010)

Breaking records, Shanghai Expo closes doors (Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, 31 Oct 2010)

China unveils world's fastest train (Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, 26 Oct., 2010)

China Claims Supercomputer Crown (BBC 28 Oct 2010)

China Unveils Powerful, 2.5-petaflop Supercomputer (PCWorld 28 Oct 2010)

`Blaming China Won't Solve the U.S.'s Economic Woes` (Zachary Karabell, Time, 30 Oct., 2010),9171,2025568,00.html