Category: Nature

Catoctin Mountain Park Maryland


While visiting Washington DC earlier this week, we decided to go hiking at one of the nearby national parks. A uniquely American experience, I would strongly recommend taking a hike in any of the national parks. Americans make it a great marketing experience with big support to any visitors – they have a nice visitor centre with all amenities and officers on hand to explain everything about the park.

We chose to visit the Catoctin Mountain Park some 50 miles outside of Washington DC, in Thurmont Maryland, because it was a bit closer than the original selection of the Blue Ridge mountain, and had easier treks for the first time visitors. The drive itself was smooth with much less traffic than we had anticipated, and we reached the Catoctin Mountain Park in about an hour and fifteen minutes. My daughter mentioned that this was a smaller park in terms of area allocated due to its vicinity to Camp David with its high security. You can take a look at the following websites Catoctin Mountain Park and National Park Foundation – Catoctin Mountain Park

The officer at the visitor centre of the park took time to explain the various possibilities for trekking at the park, he also suggested we do the Cunningham Falls trail loop which will be a 2.8 mile round trip, followed by a visit to the Blue Ridge Summit via the Hog Rock. The map provided by him was helpful in understanding the route. We got ready for the trek and went into the dense park of tall trees with cool weather despite the blazing sun outside. It took all of around 2 hours for visiting Cunningham Falls at the end of this trail and return to the visitor centre.

On a scale of 1 to 5, probably this trek would rate at a less than moderate 2 in terms of difficulty. Mostly flat, with some climbing and ground undulations, combined with crossing some fallen trees, made it an interesting though not tough trek. I was wondering if I should have brought my Merrell shoes from Singapore – on this trip I was just wearing the usual walking/running shoes which do not provide good grip while walking on gravel. I have always had problems while coming down from an elevation, as I tend to slip on the gravel; further, going down causes strain on the knees.

The visitor centre brochures covered one dreadful aspect of the trek into this park which is the potential for catching Lyme disease which is an infectious disease caused by ticks. We were a bit scared after reading the printed material, but then chose to proceed anyway. You can read about this disease at Lyme disease .

It was good fun and is a nice bonding time with the family. When I was unstable at some point, my son would stand ready at my back to steady me and make me all right. There were many photo opportunities on the way and at Cunningham Falls. It was a good experience and we all liked the park and its trail that we undertook.

I kept talking to my family about how well the U.S. is organized in terms of infrastructure, provision of assistance (like the visitor centre), the helpful indicators provided while navigating the park, the interest that they create in children and also adults about the importance of such recreational activities (the visitor centre was full of young children when we visited), and the whole approach towards dealing with citizens/visitors which is imbued with a marketing flavour.

I believe that this is what we lack in many other parts of the world, and especially in India. There is rarely such guidance, infrastructure or marketing provided by the governments in many countries which probably have equally beautiful national parks or forests.

In any case, we decided to have such a national park hiking expedition during every visit to the U.S. or Canada in future.

Hopefully, you folks who are reading this post, will also love trekking and take a hike soon!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2017

Anti-Climate


President Donald Trump again made history this week.

He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries, including the U.S. It was a signature achievement of President Obama, working closely with other world leaders. The U.S. became a leader in effecting positive climate change under the auspices of this historic climate agreement, in close cooperation with countries such as Germany, France, China and India.

Now, the biggest Carbon emitter of the world is leaving this agreement.

President Trump stated that the agreement was unfair to Americans. He promised to walk out of the agreement during his campaign, and he has done so, without so much as consultation with energy academics and the industry.

Good. Now the global climate leadership shifts to who else, but China. Increasingly, China is finding itself in leadership roles due to the vacuum created by the U.S. and it is happily grabbing the same with glee. Why not? Europe is looking for replacing the U.S. with China, and it is already happening this week, with the visit of the Chinese Premier to Germany.

President Trump needs to realize that he does not need to keep all his campaign promises. He is now President of the U.S. and the U.S. has a global obligation not to walk out of agreements that it has signed on. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Paris agreement is non-binding. Once signed, it should stay signed on for ever.

Climate change is for real, and if the global temperatures rise by 2 degrees there will be disaster. I am wondering how come the vaunted U.S. academics in the field of energy and environment did not make serious attempts to influence the thinking of the U.S. government and President Trump on this most critical challenge confronting the planet.

In any case, now that the damage is done, what next?

The world will go on, now with only 194 countries supporting the climate agreement. Who are the three dissenters? Nicaragua, Syria and the U.S. Does the U.S. want to be in this glorious company of nations? President Trump needs to think more carefully about making such critical decisions for the welfare of his own country. It is a wrong and completely misinformed decision.

I am sure that the decision will be reversed. If not by President Trump, by the very next President.

Coal is out of fashion in the environment conscious world. Citizens want clean energy. They want clean air and clean water. Fossil fuels is not the way to go. It should be nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy, et al………the world is changing, old habits are dying, new habits are taking root with the young demographics……….how can anyone refute this positive momentum coursing throughout the world?

When China and India signed on to this agreement after arduous negotiations, the world heaved a sigh of relief. The most difficult country was India which did not wish to sacrifice economic growth and jobs for the sake of signing the climate agreement. Compromises were made and finally India signed on and the world celebrated, and now the U.S. which applied so much pressure on India to sign, has exited the agreement.

What kind of message does this U.S. action send to India, China and the rest of the world?

Let us hope no other nation exits the agreement.

Climate change is for real.

It will affect the future of our planet earth irretrievably.

If we do not take much needed actions today and strictly control carbon emissions.

So, let us all execute what our respective nation has committed to honour via this agreement.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

03 June 2017

Man as the Maker


I guess the title sounds kind of deterministic or a sort of prognosis for things to come.

I thought a lot writing about this subject due to its sensitivity and the abject lack of sensitivity on the part of religious opponents who might see this as an affront to their religious choices and their theories that there can be no “maker” other than god. Religions are a part of the fabric of human life on this earth, and they have had an outsized influence on the development and behaviour of human species. However, most religious dogmas were the creation of man, and their continued sustenance demonstrates their hold on humanity, despite evidence that such dogmas resulted in the loss of millions of lives over the past few centuries and especially in the 20th century. Those religious dogmas have no scientific basis.

This is not a blog post which will argue the benefits or otherwise of following a religious faith or the practicing of non-religious faiths such as agnosticism or atheism. This post is more about the most crucial development in science today which allows man to play god, the creator of human beings of any characteristic, outside of the normal process of conception and delivery. If Man can play the role of the Creator, then can it be said that “Creationism” as a philosophy of the arrival of human species on earth could have been right in some way? If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is correct, how can Man play god and create a new human or animal species?

I am sure the answer is based on Science. But I got this question into my head and could not get it out of my head for a while. Scientific Research has advanced to such a stage that today, man can create any kind of species (almost, not yet fully!) in a test tube in the labaratory environment. Science is not going to stop its inevitable march towards discovering new things all the time, and Scientists are pursuing the causes of things in this world based on evidence and research. Science is not going to go away and proclaim that all things in this world are a result of some godly intervention to make them happen, which is the Creationism Theory. Or, justify in some research-oriented manner, that god is an “intelligent designer” of all things on this planet, and these things are complex and could not have come into existence without a proper cause.

Man is on a non-stop quest on scientific matters. At the same time, religious conservatives are on a non-stop quest on establishing Creationism as the essential cause of all things we see around us. Both aspects are amazing, but it is clear which one is on the right direction.

If Man can create a human being from a test-tube, and shape its genes and chromosomes, and that can result in a particular species which has certain pre-identified characteristics, what does it mean? Are we all at an inflection point? Are we going to witness the usurping of all things godly by Man who seems to be assuming great powers to make things as he deems fit? Does this sound like the “Maker”?

Well, it is abundantly clear that man’s quest for scientific discoveries is going to lead him to more surprises and more influences than he can manage. He will ultimately gain full and complete access to the technique of making a man. Then, can he be considered as a “He”, meaning god with a capital “G”? Would Man then have arrived at a point when he can demonstrate that capability to all and sundry? Would he be excommunicated by the religious gurus we will have by then? Will people believe in this Man? What will happen?

Nobody knows.

It is only funny that Man has come full circle around. He originally offered the Theory of Evolution to justify how man evolved from monkeys and chimpanzees. Now he discovered Creationism of his own type, based on scientific methodologies. How will the original religious Creationists take this kind of intervention by Man?

Not too kindly, I guess. This is their turf!!!

Religions still dominate our culture. And it is surprising that even in the U.S. wherein scientific discoveries are at the maximum level (including the creation of new species), there are enough number of ultra-religious folks who simply do not believe in any of this science, and push their own ideas on how human species came about – from the one and only god. The British seem to be more sobre. Even Archbishops in the U.K. seem to believe in the Theory of Evolution while not disputing the influence of god.

OK, now it is time to meet Man the Maker of new destinies. This would mean that we indulge in scientific studies ourselves, and discover for ourselves the possibilities at almost the outer realm of science. It is critical not to make judgement calls, and analyze what Man is discovering without actually jumping into it. Take time to analyze and determine for yourself. Check the evidence. Talk to others. Don’t indoctrinate anyone. Let everyone find our for himself or herself.

It is an interesting thought process to follow, and I am not yet done with this line of thinking. There is more to come along these lines. In the meantime, think for yourself, and don’t get indoctrinated by dogmas.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th October 2016

 

The Fitbit Challenge


It has been just about two weeks since I started wearing a Fitbit Alta device on my wrist in my quest to measure my walking performance.

I have seen an amazing change in my otherwise staid walking behaviour. For the record, I walk for about 2.1 KMs every morning (Fitbit measures this distance and also says that I walk for around 3,000 steps) of the working week, and almost 5 to 6 KMs for the weekend morning. So, I approximately walk around 21 to 22 KMs every week.

My challenge has been on setting a target for the number of steps. Initially, I set 7,500 then increased it to 8,500. I realized one day that this figure is not good enough as the American Heart Association says the average number of steps a person needs to walk everyday should be around 10,000 steps. I kept looking at that message from Fitbit for a few days, and then decided to increase the target to 10,000 steps.

It was easy to achieve between 6,000 and 7,000 steps during the period from waking up till returning home in the evening from office. However, I found that I am not that great a walker in the evenings, and could barely ratchet up another 1,000 to 1,500 steps in the evenings. This resulted in couple of behavioural changes.

I started walking within the office more than I usually do. I started walking more often to get a glass of water, for example. That might add some 300 steps. I also started pacing around a large room or meeting area or pantry when I got a call, or I had to make a call to someone. I found that this added a substantial amount of steps, sometimes in excess of 2,000 steps – instead of sitting and taking calls or making calls, I started walking every time. Together with the water trips in the office, I was easily able to add a minimum of 3,000 steps a day, which took my average walking measure close to 9,000 / 9,500 steps.

The balance was easy to make up by walking around the house in the evenings, pacing while taking calls in the evenings, etc., So, I started doing above 11,000 steps a day. I saw this kind of improvement in just about couple of weeks after starting to wear Fitbit.

The other important and somewhat compelling reason for wearing Fitbit was the comparative measurement of other folks who are connected to oneself and using Fitbit. I was able to see how I was doing compared to a few of my friends and colleagues. As it happened, several of my friends and colleagues were veterans of Fitbits, and have collected many badges on the way. They were clearly above 80,000 steps during any preceding week, while I was barely making it to 70,000 steps. This gave additional push to my behavioural change, and I have just started thinking of adding more steps to my daily rigamarole.

My estimate is that 85,000 steps in any one week is a very good figure to achieve for most folks (average of 12,000 steps a day). During the weekend day, I am also trying to ensure that I walk for over 6 KMs at the minimum. There is enough motivation to do so, given the nature trails in Singapore. I get into issues only when I travel, as I have to replicate the steps measure over a treadmill in a gym which is not exactly equivalent to open air brisk walking.

Overall, Fitbit is a good gadget addition to the list of gadgets we all end up with. May be I should go in for the latest device which also has heartbeat. I noticed that the Health app in my iPhone is not exactly producing the same as the Fitbit figures (the app produces far lower numbers as compared to Fitbit numbers). I am going to check out the latest Fitbit device or any other device which can give me more parameters.

Walking makes one feel good (I am sure running also does that). Walk more and eat less is my new motto.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd October 2016

 

 

Rain, rain……..go away


Being a tropical location, Singapore has rains all round the year.

It sometimes bugs you as it is difficult to forecast rains, and the rain can be intense over a short period of time. It sometimes fools people into changing their plans, although people who know Singapore also know that rains here do not last long.

These past few weeks, it has rained almost every day, and on few days, the rains have lasted for more than an hour or so. It is annoying sometimes as the roads can really get very wet.

Many people here have their small umbrellas ready for deployment, but the small ones are not at all effective in shielding one from the intensely angular rains lashing out. Even big ones cannot cover you well and you will discover that your pant edges are wet, your shoes are very wet, and any bag that you may be carrying get wet as well.

The funny part is that most people walking on the pavements and streets walk with their eyes down rather than facing up and so we have to be careful with the big umbrellas. The density of the population in the town areas is very high and you can imagine if everyone carries an umbrella and the rains are getting to be heavy, especially during lunch times.

The one good thing is that most MRT Stations and Bus Stands have covered walkways attached to them, and so for most part, people are shielded from rains. Every bus stop has shelter, but that is not a guarantee from getting wet, as the rains can get rather fierce sometimes.

I even now dread walking on polished marble or granite walkways or corridors which are wet, as it is difficult to see the water on such walkways. There are many buildings whose entrance adjoins the pavements which have marble flooring (cannot understand why they build it that way). One hard fall with a slip which cannot be forecasted accurately can land most people in medical trouble, as it happened to me in December 2005.

So, I am always careful when it rains and try to avoid walking out when there are incessant rains lashing out. Better safe than sorry, I guess !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
01 December 2013

What is your Philosophy in Life ?


I had lunch with my long-term mentor yesterday.

Apart from mutual catching up, he asked me a question which set me into some deep thinking.

He asked “what is your philosophy in life?”.

I should say I was a bit stumped at first, even though I had thought about this topic in the past and written about the same in this blog itself.

However, I managed to tell him that I wish to help poor people and children in some way – via volunteering to assist people who have challenges in life like depression and poverty, and poor children who need to be taught maths and science. Plus, I am a bit low on spirituality and godliness.

He listened to me and explained his philosophy on believing that there is a supreme being somewhere which controls the universe and this world, based on what quantum physicists themselves explain. He stated that these physics folks actually believe that there is some super being which ordains this world and all of us, because they have “felt” it while researching physical phenomena – like photons and neutrons and particles which purportedly travel even faster than light.

I thought that there is some learning in that proposition – we are talking about hard core scientists, not just the average joe on the street, not even the average professor who talks about atheism. These are folks who have investigated particle physics, and the black hole, and various other such phenomena and have actually gone on to prove theories.

So there must be something out here……….

Well, I don’t know really – it is rather mystical to me, as I am yet to feel the vastness of space that the astronomers see or astronauts experience personally. May be that would have a big impact to change my views, I guess.

Physics is a subject that I like and I had always wanted to pursue advanced degree in Physics when I was young. But I could not. This is fascinating.

Time to think of the supreme being.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
28th July 2013

Finding Peace


In today’s world, it is impossible to find a peaceful moment.

Is there something called “peace” in itself ?

I used to wonder sometimes why our body and its bio-mechanics are always in a constant state of elevated pressure, anticipation, excitement and disturbance ? Sometime I feel that this is the situation all the time !!

Now, I have stopped wondering.

Why ?

Because, I do not think there is any escape from worldly pressures, except when one’s mind concentrates heavily on a few things which one loves. For example, it could be Yoga or Gym or Swimming or a game of Badminton. Something which takes one’s mind completely away from the worldly things and allows it to concentrate with total passion and commitment on just one thing – a thing which one loves.

Just think about it.

How difficult is it to concentrate on just one thing at a time in this world ?

Very difficult, right ?

Peace is not easily reachable even for a few minutes. Peace can be achieved if the mind concentrates heavily on one thing at a time, or if you can train your mind to be “blank”.

Yes, “blank” – completely empty.

How can you achieve that ? Sounds impossible, correct ?

It is not.

You can blank out all thoughts – positive or negative – for a few moments on focusing with intensity on something which dominates this universe – may be God, may be the vastness of the outer space, may be the emptiness of the universe, may be the possibility of human lives in distant planets light years away………Yes, you are thinking but not about this world. The moment that you think about this world, your mind gets clouded. Rather heavily. Then you cannot blank out your mind.

Just try it.

It may be one simple way to achieve some peace with yourselves.

The elusive peace is to be found within yourselves first, before you can find it elsewhere. Peace resides in you, and to find it you have to concentrate in the midst of all the distractions around you. Difficult, but possible.

Try it for a few minutes every day (it would appear as an hour when you try it first !) and then you can train yourselves to do it every day. Then you will discover the peace inside you.

This discovery will help calm your nerves and yourself. You will become a more stable, more balanced being. It will help you in all walks of life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
14th July 2013