Thursday, July 3, 2014

Laterebeight [Pronounced Latter-Bite]


So I’ve been playing the guitar since 2010, and our band, Laterebeight was formed a year before. Some of our older readers might remember me posting about my guitars back in 2011. The band consisted of four of us childhood friends; Aditya Ramchandran (Ramu), Shivendra Shukla (Chevy), myself Upamanyu Acharya, and Samar Dikshit (Samar). I don’t know how or why I formed a band before I could play an instrument, but our musical talent was eclipsed by our Photoshop skills and we ended up with our band, Laterebeight. [Pronounced Latter-Bite]

Laterbeight's first cover, obviously based on the Beatles.

As our band’s resident blogger, I was told to stop listening to Thom Yorke and write about our first gig that happened this Saturday evening.

usFrom left to right – Upa, Samar, Ramu and Chevy
Upa on guitar, Samar on guitar, Ramu on guitar, and Chevy on bass.

I’d always wanted to play live, even before I picked up the guitar in a David Gilmour infused frenzy. But I never really got a chance to play what I liked; Pink Floyd wasn’t appropriate or appreciated in school assemblies, no band would recruit a kid who didn’t play Bollywood songs, and no Lower Parel pub would give a gig to someone who can’t sing, even for free. So the four of us pressed on with continuing to learn guitar till the four of us were learning from the same gentleman. It was he who hosted the concert – the second annual RisinGen, for his students. It wasn’t so much a gig as a talent show, and we had talent.

Because being part of the not-rising gen is too mainstream.

We’d been practicing since I joined his classes in April, although actual practice happened barely thrice, two of which were in a studio. We met at my house at 6 PM as the show was to start two hours later. We practiced our set twice till we were satisfied enough to start making jokes at Ramu’s expense, as usual. Ramu and I played a bit of Dota 2 (3 of ours’ new obsession) and neither of us had our 7Up because we were feeling quite nervous.

 Pictured: What Laterebeight does best, absolutely nothing.

I’d been nervous before, to the point where my hands shook fervently – they do shake a little bit but it’s almost pendulum-like when I’m nervous. It’s that rickety rackety Parkinson impersonation that I’ve mastered, but guitar fingers do well to numb that particular feeling. Thankfully that didn’t happen this time because I wasn’t really nervous, just anxious for it to go well. We reached the venue 55 minutes after we were supposed to, but thanks to a trusty Indian tradition known as ‘delays’, we were early to the show. The trip from my house to Prabhadevi was spent talking about how late we were, how being late wouldn’t affect us because we were last to perform, and how some girl liked Samar.

The first set was quite frankly, one of the best things we’d ever seen in our lives. Five little kids – so small that had this been school recess, we’d have accidentally trampled them - playing Doe, a Deer. As the night grew on, Ramu and I went down to eat (I had a lovely wada pav, and he got a medu wada), leaving the other two wondering where we were and why we ditched them. I tried to call them, but there was no signal. Sadly, no one believed me. Many performances by some talented (and some not so talented) students later, it was our turn.

We don’t actually have a drummer in our band, or a vocalist, or technically even a bassist (Chevy borrowed a friend’s bass). Drums were being played by a guy called Joe, who was really quite good and fun to play with. I play lead guitar on two songs, interspersed with scatterings of rhythm. Samar is rhythm and electric. Ramu plays acoustic guitar with lead on one song, and Chevy plays the bass, and not the cod, as I often love to joke. None of us can sing, so we’ve never got around to it. [We’re still looking for our Freddie or Thom]. Our setlist for this gig was quite small, and we tried to fit as much into it as we could, so we did various parts of different songs that we knew and loved. It’s called the Greatest Hits medley.

Bonus Soundcheck: Money by Pink Floyd
1) Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd (Intro)
2) Let it Be by The Beatles (Acoustic Instrumental)
3) We Will Rock You by Queen (Instrumental)
4) Untitled Instrumental by Laterebeight (Riff and solo)
5) Stairway to Heaven (Intro)

Shivendra Shukla - bass maestro.I'm stuck in Limbo between Jonny Greenwood and David Gilmour

The performance went well – the crowd cheered quite loudly, the lady who was compering asked us to remember them when we became famous, and our guitar teacher told us we did a good job. So everything was great. But that’s not what I want to write about because victories are fleeting and plentiful. It’s the value of the combined losses that add value to a friendship. After one of our practice sessions the night before the concert, we went to one of our favourite places to eat, McDonalds, ordered a lot of food, and discussed our group’s dynamics.

Samar impersonating a guitarist sucessfullyRamu, thinking about playing Pirates of the Caribbean Theme Song but choosing not to

Laterbeight is a wonderful name for a band, but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. I picked out the name by making a portmanteau of two words from a random name generator. The words don’t form the band, it’s the people in it that do. Samar and I, between us, might provide 80% of the music, but Chevy gives us the solidarity and Ramu, the cohesiveness, without which our 8 year old group would have faded away into obscurity long ago. We might not even be interested in music as we grow older, but in true boys-will-be-boys fashion I think we’ll always be doing something or the other, whether it’s making videos, playing competitive Pokemon, getting into IIT, or harassing McDonalds’ customer support for their inevitable mishaps. Laterebeight, like Top Gear UK or the Queen of England, is going to stay. As the inside joke runs, our first album is called Greatest Hits and it’s releasing when we’re 24 years old in 2021. Stay tuned!

Laterebeight Facebook for more information

Laterebeight Twitter for less information

Laterebeight Youtube for our concert performance, practice sessions, and bloopers (mostly the latter).

And finally, watch part of the concert footage here!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We Prefer Stories to Data


Humans, as a species, prefer stories to data. Our 140,000 year old cave-friend Oogh only conversed with his friend Aagh through grunts and primitive words. Presumably, he told Aagh about how tasty this new batch of mammoth meat was, how Pogh was a traitorous coward, and how he planned to ask a pretty cavewoman out on a date. Our 6,000 year old Egyptian friend hadn’t discovered writing or mathematics, the two most important forms of communication in the known universe. He probably told his friends about the impending flood of the Nile or how the sparrows left early this season. And here we are today, with charts and graphs and derivatives for rectilinear motion; yet we still don’t know why we’re here on this tiny rock hurtling through the cosmos at 30 kilometres per second (depending on where you stand).

In 1876 AD, a French man with a giant mustache called Guisseppe Blanche invented something that covertly helps every single one of us everyday, and yet most of us don’t even know about. Blanche was a revered inventor who lived on Avenue 24, back when ‘inventor’ was still a profession and ‘living’ in Paris was something people did. We know that he was a certified badass because he once survived on only one carrot for an entire week, and had a tap of beer flowing from the local brewery to his house. He invented a series of perpetual motion machines which confounded people for decades, though they were largely considered to be fraudulent, due to the laws of thermodynamics. However, a byproduct of one of his many machines was the Byron axle which is used in every car, truck, aeroplane and coffee machine today. It was a tricky, multilayered invention with 32 gears spinning in opposite directions. He was truly a genius, if a slightly eccentric one.

The smarter of you would have realised that absolutely nothing in the last paragraph was true. There is no one called Guisseppe Blanche, there is nothing known as a Byron axle (though an Adams axle does exist), and Avenue 24 is the name of a bar in Canada. The carrot thing was Isaac Newton and the beer was Neils Bohr. Who drinks beer in France anyway? Stories are interesting, facts are not. We as humans are hard-wired to feel emotions like fright, anger, awe, excitement, and my favourite, sadness. Stories incite these myriad emotions; facts don’t.

Imagine if this wasn’t true, though. Imagine we weren’t conditioned by our genetic ancestors like Oogh and that random Egyptian bloke to enjoy and reciprocate stories. Imagine if we were like robots who only interacted in ones and zeroes. Gossip wouldn’t be a thing after age 3 because the actual information we gained from them would be minimal. We wouldn’t care if Mike started dating Rachel because that information doesn’t help us. Instead of Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars we’d be reading Excel sheets on S&P500 stock growths. Instead of learning history or political science or really any arts student-esque subject we’d all relate to differential equations and Bose-Einstein statistics.

In some ways I’m disappointed in our species, because we don’t marvel the universe around us enough. We have books like the Bible and Bhagvad-Gita telling us lovely stories to help answer some of life’s most difficult questions. Stories that relate to the earth, our neighbours, animals, trees and human morals. But stories are the cork on a bottle, a cognitive bandage, a rope with two knots instead of cerebral steel bars. They don’t help civilisation progress any more than prank videos or traffic on Linking Road. If humanity had invested as much energy into mathematics or physics as they did into theology and politics, some of those questions would have been answered by now. Perhaps we’d have a real answer instead of just ‘42’.

But I’m glad we’re not machines. I’m glad we enjoy stories. I really like that we value the concept of love and brotherhood more than calculus because that’s what’s helped us survive till 2014. I like that things like the Dunning-Kruger effect and Confirmation bias exist because without it, we’d just be inanimate, predictable shells spouting calculated binary information. The whole concept of humanity is defined by this moral and intellectual gray-area, which is what sets us apart from robots. We’re not always correct, and we like feel-good content more than numbers and facts, but is that such a bad thing when the only thing that each and every one of us strives for is love and happiness?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

8 Tips to Write English Like a Pro

Every other post seems to be about writing on this blog. But bear with me for a fleeting moment; this one is actually going to be a useful post because I’m about to reveal everything I know about writing. I don’t have formal writing training. English classes in school really didn’t teach me anything - these are writing tricks I’ve picked up over the years after reading hundreds of books and billions of internets.

Sit down and write. It doesn’t matter what you write; challenge yourself to think of the vaguest, bleakest and most dull memory you know and try to turn that into a story. Describe that one time you had tea at the balcony of your grandparent’s house; that one time you were scared of walking home alone; that time your were on holiday but spent your whole day in the hotel anyway. Take up topics that don’t immediately inspire you to punch out words and make yourself write.

Don’t feel ashamed to use words whose meanings you don’t know. Comb through the thesaurus if you’re ever out of ideas. Pick a word whose sound you like. Mellifluous, decadence, perfunctory, quintessential; these are words I personally like because of the way they sound. These words to me are the rose petals at a pretty wedding, an ice cream after a lovely dinner. They spice up your language, making a dull sentence slightly less vacuous. How do you find these words? Well, you could underline it whenever you come across a word like that in a book you read. But I’ve realised that this method is inefficient, since a word doesn’t really enter our lexicon till we’ve used it in abundance. It rarely happens to me, personally. I’d learn maybe one new word a week or so. So here it is: whenever you want to learn a word, write a story around it. Just sit down and write; it doesn't even have to be good. Let’s say I want to learn the word mellifluous.

“Stephen was incredibly frustrated by the way his language never sounded quite as good as his peers’. He’d watch himself in video recordings on Youtube. He’d speak into the mirror. But he always sounded monotonous. He sounded like he was born and brought up in a chemistry lecture and spent his holidays in a Sub-Saharan cave speaking with bats. He was especially jealous of his friend Hugh, whose voice sounded marvelous and angelic. Every sentence he uttered was pure, unadulterated music; every word had score, every paragraph had a crescendo. His mellifluous vocabulary was particularly alluring to those he interacted with. Stephen wanted to learn to make his words flow like a river, to be mellifluous.”

I chose the word mellifluous because I use it a lot, even though it’s slightly uncommon, and also because it gently segues me into the next point; turn your words into music. Painting, literature and music are all forms of art. Many would argue over what’s the purest and most pristine form of art, but it’s no secret that words need to sound like music to make it interesting. I don’t literally mean “sing the words”; it’s a bit more subtle than that. Words need to have a certain rhythm. Shakespeare’s verses sound great because they’re written in something called Iambic Pentameter.
We have recently become acquainted, and this might seem irrational, but here's the numerals by which to contact me. Use them perchance?
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Explained simply, each line has ten syllables, which gives it five iambs. An iamb is a pair of syllables where the second syllable is stressed, such as the word “goodbye”. Hence iambic pentameter; five iambs. So why am I explaining this? I’m telling you this to familiarise youself with the basic concept of rhythm, not just in poetry, but in prose. You should not write words in iambic pentameter unless you’re writing a Shakespearean sonnet. Look at the verse above, though - it sounds like it’s rolling on gently like an ambient drum beat rather than being a series of forced interjections. Get your words to sound like that; get them to sound poetic. Use short sentences. Use a few more. Once you’re done using them, try a medium sized one. Perhaps, if you’re so inclined, you could take your reader on an unsuspecting adventure every once a while, fly them into wind, give them a taste of lexical freedom, with a great big sentence like this one. Or you could not.

See what I did at the end of the last paragraph? Like a song, words need to have rhythm, and enough structure to be considered correct, but they also need variance. This isn’t a rule, but it’s more important than a rule because a reader demands variance. No one will read what you write if your sentences all sound the same, if they lack that fatal attraction of poetry or that charming grasp of drama that they desire. You need variance.

Well, on to punctuation. This isn’t really important as long as you’re correct. But what defines ‘correct’ with things like semicolons (;), colons (:), ellipses (...) and dashes or hyphens? Well, that depends on the writer. I would say from personal experience that it doesn’t really matter where you use either any of these unconventional punctuations as long as you don’t overuse them - perhaps once or twice a paragraph. Colons are used when providing examples. “The names of the winners are: Upamanyu Acharya and Thom Yorke.” If you’ve noticed, I use semicolons a lot, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t know where to use them. I’ve always used it to join two long and related sentences together; no one has corrected me so far, so I’ve continued doing so. You can also use a semi-colon for giving several examples which have commas or the word ‘and’ in them. You can use them for explaining your examples by adding a short sentence to them. “The best comedy duos that I know of are Mitchell and Webb, they’re very good; Fry and Laurie, because of their understanding of classics; and The Mighty Boosh because I don’t understand a word they’re saying.” A hyphen is a versatile punctuation and you can use it anywhere - it’s a literary crutch; something you use when you don’t know what else to use. Hyphens are often very informal, so don’t use them more than two or three times in an essay. Also avoid ellipses (...) for the same reason, and remember, any more than three dots is not part of the English language. So these are how I use these punctuations. But then again, I’m not an expert...

I salute you, Sir Digby Chicken Caeser!
This is what most writers look like
Now we're on to our final subject, which is imagery. If you've ever read the English language you'll know that imagery is one of the most powerful forms of expression. The best writers use vibrant imagery to describe their setting to give their readers a sense of what the story is going to be about.

"When I was alive and had a human heart," answered the statue, "I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans- Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep."-Oscar Wilde, from 'The Happy Prince'

The above quote is rife with imagery and symbolism which are neatly explained in the paragraph itself. Tears indicate sorrow; the wall indicates entrapment, both physically and emotionally as the prince does not know what sadness felt like. Before moving on to actual descriptions, Wilde uses a sentence or two to use vivid imagery to give you context for what follows. This is important for anything you write, even essays. When something dark or foreboding is about to happen in a story, most authors would subtly hint at it beforehand with descriptions of unnatural events, or use an entirely different paradigm to explain it. In Jane Eyre, the splitting of the chestnut tree by lightning while Rochester proposes to Jane symbolises either the force of nature in our world, separation of loyalties of Rochester, or even the fact that it wasn't meant to be. The symbolism is open to interpretation, but what's important is that Brontë gives the reader something else to relate to other than pure event and description, in this case it's the tree. This builds the world that the reader is surrounded by; it's the background that makes the world interesting, event though it's not directly obvious or related to the story. In essays, use metaphors and similes that aren't dissimilar. If you use a metaphor related to water, for example, try to make the next one related; make it about sailing, or swimming. This is a subconscious trick to associate different parts of your essay to the same framework, because both the similes or metaphors relate to the same thing. Smart!

I've never read Jane Eyre.

Finally, it's not about reading a lot. It really isn't. One must not read a lot to be a good writer. It helps, but it's not what you need. To be a good writer you need to understand what the reader wants, deliver it with a few twists. The twists are what makes it interesting. Anyone can write a five hundred word story about happiness, but how many of us would be able to take a story about a boy living in the slums and turn that into an ecstatic comedy? Your work needs to be interesting, though, because we are surrounded by dull people in our daily life. Reading is an escape, and when someone chooses to escape into a world you created with words, it's imperative that you be more interesting than the readers' dreary and plodding life. So you can either read a lot or experience the world for yourself - go do something interesting. In the end, a good book is not about the language, it's about the experience.

Monday, April 21, 2014

That was Collab Week


How Can Collab Week Be Real If Posts Aren’t Real?

Thanks to all the people who posted in Collab Week and helped get this blog get some views; Meher, Sumer, Nikita, Upasana, Shivendra and Vaibhav. Great work.

The main reason I did this aside from getting views is to show the different writing styles that we’ve all picked up in our short little lives. Each one of these posts was different, in both writing and storytelling. Having different people write introduces us to different perspectives. I think it’s a breath of fresh air from my jaded and cynical approach to life – I might do this again someday.

We had 8,839 words written for collab week from 7 different writers. That’s about 8 words per individual view (yeah, it’s that bad). But if views were everything I would have closed this blog six years ago. I hope it was an enjoyable experience.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What would happen if you fired a bullet straight up at escape velocity? –Vaibhav Nayel



What would happen if you fired a bullet straight up at escape velocity?

First let’s talk about what escape velocity means. Escape velocity is the speed at which an object fired from a planet will escape to an infinite distance.

The escape velocity for the moon is about 2.4 kilometers per second. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, a rocket doesn’t need to maintain this speed all the time in order to escape moon’s gravity. Rather, it means that at the moment the rocket is launched, if its speed is 2.4Km/s and it turns off its engines after that, it will reach an infinite distance. In fact, you could escape the moon’s gravitational field even if you maintained a speed of 0.00001 m/s if you had enough fuel. Escape velocity is actually more meaningful for projectiles like stones rather than rockets because stones don’t propel themselves. If you threw a rock at 2.4 Km/s from the moon, it would never come back!

The interesting thing about escape velocity is that it’s something of a misnomer because it’s actually a speed, not a velocity. People who made it through middle school will remember that speed is a scalar and velocity is a vector,meaning speed only requires a magnitude but a velocity requires both a direction and magnitude.




Notice how I used the Moon rather than the Earth to explain escape velocity. That wasn’t me trying to be alternative and quirky. That explanation only holds for celestial bodies that aren’t surrounded by a blanket of gas because Escape velocity is derived in a way that ignores atmospheric forces on the projectile. Congress supporters will know that Jupiter’s escape velocity is 60 km/s and JEE aspirants will know that Earth’s is 11.2 Km/s. But if you threw a stone at that speed, it would be slowed down considerably by the effects of the atmosphere and would never reach space. You’d have to throw it at a much higher speed than Earth’s escape velocity in order to escape the Earth’s influence. So let’s talk about all the problems our bullet will face on its way up.



11.2 Km/s is not a small speed. A 747 only goes 250 m/s. The concorde maxed out at about 600 m/s and even the SR-71 couldn’t cross 1 km/s. If you were travelling at 11 Km/s, you’d circle the earth in an hour. If you set out from east to west, the sun would appear to move in reverse (having said that, I should add that you could do that in just about any plane that can sustain speeds greater than the speed of the Earth’s rotation at that latitude).

Obviously,firing a bullet at 11.2 Km/s is not a feat that can be accomplished by a pistol. That would only get you to about mach 1. Even a tank will fire shells only at about 1 Km/s. The reason conventional guns can’t fire at much higher speeds has to do with the way guns work. The bullet is propelled out of the barrel by gases expanding behind it or rather the pressure difference between its back and front. This pressure difference forces the bullet to move towards the side of lower pressure: forward. Now this doesn’t pose a problem if your aim is to shoot your enemy 50 yards away, but it does if you want to fire a bullet into space. Pressure waves are limited by the speed of sound in the medium in which they travel. So you’d have no problem getting a bullet to a few hundred m/s but beyond that,you’re out of luck.

One way to fix the problem (partially) is to raise the speed of sound of the propellant gases.

The speed of sound in a medium can be calculated from the relation


Where R is the gas constant, T is the Temperature, M is the Average molar mass of the propellant gases and γ is a constant associated with each gas depending on its atomicity which we need not be concerned about at the moment.

By decreasing the molar mass of the propellant gas, we see that the speed of sound in it at a constant temperature should increase. This is why your voice becomes squeaky after breathing in helium. Helium has a molar mass of 4 grams/mole, while that of air is about 28 grams/mole. This principle is used in the light gas gun. Not the squeaky voice thing, although scientists with squeaky voices would be fun to watch.

Light gas gun. Not a gun made of light and gas. Literally a not heavy gas.

Mechanism of the light gas gun.


The light gas gun consists of 2 sections. The first wider chamber contains a gas with low molar mass like Hydrogen or Helium. Helium is safer, but hydrogen, which has a lower molar mass, will result in a higher velocity. At the back of this chamber is a propellant charge and a piston. When the charge explodes, the piston is pushed forward, which in turn pushes the light gas towards the end of the chamber which is blocked off by a disc that breaks after a certain threshold pressure is crossed. A conical section leads to a thinner second chamber which contains the projectile. This section is made thinner because to maintain a uniform flow rate, the product of cross sectional area x fluid velocity must remain constant, leading to an increase in velocity with a decrease in area, thus increasing the speed of the projectile. NASA has used light gas guns to accelerate projectiles to 7 km/s to study reentry effects and high speed meteorite impacts.

7 km/s is fast, but it’s not enough. The only way to eliminate the problems arising from the limits of gas propulsion is to eliminate our dependence on gases altogether. We’ll need an entirely new system that doesn’t use pressure to accelerate a projectile. How about magnets?

More specifically, electromagnets. Plans for a coil gun or Gauss gun have been around for a long time now. The idea is that a ferromagnetic projectile placed at one end of a solenoid will be accelerated when current starts to flow in it because a current carrying coil acts as an electromagnet. The current is switched off when the projectile reaches its center since this is the time when it’s moving fastest. In theory, a series of such arrangements could accelerate a projectile to enormous speeds.

Hopefully you arts students will understand this.

However, theory isn’t all that matters. Coil guns are horribly impractical. Here are just a few reasons why nobody considers it a serious way to launch projectiles. In reality, coil guns offer more limitations than gas propelled systems!

● Efficiency is one of the biggest problems with coil guns. No matter what you do, there is no way to link 100% of the magnetic flux to the projectile. This means that the magnetic field generated by the coil will store energy when current flows and when it’s switched off, a reverse current will flow in the circuit. Since it is common to use large capacitors to supply bursts of current in the coils, this reverse current will produce LC oscillations which produce heat. At high speeds, the oscillations will happen fast and generate tremendous amounts of heat.

● Changing magnetic fields in a metal cause eddy currents to flow through it. This will heat up the projectile and melt it when the process happens fast enough. This is the basis of induction heating. Here’s a gif to demonstrate what happens when changing magnetic fields interact with iron

● They require huge amounts of power to accelerate projectiles to sufficiently high speeds. However, hobbyists make relatively slow coil guns all the time.

● One of the obvious problems is that at high speeds, you’d need to switch the coil on and off very quickly and there is a limit to how fast a switch can be switched.

To learn more about high speed projectiles and space guns, watch Scott Manley’s video:



There is no gun that can fire a bullet at the speed we need. And don’t bring up the operation plumbbob manhole cover. At best, it was vaporised but you will never convince me that it left the atmosphere. But what if we did have a hand held gun powerful enough to fire a 5 gram bullet at 11.2 Km/s? Well, first you’d feel the recoil. A quick calculation shows that the momentum transferred to the bullet and therefore to you is only about 56 Kgm/s which is the same as a 56 Kg boy walking at 3.6 km/h or a bus at 0.015 km/h. Yeah...

But recoil is a force, which is defined as change in momentum per unit time,so the force you experience depends greatly on how fast the momentum is transferred from the gun to the bullet. Let’s say it takes 1 millisecond, and I have no idea if that’s reasonable because I know almost nothing about guns. The force you’d experience is the same as being stood on by a male african bush elephant (courtesy: google). Your arm would probably be blown right off.

As soon as the bullet leaves the barrel of your impossible gun, you’d hear a sonic boom that would shatter your eardrums.

Top ten reasons to not go to Pace. In one F/A-18 travelling faster than the speed of sound- aka pace booklet cover

For more about this picture:

Now let’s talk about the kinematics of the bullet.The only forces acting on the bullet are drag and gravity. The force of gravity is given by


Where m= mass of the bullet and g= acceleration due to gravity

Drag is given by


Where ρ=density of air, v= velocity of the bullet, Cd=drag coefficient and A is the area of the orthographic projection of the bullet. since we are assuming our bullet to be a lead sphere, A=πR2

Since the density of lead is 11.2 g/cm3 and the mass of the bullet is 5 grams, a simple calculation tells us that the radius of the bullet will be 0.0047 m and A=6.94 x 10-5 m2.

As for the drag coefficient, this paper leads me to believe that at the velocities we are working with, the drag coefficient of a sphere is 0.92. Of course, the drag coefficient will change with speed and viscosity of the air, but we will see why that becomes unnecessary soon.

For more on drag coefficients:

According to wikipedia, the density of air within the troposphere can be estimated as:


Where ρ= density of air, M=average molar mass of air = 0.028 Kg/mol, po= pressure at sea level= 101325 pa, L= temperature lapse rate= 0.0065 K/m, R= gas constant= 8.314 J/mol K , To= temperature at sea level= 288.15K, h= height above sea level and T= temperature at height h= To-Lh.

Now, to find density data for the stratosphere, I had to turn to research from NASA that used the X-15 to gather temperature, pressure and density information in the stratosphere and mesosphere. Extrapolating from this graph,


I determined the density relation to be

ρ=1.33 x (10-x/50000)kg/m3

For calculations beyond the stratosphere, I’m assuming a perfect vacuum, which is inaccurate of course, but the air density beyond the stratosphere is so low that it would barely change the result. On reading further, you will see why this never became a problem either.

Now that I’m done explaining all the forces on the bullet, let’s talk about the changes that those forces will cause in the bullet’s motion.

The work energy theorem tells us that the change in kinetic energy of the bullet will be equal to the work done on it by the forces acting on it. That is


We also know that work done on a body is given by


where F is the force and S is the displacement of the object over the interval of time that the force acts. Since the displacement of the bullet is upwards and the forces both act downwards, the work done by both of them will be negative.

Over an infinitely small displacement ‘dh’ , the work done by both the forces is given by


And the change in kinetic energy will be


Where v= velocity at the start of the displacement dh and v’ = velocity after crossing the displacement dh

equating these two, we get


Obviously, v’ will be less than v and therefore the quantity v’2-v2 will be negative, just like the total work done. Now we know the left hand side at least has the same sign as the right: we must be headed in the right direction.

In order to find the height at which the bullet stops moving, we need to sum the work done over n infinitely small displacements dh, where n→and dh→0

This amounts to the integral


The first integral is straightforward, but the second one is complicated because v is dependant on h and we don’t know how they are related. In fact, the relation is what we are trying to find. Understand that if we knew the relation between v and h we could easily find out at what height the velocity becomes 0.

The only way I could think of to solve the problem was to use a computer to estimate the integral by summing over multiple small displacements which were not infinitely small, but were small and finite.

We understood earlier that we could equate the work done on the bullet to the change in its kinetic energy by this relation


A little bit of rearranging leads to the following relation:


This relation tells us that if the bullet was travelling at velocity v at the beginning of the track of length dh, it is possible to calculate how fast it will be going after it has crossed that displacement. Knowing the velocity of the bullet at the end of the displacement dh, we can go on to find its velocity after it has crossed the next displacement as well! Now all we have to do is write a program that will find the velocity of the bullet after some number of tracks with length dh, which is not that difficult. However , this will only work under the assumption that for every small displacement dh, the bullet will travel with a constant velocity and only slow down to velocity v’ at the end of that length. Also, we will work under the assumption that the length dh= 1cm ie this is only an approximation of an integral. For it to be accurate, dh would have to be as close to 0 as possible.

Here’s the python program:**

(*I was going to add in a piece in the program to facilitate entry into the stratosphere, but after running the program , I found that the bullet doesn’t even even reach a kilometer up so adding that would have been redundant. Earlier, I’ve noted the density-height relation for the stratosphere, so readers are welcome to add the pieces to the program and while you’re at it, you could play around with the values of dh, launch velocity and mass of the bullet to see what will yield the greatest range. I’ve added comments for every variable so you can understand what you’re doing.)

(** Yeah I use codecademy. You can stop laughing now.)

When you run the program, it will print a huge list of values of h and the corresponding value of v. The program terminates (actually, it shows an error but “terminate” sounds cool) when v’2 becomes less than zero and the height printed at that time will be the maximum height attained by the bullet ie 866m. I really wish I had the know how to plot a graph of h vs v but sadly , I don’t. If one of the readers knows how to do this, please leave it in the comments.

But all this assumes that our bullet CAN get that high. As it turns out, it can’t. A quick calculation using this data shows that you only need about 5620 Joules of heat to completely vaporise 5 grams of lead. As the bullet climbs, it loses kinetic energy and in an ideal situation, all of this will be stored as potential energy, but this is far from an ideal situation. Some of the energy will be released as sound energy, some will be used to heat the air passing by the bullet and some will be used to heat the bullet itself. All of this energy is being lost because of drag. Let’s assume half of it is released as sound, a quarter is used to heat the air and the remaining quarter is used to heat the bullet.

The energy loss can be given by



If you looked at the python code posted earlier, you will see that an easy tweak can be made to estimate the value of this integral.

Here’s the tweaked code:*

(*I’ve reduced the final height to 20m to decrease processing time because it turns out the bullet doesn’t go far before burning up)

On running this code, you will find that Heat becomes equal to 5618 Joules around h=5! That is unbelievably fast. Our bullet has changed from a solid to a gas in 0.4 milliseconds. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I’m afraid you’re an arts student. lol jkjk if you were an arts student, you wouldn’t have gotten this far. (here’s a version of the code that prints the time along with the other data

But the mechanism of this vaporisation isn’t your everyday water-boiling type. Our bullet will undergo a process called ablation. The surface of the bullet gets heated up so fast that the atoms on the surface don’t have enough time to transfer their energy to the bulk of the material, so instead they take the energy and evaporate without heating the center of the bullet. This is similar to spacecraft reentry. Reentry pods usually have a shield that is blown off by heating due to the atmosphere, keeping the astronauts from getting fried. Read more about it on wikipedia.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that all of this is pure speculation and I’m not a scientist. I didn’t even know drag coefficients depended on velocity before I started writing this article. I apologise for any inaccuracies and the horribly inefficient programming. If you’re an aeronauticist or a programmer, I can only imagine your faces as you read this article. If you have thoughts or corrections, leave it in the comments.



I’d like to thank Aniruddha Sinha of the IITB aerospace department for not laughing at me when I called him to ask what happens when you fire a bullet at mach 30 and for giving me the idea of using a computer to iterate a function to find velocity as a function of height. A thank you as well to DP Mishra of the IITK aerospace department for explaining to me that at high mach numbers, there are plenty of effects that cause drag to increase. Sadly, even on research, I failed to understand any of it and ended up not considering it in my equations cuz im stoopid. D’oh!

-Vaibhav Nayel

Saturday, April 19, 2014



This story was written by me on May 29th, 2013. Since I have nothing to post today, here’s the fifth of eleven stories I’m saving up to be published one day.


Albert really liked the stars. He liked the vastness of eternity; the limitless expanses of nebulas and galaxies. He liked probability. He liked the randomness of it, and within the randomness, he loved the chaos of civilisation, life and physics. It seems so ordered, so rigid. Laws of physics, laws of thermodynamics, laws of the universe. It’s set in metaphorical stone, drowned in disappearing logic and facts.

Sadly, logic and facts didn’t run the world. If it did, there would be absolute order. Fortunately, logic and facts didn’t run the world. If it did, there would be absolute order. And Albert knew that lack of order represented chaos, and chaos is the defining characteristic of life. Life, with all its predictability involving societal norms, conventional rhetoric and body language cues, was still largely unpredictable, and in the giant alarm clock of the universe there was one tiny little thought that stopped Albert’s gears from spinning.

“What’s for breakfast?” he asked.


After breakfast he knew what he had to do, or rather, what he didn’t; the answer to that was everything.

So he grabbed the fourth volume of his favourite trilogy and crossed the road towards the well kept circular park near his house. He sat on a bench, quietly reading. Around him, life went on as usual. Important businessmen and presumably lawyers walked alongside secretaries and teachers and school children and delivery men, going about their lacklustre yet fulfilling jobs. Squirrels pawed on their occasional acorns and birds chirped as if it were their birthday. While engrossed in the book, Albert failed to notice a man sit down next to him.

“Fond of space, are you?” he asked. Albert was startled when he spoke. Presumably the man had seen the book he was reading.

After getting over the initial surge of fright and the proceeding feeling of confusion, Albert recollected his thoughts and stammered, “umm.... ye- yes.”

The man had the sort of twinkle in his eye that you’d find in eccentrics who’d been gently subsided by the infallible reasoning of society. The sort who’d only put butter on their bread instead of salt because it was shunned, or the sort who’d refrain from using telescopes at night to avoid accusations of privacy invasion from neighbours. On the outside they’d appear perfectly normal with a few quirks that are complimentary with their trade, but on the inside they were children with a sense of adventure that burned as passionately as peat on a dry summer evening.

“I happen to be a professor in Biology, specialising in the root colonisations of Trichoderma,” he said.

“I see,” replied Albert. He was lying.

“But when I have time I do some stargazing. What you’re reading is one of my favourite trilogies, you know.”

Soon Albert and he were having a rather uncomfortable but still enjoyable conversation about the book. It was unusual for someone to come and sit down at the park and talk with you. Unusual, but not unheard of. Besides, Albert couldn’t really complain about the man’s eccentricity. He knew that, bored enough, he would have approached strangers at the park for a conversation too. He actually rather liked him. He seemed knowledgeable and they shared the same interests, so far.

“Imagine you’re in a tin can in space,” spoke the man. “Not a tin can - you know what I mean - a spaceship. I have a theory, you know. In space, it’s impossible to tell which way you’re facing without looking outside. Everything is relative; there is no north or south, or up or down. Everything is relative to either celestial bodies - stars, rocks, planets and the like, or your face. And as you know, both of these are susceptible to changes. Change your position is space and suddenly the configuration of those bodies change. Get punched or something and your face changes. Well, not always, but you get the point.”

Albert was visibly amused and somewhat confused at where he was getting, but he let the man continue.

“I mean, that can be solved now with gyroscopes and electronics. Time in space is measured either relative to Earth, or mission countdown. But what if you’re out there. No contact with Earth and there’s a system malfunction! Imagine, floating through the void while you sit around and chat with your tin-mates (which is what I like to call astronauts). And you can’t see outside, let’s assume. How will you know where you are?”

Albert cocked his head pretending to think about it; the answer wasn’t obvious, but it mattered so little, and it was such a trivial point to be discussing amongst life’s more obvious problems that it almost demanded no attention. And yet, here he was, in a park talking to a man about the very same.

“I have a theory which I think will solve this problem,” he continued. “Turtles.”

“Turtles?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Turtles are able to tell where the Earth is, relative to any point in space. I’ve analysed their brain composition, and I’ve analysed the facts extensively, and there seems to be no doubt in the fact that a turtle will always point its head towards Earth’s core when given a quarter of a saltine.”

This was marvellous to Albert. It was so preposterous and wild, yet said with such stern seriousness much like the professor that he claimed to be, that he didn’t know where to begin arguing. He sat there for a couple of seconds thinking of which question to ask first, or which claim to nullify with his knowledge. At the end of it there were too many variables, so he simply asked, “and how did you find this out?”

“I didn’t,” replied the man. “That’s why it’s a theory. There’s simply no possible way I’m wrong. Their neural structure ensures that with the adequate amount of sodium, provided by a fourth of a saltine cracker, their heads will always point towards Earth’s core. Except when on Earth, of course. The effect of gravity is a bit too overbearing on turtles to perform this activity. It’s so good that it’s almost as if turtles evolved solely so we could use them as a space-compass.”

“Have you ever actually been to space?” asked Albert.

“Well, no, but I’m sure it’s true.”

“I’m sure it is too,” Albert said, sarcastically. “Good day, dear fellow.”


A week later Edgar returned from vacationing, and met up with Albert at his house.

“Did you hear about the guy who sent a turtle into space?” spoke Edgar, over his lunch. “Apparently he proved some bizarre theory and now he’s getting an honourary doctorate in Astrobiology, whatever that is, and he’s going up on the Space Station soon.”

-Upamanyu Acharya
This is his blog.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Outside Perspective on Writers –Upasana Acharya


I want to tell you something. A few words of inspiration, you might call it.

You are the first of your existence. No one has ever lived the life you have lived, and no one else but you knows what you have experienced. No one shares your joys or your sorrows, and as much as you may want it, you can’t expect anyone to truly share your burden. You are one of a kind, right? There is no one else like you, just as there are no two snowflakes alike.

This snowflake is alike to every other one you've seen.

You have your virtues and vices, and once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you; and once you’ve mastered your virtues, no one can beat you in it.

Only you have lived your life, nobody has brought you down yet, and I will sound like a spiritual counselor if I continue about how great you are, but in truth, you are nothing. There are millions out there just like you and millions who are better than you in every aspect. You are merely a grain of sand in the vast ocean, and no matter how special words make you feel, it doesn’t matter what you immerse yourself into to make yourself feel better about yourself, it won’t work because eventually you will have to resurface and face the cold hard reality.

Only when you resurface can you breathe. And breathing is important. If you don’t breathe you die, but you obviously knew that- See! You are smart.

If ever you try to read something to make you feel better, know one thing, writers are the greatest liars. They play with words and create souls you may wish to be with and lands you wish to live in. Never trust a writer. For that matter you shouldn’t be trusting a word I say either, should you? Well if you are, you are just naïve and still have a long way to go in life. Frankly, there shouldn't be anything wrong with being naïve except for the fact that people can trick you, and steal all your property, leaving you on the street. But I am getting ahead of myself.

There are always a handful of people who toughen up too fast, these people might just have faced too many hardships in their life and taken the shorter but harder route to growing up, or they just have extremely huge egos. It is usually the latter. And according to me these people are the best writers, because from their eyes they think they know the world and more often than not they make you believe that they know old beautiful world. Well, they don’t. Nobody does. Nobody should. I guess, in many ways, I envy writers, because they have a way with words and a super power of sorts. A power to have people believe in whatever you want them to believe in. Like a cult leader.

Saying all these negative things about writers, they also are one of the best people you will meet because they birth literature. Most of the time it is horrible and you wouldn’t want to go back to it, but sometimes it makes you look at the same world through a different perspective. And without writers, there wouldn't be any good content. In many ways content creators are what I look forward to in a new day.

-Upasana Acharya

Unrelated Information

My Photo
Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words.