A Letter to Santa


Most children believe in the existence of Santa Claus just as our children did while growing up.  Why wouldn’t they? After all, they always found the Christmas gift they prayed for under the Christmas Tree every Christmas Morning.

During the Christmas of 1994, I was posted as the Brigade Major at Binnaguri.  Veteran Lieutenant General KR Rao, PVSM, AVSM, VSM was then our Colonel General Staff. Before coming to wish us ‘Merry Christmas’ he called up and our daughter Nidhi, aged three, answered the phone and asked him as to who he was.  Colonel Rao with a tinge of humour said “I am the Santa Claus .”  Nidhi was overjoyed and said “Thank you Santa, I got the Barbie which you sent across.  How did you know that I really wanted it?”


Santa Claus – it all began with St Nicholas, saint of children and sailors, a Bishop who lived in the Fourth Century in Myra, Turkey.  He was a very rich and kind man with a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people.  The legend has it that a poor man who had three daughters could not get them married as he could not afford dowry.  One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house which fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry.  It was repeated for the second and third daughters. Thus commenced the tradition of hanging stocking by children expecting Santa to drop their gifts down the chimney.


St. Nicholas became popular in the Victorian era when writers and poets rediscovered the old stories.  In 1823 the famous poem ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ was published by Dr Clement Clarke Moore.  The poem describes St Nicholas with eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became famous with the song ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, written in 1949. The other seven reindeers are named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

Are these reindeer male or female?  Obviously they are females as female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter whereas the males shed them. It’s a mystery, though, why many of them have obvious masculine names, Rudolph for instance.

Santa in England became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’, in France, he was called ‘Père Nöel’, in Austria and Germany he was ‘Christ kind’ a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolised the new born baby Jesus.

In North America his name was ‘Kris Kringle’ (from Christkind). Later, Dutch settlers took the old stories of St Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas’ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus.’


Canada is home to the tradition of children writing letters to Santa.  Canada Post has been helping Santa with his mail for decades. Since the national program started, in 1981, Santa’s North Pole Post Office has answered more than 27.8 million letters, in 39 languages, including Braille.  Look at the Postal Code – it is ‘Ho Ho Ho’ – Santa’s signature laugh.

Santa is assisted by volunteers called ‘ Postal Elves; who help him with this monumental task. They volunteer more than 260,000 hours to make sure all the children who write to Santa get a reply before Christmas.


The first snowfall or the Santa Claus parades held in most cities and towns across Canada is a trigger for children to write their letters to Santa.  Schools, daycares and homes organise Santa letter writing.  One needs to include full return address for the Postal Elves to deliver a reply.  Postage is free, but Santa loves stickers.  Children are encouraged to write about their favourite sports, jokes, school activities or family fun with pictures and drawings.

A child normally writes two letters to Santa, one from school and the other from home.  In order to prevent a child from receiving inconsistent responses from Santa, all mails from schools and daycares are replied with a generic, poster-size group letter, which will include every child’s name.  A letter from home will get a personalised response from Santa.

Santa is often asked interesting questions by children -, “Does Rudolph have a girlfriend?”; “How many cookies do you eat?” and so on.  Some even ask for reuniting their separated parents.  He also receives requests for toys, pets, dresses, etc. The advent of modern communication technology has not reduced the number of hand-written letters to Santa, but has increased year to year.

Children dealing with issues write letters showing their concerns.  These ‘special letters’ are dealt with by a team of trained Postal Elves — from psychologists and social workers to police —  who help Santa handle them.  If they think the child is in danger, a process is set in motion to solve the issue.  These Elves are trained to give a correct reply that will help provide some reassurance that someone is listening.

We must appreciate Canada Post, the Postal Elves, the teachers, the parents and the children for these letters and for keeping the tradition alive.

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

(Images Courtesy Google)

 

US Exports Oil


United States has joined the elite club of major oil exporting nations with nearly $22 billion worth of oil exports.  The US Congress lifted a 40-year-old ban on the export of crude oil following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. The ban restricted crude oil exports from the US to all countries besides Canada.  The last time the US exported more oil than it imported was 1953.

The International Energy Agency estimates that American oil production between 2015 and 2025 would grow at a rate unparalleled by any country in history, with far-reaching consequences for the US and the world.

Technological advancements in drilling and fracking (hydraulic fracturing) helped US to extract huge reserves of gas and oil trapped in shale rocks.  Main contributor to shale oil production is from the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. The oil that is being produced from these shale formations is sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘shale oil.’

The oil in the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations actually exists as oil, but the shale does not allow the oil to flow very well. This oil is called ‘tight oil’ and advances in hydraulic fracking technology have allowed some of this oil to be economically extracted.


‘Tight oil’ refers to hydrocarbons that are trapped in formations that are not very porous.  This oil and gas cannot flow out into the pipe as easily as with traditional wells. This oil is extracted by drilling horizontally across the deposit, and then fracking to open up the rock and allow the oil to flow.

The price of oil is political and is set by the big players, particularly by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia.  New fracking technology has resulted in flooding the oil market.   Oil prices had been above $100 per barrel up to 2014 and is now about $50 per barrel, all because of US shale oil.  The shale revolution has transformed oil tycoons into billionaires and the US into the world’s largest petroleum producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

As the oil market got flooded, Saudi Arabia initiated an economic oil war against the US by refusing to cut production in November of 2014 –  an attempt to drive US shale oil producers bankrupt.  The increased OPEC oil production drove oil prices down even more, eventually dropping to about $30/bbl in 2016, a price at which shale producers can’t break-even.

The oil wells used to flare out natural gas and was burned off as an unwanted by-product.  Now the gas is cooled to minus 162 degrees Celsius, to be condensed into a liquid – Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) -to be used as a clean alternative to coal.  US is now a top producer of LNG, selling shiploads of the commodity to countries such as China.

Even though LNG is not a very ‘clean fuel’, US under President Trump has been exporting LNG from 2017.  US is expected to overtake Qatar and become the world’s biggest LNG exporter by the mid-2020s.

US may claim today that it is energy independent, but will still be exposed to global energy prices and still be affected by the geopolitics of the Middle East.  Though US sells more petroleum than it buys, American refiners continue to import  more than 7 million barrels a day of crude from all over the globe to feed its refineries, which consume more than 17 million barrels each day.  Thus the US has become the world’s top fuel supplier.

Why this sudden multi-fold increase in oil production?  Is it the re-emergence of US under President Trump?  Is it an attempt to control the world through the oil market?   These questions will find answers in days to come.

It could also be that US is exploiting all its oil reserves to be sold in the world oil market as some new engine  technology is in the offing with minimum dependence on fossil fuels.  You may soon find such a technology emerging in the market and what it could be is anyone’s guess.

Let us wait and watch.

Women Empowerment and the Dog

A Facebook post compared a woman to a flea on his dog.  The woman had declared that she will enter a temple in India in the backdrop of the recent judgement by the Supreme Court granting equal rights to women to enter that temple.  It is believed that the deity at the temple is a Brahmachari (conduct consistent with Lord Brahma), (also meaning a man with the virtue of celibacy when unmarried and fidelity when married) and no woman must enter the temple.  When the case of woman entry to the said temple came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, the judges had to rule in favour of allowing equal rights to both man and woman as the Constitution of India grants it..

During my morning walk with our dog Maximus on a bitterly cold Canadian winter morning, our neighbour, Mr Steve, a septuagenarian  asked “If you can  walk slowly, I can accompany you both.”  We commenced our walk slowly along the walkway cleared of snow that had fallen that morning.

After about five minutes of walking, we came to an intersection with traffic lights.  The ‘Green Man’ signal for pedestrian crossing had just turned to flashing ‘Red Hand’.  Mr Steve said “Walk fast, we can get on to the other side before the traffic starts moving across.”

“The signal has turned red, do we need to cross now?” I enquired.  “Do not worry, get going” said Mr Steve.  On crossing the road, Mr Steve reminisced about his youth and said “In 1939, the Second World War commenced and I was only eleven years old then, studying in Grade 6.  Our family then lived a hundred miles North of Toronto.  We had a dairy farm with over two hundred cows.  On the outbreak of the war, like all able men of Canada, my father and two elder brothers joined the Canadian Army and moved to Europe to fight the war.  Running of our dairy farm was taken over by mother and my two elder sisters.

In those days most activities in Canada were taken over by women – from driving trucks and buses, running the banking and postal services, grocery shops and petrol pumps – anything and everything – as most men had joined the Armed Forces and had sailed off to Europe.

After the war, in 1945, my father and brothers returned home.  My mother did not allow them anywhere near the diary farm as it had become ‘hers’.  With the experience of digging trenches during the war and also in building roads and tracks towards the war efforts, my father and brothers started a road construction company in Toronto.  On my graduation in engineering from University of Toronto, I too joined my father’s company and retired as its CEO a few years back.

What all fields Canadian women took over during the war, they have not allowed the men folk to come near them  That is why Canada is where it is today, all because of women empowerment.”

“What does this story got to do with our jay-walking across the road?” I asked.

Mr Steve commenced his justification ” It seems you are not aware of priorities in Canada.  It begins with the children, then women, followed by dogs and then other pets, then is wildlife and then are the trees and plants, and last, but the least come the men.  If we two were only to cross the road I would have never in my wildest dreams thought of crossing the road.  Just because the dog was with us, I told you to get across.”

“Why so?” I asked.

“In case two old men like us get struck by a vehicle, the Canadian courts will only grant may be forty to fifty thousand dollars.  If the dog even gets brushed by a vehicle, the driver will have hell to pay as the court will surely decree at least a million dollars.  That fear in every Canadian driver will never allow them to move an inch  even if the traffic light turns green” Mr Steve explained.

In case real women empowerment has to come into the Indian society, some major catastrophe like what happened in Canada, USA or Europe during Second World War need to occur.  Supreme Court judgements, or forced entry of women to some temples is not going to give women equal rights they need to be given.  The Indian males need to accept this reality and change for the betterment of the society.

 

A Colourful Stroll Along Lake Ontario


Port Credit located ten kilometers from our home was an old trading port till the 1800s.  It is now a marina for boats.  Along the lake shore is a seven kilometer trail that turns into multitude of colours every fall.


Port Credit is located at the mouth of Credit River on Lake Ontario.  The ship Ridgetown was sunk here on June 21, 1974 to act as a breakwater.  After her decommissioning in 1970, she was loaded with stones, towed from Toronto Port to Port Credit and sunk at the entrance to the port  with her cabins and stack intact. She remains here, protecting the port from the forces of waves.  In the backdrop is the City of Toronto, about 20 kilometer away with its landmark CN Tower.


On a windy day, the waves rise up over a few meters.


Canadian Fall is well known for trees with splashes of red, orange and yellow that dot tree lines across the country.


Fall is the most photographed Canadian season of the year, with colours changing very fast until the leaves fall off.


Tender thin leaves are made up of cells filled with water sap and will freeze in winter. Any plant tissue incapable of surviving the winter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the tree’s survival.

IMG_6519
As sunlight decreases in fall, the veins that carry sap into and out of a leaf gradually close. A layer of cells called the separation layer forms at the base of the leaf stem. When this layer is complete, the leaf is separated from the tissue that connected it to the branch and it falls off.


Coniferous trees like pines, spruces, cedars and firs, don’t lose their leaves or needles in winter. The needles are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluids inside the cells contain substances that resist freezing.

IMG_6412
These needles can live for several years before they fall off.


Ground along the trail is all covered with leaves of varying shades of yellow, orange and red.


Some of the leaves are yet to change their colours and some have done it already.


Old cycles and other artifacts are used to decorate the walkways.

There are many children’s parks along the trail.’


Picnic spots equipped with tables, benches and barbecue stands for the revelers dot the trail.

This is the Suncorp refinery located about ten kilometer away.


These Canadian geese have not migrated down South to USA.  It is neither that they have lost their passports nor have forgotten to migrate.  It is because they find enough food in various parks in the city and may have developed the art of surviving through Canadian winter.  May be they will fly South as soon as the temperature drops.

A Walk on a Wet Fall Evening


Every evening, I drive to the park near our home for an evening stroll.


The school buses would be returning to their depots after dropping children home.  The yellow coloured bus merges with the yellow coloured trees along the Road.


After parking my car, I get on to the trail.


The trail runs along Credit River which drains into Lake Ontario.


You are sure to meet some waterfowls, ducks etc enroute.


Fall offers a kaleidoscope of colours.


Woods are really, colourful and deep


And I have miles to go before I end my walk.


The green leaf colour comes from pigments of chlorophyll, used by the trees to make food with the help of sunlight. There are other pigments namely carotenoids and anthocyanins present in the leaves, but are overshadowed by the chlorophyll in spring and summer.


Carotenoids create bright yellows and oranges like in corn, carrots, and bananas.


In fall, trees break down the green pigments and nutrients stored in the leaves. The nutrients are shuttled into the roots for reuse in spring.


Some tree leaves turn mostly brown, indicating that all pigments are gone.


Trees respond to the decreasing amount of sunlight by producing less and less chlorophyll and eventually stops producing chlorophyll.


Now the carotenoid in the leaves show through and the leaves become a bright cascade of various shades of glowing yellows.
Anthocyanins impart red colour to fruits like cranberries, red apples, cherries, strawberries, etc.


The fall season being characterised by short days and longer and cooler nights. When a number of warm, sunny autumn days and cool but not freezing nights come one after the other, Maple leaves produce lots of sugar, but the cool night temperatures prevent the sugar sap from flowing through the leaf veins and down into the branches and trunk.

Anthocyanins are now produced by the leaves for protection. They allow the plant to move down the nutrients in the leaves to the roots, before they fall off. The nutrients stored in the roots help the trees to sprout out new leaves in coming spring. During this time, anthocyanins give leaves their bright, brilliant shades of red, purple and crimson.


Information boards and garbage cans are placed all along the trail.


You are never alone on the trail.


The 5 km trail ends with a flight of stairs to the parking lot.

 

 

 

 

Wireless Electricity


(Image Courtesy SemiWiki.com)

We moved to Canada in 2004 and the house we purchased had telephone cables and co-axial TV cables running to all rooms.  We then used a dial-up modem connected to the telephone cable for accessing the Internet.  Any room which needed a telephone had an stand-alone machine.

With the availability of cheaper digital cordless telephone with four remotely connected handsets and also with multiple facilities like answering machine, call display, etc, the first set of cables to be decommissioned were the two-wire telephone cable that connected every room of the house.  We still had the coaxial TV cable running to all rooms.  Now the telephone handsets started communicating wirelessly and the handsets could be moved with its battery charger to any room it was required.

With the introduction of cable modem, router, and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone system few years later, the two-wire cable was terminated outside the house.  We had to now run Cat 5 cable all through the house where ever a computer was to be connected to Internet.  In an year came the Wi-Fi.  In came a new Wi-Fi router and out went the Cat 5 cables.

Introduction of revolutionary Universal Serial Bus (USB) to connect anything and everything to a computer or a computer like device overhauled the cabling system of modern gadgets.  Most cellphones and electronic devices started using USB charging.  Most electrical outlets in hotels, airplanes, trains and buses came with USB ports built in to facilitate charging without an adapter.  Home improvement stores started selling electrical outlets with USB connectors.  Thus most of the electrical outlets at our home took a new avatar with USB port.

Introduction of Light Emitting Diode (LED) in home lighting, TV, computer monitors, displays on most home appliances has in effect reduced electricity consumption.  Now most devices at home (except appliances like fridge, dishwasher, laundry systems, oven, cooking range, microwave oven, etc) use 12 Volt Direct Current (DC) as power source.  Major weight and space consuming element of an LED bulb is the rectifier circuit which converts high voltage Alternating Current (AC) to 12 Volt DC.

With these 12 Volt DC appliances, mostly using USB to connect to power source, isn’t it time that we wire our home with 12 Volt DC cabling with USB ports?

At the end of the nineteenth century, ‘War of Currents’ between the American entrepreneurs Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse resulted in AC being used in homes as transmission, resulting in much reduced  costs and transmission losses in comparison to DC transmission which required booster stations every 10 km.  Nikola Tesla, then working with Edison, was in favour of AC and he disagreed with Edison about the use of DC current. Tesla resigned working for Edison and joined  Westinghouse.

Our sun, transmit energy as radiation through air without any wire. If we can build solar cell that can give near 100%  or even 70% efficiency, it will usher in wireless power transmission.

Tesla dreamt of a global wireless power grid that any home, business, or vehicle could tap into.  In 1934 the above drawing of a large transmitter appeared in an article on wireless power transmission. The caption read, “Nikola Tesla, electrical wizard, foresees the day when airplanes will be operated by radio-transmitted power supplied by ground stations.”  The closest he ever came to realising his dream of wireless transmission was the Tesla coil, which he created in 1891.

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a wireless charging technology capable of transmitting electricity wirelessly to a moving object nearby. If the technology is upscaled, it may allow electric cars to recharge while in motion.  It is nowhere near Tesla’s dream of airplanes flying on electricity.


(Image Courtesy Sid Assawaworrarit/Stanford University)

As the team described in their recently published Nature study, the transmission achieved was much smaller than would be needed to power vehicles. However, they did reach a kind of mid-range wireless power transfer based on magnetic resonance coupling. Electricity passing through wires creates an oscillating magnetic field, and it’s this field that causes a nearby coil’s electrons to oscillate. This in turn transmits power wirelessly. However, it’s a complex process and is only efficient when the oscillating coils are tuned with respect to the moving object.

Until now, this has been one of the primary problems for wireless energy transmission, because there hasn’t been a way to get the coils to automatically tune to moving objects. The researchers solved this problem by using a feedback resistor and voltage amplifier system to detect where it should be tuned to without help from humans.

This research is part of an overall push toward safer, clean energy highways with more manageable traffic that will eventually support self-driving cars.  If this dream fructifies,  you’ll be able to charge your electric car while driving on the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.

With coils embedded in the roads, we could eventually enjoy a totally automated highway system. Self-driving electric vehicles could be wirelessly charged en route, and GPS and other navigation systems would also be powered wirelessly.

Stanford research team will pave way towards achieving Tesla’s dream of wireless electricity in near future.  In case they succeed in their mission, soon we will be using transmitted electricity to power our low powered DC appliances like home lighting, TV, computer monitors, etc.  This will allow lot of flexibility and reduce electrification cost.  LED lights will become much cheaper as they would have done away with the rectifier circuit.

Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”   Anais Nin, French-American diarist, essayist and  novelist.