Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wangdue Dzong - Gone With the Wind

The 24th of June 2012 is yet another tragic day in the history of Bhutan. The 17th century gigantic fortress - the Wangdue Dzong, built by our founding father Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was razed to the ground within couple of hours by the raging inferno.

(Photo source: facebook)

As i was about to logout from the facebook, a post appeared from the Hon'ble Opposition Leader informing about the fire disaster.

At first, I could not believe it yet I could visualize the vulnerability of the structure of the Dzong. Moments later stream of comments followed with some people even liking the post. I wonder what they mean to convey when they hit the "like" button of the post. Does it mean they like the news or they like the information? Whatever it is, it's not a matter of concern at the moment. The fortress always stood magnificently overlooking the valley and stood as a test of time. Not only did it add on to the aesthetics of the valley, it was also a priceless possession of the country.

Brief History:
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel met a young boy named Wangdi playing in the sand and therefore named the dzong as Wangdi Phodrang (Wangdi's Palace). The dzong was built in 1638 by the Zhabdrung with the artisans as far as from Cooch Bihar. It was Bhutan's second capital until Trongsa was founded in 1644. The dzong was a dramatic example of Bhutanese architecture. The structure followed the contours of a ridge at the confluence of Punatsangchu and Dangchu. The Penlop of Wangdue Phodrang was the third most powerful ruler in the country. The cactus on the slope were planted to prevent invaders from climbing up to the dzong. The dzong was repaired after a fire in 1837 and an earthquake in 1897.
Who could believe that it would, on this day, be razed to rubble within few hours. Wangdue Dzong is gone with the wind.

(Video Source: Facebook)

There are couple of questions i ask myself. It is said that by the time the fire was noticed, it was already late to contain it. Why was the country's priceless monument not equipped with smoke and fire detectors? Isn't the country in dire need of an emergency/firefighting chopper given the number of fire outbreaks and accidents? The nation has learned a lesson but at a huge cost. Shame on this generation. We totally failed to preserve what our forefathers did for more than three centuries.

BHP-automated as it was then, and endured as it is now

This is a reproduction of my article from the inaugural release of the Druk Green Newsletter.

Thanks to the good and standing relationship between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of the Republic of Austria for giving birth to the Basochhu Hydropower Plant - as DGPC calls it today. Not only did it add another 64 Mega Watts to the country’s power chart then, but it also, to this day, stands as an archetypical icon of the state-of-the-art technology in Bhutan. Added to this, it is also by far, the only plant in the country to have ever been managed, operated and maintained completely by a team of young Bhutanese novices then, right from the first day of its commercial operation - that was almost a decade back. Working in such a set-up, makes us more than apprehensive for the fear of losing the status quo of a good system.

The hydropower scheme as you may call it, the two sister plants of BHP; Upper Stage and Lower Stage are both automated alike, and to their designed extent, obediently responds to a single click of a mouse. It also responds abruptly to the actions of a living mouse.

So long as the system is in track, the people working in operation and maintenance in particular are mostly happy and have little or absolutely nothing to worry about, to say the least. People come to their duty stations smartly dressed with their TigerSteel safety shoes shining at its best, for which it has become the envy of our colleagues in other plants. An activity that calls for scores of workforce in a conventional plant is, however effectively achieved by a mere tapping of the operator’s forefinger on the mouse. Needless to say, but automation can do wonders- not the mouse though. As a case in point, there goes off the deafening noise of the disgorging water followed by the roaring of the turbine-generator set, as loud as it can, which is just but seconds after the silent click of a start button. Many a time, we find difficulty in holding back our giggles when the sudden noise and the ghostly operations make our serious guests frightened and taken aback.
In the recent time, BHP has however, successfully unmanned the Upper Stage plant and the 220/66 kV Switchyard, which we cannot just hide but rather take pride in our achievement. Thanks to the stringent PLIS target, it was so arduous a task yet fulfilling at the end. Today the Basochhu and the Rurichhu intakes, the Upper Stage, the 66 kV Upper Stage switchyard, the pondage, the 220/66 KV Switchyard and the Lower Stage is all at the command and will of one operator stationed with few others at the control room of Lower Stage. Lower Stage control room serves as our central control station for BHP’s entire electro-mechanical installations. MicroSCADA is our gateway and a platform through which we see and control things that are miles apart. No matter how far the intakes are – it is almost a day’s walk from the plant, but it is hardly inches spaced out in the window of our workstation.

To those who have just joined BHP, alpha-counter(not meant for counting the first letter of the Greek alphabet), echo-killers(nothing to do with either the sound or the brutality), contrans ( not the crunchy korntroos chips), bamboo ( tallest grass it is definitely not), matrix (not the sci-fi movie), RTU(not an acronym for Ready To Use), frontend (the end in the front?), etc are some of the technical jargons that they will often get to hear. In fact, these are the must-have components in an automated system like BHP, which unfortunately, often seize to function and if not remedied right away, makes any operation of the intakes’ components a day’s work, almost instantly.

The flipside of the story is however a little disenchanting, if not so more. The common misconception of the people holds it that, those working in an automated plant like BHP have got virtually nothing to do with the chances of breakdown being very minimal. All said and done, yes it is, if all is well. But the famous Murphy’s Law holds true everywhere, anywhere!. It is even so more surprising to learn that many of us in the DGPC think in a parallel fashion.
Bill Gates has rightly pointed out, as “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”.

With hundreds of surge vulnerable components and bundles of wire criss-crossing the plant structures, it is just at the mercy of the rodents scurrying everywhere and the sudden spike in electro-static energy. Rectifying the control circuitry and modifying the logics to meet our requirement has always been a brain-racking process. Come the monsoon, there starts another hitch in the turbine-generator set. Much to the dismay, an array of exigencies follows next - misfortunes do not come singly. It is very hard an ordeal.

Despite the seemingly idle atmosphere at BHP, it is of the essence to note that, every individual takes his or her share of the effort in ensuring that the system is up and running at all times. Endurance of the technological set-up for so long has never been so easy and we consider it as the biggest thing in itself.
Whatsoever it is, we can only do our best, to sustain and endure as the way it is. Be that as it may, we are all doing for one single most cause – to contribute to the nation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Art and Science of Photography

The recent addition to my list of gadgets is the Nikon D3100 DSLR camera. I made up my mind to upgrade it from Olympus VR310 digital camera so that I could capture the beautiful aspects of this life and living as crisp and sharp as i could get. To my standard of income, this DSLR camera did cost me a fortune but I am sure it will be worth the investment. As of now, I have got two cameras in hand. I know our human wants are unlimited and i also know that a picture is worth a thousand words. I wanted good pictures to express thousands of words and also to give spark of flashbacks in my later days. Anyways, knowing nothing about the abc's of photography, i de-boxed the newly acquired camera and read through the manual.

Within the next couple of days, i was theoretically well informed about the concepts of photography. I learned a great deal about the science of photography - the aperture size, shutter speed, ISO, depth of field, white balance, metering and so on. With a brand new camera hung on my neck and the theory of photography in my head, i went out to try my hand in capturing the scenic beauty of a seaside. A click here and a click there - I was all over the place. I reached back and as eager as one could get, i downloaded the pictures on my laptop only to give me a frown. The pictures were all fuzzy and blurred. My simple digital camera could have given me better pictures than this sophisticated camera. Keeping my hopes high, I did some indoor trials working out with all the settings and went again to try out. This time the pictures were much better than before yet below the pro-standards.

(Pictures taken from my Nikon D3100)

After all these hunt for the "best fit", I learned that photography involves both art and science and the two must find a balance to capture the best shot. I hope with every next shot, my pictures get more crisp and clearer.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Solution to Elephant Raids

Farming in Bhutan has always been a challenge for various reasons. The geographical terrain, inaccessibility to mechanized farming tools, unfavourable factors of production (land, labour, capital) and raid from the wild animals are the main reasons that i know of, which deters farmers from their mainstream profession. Of all the raids from the wild animals, the raid from a herd of elephants is the worst of all. They not only destroy a large area of crop-field, but also is a threat to human life. I often hear in the Bhutanese media about reports on elephant attacks in the southern fertile foothills of Bhutan. The recent advent- the solar fencing only proved to be ineffective and expensive like any other methods. Villagers are left at the mercy of these wild beasts which mostly attack their crops at night. Well, that was just a background.

Way forward- My concern for our farmers made me to seek ways and means for this problem. From the little and quick research i carried out on the effective ways of deterring the elephants, I found a few which could prove to be effective with the wild elephants in Bhutan as well.

1. It is to be noted that elephants are afraid of bees and the buzzing of bees makes them go insane. In africa, elephants are known to avoid acacia trees occupied by honey bees. This has led to the invention of the “bee hive fence”— a regular fence strung with beehives made out of hollow logs. If an elephant tries to push through the fence, the hive swings, the bees become agitated, and the elephant flees.

2.The other thing that elephants do not like is the smell and taste of chillies. One of the instant remedies to deter elephants would be to burn the chillies/chilli powder as they approach the field. A proactive solution would be to grow chillies and gingers along with other crops which has also proven as an efficient means of deterring elephants.

In Karnataka, India, people tested by making a chilli-tobacco rope barrier. A jute or a cotton rope was smeared with a mixture of used engine oil, chilli powder and tobacco powder and then the rope was run around the field at a height of around 2 meters. The test was proven to be a success and these methodology was soon adopted in different parts of the state.

For those who read this post, I request you to spread the word-of-mouth to our folks living in villages as it might save their life and fortune from these small but effective measures.
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