Last chance to live on Mars

The mission was proposed in May 2012. Today is the last day to apply online for the Mars One Project. So far more than 165,000 applications from over 140 countries to participate in the TV reality show.

The Dutch-based non-profit organisation is giving a chance to 40 aspiring astronauts to experience life on the red plant by offering them a one-way ticket in 2023. There is a small application fee depending on the country of residence. This fee is used to cover costs of this project.

Where are the applicants from?

USA is at the top of the list of countries where 23 % of most applicants are from. This is followed by China, Brazil, India, Russia, UK, Mexico, Canada, Spain and the Philippines.

Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One said: “The cultural diversity of Mars One applicants reflects the international nature of this project and ultimately makes it humanity’s mission to Mars.”

The application criteria

There is a stringent selection process in place to ensure minimum risk to the lives of the astronauts.

All applicants must be over the age of 18 and must be free from any disease and dependency on alcohol, drugs and tobacco. They should have general fitness and 100% or 20/20 eyesight corrected or uncorrected. The applicant’s blood pressure must not exceed 140/90 and their height should be between 157 and 190 cm.

The selection procedure

There are four rounds. The initial application contains general information about the applicant, a CV, a motivational letter and a one-minute video explaining why they should be selected to be the first inhabitants on Mars.

The second round will be the submission of a medical fitness certificate and an interview.

The third round will be broadcasted on the TV and the internet. The audience will select the winner per region. They will be given challenges to demonstrate their suitability.

In round four, the participants will have to demonstrate their ability to live in harsh conditions and work under difficult circumstances. The applicants will be tested on the basis of their characteristics of resilience, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust and creativity or resourcefulness.

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Weird laws to watch out for

Who knew that you could be fined for feeding a pigeon in Venice or could be arrested and detained for photographing government buildings, palaces and military installations in Saudi Arabia?

These things could seem innocent to several people but could be some of the reasons why people pay hefty fines and are arrested and detained abroad.

“Every year British nationals find themselves on the wrong side of the law unexpectedly, resulting in fines or in some cases arrests or even jail sentences,” says Charles Hay, Director of Consular Services in a statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the UK following the FCO British Behaviour Abroad Report 2013.

The FCO assisted 19,244 British nationals in 2012/13.

Some examples of weird laws

Country

Law

Penalty/Consequences

Netherlands Don’t carry or use drugs. While the Netherlands has a reputation for being tolerant on the use of so-called ‘soft drugs’ this exists only for designated areas. Possession of prohibited substances or buying them can carry a prison sentence Arrest, detention
Venice Feeding the pigeons is against the law Fines
Japan It is illegal to take some commonly available nasal sprays containing pseudoephedrine into Japan Fines
Barcelona It is against the law to wear a bikini, swimming trunks or to go bare-chested away from the beach front area in Barcelona Fines
Singapore Chewing gum on the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system in Singapore is strictly prohibited Fines
Thailand It is illegal to import more than 200 cigarettes into Thailand Large fines and confiscation
Italy (Florence) It is an offence to sit on steps and courtyards or to eat and drink in the immediate vicinity of churches and public buildings in Florence Large fines
Saudi Arabia In Saudi Arabia photographing government buildings, military installations and palaces is prohibited Arrest and detention
Barbados It is an offence for anyone, including children, to dress in camouflage clothing Fines
Nigeria It is illegal to take mineral water into Nigeria Fines, confiscation
Fiji Sunbathing topless is prohibited Fines
Maldives Public observance of religions other than Islam is prohibited for non-Maldivians and visitors Arrest, detention

How to avoid such consequences?

One can easily avoid these circumstances by researching travel destinations thoroughly in advance. It is worth keeping in mind that the laws of the land are in force irrespective of the persons nationality.

“Consular staff often find that travelers are unaware that local laws apply to them and many British nationals think of their British passport as a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” adds Charles Hay.

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The Notting Hill Carnival

Dance, music and masquerade. This is what London will witness during the bank holiday weekend at the Notting Hill Carnival.IMG_3624

The Notting Hill Carnival is taking place on 25th and 26th August in London. The annual festival was started in 1964 by the Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their own cultures and tradition. This year will be the 49th carnival.

Largest street festival in Europe.

The Notting Hill Carnival is the second largest carnival in the world after the Rio de Janeiro carnival. The carnival is a true chance to witness the diversity of London with its vibrancy and zest.

The parade

IMG_3601

The parade is the carnival procession that begins at 9 am on Sunday and Monday. Sunday is carnival’s children’s day with a shorter parade and chances to win prizes. The main parade is on Monday. The carnival after-parties will begin once the parade has finished and the floats leave the area.

The Afro-Caribbean specialities

Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

There are several stalls serving traditional Caribbean food and drink like the jerk chicken or pork with rice and peas, curried goat, fried plantain, Jamaican patties, Red Stripe lager, coconut water, rum punch.

There will be traditional and contemporary sounds in the air right from Reggae, Steel Pan, Calypso and R&B to Soca, House, Funk and many more.

Useful tips

  • Leave you car at home. Many tube stations will either be closed or have time restrictions. The best modes of transport are your legs.
  • The area will be crowded. Thieves will make hay while the sun shines so keep valuables at home.
  • The streets and footpath will be overflowing with people so do not carry heavy luggage and buggies.
  • Due to overcrowding, mobile phone networks can get jammed.
  • Carry cash, as food stalls don’t accept cards. Getting to a cash point in the crowd can be a pain and some cash points do run out of money.

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UK government introduces £3000 immigration bond

The UK government’s has decided to introduce a pilot scheme that would charge visitors of six “high risk” countries £3000 over their visa fees as an immigration bong.

The bond

In a bid to tackle illegal immigration, the UK Home Office has launched a pilot scheme to charge a bond of £3000 to adult nationals of six countries intending to visit the UK. The countries termed as “high risk” were India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria. The scheme was set up to deter visitors from overstaying their visas.

This scheme is due to run for 12 months starting from November 2013. The bond payment would be returned if the visitor returned to their home country after the visit visa expires.

Australia and New Zealand have similar schemes where financial bonds are applied to visitors in order to mitigate the risk of them overstaying their visa.

“This is the next step in making sure our immigration system is more selective, bringing down net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands while still welcoming the brightest and the best to Britain,” said UK Home Secretary Theresa May.

Criticism

This scheme has received criticism from several ministers and agencies.

“The Home Secretary’s plans for bonds for visitors from certain countries are unfair and discriminatory. The bond level of £3000 is completely unrealistic. If somebody was determined to work here illegally this could be earned back in a matter of months,” said British MP Keith Vaz.

According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) statement, “such blanket rules for visas will negatively affect not only businesses, especially small businesses, it will also further bring down the number of students going to UK for higher studies and affect the tourism inflow from India to UK. This will also not help the cause of early conclusion of EU-India FTA, for which both the parties are committed.”

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Mystery over death of NRI family in London

She was working as a lab technician at a school in London. For family of 34 year Heena Solanki— Friday, the 12, turned out to be their worst nightmare when they received the heartbreaking news that Heena along with her two daughters was found dead at her home in northwest London.

Click here for my report

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The Olympic Experience of a Lifetime

The UK had been preparing to host the Olympics after it won the bid on 6th July, 2005.

Seven years later, the city had been spruced up to handle visitors from all over the world. People of different nationalities came to one place to support their team and to have a good time.

At the right place at the right time

I was working for the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) that is the official broadcaster of the Olympic Games. I applied for this job in February 2011 to work in July 2012. The competition was tough. My job description was to deliver the Olympics information to the rest of the world on a strict deadline.

This was indeed a privilege to be a part of the largest sporting event in the world in the centre of all the action. My venue was the North Greenwich Arena also known as the O2 Arena. The sports assigned to me were Artistic Gymnastics and Basketball Finals. Working behind the scenes, the atmosphere was exhilarating.

The Victory Ceremonies was my favourite part of the Olympics. The medal winners are presented with the medal and bouquet of flowers while the song “Chariots of fire” is being played in the background. Once the medals are presented, the national flags of the three countries are hoisted and the national anthem of the country winning the gold medal is played. The nationalism displayed was incredible

The benefits

My media accreditation gave me access to most venues. London is a very expensive city and travel costs are very high. My special Olympics Oyster card allowed me to free travel across London.

Working with the OBS gave me the opportunity to work and interact with broadcasters from all over the world. Each day was different. Everyday hundreds of journalists would walk through our Broadcast Information Office (BIO) doors asking for information on matches, player statistics, results, filming the game, press conferences and interviewing athletes. I was truly in a multicultural environment

As an employee of the official broadcaster, I was at the centre of all the activity, in the broadcast tribunes, mixed zone and the media centre. I got a very good view of the field of play. I was spotted on television channels in different parts of the world.

I knew nothing about both the games that were assigned to me but within no time, I became an expert in the field.

The Challenges

There were just too many people in London during the Olympics. The tube lines were packed. I had to go through airport like security check on every single day that I worked.

Journalists can be very bothersome and abusive. Working for the official broadcaster meant getting abused in different languages and putting the pesky journalists in their place whenever needed. But at the end of the day, we understand that they are doing their job, as they are answerable to their channels.

The memorabilia

I got to keep two sets of my uniform consisting of beige trousers, green polo t-shirt, green cap, blue jacket, blue backpack and a blue trolley bag.

Every participating country and most media companies have their own pins and badges that they give away. These are prices possessions among the volunteers and employees. It was almost like a competition of who could get the maximum number of pins and badges. These badges can be exchanged. I managed to collect about 20 of them.

After the Olympics

The 17 days that I worked for the Olympics has been the most memorable experience of my life and has been my best job so far. This is one event in my life that I will never forget. I met fantastic people. I made friends for life. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I hope to be a part of future Olympic Games.

I made the game and the game made me.

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To Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez …

I had intended to write this earlier but did not have the words. Besides, I stayed mum on the issue as I am in London, miles away from the action and am nobody to talk. Almost two weeks after the incident, my blood still boils and I am still very angry at the situation.

Eve teasing and sexual harassment on the streets has become a big evil. As women, we silently digest the humiliation and don’t confront the perverts out of fear. Every woman has experienced perverts walking among us, passing lewd remarks, groping us and pinching us. Where is the freedom and security to walk with dignity and without any fear? Keeping quiet would mean letting freedom being snatched away.

Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez fought. They paid a heavy price … their precious lives.

Is Amboli safe?

To me Amboli is home. I grew up there. I felt safe. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine such a brutal murder. I read about such incidents several times but did not expect it to happen in a place that I call home and to people I have known for many years.

I remember Reuben as a cheerful person whom I used to play with in his building with other friends when I was little. He loved the Guns N’ Roses and named his pet boxer Slash after the lead guitarist of the band. I vaguely remember Keenan from my school days as being a quiet and non-confrontational guy.

I am sad that they are no more but I am grateful to them for risking and sacrificing their lives to stand up against eve teasing – a crime perpetrated against women. They have made a big difference to society.

The main accused identified as Jitendra Rana has two murder cases pending against him. Why is he allowed to freely walk around the streets with weapons so that he can decide his next victim?

Spirit of Mumbai

People talk about the spirit of Mumbai and how Mumbai gets back to its feet the very next day after a tragedy has occurred. Is it really the spirit of Mumbai or is it that we absolutely have no choice but to pick up where we left off?

Has Mumbai become another Delhi? What happened to the city that never sleeps? Were the mute observers busy watching the tamasha while Keenan and Reuben were being attacked? The girl could be your friend or your mother or your wife or your sister or your daughter. Would you protect the woman or chicken out?

Death was untimely for Keenan and Reuben. The police may have arrested people but it would neither wipe the tears of their loved ones nor bring back the innocent lives.

Media circus

All Indian media channels picked up the story. The whole world is talking. Media channels have started campaigns such as “Justice for Keenan and Reuben” and “Justice for the bravehearts”. Being a part of the Indian media industry, I know how it works. Is this campaign just another gimmick for channels to increase their TRPs or will they continue to support the cause. Right now this is a burning issue and everyone wants to strike when the iron is hot. Is the media hype likely to fizzle down the minute some other big news comes out or will they pursue the cause until the guilty are shown their fate?

I wish for speedy justice so that the sacrifices of these martyrs don’t go in vain.

Thank you Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez for being so brave.

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Referendum on the AV system

Tomorrow is voting day in the UK to vote for or against the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) system.

The public is being asked whether they want to replace the existing method of first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of electing Members of Parliament (MP) to Westminster with the alternative vote system.

Under the FPTP system , the candidate who gets the maximum number of votes wins and is elected as the MP of his constituency.

Voters will be asked the question, “At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead? Yes or No?”

The votes will be counted at 1600 BST on 6 May, a day after the poll.

What is Alternative Vote?

Under the AV system, voters can rank candidates in the order of preference. The number of preferences is unlimited.  However, only the first preference will be counted initially and the candidate with more than 50% majority is automatically elected.

If a candidate in unable to secure 50% of the votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Votes for that candidate will be redistributed according to voters’ second preferences. There will then be a second round of counting. Again if a candidate is unable to secure 50% of the votes, another candidate with the least number of votes will be eliminated and a third round of counting will begin. This process will continue until one candidate gets more than 50% of the votes.

AV is currently being only is three countries in the world – Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

For AV

With the current system of first-past-the-post, there are times when a candidate with the highest number of votes wins with less than 50% support of voters. Thus candidates will have to work harder in order to win with a larger margin.

Smaller and lesser known parties will benefit from AV as they could be a second choice rather than not being considered from the beginning.

Against AV

If 50% of votes are not achieved in the first round of counting, the counting will continue until a candidate achieves it. This process is only complicated but also time consuming.

The FPTP system is considered as a fair form of election. All parties release their manifestos and voters vote for the candidate, party and manifesto that appeals to them the most. The person with the maximum number of votes wins while unpopular candidates are voted out. Thus, the winner takes it all.

The change of the AV system is estimated to cost Britain about £250m as local councils will have to buy new electronic voting machines and launch voter education campaigns.

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Is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

Osama Bin Laden was on the FBI’s list of 10 Most Wanted Fugitives and Most Wanted Terrorists.

The US had been attempting to capture Bin Laden since his involvement in the US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

Furthermore, he has been involved in other militant activities like the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia through his connections with the Al-Qaeda of which he is the leader.

Attempted capture

Capturing Bin Laden has been on the US agenda since over a decade. Since the mastermind of the attacks went into hiding, the US government appealed to the Taliban government of the Afghanistan for trial or for extradition. US Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama have all launched search operations to apprehend Bin Laden and bring him to the USA for trial.

Bin Laden was allegedly sighted several times during the last decade in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tora Bora was a suspected hideout of Bin Laden.

Is he really dead?

There have been reports over the years that Bin Laden has been found dead due to natural causes or has been killed. They were however, mere rumours.

On May 1 2011, US President Barack Obama announced that the US conducted a search operation that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

However, DNA samples were used to match the person believed to be Osama Bin Laden. The burial at sea less than a day after he death raises further doubts about the credibility of the official announcement made by Barack Obama. Where are the pictures? Where is the evidence that the person who was killed was indeed Osama Bin Laden? How do we ensure that any pictures released in the near future are not “Photoshopped”?

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A Royal Day in the crowd

London was a blanket of red, white and blue as millions of well wishers from all over flocked to London to catch a glimpse of the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Clutching the Union Jack flags, they came from all over the world and camped overnight for the royal wedding at areas near the Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Parliament Square, Strand, Whitehall and The Mall.

In London, giant screens were installed at Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square so that people could watch the entire event courtesy the BBC.

Why did I go?

Being raised in India, I had no experience of monarchy until I came to the UK seven months ago. Being in London at the time of the royal wedding made it impossible for me to avoid the mania.

I have no connection with the royal family and my life does not revolve around them. I went like a crazy person to witness the wedding and absorb the atmosphere. I neither care about the royal family or nor am I a royalist.

I stood amidst the entire crowd who had come from different parts of the world to experience the wedding. The crowd did not deter me from going as I have experienced massive crowds in London on New Years Eve and at the pillow fight. For me it was more of an event and less of a marriage.

The key is to go early and reserve a good viewing spot if you are really crazy. Having reached the venue just an hour before the ceremony was scheduled to being, the best bet was Hyde Park. In a span of five hours I watched the entrance and church service at Hyde Park and the procession and the kiss at Trafalgar Square on big screens. The areas near Westminster and Buckingham Palace were later condoned off due to overcrowding.

The crowd

The mood was exciting and people were trying high and low to catch a glimpse of the newly wedded couple. The crowd came well prepared with tents and picnic baskets. People had dressed up for the occasion. Some wore wedding gowns; some wore attires resembling the union jack while others wore special William and Kate merchandise. The waving of the flag was a common sight.

At Hyde Park, the atmosphere was feel-good. There was a loud applause when members of the royal family entered the church. However, once the church service began, there was silence among the crowd. Many had purchased the wedding programme booklet and joined in the service by singing the hymns. The crowd cheered the couple when they uttered the words “I will”. Many Britons shed tears of joy. It was indeed an emotional moment for them.

Trafalgar Square witnessed a truly electrifying atmosphere. The crowd was livelier. There was a live band, contests for the best hats, the unveiling of the Boris tandem – a bicycle meant for two.

The crowd eagerly waited for the golden kiss – where the newly wedded couple would kiss on the balcony of the Buckingham Palace for six minutes. However, the crowds jeered them when they publicly kissed twice on the balcony while the rest of the royal family and the Middleton’s looked on.

The celebrations

London was truly the party capital with a large number of people organising royal wedding street parties and private parties in homes, backyards and terraces.

Royal wedding celebrations were held throughout the country from 1000 BST onwards. Only a selected few were invited to the church service and the reception. The rest of the country organised street parties with permission from the local council. Several pubs and clubs had royal wedding themed parties that continued through the wee hours of the morning. I managed to crash into four such parties in central London. At the end of the evening, the roads in London were ruined with empty alcohol bottles and cans thrown all over the place and many drunkards on the road.

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