Wednesday, May 9, 2018

New Life for Goli Soda




In recent times the word `Goli Soda` became famous in Tamil Nadu as the title of a successful Tamil feature film released in 2014,  warranting a sequel titled `Goli Soda-2` which is under production. It is also the name of an online store in Chennai which showcases products of innovative designers using recycled materials.  But to a whole generation of Indians, Goli soda, or Goti Soda meant a fruit flavoured soft drink used to quench a thirsty throat in the sizzling summer months. The popping of the `goli’ or the marble with the index finger would pave the way for the fizz coming out of the bottle, which was an experience by itself. When I had this experience at a party in Chennai recently, I decided to explore the story behind the `Goli Soda`.

The bottle and the idea for the drink were imported into India in the early 20th century. Hiram Codd of Camberwell, a Britisher, designed, developed and patented the Codd Bottle for carbonated drinks in the year 1872. Also termed as the Codd-neck bottle, it encloses a marble and a rubber washer/gasket in the neck. The bottle is filled upside down, and pressure of the gas in the bottle forces the marble against the washer, sealing in the carbonation.
The 150-year-old eco friendly bottle has remained unchanged over the years, and the design is quite ingenious. One side of the bottle has two ridges on the neck. It is only from this side that the drink can be poured out into a glass or straight into the mouth. Try pouring it out the other side, and the marble automatically bobs up and acts as a stopper.

The Codd Bottle became popular in Europe, Asia and Australasia but not in USA. In Japan it is popular under the brand name Ramune, available in 36 flavours.  In India the Codd Bottle is also known as kancha bottle, goli bottle, and soda bottle in different parts of the country, Goli Soda being the most popular name: available in two varieties viz. Plain Soda Water (Aerated Soda Water) and Flavored Soda Water (Aerated Beverages) containing flavors of lemon, ginger (Masala Soda), milk rose ( Panneer), mango, pineapple etc in syrup base and this preparation is also made using carbon dioxide gas (Co2) under pressure. 

Goli Soda production was essentially a cottage industry in India because of the ease with which the manually operated system could be set up. In the olden days every well to do family had a unit operating within their homes. The clinking and clanging sound of the bottles by the vendors promoting various local brands of Goli soda was a familiar sight near bus & rail terminals across the country.

The advent of the multinational soft drink brands like Coke & Pepsi and a whole range of regional brands of soft drinks available in disposable plastic bottles at affordable prices has almost sounded the death knell for the traditional Goli Soda makers. Besides the high cost of the Codd bottle and also stringent rules governing food & beverages have resulted in many of the traditional bottlers of Goli Soda exiting the market. According to a veteran Goli soda maker in the city, Madras had close to 500 soda manufacturers in the 70s. The number today has dwindled to less than 30.  Most of them are cheap products produced in unhealthy surroundings without any quality checks and are sold at Rs 10/- or less.

Kali Aerated Water Works, one of the oldest soft drink manufacturers in the country with brands like Bovonto, had been a popular goli soda maker in Tamil Nadu. They exited the business because of difficulties involved in cleaning the bottle. The shortage of glass bottles controlled by a single supplier in the country based in UP also added to the conundrum.
There is hope for the revival of this business thanks to the initiatives of some young entrepreneurs, professionals who have given up secure corporate jobs in order to give the goli soda its fizz back.  In its new avathar Goli soda is positioned as a premium product. In an attempt to capitalize on the growing apprehensions about the negative effects of plastic bottles on the health of the people they are promoting the eco friendly nature of the glass bottles used in Goli Soda.  The fact that the new brands are adhering to quality standards prescribed by FSSAI and are produced in hygienic conditions adds credibility to the new efforts.
The brands are also trying .to invoke  nostalgia in the old timers and offer younger generation a new experience of drinking an alternative soft drink in recyclable glass bottles, with less preservatives, chemicals and plastic contaminants. The negative publicity against the multinational brands and the decision of the dealers to boycott such brands in Tamil Nadu last year have opened a window of opportunity for the Goli Sodas in the highly competitive soft drink market.
Though priced at Rs. 50/- plus, (some high-end restaurants sell the product at Rs.125/-) the growing popularity of Goli Soda among the younger generation belonging to the upper class in Chennai, especially at parties, high end restaurants and the popular clubs, where these brands are available, provides hope for the revival of the Goli Soda idea. But how will any new comer face the perennial problem of short supply of the Codd bottles, when they decide to scale up,  is an issue for which there seems to be no immediate answer. Yet I am sure that the youngsters will find a solution to the problem as and when they have to cross that bridge!
The edited version of the above article has appeared in Madras Musings issue
 dt 1-15th  May,2018.
Feedback welcome on rvrajan42@gmail.com

Monday, May 7, 2018

Missing chappals!

   Last year, within six months I lost three pairs of new chappals (footwear)- one outside a temple complex, one inside a marriage hall and one outside a Doctor`s clinic.  Having been `thrice bitten` I have learnt my lessons. Today I carry an extra-old pair of chappals in my car which I wear whenever I enter any public place where I am expected to leave behind the footwear before entering the venue. If the distance between the parked car and the venue is short I  leave them behind in the car  and walk barefoot to the venue.
It is not uncommon in many of these venues to find your new pair of chappals  missing and in its place an identical but old worn out pair staring at you. 

A  friend was reluctantly compelled to walk away with someone else`s pair of chappals when he found his own missing outside a temple in a village. ` What to do yaar, I heard that there were no footwear shops in the village and  it was so hot in the afternoon that I shuddered at the thought of walking around barefoot,` he said sheepishly. So much for his conscience!

I remember an occasion when I was the guilty party. Let me explain. I was travelling back from Trichy by Rockfort Express.  I normally get off only at Egmore, the final destination of the train. But that day as the train was entering Mambalam station I had an impulse to get down so that I could save some time reaching Adyar where I live.  As I was  getting out of my chappals after reaching home, I realized that one of the chappals was brand new-  identical to the old one I was wearing on the other foot. Obviously in my great hurry to get down I had blindly worn the mismatched pair of chappals next to my seat. The number of times I choked on my `saliva` (Porai) that morning  made me realize  that the gentleman who lost his brand new chappal must be cursing me repeatedly.  Thanks to my absent mindedness I had made two  pairs of chappals; his as well as mine useless!

Then there are people who are so possessive of their footwear, old or new , that they discreetly  pack the pair of chappals in a bag and tuck it under their armpits as they walk into the sanctum sanctorum of temples. You see, they don`t trust the guys who promise to look after their  pair of footwear for a small fee. Reminding me of the old pre-security days, when villagers, who could not afford to hire rooms,  carried  their small steel trunks containing their belongings on their heads inside the sanctum sanctorum of the  Balaji temple in Tirupathi causing a lot of inconvenience to fellow devotees; especially those behind them whose view of the deity was obstructed by the trunk.

I have also come across anxious devotees, when visiting small street side temples, who keep peeping out every time they come to the entrance, while going around the sanctum sanctorum  to ensure that the footwear that they have left behind just outside the temple, is not missing. They are more worried about their footwear than concentrating on the deity.

One solution to this problem can be to insure your expensive footwear from loss due to theft, fire etc. Will insurance companies consider such an insurance policy not only for foot wear but also other expensive items like mobile phones, wrist watches, gold jewellery etc which  we have in our person  when we go out? An idea worth pondering over!
This article has appeared in Adyar Times issue dt.29th April -5th May,2018 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tales out of the ISRO story

Based on the book-   ISRO- A personal history   by R.Aravamudan with Gita Aravamuda

On 28th September, 2014, Mangalyan , India`s first home grown mission to Mars was a spectacular success. No other Mars Mission had succeeded in its very first attempt. ISRO had developed all the technology required for the launch from scratch. It was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement for the Team of scientists at ISRO
Thirty five years earlier it was a different story. On 10th August, 1979, the launch of SLV 3, the first home grown launch vehicle of ISRO went out of control and splashed into the Bay of Bengal, about 5 minutes after takeoff. `The very first attempt to launch a satellite launch vehicle (SLVs) by ISRO was a failure` reported Abdul Kalam who was in charge of the project. He was disappointed but was not disheartened. He called it a `Partial success`. Abdul Kalam and Aravamudan, `Dan` to his friends in ISRO, were colleagues right from the inception of the small Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), established by the visionary Vikram Sarabhai  in mid Sixtees, at Thumba,  near Trivandrum in Kerala. TERLS is where the story of India`s space odyssey began.
In the book,  `ISRO – A personal History`,  Aravamudan (Dan) narrates a gripping story of the people who built ISRO and how they did it, from the rocket pioneers who laid the foundation to the savvy young engineers who keep Indian Spaceship flying today. It is the tale of an organization that defied international bans and embargos, worked with laughably meager resources, evolved its own technology and grew into a major space power. Today, ISRO creates, builds and launches gigantic rockets which carry the complex spacecraft that form the neural network not just of our own country but of other countries too.`
 This is a made- in -India story like no other told by a man who had a ringside view of the happenings at India`s space programme from the first year to this day. After graduating  with a First Rank from the Madras Institute of Technology Ramabadran Aravamudhan had been directly recruited into DAE where he spent  two years before quitting a secure  job to join Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, in his visionary project to take India into space. He is an award winning senior scientist who had served as the director of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota and of the ISO Satellite Centre, Bangalore.
What is fascinating about the book is the interesting anecdotes that the author recalls, the human side of the growth story which makes the book endearing:


While in USA attending a training programme in 1963 at NASA, the entire group of young Indian trainees including Dan & Abdul Kalam who were all vegetarians got into strange situations because of their staunch vegetarianism. One day when they were desperately looking for a home based café which will satisfy their palate, they stumbled upon a café run by an old lady.  While the old lady did not understand their request, she allowed the use of her kitchen by the group to cook whatever they wanted using the ingredients available with her. The group walked into her little kitchen and started piling everything vegetarian that they could find into a baking dish. Soon they had rice ,vegetables, baked beans, onions, garlic and a few green peppers all mixed up with a generous helping of cheese on top and  popped the dish into the oven,. `The hotpotch dish turned out to be Manna to our deadened taste buds` says Dan. The old lady called it the `Thing`. The dish became a local hit and the old lady started serving the `Indian Thing` to her other customers also!

 `Doppler Velocity and Positioning System (DOVAP), a large container like  long trailer built by NASA came to India as a part of the initial collaborative agreement with NASA, in 1964. Transporting the equipment from Madras harbor by road to Trivandrum, a distance of 800kms, posed a big challenge at a time when container trailers were a rarity in India and there were no good roads to transport such big equipment. Since Dan was from Madras and familiar with the equipment he was sent to Madras to get the job done. With some help from his father, he found a contractor who agreed to take on the assignment.
`The DOVAP had to pass on the highway in front of my father`s house in Chrompet, in Chennai. On D-Day, all my brothers and sisters, their friends and other extended family members gathered to watch the vehicle as it rolled majestically by. All along the route, the local police had to be kept informed as it had created considerable excitement among people gathered along the way who  mistakenly thought it was a giant rocket being transported.
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By the mid-1960s space scientists from all over the world started coming to conduct experiments with sounding rockets at Thumba. Those were simple times when there was an extraordinary amount of goodwill amongst the international community of scientists. Russia (or the USSR as it was known then) contributed a military helicopter for range safety and a computer called Minsk- the only computer TERL had those days.
Dan had an interesting experience with the Russian chopper. Dan who was a fairly good photographer with his  Yashica camera was given the responsibility to fly over the range in the helicopter and take some pictures which were to be pieced together to form a survey map of the TERLS area. Abdul Kalam, Dan`s lodge mate who also had a good camera accompanied Dan on the Chopper. Though it was an exciting ride, the photos that they took proved to be totally useless in the absence of zoom lenses. The Team had to wait for several more years before they could get their range properly mapped.
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The launch of the first sounding rocket from Thumba on 21, November 1963 marked the official beginning of the Indian space programme . But it was the formal dedication of TERLS to the UN on 2nd February, 1968  that gave the real impetus to developmental activities. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India visited Thumba to dedicate TERLS to the U.N. which had formally sponsored TERLS as international scientific facility open to all its members. ` As I was earnestly explaining telemetry to her as a part of my assignment that day, I was disconcerted to see Mrs. Gandhi`s gaze fixed steadily on the top of my head. Why was she looking at the top of my head instead of listening to me? As soon as I finished she asked me her first question, “Did NASA measure your height before building this trailer?” Seeing my stunned look she burst out laughing. I am 6 feet 2 inches tall, and my head was brushing the top of the trailer which had a low ceiling. While I smiled bashfully, I wondered whether she had actually listened to any of my technical explanations.`
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When Sarabhai took over DAE after the untimely death of Homi  Bhabha in 1966, the tempo of space research in India gained tremendous momentum. Sarabhai`s famous `Profile for the Decade 1970 to 80 for the DAE`, the space research programme came out in 1970. This clearly spelled out the need for indigenous capability to make our own launch vehicles and satellites and to launch them from our own soil by the mid -1970s. The exciting new plans for the development of satellites & satellite launches required an East facing site.  The Team in charge of finding the site zeroed in on an island off southern coast of Andhra. The new site, Sriharikota, was about 100kms north of Madras city. Simultaneously, under instructions from Sarabhai, efforts to identify the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) configuration  was also on . Among the alternatives suggested the third one was selected and designed as `SLV-3`. This was an all -solid propellant four stage rocket capable of orbiting 30 to 40 kg satellites into 400km circular orbit. It was around this time that Indian Space Research Programme (ISRO) was formally notified under the DAE.
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In 1969, the Americans landed on the moon at a time when TERL team was still launching  sounding rockets. Little did they know then, that one day they themselves would launch spacecraft to the moon  and to Mars and beyond; then they heard that a piece of moon rock was coming to Thumba in a glass case. It was the size of walnut. It was put up in the foyer of SSTC on top of Veli Hills. A programme was planned for a formal inauguration of the exhibition. While the team thought that the event will be of interest to only employees of TERL, a large local  crowd turned up for the event stirred by announcement of moon rock by local newspapers. It became a law and order problem. Local police and civil authorities had to be called in to help control the crowd.
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Kalam and Dan had become close friends as they were the only bachelors from the original group. In 1970 Dan got married to Gita, a young journalist. Kalam and other friends  of Dan hosted a dinner for her at Mascot hotel. On his first visit to Trivandrum after Dan got married, Dr.Sarabhai threw a party for some visiting dignitaries and Gita was introduced to him.  In typical Sarabhai style he asked her all about herself and what she wrote, ` May be you can also become part of our programme in some way` he said. Gita came away glowing and feeling very special. Trivandrum offered Gita excellent writing opportunities. Gita, driving around the narrow roads of Trivandrum was a source of great amazement and amusement to the locals who would exclaim,` Ayyo. Sthree car Otikinnu`
There was an unforgettable episode for Gita when Kalam came to her rescue at the first ever launch she witnessed in Thumba. Dan had dropped Gita off at control centre where wives of two other colleagues were also present. There were some people watching from the beach as well.  Dan was in his tracking station. However due to some problem the rocket didn`t take off.  Dan rushed from his tracking station to the launch pad and became immersed in trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, Gita soon found herself all alone on the terrace of the control centre as the other husbands had collected their wives. As the security person was waiting for her to go out of the centre so that he could lock the door, she went out to the beautiful beach and realized that she was in a totally deserted place not knowing where to go. Just then a jeep drove and Kalam hopped out.
`What are you doing here all alone?’ he asked. When he heard her story he burst out laughing `Trust my buddy to forget he got married. He must have buried his head in the rocket. Come, let us go find him` They did find him with his hand and not his head inside the rocket to fix the problem! 
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Dan describes Dr.Sarabhai as a handsome man, a brilliant and charismatic person with a fantastic memory. He never bothered about the usual social formalities and was easily approachable. He always wore white khadi kurta pyjamas paired with well-worn Kolhapuri chappals. He never carried a wallet and always turned to his PA or some other aide, if he needed money.  Only on very special occasions one could see him dressed in a formal dark brown bandhgala coat worn over pants. Inspired by Dr.Sarabhai even the scientists at ISRO took to casual bush shirts and pants. He had the gift of making each person feel very important and wanted. He listened to whatever proposals were presented to him with total attention and encouraged the scientists to experiment.
During one of his visits to Thumba, on 29th December, 1971 Sarabhai died of a cardiac arrest in the hotel room where he was staying. The entire young team of scientists was devastated. Next morning Dan walked into the room where the body was lying. Dan says, ` I stood there for a few moments mourning my mentor, I could almost imagine him jumping up and saying, `Come on, Dan, there is work to be done. Now what do you have for me this time?”; Sarabhai  was in his late forties when he died. Government decided to appoint Professor Satish Dhawan with experience and track record to succeed Sarabhai.
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While Sarabhai`s style of management was that of a patriarch dealing with a small well-knit family, with no formal systems in place, Dhawan`s style of management was quite businesslike. He followed the HQ type of structure by hiring management educated and experienced young men as shadow teams. They would function from the HQ and make a technical and budgetary analysis of each programme. The change in style was difficult for the original team to deal with at first. Soon they realized that this kind of change was inevitable given the increasing complexity of the projects and the size of the budgets involved. Dhawan was very particular that local industry and academia should be associated with the programmes. So he inducted organizations like HAL, HMT and BEL and institutions like IISc and government research laboratories to partner ISRO.  Under the Respond programme small grants were given to various research organizations to undertake specific projects for space research. Though ISRO as an entity was formed just before the passing away of Sarabhai, the ISRO we know today began to take shape only after Dhawan took charge. Under him four distinct geographical areas emerged: Trivandrum, Bangalore, Sriharikota and Ahmedabad.
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Dan led the team that developed the `C` band tracking radar installed in Sriharikota. This radar was the first indigenously built one in the country. TIFR, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Electronic Corporation of India Limited ( ECIL) partnered with the ISRO team for this project. By 1979 the radar facility at SHAR, at Sriharikota, was ready, well in time for the first experimental launch of country`s first indigenous launch vehicle, SLV-3. Kalam was in charge of the launch. After the failure of the first effort, a second attempt was made.
Dan says, ` The second launch effort also had its moment of nail-biting suspense. A few moments prior to take-off the command was given to detach the umbilical cable from the rocket. However the remote controlled cable just refused to come off. For a few moments no one knew what to do. Obviously the launch could not take place with a stuck cable. The savior of the day was a technician named Bapiah. He volunteered to climb up the launch tower and manually coax the cable off. The tower was around 60ft high. We had no other option but to let him try with the safety officials turning their back for the short while. Bapiah quickly climbed the tower and gave the cable a hefty kick and it mercifully came off. The rest of course is history. And so,  on 18th July, 1980 almost seventeen years after the first foreign Nike-Apache sounding rocket was launched from TERLS, a made-in-India rocket was  launched from Indian soil, injected an Indian made satellite into a 300km by 900km orbit.  It was an ecstatic moment. Kalam was hoisted on the shoulders by his colleagues. In Trivandrum we were all welcomed as heroes when we stepped off the plane. My little sons were thrilled. In their school the SLV had been dubbed as Sea Loving Vehicle. And now their father`s organization had been vindicated`.
Significantly out of the 1200 scientists and engineers who worked on the SLV 3 project, hardly a handful had had foreign education. Our homegrown engineers were the ones who built our first satellite launch vehicle.
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After the successful second flight of SLV-3, Kalam had moved out of the project to join the Defence Research and Development Organization ( DRDO) and take up the challenge of developing ballistic missiles for the Defense services. By 1984 four SLV 3 launches had taken place and ISRO was now ready to focus its full attention on the development of the ASLV (Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle) project. By 1987 all the ASLV subsystems were ready, tested and validated, and moved to SHAR in Sriharkota. When the launch of the first vehicle under ASLV programme failed, a Failure Analysis Committee was appointed with Dan as the Chairman. It was named `Aravamudhan Committee`. In spite of the painstaking analysis and the series of recommendations made by the committee, the second ASLV flight on 13th July, 1988 also failed, breaking up spectacularly in mid air leaving the entire Team devastated. By the time ASLV vehicle was assembled on the launch tower for the third time in 1992, Dan had taken charge of SHAR. ASLV-D3 was launched on 20th May, 1992 almost three years after he  took over the project. The mission was a perfect success. Dan says, ` There were many who questioned the need for developing ASLV, which by itself had no application. But in my opinion ASLV provided ISRO with invaluable experience in rocket technology. It was a low- cost precursor to the more important and expensive Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which became the workhorse of ISRO, capable of launching remote sensing satellites of more than 1 tonne class into polar orbits. Most importantly the teams learned that rocketry is unforgiving and called for a totally disciplined approach to ensure quality and reliability.`
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When Dan became the director of SHAR in October, 1989, his family moved with him to Sriharikota. By then his elder son had already left for Bangalore to join an engineering college. His younger son joined the SHAR central school. Dan says, `SHAR was a total contrast to Trivandrum. It was home to a rather insular space community that lived in peaceful isolation far from the madding crowd. Surrounded by Pulicate lake, the Bay of Bengal and Buckingham Canal, Sriharikota was an island with a 50km coastline and area of about 44,000 acres. There were thousands of employees, temporary and permanent living in the housing colonies. And I was the Big Boss. My friends and colleagues dubbed me the `Sultan of SHAR`, although I must confess I sometimes felt more like the Count of Monte Cristo imprisoned in an island.`
Sriharikota had a population exceeding 10,000 and hence all the civic amenities had to be provided by ISRO. As the director in charge running the township, in addition to his professional responsibilities Dan also felt like a municipal chairman. The first experimental launch of PSLV happened on 20th September, 1993 when Dan was still the director of SHAR. U.R.Rao was the then ISRO chairman and Madhavan Nair was mission director. While all the initial events which were visible seemed to have taken at the right time up to the second stage, the vehicle suddenly went into dramatic uncontrolled angular rotation. The first launch of PSLV vehicle had failed.
It took more than a year for ISRO to recover from the failure of the first launch. In the interim period Dan moved to Bangalore as the director of the ISRO Satellite Centre ( ISAC) and Kasturirangan took over as the chairman of ISRO from U.R.Rao. Kasturirangan turned out to be a lucky mascot for ISRO, his first mission as ISRO chairman was a thumping success. Madhavan Nair, the PSLV project director, was the man of the hour. The launch was an example of perfect coordination between a variety of agencies in India and abroad focusing on a single objective. Our own home grown PSLV became one of the most reliable rockets in its category in the world, earning global admiration. Nations vied with one another to get their remote sensing satellites launched by it; and ISRO never looked back
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The next ambitious rocket that ISRO was to launch was the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle ( GSLV) which revolved around the development of a cryogenic upper stage and ISRO had to struggle hard against all kinds of political and other stumbling blocks erected by USA and Russia, before the launch became a reality on 28th March,2001. By this time Dan had retired after spending 35 long years with the country`s Space programme and was not at a console but seated in the VIP gallery along with some of his senior colleagues. Dan says, `I had grown with ISRO from the days when it was a mere idea in a visionary`s mind through its phenomenal transformation in more than half a century into the veritable giant it has become today. Although I formally retired from ISRO in 1997, my close, almost umbilical connection with organization can never be severed. I still sit in on important reviews and meetings and continue to keep track of all the developments; we are nowhere near the end of the story. ISRO has many more exciting milestones to cross in the years to come`
  (The book published in 2017 by Harper Collins is co-authored by Gita Aravamudan, Aravamudan`s wife and a well known journalist. Edited version of this article appeared in Madras Musings issue dt April 16-30,2018)