Why and How I Blog (So Much)

In response to a recent posting on “Emergic Turning Points“, a few commenters asked where do I get the time to blog so much.

I consider blogging as part of my job and business. The blog focuses on technology, and helps me share my ideas and get feedback. It also connects me to people I would otherwise have never met. The blog also helps build trust and reputation, a sort of “digital identity”. It also servers as a searchable repository of articles and ideas I find interesting.

Viewed in this manner, I view the blog as a critical component in our efforts to get traction for our ideas. As someone I met said the other day, “Today’s business is a battle of ideas.” And there, my blog comes in useful – it is a low-cost way to market our ideas.

I do read quite a bit. It is a habit inculcated in me since childhood. Reading widely is what has been very helpful through the years in building up a vision for what the future will be, and what we should be doing to stake out our place in it. Blogging as an extension of reading (and thinking) takes up only a little extra time. My estimate is that I spend about 2.5 hours writing the 5 Tech Talk columns each week (normally on Sundays), and an additional 20-30 minutes a day blogging. So, a time investment of 5-6 hours may seem a lot, but spread over a week, it is easy to do, given the benefits.

A few tips and suggestions:

– Determine to blog daily. Blogging has to become part of the day’s routine. In case I am travelling or know that I will not be able to update the blog on a specific day, I try and create posts in advance, thus ensuring that readers find plenty of new things daily. This is something I learnt from IndiaWorld – we updated every site of ours daily. Things have to become habits – for both readers and writers.

– Read widely. One may not understand everything, but over time, one gets the lay of the land. Maps start forming. Stories acquire a context. And over time, the linkages between developments start becoming apparent. They prevent us from tunnel-vision. In today’s world, it is very important to have a wide-angle view.

– Think aloud. The one thing I decided when I started blogging is that I would write what I thought. This means I don’t have to worry about whether I need to “protect” this idea or not. Write everything. And that makes life simpler!

– Meet people. I find some of my best ideas come when I am meeting people and talking. Something they say or how they react sparks off a new thread. This reinforces the underlying thinking or sets me off on a new path. Either way, more fodder for the blog!

– Start. Even when I feel I may not somethign to say, sitting in front of the computer changes everything. The words just come. I find this happening with uncanny regularity especially for the Tech Talks.

– Always keep a notebook (paper/pen) handy. Ideas come by anytime. So, I jot them down, and then build upon them for the blog later.

US Computers Opportunity

There are two disconitnuities that are coming this year in the US. Companies (assuming the economy improves) would be seeking to upgrade their PCs, keeping in mind the 3-4 year upgrade cycle. Helping them along in this decision is the stoppage of support for older versions of Windows (other than 2000 and XP) by Microsoft in June. Forbes estimated that there are 200 million PCs in corporates worldwide still running the older Windows OSs.

I was speaking to a friend recently and he mentioned that a significant portion of the USD 199 Walmart PCs (running Lindows) are actually being bought not by consumers, but by smart CIOs, who are realising that they don’t really need new, Intel-PCs running Microsoft’s Windows and Office, and a cheaper Via-CPU and Linux-OpenOffice combo could work as well, saving them at least USD 500-600 in the process.

This set me thinking. If some corporates are willing to consider Linux desktops why not go further and look at a Linux-based thin client-thick server solution. This can help bring costs of hardware down even further – it should be possible to get desktops (excluding monitor) using Via CPUs for less than USD 125, since one can get rid of the hard disk and CDROM, and use a lower speed processor. Of course, this means an investment in a “thick” server, which could cost USD 1,000 for about 40 users, adding USD 25 per client. Thus, the additional saving is USD 50 or so per user, if one looks at 40+ users.

There are some other advantages to this approach. First, the cost of management of the desktops gets reduced dramatically since there is nothing to manage – all administration needs to be done on the server. Second, performance on the client is super-fast, since all processing is being done on the server. Third, clients never need to be upgraded.

Maybe there is an opportunity for Linux thin clients in the US and the developed world. As companies seek to upgrade their computing environments in the context of the two discontinuities, Linux on the desktop (through the server) may have its best opportunity in the US market.

Most Important Invention

Time for a few more smiles. Writes CNN:

In a nation obsessed with sparkling teeth and minty-fresh breath, the lowly toothbrush is the king of inventions.

So say the findings of a new survey released Wednesday by the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which asked which of five inventions Americans could not live without. The toothbrush emerged the undisputed champ, beating out the car, the personal computer, the cell phone and the microwave — in that order — as the most prized innovation.

“It makes a lot of sense,” said American Dental Association spokesman Dr. Richard Price. “Your teeth are always with you. … You can always update your car or a computer, but you just can’t update teeth.”

Reminds me…I think I better go visit a dentist soon. Been a few years. Can’t forgot to have them teeth crashing on me…

Qualcomm’s Power

From San Jose Mercury:

Last week, Qualcomm did something unusual for a tech company in these tough times: Excluding investment losses, Qualcomm reported record profits for the recently ended fiscal quarter — $241 million on sales of $1.1 billion, up from a net of $139 million on revenue of $699 million a year earlier.

Tomorrow’s networks are being designed for much faster connections, largely for data traffic that many believe will dominate usage.

Qualcomm has pitched its own vision of the future based on CDMA, and even its chief rival is moving to a standard that uses a form of the technology. Which means, as CEO Irwin Jacobs says, that some form of CDMA could eventually be part of just about every wireless communications device.

And, it is fair to assume, Qualcomm will be there.

In India, Reliance Infocomm will be launching their cellular service nationwide based on cdma1x, offering upto 144 Kbps data. It is a big bet for both Reliance and Qualcomm, which has so far been a GSM country (with 10 million subscribers). These are still early days – India has the potential to reach a few hundred million subs in the next 4-5 years. GSM or CDMA – that is the question.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The Alternatives

To make affordable computing a reality for the mass-market, it is not that the Rs 5,000 Personal Computer (5KPC) is the only option. There can be other candidates a handheld computer (PDA), the TV and set-top-box combo, a data-enabled cellphone are three other possibilities. Let us discuss each of them.

The handheld computer or the PDA has been touted for a long time as the way to get mass-market adoption for computing. One such example out of India is the Simputer. While these are all laudable initiatives, I dont think they will ever become mass-market computing devices for a number of reasons: the size of the display is too small, data entry is a hassle, mobility and portability are not essential for most users, and the price-points will still be on the higher side. My belief is that most of the new users need a full-fledged desktop, with a 14 or 15-inch monitor and a proper keyboard. The PDAs can, at best, become adjuncts to the desktop, but not replace the need for it.

The TV with a set-top box is a second option. The problem with the TV approach is on four counts. Firstly, the display resolution still does not match that of a computer monitor. The TV may be good for showing the rich graphical worlds for games, but it does not yet display the text and numbers that most users need for their basic applications. Secondly, the TV is synonymous with leisure and entertainment, and is used in the lean-back mode. The PC is used in the lean-forward forward for study and work. So, for the kind of uses that we envision for the computer, the TV is not suited from a mental image that we have of it. Thirdly, the TV is present in homes and not in the workplace. Finally, even at home, the TV has alternate uses as an entertainment device in most cases, it is shared by multiple family members. Try wanting to check email when prime-time soaps are going on in the evening

The wireless or Java-enabled cellphone could be the third alternative. The cellphone suffers from similar drawbacks as the PDA. The numerical-oriented keypad makes it hard to do a lot of extended data entry (even though SMS has become popular in much of the world) and the display size is quite small. The cellphone can become an accessory to the computer, but will not be able to replace it as the primary device for information work.

So, I believe that the road to making computing a utility and ensuring its widespread deployment is to look at the Rs 5,000 PC. And as we saw last week, it is definitely possible to bring down the price-points as long as we accept the existence of a network. (In fact, both the cellphone and the TV are useless without the network.) The question we now need to consider is how can the 5KPC make a difference to our lives. Which are the market segments it will impact and how? How will the future be different with the 5KPC?

Tomorrow: The Markets

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