Updated My Writings Section

I updated the “My Best Writings” section which appears on the right panel of my blog. Have categorised the writings, added some more of them into the list and also put a date next to each. The date is very important – too often I see writings or links without an inkling of when it has been written. The date gives a context to the reader, and also an indication of how recent or old it is.

Listing out the entries in categories helps readers know my thinking on the three primary areas whhich are my interests (Affordable Computing and ICT for Development, Enterprise Software and SMEs, and Information Management). Have also written a few articles on Entrepreneurship – more of personal experiences in my decade as an entrepreneur.

To just give you an idea: my daily (Mon-Fri) writings as part of the Tech Talk series (wherein I take a topic and write about 500 words daily for multiple weeks) began in November 2000, and my blog began in May 2002. Writing and Blogging is very much an integral part of life now. I cannot imagine stopping!

Swarm Computing

Computerworld has a story on how it can “leverage on the strength of multitudes of components to overcome the power of monolithic systems.”

Amorphous which means lacking definite form, of no particular type and lacking organisation is a concept that accepts heterogeneity as a way of life, yet allows very different components the ability to interact with one another in their own manner. This allows for many different interpretations for amorphous computing.

Also known as swarm computing, amorphous computing emphasises the concept that a collective result that emerges from individual micro-level behaviours could provide a more efficient system. It is, in a sense, a form of bio-mimicry in which scientists get inspiration from nature. Amorphous computing is similar to the concept of a colony of cells cooperating to form a multi-cellular organism under the direction of a genetic programme shared by the members of the colony.

Instead of a single monolithic system, the concept of amorphous computing tries to obtain coherent behaviours from the cooperation of large number of unreliable parts that are interconnected in unknown, irregular and time-variable ways.

I have been thinking a little about this in reference to how the Memex can be built out. More on this in due course.

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Spam is still Winning

NYTimes writes about the remarkable rise of spam and how the marketers continue to find ways around the obstacles (legal, filters) that are being put up:

The infestation is growing faster than the antispammers can keep up. Brightmail, which makes spam-filtering software for corporate networks and big Internet providers, says that 45 percent of the e-mail it now sees is junk, up from 16 percent in January 2002. America Online says the amount of spam aimed at its 35 million customers has doubled since the beginning of this year and now approaches two billion messages a day, more than 70 percent of the total its users receive.

Indeed, the spam problem defies ready solution. The Internet e-mail system, designed to be flexible and open, is fundamentally so trusting of participants that it is easy to hide where an e-mail message is coming from and even what it is about.

Another reason there is so much spam is that, with a simple computer hookup and a mailing list, it is remarkably easy and inexpensive to start a career in e-mail marketing. Companies that offer products like vitamins and home mortgages as well as those selling items like penis and breast enlargement kits will allow nearly any e-mail marketer to pitch their wares, paying a commission for any completed transaction.

The microscopic cost of sending e-mail, compared with the price of postal mailings, allows senders to make money on products bought by as little as one recipient for every 100,000 e-mail messages.

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Converging Tech and Entertainment

If anyone can do it, it is Steve Jobs. Apple is launching an online music service soon, and there are reports that is planning to buy Vivendi Universal. SJ Mercury News writes:

Jobs has tried to strike a balance between the entertainment industry’s protectionist stance toward music, and the attitude of some in the tech industry that consumers should be able to do what they please with their music files. When Jobs introduced Apple’s top-selling iPod music player in October 2001, he cautioned that entertainment industry efforts to lock digital content were doomed to fail — but he also gave reviewers a bag full of store-bought CDs to test the device. It was a statement that Apple does not condone music piracy.

Still, why can Jobs waltz into Tinseltown and do deals others can’t? He has good references — among them Woody the cowboy and Sully the monster, characters that Jobs’ Pixar Animation Studios has created for blockbuster movies “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” Pixar has a track record of four successful animated films at a time when animated efforts from traditional powerhouses like Disney have failed. That means other entertainment executives are more willing to buy into his next idea.

“Steve has engineered one of the most successful ventures in profitability in filmmaking over the past decade or two through the team he built at Pixar,” said Jeffrey Logsdon, entertainment industry analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison. “He’s probably one of the most envied guys in Hollywood.”

Shrikant Patil provides the wider perspective:

Steve believes the only way out is the implementation of new business models which enable easy downloading of music, with any song at any time type of concept. The existing publishers are frozen to death because they worry cannibalization of their existing business, which seems to be more inevitable with every passing day. The best way to move forward is to buy one these frozen ducks and unleash their potential in the form of new services, the world has never experienced before. Apple has always demonstrated innnovation in their products and the first mover in many areas, always setting trends but always commercially limited by their volume economics and channel reach. With a music service on the internet they will be able to reach all parts of the globe, there is no part of the world that does not listen to music. If this service becomes a must have by consumers, more people will upgrade to broadband, store more music on their PCs and leave home with a iPOD type device.

e-Estonia

San Jose Mercury News writes about Estonia’s remarkable technology transformation. In 1991, most people didn’t even have a phone. The story is very different today.

the country ranked No. 8 out of 82 countries in putting the Net to practical use in a recent World Economic Forum report. The country ranked No. 2 in Internet banking and third in e-government.

Banking is actually booming in this former Soviet republic — via Internet. The number of Estonians who bank online soared from zero in 1997 to 700,000 this year. That’s half the country’s 1.4 million people.

Many Estonians who now rely on wireless phones never had a landline phone. And most who now use the Internet to pay bills have never used a Western-style checkbook.

About 70 percent of Estonians own mobile phones — about the same as the European Union average. Some 40 percent of Estonians have a home computer with online access. In business, online access is over 80 percent.

Estonia’s second-largest bank recently began a service that lets people use mobile phones as debit cards at restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

Picasso or Czanne?

Business 2.0 writes about research by David W. Galenson “to explain how people innovate.

Examining the relationship between age and earning power for 125 famous artists, Galenson identified two archetypes: Picassos are bold, conceptual thinkers who peak early and innovate in dramatic leaps, while Czannes are patient experimentalists who gradually improve with age. “All intellectual activity breaks in these two ways,” says Galenson, who has since found similar divisions in poets, economists, and, yes, corporate executives. The trick is to balance the two types of talent: A youthful flash of innovation can make your company hot, while steady, mature management can help build lasting greatness.

– Picassos: Marc Andressen, Steve Jobs, Shawan Fawning Bill Gates.
– Czannes: Craig Barrett, Meg Whitman, Reuben Mark, Richard Wagoner

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: From Yahoo

Let us begin by taking a look at how information management has evolved in the past decade thanks to the Internet.

In the Yahoo days, the directory was at the centre of the world. Websites were categorised by human editors into appropriate categories. The taxonomy was at the heart of finding pages. One had to drill down through multiple levels of categories to get to the one that seemed to be the one we were interested in. Then, we clicked through to the website and began our search for information there. When we came across good sites, we bookmarked them in our browser, so the next time we did not have to go through the directory once again. Hard to believe, but this was how we navigated the Web maybe 5-6 years ago.

Red Herrings October 1994 issue had this to say about Yahoo: Yahoo!’s value is obvious to anyone who’s surfed the Web, because it categorizes and creates paths to all the pages that are fit to read. As a vital directory, it’s virtually the operating system of the Internet. It is interesting to read what Yahoos founders, Jerry Yang and David Filo, said in an interview then:

The volume of information on the Internet is for practical purposes an infinite problem, because not only is the content itself exploding, but the existing content is changing all the time. If you don’t have a committed way of doing it, you can throw any amount of money at it and not solve the problem.” Therefore, nobody can be the final solution, and we are just one alternative. The goal, which is fairly modest, is to make the Internet intuitive for the user and to act as a starting point, not an end. It’s kind of a discovery experience. Our vision is to provide different ways of viewing that content, whether it’s through hierarchy or through a search or through customization.

Ultimately, the best tool is the human brain. Obviously, leveraging our users will be the best form of artificial intelligence The search part of it, whether visible or invisible, will be a big part of our operationsOur goal is to create an artificial intelligence library and list sites with different degrees of relevance, instead of just alphabetically. So sites that are definitely relevant are listed first, whereas others that may not be as relevant come after. But that’s going to be a manual editorial process over time, because I think that no amount of artificial intelligence can establish the inference needed. The more context you have, the better it is over time, but we’re not building context for context’s sake. If it’s one of those categories no one ever visits, why build context for it? The context-sensitive retrieval is very powerful if you can get it to work, but you have to manage people’s expectations.

News.com provides a historical perspective:

Conceived by co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo in a Stanford trailer in 1994, much of Yahoo’s popularity was built on the directory’s ability to give order and organization to the unruly Web. As legend has it, Yahoo was developed by Yang and Filo as a way to categorize their favorite sumo wrestling Web sites. Even the company name–originally the acronym “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”–highlighted its directory roots.

Unlike the other search competitors that emerged in the mid-1990s, such as Excite, Lycos, Infoseek and AltaVista, Yahoo did not develop its technology to crawl through millions of Web sites. Instead, it hired humans to manually search the Web to find, organize and review sites about thousands of topics. Yahoo’s editorial team became an emblem of the Internet’s rise where legions of college graduates would do the heavy lifting to help Web newbies find what they want.

Into this world came Google.

Tomorrow: to Google

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