Wireless for the Masses

WorldChangingwrites: “Onno Purbo, an Indonesian IT specialist, believes that wireless technologies should be part of a developing world strategy to build out both information and communication systems. In Indonesia, he has helped construct a system combining both WiFi and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies. Relying in part on Free Software-based servers, his system allows a rapidly-growing number of people to make cheap (or free) phone calls and access the Internet. What’s more, he’s made tutorial files on building a bottom-up ICT infrastructure freely available on his website.”

India needs WiFi networks across the country – quickly!

101 Ways to Save the Internet

Wired has a list by Paul Boutin because: “The Net, which once seemed so invincible, is under attack by the forces of evil. Viruses knock servers to their knees. Spammers hijack our inboxes. Hackers and identity thieves menace our collective security and personal privacy…Desperate solutions range from abandoning email to requiring a license to log on. Halt, fools! The Internet’s problems stem from the same virtues that make it great: open architecture, the free flow of information, peer-to-peer cooperation, and a bias for linking strangers, not disconnecting them. Take those away and the Net might cease to infuriate us – but it will also cease to amaze us.”

I think we need an equivalent “101 Ways to build the Indian Internet.”

Novell and Linux

Always-On has a three-part interview (Part 2 and Part 3) with “Ximian founders Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza, now respectively VP of product development and CTO of Novell’s Ximian Services group, and Chris Stone, Novell vice chairman, for an update on Novell’s open-source strategy.” Excerpt:

AlwaysOn: There’s a big fuss over the fact that Microsoft is charging 400 bucks for Office 2003. Do you think that users might rebel against the 400 buckssame as they might rebel against superexpensive Sun boxes?

Friedman: Yes, I think we’re at the beginning of this right now. But the United States is the last place the migration will happenafter Europe, Asia, South Americain part because companies and governments are concerned about paying money to a U.S. monopoly. They’d rather keep the money local.

Another reason is that no one wants to pay for proprietary hardware anymore. x86 commodity hardware becomes hands-off in terms of price performance. So we don’t see people buying a lot of the Solaris workstations or SPI workstations anymore. They’re buying commodity hardware, and they’re running Linux on it. So that’s kind of the “gimme” market, the easy one.

Search Visualisation

Wired News wrote recently about a set of visualisation tools which can help refine search results, starting with the premise that “as wonderful as Internet search engines are, they have a pretty big flaw. They often deliver too much information, and a lot of it isn’t quite what we’re looking for. Who really bothers to read the dozens of pages of results that Google generates?” which creates an opportunity for “software now emerging analyzes search results and automatically sorts them into categories that, at a glance, present far more information than the typical textual list.”

Vivisimo sells its technology to companies and intelligence agencies, and offers free at Web searches. Co-founder Valdes-Perez describes his company this way: If the Internet is a giant bookstore in which all the books are piled randomly on the floor, then Vivisimo is like a superfast librarian who can instantly arrange the titles on shelves in a way that makes sense.

Consider it a 21st century Dewey Decimal System designed to fight information overload. But unlike libraries, Vivisimo doesn’t use predefined categories. Its software determines them on the fly, depending on the search results. The filing is done through a combination of linguistic and statistical analysis, a method that even works with other languages.

A similar process powers Grokker, a downloadable program that not only sorts search results into categories but also “maps” the results in a holistic way, showing each category as a colorful circle. Within each circle, subcategories appear as more circles that can be clicked on and zoomed in on.

Groxis, the 15-person company that introduced Grokker last year and released an upgraded, $50 second version in December, is not out to replace Google. Grokker is not in itself a search engine — it only analyzes and illustrates search engines’ results.

Another visualization possibility is offered by TouchGraph, which has a Google plug-in that shows links as an interconnected web, an appropriate image for the World Wide Web.

Search needs some innovations – I’ll be writing about it in a future Tech Talk series.

Blogging the Market

A 93-page report (about 1 MB download, PDF) by George Dafermos about ” how weblogs are turning corporate machines into real conversations.” From the abstract:

weblogs have an infinite spectrum of potential applications whose viability is based on the dual understanding that weblogs are an attempt to break free from the dehumanised, standardised, conformant with corporate guidelines on how to address an audience PR speak that customers are increasingly sceptical of, and a flexible virtual platform onto which a process of cross-fertilisation among individual thoughts and ideas unfolds.

Weblogs, in other words, envisage a hierarchy circumvention mechanism, which empowers knowledgeable employees to indulge in conversations with the market rather than communicating solely by means of marketing pitches and press releases that besides have limited effectiveness in a connected market economy. For years it has been suggested that online communities will revolutionalise the way organisations operate, however, the only social process/technological infrastructure that has reached this potential and is dynamically evolving is the weblog. It takes no technical savvy to set up a weblog and start talking to your customers. That’s why weblogs are huge:
they take the power out of the IT department and the webmaster’s hegemony and hand it over to where knowledge really resides – to the individual workers who are knowledgeable enough and know how to speak with a human voice. Now, organisational structure loses its historic role of managing power relations at a distance, and as a result the organisation becomes truly hyperlinked and power shifts to where knowledge actually resides.

Top Internet Trends

WebTalk Radio looks ahead to the key Internet trends in 2004:

1. The decline of the web browser usage on the desktop as a way to get to web content
2. The growth of Internet applications the executable Internet
3. All things wireless
4. Digital media enters the living room
5. Professional journalistic weblogs are syndicated through RSS
6. Microsoft mobile platforms
7. Voice over IP (VoIP) makes mainstream calls
8. Internet radio growth and revenue
9. Online search extends beyond web
10. How online popularity is creating world wide celebrities

TECH TALK: Good Books: Problem Solving

I recently attended a marriage. I dread attending wedding receptions because I invariably end up meeting people and having conversations with them without figuring out who they are. So, much of the conversation ends up trying to decipher clues as to their identify. The problem is compounded when they ask Remember me and you reply Oh Yes, Of course I do and they go on to ask So, who am I?

I went through a similar experience in a reception I attended recently. I talked with a travel agency owner thinking him to be a stock broker friend. Having realised my bloomer before the other person did, I started thinking of what could be done differently so I didnt have to go through this again. Imagine if everyone were given name tags just like the way it happens when we go to conferences and trade shows. While I agree that marriages are more informal settings, one of the purposes of these elaborate functions (especially in India) is to also foster meetings among friends and family in an otherwise busy life. So, why not make things easier by giving name tags at the time of walking in to the reception venue. In most cases, the set of people coming is known well in advance, so the tags could be kept ready in advance. Marriage meetings would suddenly be fun, less of a mental strain and embarrassment-free!

So, when I came across a book entitled Why Not: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, I had to read it. After all, Nalebuff was the author of two earlier books I had read Co-opetition and Thinking Strategically.

Lateral thinking is not something which comes naturally to most of us. And yet, thinking and problem-solving is one of the most common and important tasks that we all do. Most of the time, we follow a structured process of ideation. We are called upon to make decisions all the time, so it isnt easy to deviate too much from the norm and do lateral thinking every time!

Yet, there are times when we will want to think differently. This is how inventions and innovations are born. If we were all satisfied with the way things are, there would be little progress. It is the angst, the discomfort, the desire for there to be a better approach that drives the innovator in us to do things to change status quo.

In the formal education that we go through, there is time spent on anything outside the book. Yet, in the exams that we undertake, we are expected to be ingenious in how we solve the problem. We are warned that in exam papers like JEE (for IITs) or CAT (for IIMs) or GRE/GMAT, many problems have a simple, shorter way to the solution. We are expected to find this without any structured training in thinking.

So, many of us find outlets in brain teasers and puzzles to stimulate thinking. When we are young, these mathematical and logic games become a challenge to the mind. As we grow older, much of this thinking and puzzling gives way to conformity and following the path laid down by others. Only a few among us tread away from the beaten path. It is these unplanned, impromptu exits from the crowded highways of life that brings about innovation. Asking not Why but Why Not is the first step in the process of discovery.

Tomorrow: Why Not

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