What A Single Chip Phone Means

Dana Blankenhorn writes about Texas Instruments’ recent announcement:

What does it mean for TI to make, and Nokia to sell, a complete cellular phone on a single chip? For one thing, it means phones can be one-chip cheap.

Right, cheap as chips.

One chip cheap is important when you think of how little money most people on this world actually have. Imagine if we could hear the voices of Darfur’s victims, for instance. What if they could actually talk to Larry King, live, and describe in detail the hell their lives have become.

What if everyone, no matter their economic circumstance, were within easy reach of the world’s markets, for whatever they had, and whatever they needed?

We’re about to find out.

But there’s something else involved here. When cellular telephony is reduced to a simple chip, it can become an ingredient in anything else.

For instance. Let’s say you have a golf course. You use a lot of water, but you waste a lot, too. Now, throw some moisture sensors out there and link them via one-chip cellular. The bandwidth needs are modest — the sensor says “water me” or “turn off the water” as needed. Your hardware costs just dropped to the floor, and the system probably pays for itself on just a few months’ water bills.

Anything that needs to be monitored, over a long distance, can now be monitored, and results transmitted, over a cellular link, because remember (in most cities) cellular is ubiquitous.

Imagine what this can do for farmers? They can monitor conditions in their fields in real-time, addressing concerns immediately.

Or consider a chemical manufacturing plant, which can now run safely, and under much finer adjustment, saving untolds amount of energy, using an Always-On application which is literally cheap as chips.

Vast new industrial markets are opened up by this announcement, markets which have yet be tapped.

All you have to do to tap them is think — cellular is a low bandwidth, high distance Always-On interface.

Verisign’s Plans

Forbes writes:

[Verisign CEO] Sclavos is betting much of VeriSign’s future on the growth in wireless. As wireless service providers rush to add services to their networks, and as people increasingly use cell phones and other wireless devices to communicate and transact business, VeriSign intends to provide the software that will make it all secure.

VeriSign’s aim has always been to provide the infrastructure services needed so that companies can communicate and handle electronic commerce over the Internet as well as voice networks. But in the 1990s, its focus was to enable secure interactions between Web sites and consumers, secure e-mail and secure extranets.

Now, Sclavos’ strategy is to bridge these voice and data services that enable business transactions–a move that will likely benefit the company’s Telecom Infrastructure Group, which handles wireless and wireline signaling, database services as well as clearing and billing.

Video Search Types

Internet News writes: “There are three models for indexing and discovering relevant video content: metadata, which Yahoo uses; text generated during the closed captioning process, which Yahoo and Google use; and transcription-on-the-fly, carried out by Blinkx with technology from enterprise search player Autonomy.”

India, Linux and Amida

Asia Times Online writes:

“Cost is a factor, but Linux actually offers better security as the source code on proprietary software is always secret, making Linux-based solutions ideal for applications like the SATHI,” said an official in the Department of Information Technology. One popular version of Simputer is Amida, a cross between a personal digital assistant (PDA) and a hand-held computer. It was built with support from Bharat Electronics Ltd, the public-sector giant that produces electronic devices for the defense industry.

Targeted at Indians who are techno-savvy but on the wrong side of the digital divide because of limited financial resources, Amida does everything that can be done on a standard notebook – web browsing, mailing web pages, and sending voice mail over wireless Internet. The Amida website offers downloadable programs for users of Windows and Macintosh operating systems. “Amida qualifies to be a truly converged device that incorporates the key functions of both PDA and cellular phone, and I find it ideal for use while traveling,” said Amit Mittal, an enthusiast.

Because Amida has a slot for reading smart cards, it is also useful in non-urban settings. For instance, it allows a village panchayat (local body) or even a shopkeeper to hire out the device to individuals for specific periods – each user investing only in a smart card with his or her personal profile stored on it. Said Puneet Kumar, a commentator on information technology and an executive with WIPRO, the global software major: “Simputer demonstrates that no country need fear being left out of the computer revolution if they learn to adapt it to local conditions.”

Organising Our Information

Bambi Francisco writes:

Our own content will likely dwarf what’s currently being created by large media and the traditional providers of information.

The abundant flow of digital information on the Web is thanks in large part to all of us who are creating it, from the plethora of blogs, e-mail correspondence, instant messages, to the ever-increasing amount of digital music, photos and videos.

As everything becomes digital, the need to organize the information becomes even more urgent. That’s why I believe that organizing our digital world is not a minor feature, as some have said about desktop searching. In fact, these features will be far more useful and addicting than we think.

In a digital world, there is no delineation between video, text, audio and voice. It’ll be delivered by anyone. What does it matter who’s bringing this information to me or giving me the platform to exchange information on?

Toyota Secrets

The Economist writes:

Toyota’s success starts with its brilliant production engineering, which puts quality control in the hands of the line workers who have the power to stop the line or summon help the moment something goes wrong. Walk into a Toyota factory in Japan or America, Derby in Britain or Valenciennes in France and you will see the same visual displays telling you everything that is going on. You will also hear the same jingles at the various work stations telling you a model is being changed, an operation has been completed or a brief halt called.

Everything is minutely synchronised; the work goes at the same steady cadence of one car a minute rolling off the final assembly line. Each operation along the way takes that time. No one rushes and there are cute slings and swivelling loaders to take the heavy lifting out of the work. But there is much more to the soul of the Toyota machine than a dour, relentless pursuit of perfection in its car factories.

Another triumph is the slick product-development process that can roll out new models in barely two years. As rival Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan, notes in his book Shift (about how he turned around the weakest of Japan’s big three), as soon as Toyota bosses spot a gap in the market or a smart new product from a rival, they swiftly move in with their own version. The result is a bewildering array of over 60 models in Japan and loads of different versions in big overseas markets such as Europe and America. Of course, under the skin, these share many common parts. Toyota has long been the champion of putting old wine in new bottles: over two-thirds of a new vehicle will contain the unseen parts of a previous model.

TECH TALK: Multi-Model Minds: The Early Years

To understand why we do not easily open ourselves to multiple mental models, it is necessary to for us to understand the education process of our formative years. In school, we are taught many different subjects ranging from languages (three in my case English, Hindi and Marathi) to maths, sciences (physics, chemistry and biology) and the social sciences (history, geography and civics). Yes, there was also some exposure to things like baking (!) and PT (physical training). On paper, it is a broad education. But in reality, it is narrow and deeply flawed.

For me, much of the focus of my school education was on ensuring that I learn to do well in the exams. After all, the tenth standard results would determine my future I had to get into a good college. After that, I would have to take the various entrance exams in two years which meant that the first year junior college was an easy year. So, the emphasis was more on cracking the exams in school, college, and in my case, IIT. (That I gave up trying to crack the tests in IIT is a different story!)

From the generation that I talk to today, things are even worse. Coaching classes have created a parallel system to the schools and colleges. I too had joined coaching classes in 1983-84 but it was only for the twelfth standard and preparation for the IIT exams. I recently saw an ad that advertised coaching classes for students in hold your breath the seventh standard. Every vacation from the tenth standard on is used to attend coaching classes preparing for the twelfth standard entrance tests. Even for that rare student who does not want to join the coaching classes, a combination of peer pressure and lack of quality teaching in schools and colleges (because the best teachers are now mostly to be found doing the coaching) can cause even the bravest of students to wilt.

The result is a double-whammy: not only have we taken away free time from our younger generation when they need it most to explore and learn in their own way, we have also strait-jacketed the teaching process along a very narrow, one-way street. Little wonder that we then end up becoming a nation mostly of outsourced service providers than the innovators. (Well, admittedly this is a distant conclusion to draw, but I cannot help thinking that the education that we are increasingly getting in India is closing minds rather than opening them.)

The education we get or put ourselves through determines for the most part how we think and act later in our lives. While it is possible to undo the effects of a limited education, it is not only difficult but during the process we end up impacting many others with a set of possibly flawed decisions. [To a large extent, the poverty and abject infrastructure that we see around us in India is the direct result of two results of inadequate education both by people in position of authority in India since Independence, and the largely illiterate masses who put them in their positions with their votes.]

Tomorrow: My Mind

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