Broad-basing Computing

The Hindu writes in an editorial:

To millions of citizens who cannot afford an expensive personal computer, the early results of a pilot test of a low-cost networked PC, which uses a cable connection to hook up to the Internet, offer new hope to overcome digital deprivation. The nimble `thin computing’ system eliminates the need for the consumer to acquire powerful hardware and expensive software to perform functions such as writing documents, accessing websites, and emailing. The pilot project in a middle-class locality in Chennai by Novatium, a technology products company, to demonstrate a Rs.4,450 NetPC has attracted wide attention; the user has a recurring access cost, inclusive of Internet charges, of about Rs.450 a month. For quite a while, networking companies have aimed to make the `network the computer.’ In parallel, there have been attempts by others to produce low-cost standalone PCs that can break the $100-barrier while plans to develop handheld devices with similar goals met with limited success. The NetPC model seeks to shift the burden of performance away from the user’s hardware to the server. By accessing software that is installed not at the user end but on a remote server, the total cost of ownership for the consumer is reduced.

Get Paid to Search

The New York Times writes about one of Microsoft’s plans in the search space:

Adam Sohn, director of global sales and marketing for Windows Live, confirmed that Microsoft would pay large companies $2 to $10 a user annually the more searches, the larger the bounty earned in credits that can be used for Microsoft products and training services.

IF Microsoft has determined that it is futile to compete with Google head-to-head, and if, as seems to be the case, it is willing to cast dignity aside and adopt marketing gimmicks in an attempt to gain market share, why stop at half measures? Why not go all the way, as iWon.com has done ever since its founding in 1999? That portal, which includes a search service powered by its sister company, Ask.com, runs sweepstakes. Performing searches, up to a certain number each day, is the easiest way to increase ones odds of winning a $10,000 prize awarded daily. On Tax Day, however, a special prize will be bestowed: $1 million.

Barcodes and Mobiles

The New York Times writes:

In their new incarnation, cellphones become a sort of digital remote control, as one CBS executive put it. With a wave, the phone can read encoded information on everyday objects and translate that into videos, pictures or text files on its screen.

The most promising way to link cellphones with physical objects is a new generation of bar codes: square-shaped mosaics of black and white boxes that can hold much more information than traditional bar codes. The cameras on cellphones scan the codes, and then the codes are translated into videos, music or text on the phone screens.

Video Online

The New York Times writes:

Video is the fastest-growing segment of the fastest-growing medium the Internet, of course but online video grabs a tiny fragment of the $60 billion spent annually on broadcast and cable TV ads. Skeptics rightly point out that it is far from clear whether putting video onto the Web adds any revenue to the media companies coffers although plenty of media executives swear that it does or whether it will cannibalize TV viewing.

And while video is clearly the next big thing online, it is uncertain how much appetite there is for TV shows and movies on computer screens. Will the main attraction be existing fare distributed online, or new sources of original content like, say, the new video clips from The Onion, the satirical newspaper?

Revamping China’s Schools

The New York Times writes:

Even as American educators seek to emulate Asian pedagogy a test-centered ethos and a rigorous focus on math, science and engineering Chinese educators are trying to blend a Western emphasis on critical thinking, versatility and leadership into their own traditions. To put it another way, in the peremptorily utopian style typical of official Chinese directives (as well as of educationese the world over), the nations schools must strive to build citizens character in an all-round way, gear their efforts to each and every student, give full scope to students ideological, moral, cultural and scientific potentials and raise their labor skills and physical and psychological aptitudes, achieve vibrant student development and run themselves with distinction. Meijies rise to star student reflects a much-publicized government call to promote suzhi jiaoyu generally translated as quality education, and also sometimes as character education or all-round character education. Her story also raises important questions about the states effort, which has been more generously backed by rhetoric than by money. The goal of change is to liberate students to pursue more fulfilling paths in a country where jobs are no longer assigned; it is also to produce the sort of flexibly skilled work force that best fits an international knowledge economy. But can personal desires and national demands be reconciled? Will the most promising students of the new era be as overburdened and regimented as before? As new opportunities have begun to emerge, so have tensions. If Meijies own trajectory and her Hsylc brainchild are any guide, the force most likely to spur on deep-seated educational ferment in China may well turn out to be students themselves still struggling with stress, yet doing so in an era of greater personal independence and international openness. Overachievers of the world unite!

TECH TALK: Creating Indias New Cities: The First Steps

By Atanu Dey

Cities are engines of growth because they manufacture wealth. That is why rich economies are predominantly urban, and those economies that are largely rural are poor. Therefore the transition from a poor economy to a rich one depends on the transition of the majority of the population from being rural to urban. The scale and quality of the basic habitation unit determines the success of an economy. A large number of small villages is sufficient for poverty; a number of large cities is necessary for prosperity. Economic growth is both a cause and consequence of urbanization, as can be seen anywhere around the world.

The ingredients for wealth creation are well known and conveniently listed as land, labor and capitalthey are called factors of production. If you have a good recipe, the ingredients yield a good product; otherwise the result is unpalatable even with the same ingredients. The recipe can be termed technology. Over time, through painful trial and error, good recipes have been discovered and is fairly cheaply available to anyone sufficiently motivated enough to make something useful out of the available ingredients. In some cases, however, the capital may be insufficient. Fortunately, in many such cases, capital can be borrowed.

To build the Designer Cities, the DeCis, we need land, labor, capital, and technology. The technology exists. Over the centuries people have figured out how to design and build efficient, effective, and pleasant cities. We do have the land and sufficient labor to get any job donewith a bit of training of the labor, of course. The capital is the last and most critical bit. We just need to shift our perspective and consider the city to be a massive factory for producing wealth. Once you do that, you immediately see that the money spent on building a city is not expenditure but an investment. Therefore if we demonstrate that the return on investment is positive in the case of a city, investors will go for it.

The most important bit is to bring all the factors of production and the technology together simultaneously. It essentially is the solving of what is called a coordination problem. If you can sequence the set of operations properly, you can build using the existing factors in such a way that every stage generates the wealth that you need to move up to the next stage. It is an upward spiral. If you do need to borrow for the first stage, you figure out some innovative financing mechanism.

The first stage is the acquisition of land. There are enough examples of how land can be the foundation upon which you can build vibrant communities. It is just a small step from that to building entire cities using the same method, as we will explore next.

Monday: Land

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