An off-beat story in the New York Times — Singapore Cools Off, and All Must Pitch In: “Every day in Singapore is a dog day, with suffocating humidity and temperatures regularly reaching the 90’s. When asked to name the most important invention of the 20th century, Singapore’s first prime minister and elder statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, singled out the air-conditioner….Air-conditioners account for nearly 10 percent of the cost of a new building and roughly 60 percent of its monthly power bill, according to Yeo Choon Chong, a manager at Meinhardt.”

Lord of the Rings: Quotes

A few quotes from the Lord of the Rings which I particularly like:

I wish the ring had never come to me…I wish none of this had happened.”

“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

* * *

To bear a ring of power is to be alone.

* * *

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

LOTR is one of my favourites: have read the book twice, and seen the first episode thrice. Frodo’s journey and how he and Sam overcome the challenges is a great story. The book is “richer” than the movie, though the visuals reinforce the impact. For me, Frodo’s journey is like that of an entrepreneur, who sets out on a quest knowing vaguely about the final destination and with the firm belief that he can make a difference.

A New Kind of Science

I found this through John Robb. A new book by Stephen Wolfram has become the #1 best-seller on Amazon. I read 2 articles: in NYTimes and Wired. Amazing reading! Wolfram, whose company also sells the Mathematica software, spent the last 10 years in isolation working through the nights, writing this book. The claims are amazing.

Wolfram: “Three centuries ago science was transformed by the dramatic new idea that rules based on mathematical equations could be used to describe the natural world. My purpose in this book is to initiate another such transformation, and to introduce a new kind of science that is based on the much more general types of rules that can be embodied in simple computer programs.”

NYTimes: “He has, he argues, discovered underlying principles that affect the development of everything from the human brain to the workings of the universe, requiring a revolutionary rethinking of physics, mathematics, biology and other sciences. He believes he has shown how the most complex processes in nature can arise out of elemental rules, how a wealth of diverse phenomena the infinite variety of snowflakes and the patterns on sea shells are generated from seemingly trivial origins.”

Wired: “The idea of complexity arising from simple rules – and that the universe can best be understood by way of the computation it requires to grind out results from those rules – is at the center of the book.”

Screen Language

‘Screen Language’: The New Currency for Learning:

John Seely Brown has had an epiphany. In the past year and a half, the knowledge expert and chief scientist of Xerox Corporation said he’s gained a new respect%u2014indeed an awe%u2014for screen language. And what is screen language? It’s simply the vernacular of digital culture, the way technology is increasingly put in the service of human imagination in sophisticated ways. For the shorthand version, just think of any teenager’s natural affinity for instant messaging, video games, movies, open source, and eBay.

How can that affinity be tapped and how can those abilities be understood and applied to lifelong learning?

Radio: Window to the World In Impoverished Niger, Radio Provides Missing Links in Chain of Development (subscription needed): In today’s world (the one we all live in), life without the computer is unimaginable. But for many in the world, the radio is still the window to the outside world.

Radio “is the missing link in the development chain,” says Steven Ursino, director of the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, in Niger. With its manageable, cheap technology, it goes to places the Internet can’t, beyond the reach of electricity and telephones. It demands the participation of the villagers and can become the soul of a community. Above all, it stimulates communication in the local languages that is vital in attacking problems such as AIDS. “It gives the people a voice,” Mr. Ursino says.

At Radio Goudel, the digital divide between Niger and the developed world opens wide. In one room of the station, several computers are covered by plastic sheets, rendered useless by a lack of spare parts. In the next room, technicians from stations around the country learn how to repair the simple wind-up radios from the Freeplay Foundation of London, which is mainly funded by the Freeplay Energy Group, maker of the self-powered products.

I still begin my day listening to the BBC World News on my shortwave radio — a habit which was formed in my childhood. There’s just so much happening in the world to know about. Radio lets me concentrate on the event and the news, rather than be distracted by the pictures.

BigMac Index and PPP – Big Mac Index: Useful for getting an idea of the Purchasing Power Parity.

An article recently in the Economic Times mentioned India’s PPP factor vs the dollar as 5.24 (or thereabouts), implying a realistic exchange rate Of Rs 9.50 or so to the dollar.

This is useful when we apply it back to tech pricing. It means that a computer costing USD 700 or so in the US should effectively cost 700 * 9.50 = Rs 6,650 in India as against 700 * 50 = Rs 35,000. So, if we can bring down the price of a computer to the PPP equivalent in a country, one will definitely see sales shoot up, creating the IT infrastructure the country needs.