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CNN-IBN covers Blackle, gets most of the story wrong

According to CNN-IBN “Google has done its bit to save energy by launching Blackle — a Google search page that saves energy”, based on the theory that black pixels take less energy to display than white pixels. (Here’s a screen-grab of the story.) There are at least two problems with this.

First, this is not applicable to LCDs — the backlighting on LCD displays uses energy no matter what colors you use on the screen. The good news is that LCD displays use far less energy than CRTs do, completely eliminating the need for display hacks. LCD monitors are still not ubiquitous in India, so if you wish to save energy you should probably buy one.

Second, Blackle wasn’t launched by Google. A quick look at its About Page would have told IBN that. Or a whois check. Apparently a “Google Custom Search” logo is enough to confuse IBN’s tech reporters. Good to see that India’s mainstream media continues to remain cheerfully clueless about technology reporting.

(Update: IBN has now corrected the story. See the screen-grab if you want to see the original.)

1 Comment

6 June 2007 3:22 am

The Network is the Computer (except from 11pm-12.30pm)

This story about IIT Bombay (IITB) disabling internet access in its hostels between 11pm and 12:30pm is not at first glance as hair-raising as the one about Chinese Internet de-addiction clinics, but it improves upon acquaintance.

Consider the consequences: one of the finest research tools invented by man is effectively off-limits to students for half a day (Is that really right? Or did the Economic Times flip an AM into a PM?) Of course, in the name of compulsory ’socialization,’ students will crowd into university clusters, which never quite have enough machines to accommodate the crowd.

Involvement in Open Source and Web 2.0 projects will drop because budding programmers at IITB will lose access just when many of them are most productive — given extremely hot Indian summers and the lack of air-conditioning in most (practically all?) dorm rooms, night-time is often the most comfortable time to start a long hack session.

Of course, the most enterprising students (especially in departments like Electronics and Computer Science) will probably use their ability to access department networks to get around this interruption in service, but a more interesting question is: in 2007, should students really have to wrangle for network time?

The point about regulations like these is that they demonstrate the knee-jerk short-term thinking that passes for leadership in many Indian institutions. Apparently the drivers for this decision included the death of IITB’s “hostel culture” (by which they mean late night vodka parties, night shows at cinemas and card games — oh wait, that was my misspent youth) and, rather more seriously, a string of on-campus suicides by some loners. Of course, while it is regrettable, it has to be asked: are the vast majority of well-adjusted (and not-so-well adjusted, trying-to-cope) students well-served by over-paternalistic regulations? Pre-Internet hostels weren’t exactly idylls.

And if IITB is scared of internet in the hostels, wait until they hear about this newfangled thing called wifi in classrooms:

“At any given moment in a law school class, literally 85 to 90% of the students were online,” Professor Herzog says. “And what were they doing online? They were reading The New York Times; they were shopping for clothes at Eddie Bauer; they were looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco when their new job started…. And I was just stunned.”

There’s the paternalist, knee-jerk reaction of banning the undesirable, so typical of India (Here’s another great example). Then there’s the embracing of the new, and treating students like responsible human beings:

I also tend to wander around the room a lot (I’m one of those don’t-stay-behind-the-lectern professors), which may discourage some of that behavior. And I tend to call on the students who don’t seem engaged. But I don’t make any particular effort to ensure that students aren’t surfing or IM-ing or whatever. They’re grownups. If they’re willing to risk their grades, and to look dumb when they’re called on, well, I’m willing for them to do that too.

1 Comment

13 March 2007 5:11 pm

India’s Research Gap

The Telegraph writes about a recent scientometric exercise comparing India’s and China’s science & technology workforce. The results are eye-opening for anyone who still believes that China and India can still be compared at roughly the same level. If I were an Indian policymaker I’d give up the organized S&T stats game as lost for the medium term and focus on other things instead.

  China India
Research Workforce 850,000 115,000
Fresh doctorates per year 40,000 4,500
Per Capita Research Spending $12.15 $3.53
Share of global research publications 5% 1.9%

1. Re-architect the education system starting at the primary level. China’s education push in the late 1970s is really paying off now, while India is bedazzled by its IITs and IIMs that service a vanishingly small fraction of its population. Merely rebranding other institutions with the IIT rubric isn’t helpful, what’s far more essential is a commitment to good universal primary education — something we have just not seen in the past.

2. Promote private research and entrepreneurship. India’s free-er society ought to produce world-class companies — and India’s large conglomerates are doing well in this regard. What’s missing is a systematic effort to encourage start-ups as low-cost test-tubes of innovation. It’s great that the SEZs are trying to cut red tape and aiming at a 7-day approval cycle for new companies, but why can’t a similar time-frame be applied across the country?

3. Stop complaining about talent being poached away. (which is what the PM’s scientific advisor is doing in the Telegraph article.) Instead figure out what how you can network with the poachers and use their help to help you grow the economy to the point where you’re less worried about poaching.

The communication in Current Science can be found here.

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20 February 2007 9:17 am

Mysooru Sandal Soap

Karnataka’s got the whole Kannada Pride thing going. From 1 November, they’re getting rid of ‘colonial’-era town names:

Bangalore becomes Bengalooru (this is the correct spelling, not Bengaluru)
Mysore becomes Mysooru
Mangalore becomes Mangalooru
Shimoga becomes Shivamogga
Hubli becomes Hubballi
Belgaum becomes Belagaavi

Maybe this is a good time to remind them of West Bengal’s Calcutta → Kolkata experience. For those not in the know, practically no one but Bongs can actually pronounce Kolkata right, thereby guaranteeing that I’ll cringe every time I hear the City of Joy’s fair name being mis-pronounced on Indian TV, usually as kol-katta or kol’kaata or worse. (The correct pronounciation is ‘kol-kata with a soft t, people. Or just say kal-katta in Hindi, Calcutta in English, and whatever you want in other languages).

Heh, now that linguistically sensitive Kannadigas will face the same mangling (how do you spell Hubbali again?), I no longer feel quite as bad.

1 Comment

1 November 2006 1:56 pm

The Fifteen Percent Solution

Rediff interviews Dr Udit Raj, chairman of the All India Confederation of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The interview was fascinating, I think, because it offers a nice counterpoint to the world of protestors who come from a largely urbanized middle-class environment where caste is largely meaningless and highlights the levels of us-vs-them identity politics that drives much of Indian politics. This retort from Dr Raj particularly highlights why the divide is so visceral:

For long, in many places 70 per cent to 80 per cent seats were open in the general category. The upper castes were using it. Right? Now they have been given 50 per cent of the total seats whereas the upper caste population is just 15 per cent. I think that is good enough. What more do the upper castes want?

Ultimately, one’s views on quotas will be colored by the India one sees. There are those who want a meritocratic India free of the curse of caste, where the disadvantaged are helped using sound economic principles such as better primary education and easy student loans. Then there are those who see quotas as a shortcut to success, for who dividing up every pie the country has (from institutions of higher learning to private industry) according to the caste divisions of the country makes perfect sense. (I can’t wait until they try this particular formula in Parliament, by the way.)

What I am most appalled about is that there is not one leader in the country who can make the case for sound economic welfare for the poor without carving the country up on the basis of caste. Punishing modern India’s middle-class for historical wrongs seems to violate every principle of natural justice, upto and including the Fundamental Right to Equality India’s constitution grants to its citizens (by limiting opportunities available to a person based on his caste, not his ability). I am not very hopeful about this, but I hope Manmohan Singh has the spine to resign and call for fresh elections before he is asked to preside over this travesty.

1 Comment

16 May 2006 3:22 pm

The Joys of the First Amendment

JK notes that the good people at the Shiv Sena are protesting a book that paints Shivaji in an unflattering light. Of course, Indians are not alone in banning what they don’t like, it’s just that they do it more often (and with more enthusiasm) than Western Europe. The irony is that most Western Europeans and Indians celebrate their right to free speech without being aware how fragile it really is. The lack of a strong First Amendment in both places means that freedom of speech is malleable, subject to the tastes of the ruling classes (or mobs) of the day. Freedom of speech means nothing if it does not include the right to gore sacred cows.

2 Comments

8:32 am

Caste Census in Corporate India

Indian industry begins a caste census to figure out exactly how diverse its workforce is. Of all the boneheaded issues Arjun Singh and the Congress could set on the nation’s agenda, this has to be one of the worst. This is on par with LK Advani’s Rath Yatra and VP Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission report as a ploy against the BJP. (And this one, like the Rath Yatra and the Mandal mess, will end badly for its perpetrators.)

If India’s leaders were serious about abolishing caste, they’d follow a socio-economic approach to identifying persons from disadvantaged backgrounds irrespective of caste and offer them primary through post-graduate scholarships and on-the-job training (if corporate India plays this right, this might happen yet — they could offer this as a quid-pro-quo for not having caste quotas forced on them).

Proponents of caste-based reservations point to affirmative action rules in place throughout the world. However India is unique in that it is probably the only country where affirmative action is practiced on a non-ethnic (a.k.a caste) basis. There are many problems with affirmative action on the basis of caste. It assumes all members of a particular caste are at the same level of development, which is not true. It does not provide any assistance aid to disadvantaged people belonging to other religions (caste being a peculiarly Hindu concept). And most fundamentally, it flies in the face of centuries of reform in Hinduism that sought to abolish caste.

Of course, abolishing caste would be very problematic for our more venal politicians (that’s almost all of them) for who people voting along caste (and religion) lines are a huge convenience: creating a culture of entitlement gives them proven ‘vote-banks’ without having to worry about things actual developmental issues. Hence we end up with the curious result of a caste census in the 21st century in the hallways of private industry in the second-hottest economy in the world. God save India.

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28 April 2006 8:45 am

Bad news out of Bombay

Within hours of reading about the Blank Noise Project, I read this. Sick. Sick. Sick. Looks like Bombay is picking up where Delhi left off.

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13 March 2006 8:37 am

India, US sign Nuclear Deal

The US and India sign a deal that gives India access to US nuclear technology even as the inevitable critics speak out:

“It will set a precedent that Iran will use to argue that the United States has a double standard,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, a leading opponent of the deal. “You can’t break the rules and expect Iran to play by them, and that’s what President Bush is doing today.”

Of course, Iran signed the NPT and India did not, but India’s case does not rest on technicalities, nor is the notion of ‘discriminating’ in favour of a particular nation anything new in the non-proliferation game:

The deal’s opponents also like to argue that, in order to be fair and equitable, the same agreement must be extended to all other declared nuclear states that have remained outside the NPT—namely Pakistan. That assumes that treating all non-NPT states in the same way would somehow make the regime more legitimate. In practice, though, the nonproliferation regime’s survival has depended on discrimination. Japan is allowed to reprocess spent fuel and stockpile plutonium, but South Korea is not. South Korean scientists secretly enriched uranium to weapons grade, forged uranium metal from imported fertilizer, and secretly reprocessed plutonium—yet Seoul was not reprimanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), even though Iran is facing sanctions for similar activities. Discrimination “in favor” of India, then, is not an unprecedented act that necessitates immediate redress by extending a similar deal to Pakistan. And if the larger point isn’t clear enough, consider that the United States is being condemned for an agreement on civilian cooperation with India, whereas there is no discussion of the impact of Chinese nuclear weapons designs transferred to Pakistan (from which they have traveled to Iran, Libya, and North Korea).

It is somewhat bemusing to see perfectly intelligent men like Rep. Markey cling on to the very-60s notion that a country can be kept from developing nuclear weapons by force of a treaty (and the implied threat of sanctions) alone. Today, nuclear technology — especially almost-as-devastating ‘dirty bomb’ technology — is dispersed enough that non-state actors can get hold of it. The NPT is about as useful in this world as farriers are on an autobahn. Most leaders recognize this and know it makes sense to co-opt India, with its clean record on proliferation — hence the visits by Chirac and Bush in quick succession to New Delhi. Yet the world will have to suffer a last dance by the non-proliferation dinosaurs before a new order emerges out of the unworkable present.

(Updated 3 March) I think this comment on Daniel Drezner’s blog best captures the discomfiture of the non-proliferation faithful. Essentially, to them this deal is a moral hazard:

… you miss the point. The point is that there are procedures for things in this world and when you bypass all precedants and procedures and render them meaningless, you may get the thing you want, but you are also fundamentally changing how the world works, particularly if you keep ignoring procedure over and over again or only half-heartedly go through its motions (as in the case of the start of the Iraq war).

(Italics mine.) The problem, of course is that the procedures were never much good anyway — all it did was allow a declared weapons power (China) to covertly arm Pakistan and North Korea, and an undeclared power (Pakistan) to atomize nuclear tech to the world’s hotspots (North Korea, Iran). Like it or not, the world has changed and the comfortable world the NPT envisages looks increasingly out of sync with reality. Here’s hoping some of the nuclear idealists take off their blinkers long enough to realize that.

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3 March 2006 12:09 am

It took a Tropical Storm to shut down Chennai

Satellite photo of tropical storm Most Chennaites will not be coming to work today; the rains preceding this tropical storm have made travel within the city virtually impossible. That would mean today would be the first time (since I moved to Chennai in June 2000) that the city has lost a day of work for any reason. In a country known for frequent strikes — Bangalore was shut down for a day in 2000 when the actor Rajkumar was kidnapped, Hyderabad had its day when police fired on a mob, Calcutta shuts down because of strikes so often it isn’t even funny — this says something about the work ethic of the city.

Here’s hoping the storm misses, and they get back on their feet soon!

1 Comment

27 October 2005 3:48 pm

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