100$ laptop – Implications and Issues.

About the $100 laptop

The 100$ laptop consists of:
Linux-based
Dual-mode display—both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode
Second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3× the resolution.
500MHz processor
128MB of DRAM
500MB of Flash memor [no hard disk]
Four USB ports
Wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network
Innovative power (including wind-up)

The MIT professor Nick Negroponte is one of main promoters of the One Laptop Per Child programme (OLPC).

In the News: The OLPC programme in India Scrapped!

HRD rubbishes MIT’s laptop scheme for kids

Some excerpts from the toi site follow:
– India must not allow itself to be used for experimentation with children in this area -HRD ministry
– Negroponte had made a presentation on OLPC at Yojna Bhavan on April 7 seeking to sell one million laptops at the rate of $100 per unit for children, the cost to be borne by the government.
– HRD thought the Rs. 4500 million could be better spent on primary and health education.
– There exists a conceptual vacuum in which the scheme is being propagated.
– Implications of computer-based pedagogy for childhood have remained a grey zone of research
– Both physical and psychological effects of children’s intensive exposure to the computer implicit in OLPC are worrisome, to say the least

My initial reaction to seeing this article has been one of suprise at the amount of thought process put in by the HRD Ministy and other of actually accepting their discretion. At the very outset, the whole problem looks like a very obvious cheap and effective solution which will help India leapfrog from an agro based society to a knowledge based society.

Why the Scrapping is a Sane Decision

The 100$ laptop is based on some premises which actually dont correspond to the ground situation in India. The major assumptions:

a. Laptop as a commodity increases Adoption and Hence Literacy
New usable laptops for an on the move IT professional or real user are in the range of upwards of $700. Where the average per capita income in India is still US$165, buying a laptop is out of question. Now the question that we will have to ask is “Is the laptop filling the gap for bridging the literacy divide?”. Adoption is inevtiable, if the things that are being promised are really kept; but that doesnt in anyway guarantee any of the other corresponding assumptions being made about literacy.

b. Laptop as a Pedagogical Tool
This assumption as yet doesnt have a concrete solid provable document of proof. Let us assume that a student never has to have to buy the laptop as the cost is borne by the government. Being a student of Comp Sci and as well interacting with friends who have _not_ been students of Computer Science, I do understand the uses of Computer Based Pedagogy. Im puzzle not with the assumption that cheaper laptops will increase adoption; but with that assumption that Laptop is a method to tackle illiteracy. Even though a laptop is a great supplement, its role as a relacement for classroom or a very effective notebook for a child is totally questionable.

c. Prohibitive Cost
$100 x 1 million children = $100 million = 450 crores. When our requirement is for more infrastructure, the 450 crore investment in an as yet unproved technology is hardly justified.

d. Filling in the Gap
The $100 laptop as is evident is not filling any gap in the education system of India. What we need to solve the literacy problem in India is simple:
– More classrooms and more teachers
– Less reasons for children to not come/discontinue education viz bad classrooms, bad teachers, costly education(not only in the terms paid but also in terms of money lost by not working), precious time, better shorter term advantages
– More reasons for coming to school and continuing education viz. better amenities at school, great teachers, better food, better future…

The laptop in spite of being a great tool is as yet has to fit in or solve any of the ground realities pointed above.

e. Software for the Laptop

Even though the 100$ laptop looks exhiliarating to be able to solve a great digital divide, the software required to distribute the content digitally over the laptops is still questionable. Just having Linux doesnt solve any/all of our problems. For any tool to penetrate even the deepest reaches in India, either the tool has to be very simple(like a mobile), or it has to have very good localised font support. In this scenario, the problem the laptop sets out to solve are as yet unsolved.

Why the Scrapping is a Bad Idea

Now to the reasons as why scrapping is a bad Idea; not because the of OLPC programme per se; but because of its probable effect on other technologies trying to penetrate into the rural folds. Now for the reasons why this scrapping is a bad idea.

a. Money invested till now as a sunk cost
The HRD ministry for all now has to understand that the money invested hasnt borne the fruits as it had expected to. In that case trying cheap, alternative-technology driven solutions might be of use too. [I myself think that technology can solve this issue even without trying to solve the human issue involved].

b. No Alternative for Costlier Indigenious Solutions [Simputer, Mobile]
For all I know, even though scrapping the laptop is bad, its really an awesome tool for one. Ability to form cheap ad-hoc mesh networks is really a wonderful conceptualization of creating a networked mesh architecture. Compare this with the Simputer [www.amidasimputer.com] which costs upwards of $300 dollars for a simple gadget. I had been recently working on making been trying to see if a simputer can be a very cheap alternative to laptops [Rs. 9000 + Rs. 500 for a USB keyboard], and had been very much disappointed looking at the prohibitive costs, 20K for a full color Simputer. Why go for a micro sized screen plus a big keyboard for 20K when you can as well go for a better powered laptop device for 30K? And why not go for a lappie that costs 4500K???

Why should not the government try out the $100 laptops instead of using a Simputer or a bigger linux workstation? This laptop can definitely be used by a village teacher or a RMP doctor or many other adults as a better record keeping tool. For them it will prove much more handy and useful than to a child.

c. Deadstop for Innovation
A Digital alternative for pedagogy makes teaching interesting and not to speak of, the much more productivity increase for book keeping individuals. When this OLPC programme has been scrapped, the incentive for other high technology similar disruptive solutions have been essentially nullified. Not the best way to go for a ‘knowledge society’.

The Solution: Reorient the Vision

a. Make the OLPC and OLPT – One Laptop Per Teacher
b. Scrap log books & other arcane record keeping procedures and adopt the laptop as a better book keeping gadget for on the move rural professionals
c. Digital Kiosks can adopt the 100$ laptop instead of depending on the workstations. The dependance on electircity is effectively neutralized by adopting this laptop.

References:

http://www.laptop.org
http://www.slashdot.org

Barcamp Hyderabad2: Postmortem + DeadBlogging

Barcamp happened on the 15th July Saturday in Microsoft Campus. The numbers looked sparse to me initially but then when the final results were out, it came up to 150+ , which is huge, to say simply of it. Live blogging was missing again, but I did capture quite a bit of notes; and so here it goes for you people. So instead of LiveBlogging what you will find here is DeadBlogging interspersed with my postmortem notes and thoughts.

The initial talk was by Ramesh Loganathan, but I could only attend the later half of it, courtesy waiting at the reception desk to sign up people. Any case the last few things I could capture. Basically the talk was about GPS in India and the opportunities available.

* Ericsson has come up with a Standard Mobile Server

* EDR is in the GSM phone but you cannot get the latitude longitude locations. Ramesh’s team had earlier worked on a location based application but since the lat and long were not available, the product had to be scrapped

Atul Chitnis / Geodesic / 11:32 am – 12:10 pm / http://www.atulchitnis.net

Atuls presentation was minimalist zen(mostly seen in steve jobs presentations) type presentation with the typewriter font (lessig style). It was done in Fedora Core 4 PC; which makes it partially politically incorrect.

The main theme of the presentation was about how the PCs are not really mainstream.

* Computers are a misnomer in the present world. A very if not no part of the computer time is used for computing by the users.
* PC Users are a minotity. Most people dont use a PC. They neither have the means, nor the infrastructure, its financially infeasible, and mainly because people DONT WANT TO.
* ‘Form factor’ of the PC
* All mobile devices must be ‘Sized to be carried’. iPod, Walkman, Mobile
* You dont go to them, they do with you.
* We wait for the PC to boot up. And then do what the notebook wants us to do with it, not what we want to.
* The obvious analogy comes to land line phone <-> cell phone.
* Big screens are not exactly a need of the people. When it finally comes to viewing, perspective comes into play. A huge grand father clock 20 feet away is as effective as your wrist watch.
* Look at iPod, its a single function device where all we need is a start, stop, pause, skip next, skip front buttons. All are buttons are expendible.
* But mobile devices are too small to use
* Keyboard is only for PC. Not for all applications. Only 5% of time is used in typing. There needs to be a change in application
* browser on palm – is unusable by users
* the information that needs to appear is the ones that are important to the user and that is visible to them
* ‘Not all’ information. Only ‘design’ information
* Desired information is to be showed
* Goals of Mobile
– stay informed
– to reach and to re reach
– as a phone
– media player
– anytime
– anywhere

I disagree with Atuls talk per se; but I look at the problem differently. The problem is not as much with computers as it is with their design. The whole interface that is provided to the computer are the monitor, keyboard and mouse. And hence ‘any’ applications UI is centered around this same interfaces available. Of these only the keyboard and mouse are capable of taking feedback. Whats needed primarily is a rethink of this design and interfacing of computers. iPod is a great single function device, but again a single function device is not a solution to the design problem. PC is now a consolidation of many single function devices which can again intercommunicate with each other. The mobile too is not at all a solution to any of my problems. Mobility is a great advantage here; but once the battery runs out; the use is debatable. Again, for recharging i need to carry the device specific charger equipment. On the other hand for a pc, the plug points are available everywhere! Im not yet convinced that my experience is the same on big screen and on a small pocket media player. Having seen a movie in imax and then on a small screen, i disagree. I think its time to look at bettering the human computer interaction experience than that of saying the pcs are themselves obsolete.

Farhan / spokn /12:15pm – 12:50pm / farhan AT spokn DOT com

* All our communication on mobile is bursty in nature
* The mobile comes in the flow of your work
* Taken from a personal example, having a bad interface can literally kill you
* UIs on mobile phones are extremely important
* Have to be extremely robust
* Spokn have create a new LTP (Light Telephone Protocol) which has no dynamic allocations
* Number of PCs are 350 million
* Vodafone had its 500 billion written off in loss
* Compare the PSTN World & IP World where the PSTN world is a walled garden
* Telcos need to open the networks to IPs
* Hutch has invested 60B in picking up 3G licenses and the speed you get is 128 kbps
* 5B in Wifi – 10 Mbps
* Right now the color phone is now a ‘hygiene factor’
* Number series can be neither GSM or Landline network; we can have a LTP number also
* All 36 nets of Hutch are in bad shape
* — From audience, Single point access to GPRS by subscription. Voice Roaming is by Telcos. At this point, the discussion diverted into the fractured network of the WiFi network —
* — Rajan added that the main difference Farhan was pointing was regarding the Open Closed system. This is where Fon, the new company was aiming to remove this fracture and to create a seamless wifi network —
* About Spokn, it provides a platform to create your own subnetworks.
* It is through javascript; own ui using spokn
* Based on the LTP stack. Can go through NATs. Does not need TCP, uses UDP. Entirely OS. Speaks codec. Used GSM
* Does not switch calls
* Uses UDP port punching [?], can work behind NATs, does not have rendezvous, uses relay peers
* VOIP works over GPRS connection
* Calling costs as much as email costs you!!!

Sigbjorn Vik / Opera / 12:50 pm – 1:15 pm / my.opera.com/Sigbjorn/

* Presentation available on http://people.opera.com/sigbjorn/barcamphyderabad2
* Opera on Mobile
* Opera Mini – Java installed on mobile
* Any device supported! Not only a pc, nintendo…
* Design principles – Graceful degradation
* could not down a lot

Dr Vishal Garg / IIIT / 1:20 pm – 1:40pm

The presentation was a demo of their project of using a mobile phone as a remote controller. They were using the power line for transmitting the messages. Using the X10 protocol.

* Mobile phone as universal remote control
* In general for a remote the Media of communication : RF / IR / Power Line / Dedicted wire
* Why mobile as a urc? Widespread, possibility of independent settings, proecessing power, memory, display, ringer, secure ID, portable, has IR, Wifi, Bluetooth, has buttons

— Break for lunch —
My lunch session was the highlight of my day mainly because of the flow of information we had. I dont have any guys name and didnt note any of them down 😦 [Please if any of you guys read this, please send me mail regarding the same]. [update from Puneeth] The discussion group consisted of Anil from Bosch, Damodhar from Dolphine Computers, Puneeth, Jaihind Reddy and Marx. The main idea was if we can make the entrepreneurship a systematic process[Anil’s idea]. It was actually great seeing the amount of thought that went into it. Other than that it was also personal talk where we felt these days its the young guys thats taking the leap into entrepreneurship because the risk goes up as you get older. The discussion was interspersed with a lot of personal anectodes from all in the group and it was interesting to see that each and everyone of is either an entrepreneur or an aspiring one. Thanks guys.

Post Lunch
Post lunch, we had a video screening of Guy Kawasaki’s ‘Art of the Start’ talk. Most of the audience loitering in the lobby immediately sitting in the conference room. That was brilliant idea by Rajat and Rajan to get the barcampers back into the talks.

Sriram Krishnan / Microsoft / 3.00pm – 3:20pm
* Web 2.0, Devices and MS
* On best practises and things to watch out for
* Web 2.0 has brought out a change in website where each website is a service. [SOA]
* Anyone can consume the data
* ProgrammableWeb.com to get a list of all Open APIs existing and the Mashups
* SOAP: NTLM architecture, Federation – NOT lightweight
* Put your own server in the middle. REST based APIs
* As a reply from the audience if it is time to move to binary protocols, the answer was to use Zipped xml protocols, instead of binary protocols
* The main point was also about making the protocol less chatty. Put a server in the middle between the website and your mobile phone 🙂

After this we split up into two parallel sessions, I missed the talks of Rajan 😦 on Mobile 2.0 and the talk about the building the small business apps platform.

Anyways the two talks I attended were by Naresh and Mohit

Naresh / IIIT / 3:20pm – 3:50 pm / pSearch

The talk was basically about the search on mobiles based on location. So if you a hungry coder in Kavuri Hills near HiTech City and you key in ‘hyderabadi biryani’, you will get the most appropriate results based on your location. So mostly you will get the HiTech Biryani Center or Silicon Dhaba as your top results whereas your Bahaar or a Bawarchi or a Paradise would come later 😀

The local city locations database is build by these folks and the location code is extracted from the mobile service operator and the results which are extracted from the serach provider like google/yahoo and the results are provided by combining with our city location database.

You can get more information about this project at http://mobilesearch.nokia.com

Mohit / Entrepreneur / 3:50 pm – 4:00 pm / Bootstrapping your own enterprise

Mohits talk was basically about the bootstrapping the selves and a lot of tips and observations on entrepreneurship having been entrepreneur himself.

* Created a network called bootstrap hyderabad
* TiE is for VC connections. Bootstrap is for entrepreneurs to help bootstrap themselves
* Students have a lots of ideas, but most of the time they are clueless on how to proceed
* The time to market should be really less. Efficiency and good speed are very important
* Explanation on valley of death, ideation.
* There is no rule about which road to take. Its all about your individual choice and individual risk propensity
* Take care about your debt/equity ratio
* Start early. So you can have the time to prove yourself. Even if you fail, time is on your side and you can start again
* If “Be your own boss” is your reason for being an entrepreneur, think again. Your devil boss will appear like a sissy in front of your toughest customers
* Be Nice. Be moral. Be Ethical
* SCRUM approach: Demo. Sell. Build approach
* Liquidity is important. If possible get your clients to pay for the prototype or for a part of the product.
Talks I missed

1. Ramesh’s Talk
2. Rajans’ Talk
3. PDA for Pharma
4. Last final Brainstorming + Panel Discussion

Things I wished I did

1. Gave a presentation. My unfulfilled wish in Barcamp Hyderabad too 😦

7/11

For long sometime, I have been worried if the extraordinary bouncing back of Mumbai was just what it was: an extraordinary bouncing back or an amnesia induced by selfish reasons to get life on track as soon as possible…

But hearing stories, extraordinary ones at that of human bravery and great resilience, its tough to not understand the human effort that goes into it to rise out of such calamity.

Hip hop ‘westernised’ urban college crowd who go to hospitals and blast sites and provide water and bananas to the over worked doctors and policemen, free biscuits and water to all the passengers from the small dabbawalas and shopowners alike, people in home coming out of their cozy confines and taking out their cars to provide transportation to absolute strangers, people moving from hospital to hospital to donate blood… there a thousand such stories of how people have risen way above the normal hullabaloo only to help the affected.

But again, there should be more awareness to people on unattended bags, to look out for suspicion. Aside,

Salaam Bombay

Why the world doesnt need Superman Returns.

A lot has been said about the new Supe, the man in the blue suit with a red cape and an underwear over ’em all. A lot has also been said about how Supe Returns is an awesome movie; but I was pretty much disappointed.

First off the best things about the movie: the actors, actresses, villians, musicians, directors, musicians, sidekicks, thugs, gawkers, dogs, cats, whales and dinosaurs and all of them stay very true to original. They play the same role they played in the original. So no issues on that front.

Brandon Routh is definitely the new Supe. He has succeeded Reeve; but he just cannot replace him. Reeve had created such a believable Supe that Routh finds it hard to fit into the cape. But then Reeve was well… Supe. Anycase, Brandon makes a great Supe; almost a mimic of Reeve; but never quite the Reeve. You see, Superman’s hidden identity is Clark Kent i.e. Superman’s mask is Kent. And hence Clark Kent can be quite a intelligent bumbling dolt at times. He still can hide a smirk behind that bumbling self. And Routh misses that logic and hence you find him take to playing Clark very seriously.

And frankly if this movie was five years after the earlier series, he has got to look the part. I cannot have a adolescent guy play the man; when he’s still a kid out of college.

These are however my least of my worries.

The initial scenes of the movie set the tone for the rest of the movie. A weak hand reaching out to ask for support from his mother… Superman’s return itself is a sign of his internal struggle.

In the DC comic superhero universe, we already have hordes of superheroes who have a dark, vulnerable and deeply emotional side to them. There is the grumbling Hulk who is angry and wants to be left alone, a metaphor for an anger against the system. Batman in spite of his coolest gadgets is a brooding, dark guy; the stalker. Spidey is as yet the college guy still coming to terms with his responsibility that is thrust upon because of his powers and the love for this lady; and failing at managing both perfectly. In all this however, there was only one guy who was truly a superhero: Superman. And also please note that no one uses the word Superhero to describe Superman.Well, thats because, Superman is Superman. And I don’t need one more nostalgic, dark, brooding, vulnerable Superman. He is not a human!

And why did we need a kid for Superman anyway? Did the writers even think how extremely biologically impossible it would be for the SuperFoetus to stay in Lois’ womb? I mean, one kick from the foetus(kid) as is done by the infants and that would be the end of the Supe’s Love Story. Seriously, Superman and Lois Lane AND a kid?! Thanks but no thanks.

Not that it means anything to the fans; but IMO Supe was humanized too much. It was traumatic experience for me to see Superman’s cape being ripped off in the hospital to resusciate him. I definitely didn’t need to see that. The cape is not his second skin, it was him.

And why was the need for him to physically fall down so many times? And pushed about?

And if crystal were so dangerous to him, they did no damage even when he lifted the whole frigging land mass? And I bet it isnt even physically possible; a huge mountain mass the size of a country? Never mind that the biggest criminals he comes to stop in the movie are two bandits with a rail gun??! What ever happened to creative thinking?

The movie falters by trying to be very loyal to the original and then trying to convince me that Superman is now ready to move on from being a orphan son to a doting father?!Its a anachronism to me, the Supe movie.

I definitely don’t hate the movie;but neither do it love it as is already evident. Just that I’m now quite indifferent to it; and thats one territory I dont want any movie to be in.

And hence my world doesnt need a Superman Returns.

Bradley in the comments below is much more eloquent and clear that what I pointed out here.

iQuit!

Jobless & Unemployed Now. But Feels great.

A dream job like mine can change a lot, alter one’s priorities, show greater things that one can imagine, make one even complacent in the struggle.

On one hand I was working with the leader in its field, aiming to dethrown another leader in another area; a team and a product that people can only dare dream about; great environment to grow and prosper; with the choice to choose your destiny and the necessary tools and power to shape it as you will; great salaries. And on the other, there is just a desire, a will to strike out on my own.

The decision was tough; but it was something I had to do, to prove to myself that I could if need be; that I was sincere to my dream and that 20 years later if i were to look back, I would not repent for things I hadnt done. By quitting my respect for myself has increased a few notches higher. Never mind if in another 6 months, Ill be jobless and penniless, but then this decision to stick by my convictions means much more to me than anything else.

I have a great team to work with now; so lets see how well we can go stand on our own feet. If not for anything just for working in a venture with people you trust a lot should be doing us a world of good.

So its bye bye Oracle for now and a Welcome to the world of irregular paychecks 🙂 yay!

And as Rajan says, “Welcome to the brotherhood” or as Ashok says `This is the first day of the rest of my life!`

So just now back to real world and getting down to some serious business. Just waiting to see how far the rabbit-hole goes.

Only wished that the last day was on the fourth of July, great symbolism. Rest assured though I’ll keep remembering it for other things, one for now, Advetta is formally dissolved. Thanks Rajan and Rajat, you guys made a fantastic job of trying to create a hi-technology startup in India. Its ironic, though that my first day begins concides with the dissolution of another startup.

And also for it being the penultimate show of The Apprentice which i have been following quite religiously since the last few weeks. 😀