Archive for July, 2005

ANU takes the lead in forming a global research university consortium

July 31, 2005

According to Tim Winkler of ANU (Australian National University) top research universities across Asia, Europe and America are forming a strategic consortium. To start with, this elite group includes University of California, Berkeley and Yale University in USA; University of Copenhagen and ETH Zurich in Europe; University of Tokyo, National University of Singapore, Peking University, and Australian National University in Asia; Oxford University is likely to join soon. The consortium is limited to ten universities during 2006-2009; with just one vacancy and no one from India pursuing it vigorously, we may slip this opportunity once again.

In the globalized world such partnership is the key to leadership position, particularly in the knowledge economy.

One hopes that India wake up to the potential of such partnerships and our educational administrators start to look beyond petty politics of settling the scores between “secular” and “non-secular” governments?

Nature’s fury & man made miseries

July 29, 2005

The last couple of days have been traumatic; July 25, 2005 saw Mumbai getting 900mm of rain in a day, a hundred year record not just for Mumbai but for the country as whole. Though the city was “submerged” for 24 hours, “Bombay city “never sleeps” spirit got it back to action by 27th evening.

Coupled with the misery was the fire that broke out on 26th at 430pm on the oil drilling platform “Bombay High” that was a high point of India’s oil exploration in seventies and eighties that led to 10 MT oil well off Bombay (160 KM) port. It is a combination of human folly and nature’s fury; the high tides and a vessel passing nearby combined into a disaster. It is remarkable that the fire could be contained and all but 10 of the 300+ lives saved, in spite of near-impossible conditions of ocean waves, fire and night operation. Former Chairman SK Manglik an outstanding engineering manager would enquire into the accident.

Far away from Mumbai the city of Delhi on July 26, 2005 had a man-made misery for 200+ workers of Honda factory. Due to breakdown of trade negotiations there was unrest amongst factory workers; they did misbehave, but the police retaliated far more cruelly and the cameras of the media captured and disseminated it to one and all that it has become a “law and order” problem. The politicians are out to “exploit” for their narrow gains. One hopes that the spirit that saved the ONGC staff would save the Honda workers too.

On 27th July 2005 there is a train accident in Sramjivi Express (Patna Delhi); the details are still awaited. But for the casual way in which successive railway ministers have treated Train Safety, this accident too could have been avoided. Will Railways give safety the focus that it demands? Or keep pursuing the “pet” themes like “Khullad” and “no coco cola”?

Sensex crosses historic 7,500 on July 25, 2005

July 27, 2005

The Bombay Stock Exchange Index, the main index of Indian stock trading, touched a record high of 7,500 on July 25, 2005. It is a momentous day for India.

The trigger was indeed the liberalization of Public Sector Enterprises by letting them freely decide on investments up to Rs. 1,000 Crores (about $ 200 Million) and Rs 500 Crores (about $ 100 Million).

It is not clear if the jump was just a pre-cursor to a fall; it may well happen, but it is good to note that the stock index has been increasing steadily though there is no specific reason, possibly indicating the maturity of stock markets.

If only the public sector corporations are not remote controlled by power brokers sitting in Delhi, they will do an admirable job; also, the employees, particularly, at senior level must be free of possible persecution by CVC (Central Vigilance Commissioner and CAG (Controller & Auditor General) officials. Time and again these offices are used to “settle scores” by politicians and officials to harass honest and upright officers; simply send a low level clerks who know nothing about the business and make them write all unjustified and silly remarks often out of context, and use these remarks to embarrass the officials; often such tactics are used by officers to stop honest officials from getting promoted as Chief Executives. Accusing someone is so easy for these organizations, and there is no penalty for allegations without any basis! This must stop. Then only public sector officials can perform.

One hopes the Government recognizes the stellar role that public sector can perform and allow them to perform!

HP introduces 8250 Photo-smart printer

July 25, 2005

HP, the world leader in printers, introduced a new series of printers after years of R& D worth more than $ 1 Billion. Using special head that is formed in single stage, (compared to many stages earlier), HP’s R & D is able to achieve more area of printing with the head (that in turn leads to faster printing), more nozzles per square inch (nearly 4,000) that in turn leads to speed, and higher quality (multiple inks) and longer life. Together a $ 199 printer is able to print 4” x6” color photo in flat 14 seconds at unit cost of just $ 0.40. HP has perfected this technology so that it “scales” from low-end home segment to high-end service provider solutions.

This is a major development in the science of printing that cuts across materials, manufacturing, fluidics, electronic design, imaging and, of course software; it is heartening to note that the hands behind such deep research are none other than that of Vyomesh Joshi – the EVP whose division contributes billions of dollars to HP’s business ad more importantly profit – whom some of us in Bangalore get the honor of meeting once in a while during his visits.

It is an interesting bet; only time will tell if it provides sustained advantage of market leadership in printers to HP.

Microsoft Faculty Summit – Some Interesting Observations

July 23, 2005

In the just concluded (July 18-20, 2005) Faculty Summit conducted by Microsoft Research, there were 400 faculty members from 175 Institutions. Running its sixth edition, the Summit always has direct participation from Rick Rashid (CS Professor from CMU who moved to Microsoft in 1991 to start Microsoft Research) and Bill Gates. This year too Bill Gates did talk, but moved to a dialogue mode with Princeton Engineering Dean and CS Professor Maria Klawe. Our own Shailesh Chutani (of IITK) was there introducing the conference. Some of the observations made in the dialogue were interesting.

Microsoft Research added as many PhD’s in one year as the number of faculty members in CS Department of UC Berkeley.

There were serious concerns expressed by Bill Gates and Maria Klawe about the number of students entering CS departments, and the declining funds from DARPA and NSF towards CS at a time when CS is going thru the most exciting phase – impacting every other field of Science

Bill Gates made an observation that US Undergraduates’ first choice is Physical Education (which he observed jokingly will be “dead” soon!); he also said that Microsoft can find people for “Program Management”, but has tough time finding enough people to do “Engineering” in the United States.

Talking of what Microsoft expects from engineers, Bill Gates emphasized fundamentals, notion of programming, great projects with passion, excitement and deep thinking; he talked of how he will rate people who have done double-star problems in Don Knuth’s book to those knowing many tools, even if they are from Microsoft!

There was an interesting question on how Microsoft can help CS departments teach cutting edge courses that calls for constant up-gradation of content (contrast with Math departments that have relative stability of course content); not different from our Universities!

Another interesting question was the focus – should CS faculty focus on “core” CS or on the emerging areas like bio-informatics or computational science; should undergraduate students do a “double major” or be a “six-headed” specialist

There was an interesting observation on social aspects; Maria feeling that media and society give a “nerd” impression to a career in CS; while Law or Medicine, that is equally “technical” is not projected “negatively”. There was a feeling that CS folks do not communicate well the excitement that is at the core of CS

There was the question of women in CS and the disproportionate low representation by women; numbers quoted include USA 11%, Germany 11% and even China at 10-15% (Interestingly they did not talk of India that has nearly 50%). There was an interesting point made by Maria that Ireland has 30% women because IT is a major economic activity there; also in Turkey where students are “slotted” into disciplines based on high school performance there were more women, but not by choice!

Finally, Bill Gates was asked about the future innovations in technology and his views on technology to change lives of human beings particularly in developing countries.

It was interesting to see the mention of India and China in positive tone by Bill Gates; many of us in India have similar problems, and it was a feeling that we are not alone that sometimes gives us some solace. Also it is a nice feeling that we are in India teaching CS at this time when the “best and the brightest” still prefer CS!

Interestingly, I “attended” this talk over the Net; streaming video by Microsoft Media Player, Satyam Broadband and HCL Neo PC work so well that though I missed the flight and could not be present in Seattle, very few will think that this blog is from someone who did NOT attend the session!

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Address @ US Congress

July 23, 2005

In his address to the United States Congress on July 21, 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has articulated the essence of Indian democracy. I will recommend it to anyone who is new to India; a short 6-page document can quickly give insight into contemporary India, its problems and its attempts to get over the problems.

It does include a paragraph on IT “The information technology revolution in India is built primarily on US computer related technology and hardware. There are many other examples of such two-way benefits, with both sides gaining from the process”

For the full text go to http://www.mait.com/newsarchives.asp

Ten Years of Java

July 22, 2005

This is my tribute to Java (appeared in July 22, 2005 Financial Express Look at IT Column)

The year 1995 is special to technology industry – that was the year that saw the arrival of Netscape (that changed the face of the Internet), e-Bay (that brought e-commerce to prime time), USB port (that uncluttered the many connectors and device drivers that connect peripherals to PCs), Windows 95 (that created history in the launch of any product), Sony Playstation (that redefined computer games) and of course Java (that brought object oriented programming to mainstream computing). It was on March 23, 1995, Java saw the first public appearance in the Sun World conference. Java has come a long way, much beyond even what James Gosling, the visionary individual, generally considered to be the “father” of Java programming language, could have visualized ten years back.

Interestingly Java started as Project Oak in 1991; its original intent was to be a development environment for programming a whole range of devices – interactive TV, auto PC and telephone. Interestingly its first attempt as an interactive TV vendor, namely, FirstPerson was a failure; but its “Write once, Run anywhere” was a powerful metaphor. JVM (Java Virtual Machine) was another powerful abstraction that gave teeth to the metaphor of “Write once, Run anywhere”. The notion of byte-code enabled cross platform development with security. The clean syntax (yet not too different from c, c++), few unsafe constructs, and built-in garbage collection provided an environment for secure, robust and portable application development for a distributed computing paradigm of the Internet and endeared Java to the developer community.

The explosive growth of the Internet provided an opportunity of creating “dynamic” web-pages beyond static HTML through “applet” and “JavaScript” in 1996. Java entered the world of smart devices thru JavaCard in 1996 and J2ME (Java 2 Microelectronics Edition) in 1998; Java had phenomenal success in the enterprise segment through its server edition of Java, namely, J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), starting as JavaBeans and EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) in 1997 and J2EE 1.3 in 1999 and v1.4 in 2002. JFC (Java Foundation Class) was launched in 1997, Jini Technology and JSP (Java Server Pages) came in 1999; Java Programming Language was re-launched as J2SE (Java 2 Standard Edition) in 1999 and finally Java 5.0 in 2004; all representing the many stages of Java evolution over the decade.

Today Java has more than four million developers globally and Sun Microsystems estimates that there are 500 Million desktop/laptop devices, 600 Million mobile phones and 700 Million smart cards that run Java, phenomenal success for a language that is just ten years old.

Java started as a project within Sun Microsystems that pioneered the idea of “network is the computer”. However all through Java was nurtured as a multi-vendor technology through the creation of JavaSoft, an independent organization. This led to significant contribution to Java technology from other leaders that include IBM and BEA and the entire Open Source community, notably, JBoss. Though Microsoft tried hard to stop the growth of Java through its .Net initiative and the c# programming language, the development community perceived Java as multi-vendor solution and .Net as single vendor solution; with the wave of Open Source moving all over today, Java (particularly J2EE) and .Net are considered two mature alternative technologies that will stay (like Petrol & Diesel as alternative fuels in the automotive space).

An interesting part of Java evolution in 1998 is JCP (Java Community Process) that brings multiple groups to control the destiny of the evolution of Java. Though it slows down the process a little bit, JCP is able to incorporate the wisdom of multiple vendors; there is agreement on standards, yet they concede to vendor-specific implementation.

With so much happening there is a lot written about Java. There are thousands of books written on Java technology, targeted at “idiots” to “geniuses” and “beginners” to “advanced” users in areas as wide as Java Programming Language to Performance Tuning of EJBs. “Just Java” by Peter Linden, “Thinking in Java” by Bruce Eckel, “Java – How to Program” by Deitel and our own “Let us Java” by Yashwant Kanetkar are my recommendations.

In addition to Sun site, Jave.net , Java.com & Java World sites, and Java Magazine contain wealth of information. There are Java events all around the year.

Are you ready for a Java break?

HP to layoff 15,000 people

July 21, 2005

The news has been going around since March 2005 when the new CEO Mark Hurd took over the reins at HP after the board fired Carly Fiorina. Some had expected as many as 25,000 of the 150,000; luckily, it is only 15,000, at least as of now. With a steady state of acquisition of Tandem, Digital & Compaq, HP must have found redundancies in server business that is expected to take much of the brunt.

HP (personified by “HP way”) is not known for such “business like” approaches; HP is a place where bright engineers walk tall, often doing creative work with no fear of job cuts and worry of stock market blues. However, as the computer industry matures into a consumer goods industry, such changes are but natural. It must be really hard for the individuals and their families, particularly in a company like HP, an icon for Silicon Valley.

Our prayers and best wishes for the affected families. Hopefully, they will return back to a more financially healthy and vibrant and ever-creative HP soon.

India misses an opportunity to sign Washington Accord

July 17, 2005

Washington Accord is a system of cross accreditation of undergraduate engineers of multiple countries that enables professionals to freely move across the countries. With globalization of services, people mobility is important so that the global talent pool can be optimally deployed.

Starting in 1989, Washington Accord has Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom and USA as members – mainly the English speaking countries. It is but natural for India to join this elite group; we have access to English language; we produce the largest number of engineers; our engineers, thanks to IIT’s, are globally accepted.

With so much at stake, some eminent academics had done all the homework necessary to get India join the Washington Accord in June 2005. South Korea, China and Russia are in the run. Thanks to eternal political interference and bureaucratic muddle we lost the opportunity (the sheer inertia ensured that India does not make it by June 2005!). We have to wait for another two years. What a pity!

One would imagine that the plethora of private institutions and their managements would complain about it; joining Washington Accord would have given them marketing ammunition to attract better students, and in turn charge higher fee, but even that did not happen. We have serious quality problems in undergraduate engineering education; Washington Accord would have given us an opportunity to “clean up”; one hopes it happens sooner

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison to donate $ 115 Million to Harvard University

July 16, 2005

Oracle CEO is reportedly talking to Harvard University to create an organization that would monitor effectiveness of global health initiatives; to support such an organization Larry is to donate a personal contribution (not from Oracle Corporation) of about $ 115 Million.

Americans as a group are known for making large donations; the co-founder of HP, Dave Packard was famous in the Silicon Valley for large donations. In the recent past Stanford got a large donation of more than $ 300 Million. Universities like Harvard that have endowments of $ 40+ Billion, derive much of it from individual donations. Most US Universities benefit significantly from donations; in fact, practically all buildings at Cornell are built out of donations. In the recent past, Indians settled in the United States such as Desh Deshpande of Sycamore Networks and Tibco CEO Randive have made multi-million donations to MIT.

Somehow we have not developed such a tradition in India. Except NR Narayana Murthy and his wife Sudha Murthy’s contributions, individual large donations to Universities are unheard of in India. With Government controlling much of the fortunes of higher education it is easy for petty clerks in the Ministry to “turn off” such donors. While it is easy to get carried away by the success of IIT graduates in the global market place, one should not forget that the size of Indian Institutes are insignificant compared to US Universities; for example, Harvard or MIT has annual budgets of $ 2+ Billion and 10,000+ graduate students, while typical Indian Institutes’ budget would be $ 50 Million and about 1000 graduate students. With India needing substantial investments in higher education and the availability of potential donors, we need

• to create an “inviting atmosphere” for donors to higher education, and,
• a culture of donation by individuals

so that institutions of higher education can “think big” and play a leadership role

Hopefully the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and HRD Minister would address these issues sooner; otherwise our talk of India being the leader in the knowledge economy would remain empty talk, and we will keep talking of the lone Nobel Prize of Sir CV Raman for one more century!