Archive for November, 2013

Network 3.0

November 28, 2013

In the first two decades (50’s to 60’s) we were busy connecting components of a computer; there was clearly no network!

In the next two decades (70’s to 80’s) we were busy connecting  computers in the form of a Network (LAN & WAN), what I call Network 1.0

In the next two decades (90’s and the past decade) we were busy connecting computers and people through the connected computers (Internet, WWW and e-mail, in the beginning and Facebook & Twitter in the recent years), what I call Network 2.0

In the current decade and the next decade we will be busy connecting things with people through the network of computers, what I call Network 3.0

Let me elaborate

There is a lot of talk today about the Internet of Things, that talks of networking many sensors, devices (Glucose meters), vehicles (cars), equipment (elevator, washing machine) in the form of Sensor networks

To me networking the things alone is not interesting until the human beings are part of the network. Let me use some examples to illustrate

1 In the past few years Indian users are pleasantly surprised to get an SMS alert when a cheque that they sent for payment got encashed; no need for them to login to their account and check the transaction (which is better than going to Bank branch). Suddenly, they found that the Net is monitoring their activities without they having to monitor. Bank computerisation is not new, particularly in the International scene, but such SMS alerts are new! Similar is the case when a flight is delayed or your Wait-listed ticket on Indian Railways has moved to “Confirmed” status, if you book the tickets through an intermediary like MakeMytrip. Here the thing that talks to the users is a “cheque” or a “ticket” transaction.

2 With barcoded tags tracking luggage pieces in Airports, it is perfectly possible for users to get notified thru SMS when Inter-line (between two flights or two Airlines) transfer takes place, particularly in an inter-continental flight; the infrastructure is there, but the systems are not integrated enough to make it possible. Such networking of things “relieves” the users of constantly monitoring (some time leading to worrying) about things. Here the things are static objects like “luggage bags

3 A still more interesting situation that makes immense sense is for the “network of things” to include devices, equipment, complex machinery that are dynamic in nature. Take for example, the case of HP printer; for many years one has to know about “out of paper” or “paper jam” only the hard way; later printers got equipped with display one could get a “message display”; later, the printer status could be shown on PC screen. A more tricky situation is the “ink cartridge status”; suddenly on a day that one wants an urgent print out, the ink would have gone dry, causing sufficient inconvenience. Later, software to monitor the “Ink cartridge status” let users check once in a while (say every Sunday) the status; but these days the printers have become much smarter; they constantly monitor the ink status and “flash a message” and “alert” the user when the “ink level” is “20% or 10%”! In fact a similar service is available on “battery level” of wireless keyboard and mouse on Apple iMac. Extending the idea, one can have systems that monitor your car, elevator, plane, pacemaker etc. Using the notion of “geo-fencing” that lets one check the proximity of an object with a specific location, thanks to GPS equipped smartphone, one can track the location of a patient, visitor, object or a device. The applications are endless

What would mean for a country like India?

We misuse human beings to do very routine things like traffic control, surveillance, cleaning sewer pipes, meter reading etc. All these can be done much better and the human beings can be relieved to attend to work that can be more meaningful to them and to improve the quality of life for others. For example, automatic switching on and off electric poles would relieve the chore for several hundreds of corporation employees who can be deployed to take care of citizens needing care (children, elderly or physically challenged). That is where I see the potential of Network 3.o to transform India


China continues with No 1 position in Top 500 Supercomputers list

November 19, 2013

Announced twice a year – June in USA and November in Germany – from 1993 onwards, Super 500 List has a list of the 500 fastest computers in the world.

In the list announced on November 18, 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 with a peak performance of 33.9 Peta-flops is on the top

India had a couple of entries (with C-DAC setting the trend in 1991 and Tata Eka reaching up to 4th position in 2007), but lost out recently.

US has 252, while China has 66 entries of the total 500, while India has just 11 in the current list!

How teachers can make teaching of Science interesting?

November 18, 2013

Science study is all about discovery; it cannot but be interesting. While unusual individuals like Rishis of yore or Isaac Newton or Srinivasa Ramanujan in recent times, can start exploring Science all by themselves, many of our generation are fortunate to be taught Science in schools. Luckier than the students who learn Science in the classroom are those of you who teach Science to the youngsters. Here are some tips to make Science teaching and learning interesting


1 Explore: As I mentioned earlier, it is all about discovery; learning by doing is as important as learning to listen to the teacher in the class or to repeat the experiments in the Laboratory. Do not structure it too much; let the students not try to match exactly the results the teachers expect, but let them “deviate”; in the process, they will explore and learn. Some of the greatest discoveries in Science happened due to such “deviations”. Who knows you may discover yet another Isaac Newton or Srinivasa Ramanujan right in your class!


2 Science has no boundaries: For the sake of convenience we divide Science into Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and so on, but Science is a continuum; do not limit to Physical Sciences alone; Social Sciences are equally important. Let the student discover what she / he is best at; help the student to explore further. It is particularly important in India, where we tend to put Physical Sciences (that need expensive equipment) at a higher pedestal than Social Sciences (that can be done at near zero cost).


3 Go out to discover: In traffic-infested cities in India, you have no option but to confine the students to the crowded classrooms. Those of you who are lucky enough to have space around, do encourage students to look at Nature – insects, animals, water, air, fire and more importantly stars; there is so much to explore. The buildings around you temples and cathedrals have so much to teach too. Do not underestimate them. Encourage the students to ask questions; there are NO stupid questions!


4 Internet and Gadgets are great: Nothing attracts today’s GenNext (Facebook, Twitter generation) better than Internet gadgets. There are amazing pieces of content – Courseware (OCW), Encyclopedia (Wikipedia), for example, or Apps like “Periodic Table” that are at once absorbing and immersive. Make use of them if your children can afford. There are some amazing games too that are worth looking at; not all games are violent games that keep children hooked for hours!


5 Go beyond gadgets: It is equally important for the children to explore Science in everyday life; ask them to discover patterns in “rangoli”, “pallu design” in Kanjeevaram silk sari, “ragas” in music or “moves” in a chess game. Ask them to look at traffic pattern in a busy intersection, disease occurrence pattern in your neighborhhod, or waiting time outside an elevator; they have so much to teach!


6 Do not underestimate the power of books: Books will continue to be an important part of Science learning. Amazing books by outstanding authors (in electronic or print form) will continue to engage and inspire. Look at recent options like Pratham Books (thanks to Rohini Nilekani) that are very affordable even for rural children.


These are just a few tips; a teachers network will let you find many more! Go explore and lets together create a generation of children interested, excited and inspired by Science. The second half of 21st Century in India will be far more interesting!

(Appeared in Times of India November 18, 2013)

Infosys Science Prizes 2013 were announced on November 12, 2013

November 12, 2013

The fifth edition of Infosys Science Prizes announced on November 12, 2013; the winners areProf Ramagopal Rao, IIT Bombay (Engineering & Computer Science)

    • Professors Nayanjot Lahiri, History Dept., Delhi University and Ayesha Kidwai, Linguistics Dept., Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Humanities)
    • Prof Rajesh Gokhale, Institute of Genomics, New Delhi (Life Science)
    • Prof Rahul Pandharipande, Mathematics Dept., ETH, Zurich (Mathematics)
    • Prof Shiraz Minwalla, TIFR, Bombay (Physics)
    • Prof A R Vasavi, Nehru Museum, New Delhi (Social Science)