Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Roots of sound pioneer Roy Dolby’s India link

September 15, 2013

Dr. Ray Dolby passed away on September 12, 2013 in USA at the age of 80; he is an unusual entrepreneur, who created a “niche” area and made amazing products by starting a company (Dolby Laboratories); ensured that the products continuously evolved and dramatically improved, over full five decades. In addition, he ran a profitable corporation successfully without getting too greedy or developing arrogance; and, along with his wife contributed liberally to philanthropy.

After his undergraduate education Dr. Roy Dolby moved to Stanford for his Masters Degree in 1957; he moved further to University of Cambridge for his PhD degree in Physics in 1961. He took an unusual step of working for United Nations for the next couple of years that took him to India for an assignment at New Delhi in UNESCO. As part of his assignment, he had to record several pieces of Indian music (both the classical and folklore); that assignment took him to several Ashrams in North India in UP and Punjab.

Those were the days of analogue audio recoding; both “spool” and “cassette” type. Dr. Dolby used to carry loads of audiotapes to do the recording. He got very frustrated when he found that concerts of amazing quality that he personally listened to, were terrible on the recorded tape, primarily due to “hissing” noise created by Sitar & Veena – two common Indian string instruments – and the ceiling fan noise (common in many concert halls in North Indian towns, particularly Ashrams). Many of us would have talked about the frustration to our friends or complained to the higher-ups, particularly if our assignments were with UN. The genius of Dr. Roy Dolby converted the challenge to an opportunity.

“Cutting out hissing noise” became his Mission; by “amplifying low level high frequency sounds during recording, and cutting them out during playback time”, “Dolby Laboratories” managed to produce much better sound in audiocassettes; “Dolby” became synonymous with “high quality audio”. The October 2005 Issue of “Electronic Design” has a full article devoted to this. Dr. Dolby completed his UN Assignment in India and went back to Cambridge and with an initial savings of $ 25,000 started the company UK in 1965 (the company moved to USA in 1976); the rest, as they say is history.

Dolby Laboratories started with their first product Dolby 301 with “Type A Dolby Noise Reduction”. Over the years the company created products for stereo & surround sound, embraced the “digital world” and pioneered high quality sound for “movies” (including Star Trek); and, recently addressed the need for high quality sound in mobile handsets and smartphones. By following an unusual business model of directly making professional grade audio equipment, and only licensing its technology for consumer equipment and by capitalizing its intellectual property through dozens of patents (Dr. Dolby alone had more than 50 patents) yet charging very low royalty, Dolby Sound touches more than 7.2 billion consumers today! Dolby Sound is used by more than 17,00 films! With more than 1,500 employees Dolby Systems has won several Emmy, Grammy and Oscar awards.

An inspiring engineer, deep technology, amazing products and an admirable corporation – thy name is Dolby; it is nice to see its India roots!

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. He had discovered the “Indian connections” several years back, when he had a chance meet with Dr. Dolby in an Airport Lounge! These are his personal views. He can be reached at

(Appeared in Times of India, September 15, 2013)

How can youth benefit from IT?

April 15, 2013


Today’s youth in India are truly the “Gen Next” and use IT extensively to make their personal and professional lives productive and enjoyable. Four key examples:

1 Learn every moment:

In today’s competitive world, learning is very important. Thanks to the Net – lectures, library and laboratory are fundamentally changing thru e-learning, digital library and remote laboratories. Online courses and videos (NPTEL from IITs, Open Courseware from MIT, iTunes University from Apple) and the whole MOOC (Massively Online Courses) make it possible for any student to access the world’s best knowledge repositories practically free. Thanks to Digital Library  (IEEE / ACM Digital Library, for example), all scholarly journals and conference papers and several books are available online. Remote laboratories make very sophisticated instruments and Robots available over the Net.

2 Keep-up with friends:

For youth, it is important to keep up with friends. In today’s Facebook dominated world, it is so easy to keep up, using mobile phones, smart phones, tablets or PCs. With wireless bandwidth improving constantly (2G, GPRS / EDGE, 3G and 4G), the reach is improving and the falling cost make things more affordable. Other communication options including SMS / MMS, Email, Chat, Skype have brought the whole world at your fingertips.

3 Shop smart:

Today’s youth can shop online for books (Amazon or Flipkart), mobile phones & gadgets (eBay or Infibeam), music (iTunes or Flyte), airline tickets (airline websites or Yatra) or train tickets (IRCTC); one can also get the best deal for any item of your choice at the click of a mouse. In the physical world, one has to physically visit multiple shops to get to know the best deal; in the cyber-world, there are integrators like MakeMyTrip for multiple airlines, or RedBus for multiple bus operators. You can use the credit / debit card or directly use online banking offered by practically all banks.

4 Enjoy and get entertained:

Finally, it is important for youth to enjoy good food, great music or fun party, all helped by technology. Ordering pizza for home delivery, booking a seat in a restaurant for you and your friends or throwing a party, can all be done online. For music buffs, who enjoy devotional music or Bollywood music, there are many options of buying music, listening to streaming-music or tune into FM Radio.

In short, IT has made inroads into all aspects of your day-to-day life. The challenge is to keep the priorities right, manage time and costs, and avoid information / communication overload.

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at

(Appeared in Education Times of Times of India on April 15, 2013)

How does IT help senior citizens?

April 1, 2013

Senior citizens in India often settle down in cities to take advantage of their professional connections. Information Technology helps them in four key functions.

1               Keep in touch with family and friends

With increased globalization, today’s senior citizens in India find their family members and friends spread across the globe. Earlier form of communication thru postal mail is just not feasible. Luckily, electronic mail and Video conferencing have suddenly shrunk distances. With free web-based email programs like Gmail and Yahoo Mail, one can be in touch with people around the globe effortlessly; with “chat” facility one can have interactive communication, often supplemented with voice / video, thanks to VoIP (Voice over IP) available in services like Skype.


2               Manage savings

For senior citizens, banking and financial services are important – getting pension credited, renewing fixed deposits and other investments (mutual funds and stocks). With practically all banks offering CBS (core banking services), one can do banking from the convenience of a home. Most CBS solutions offer online stock trading option as well. With Post Offices planning to introduce ATM, Core Banking and other services, and most insurance companies offering services online, senior citizens can manage practically all savings without depending on others.


3               Keep up with current developments

Professionals who have turned 60 and become senior citizens continue to be active till they turn 80+. Many of them will like to keep up with current developments in their profession as well as civil society. Luckily, most newspapers (Times of India, for example) are available free online. Most professional journals (IEEE Computer, for example) too are available at very low cost (Rs 1,000+ per year), permitting professionals to keep abreast of developments in their profession, not to mention “Current Science” that is free online.

4               Monitor health

Senior citizens need to monitor their health. While annual regular checkups are a must under the careful supervision of medical doctors, lots of informational articles can be read by accessing “Mayo Clinic” or ‘WebMD” sites. “GetActive” is a handy device (cigarette box size) that measures the number of steps, distance travelled and walking time throughout the day and upload the data to your personal web-site effortlessly (you simply plug into the USB port of an Internet-connected PC); it has memory for 30 days. Similar services would soon be available for blood pressure, glucose levels etc. If you have a smartphone like iPhone many free ”apps” allow you to monitor heart-rate, eye sight etc.,

Most of these services are free. All one needs is an Internet-connected PC!

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at

(Appeared in Education Times of Times of India, April 1, 2013)

HP acquires Palm

April 28, 2010

On April 28, 2010 HP agreed to acquire Palm Inc for $ 1.2 Billion

Palm is an amazing company; created Palm Pilot that brought “hand-writing” to computers in 1996 (where Apple failed in 1992 with its Apple Newton!)

Palm OS had an amazing simplicity and created “PDA” as a new class of gadgets; they were the best for keeping track of Calendar and Contacts; and a real value for money. They kept innovating by adding communication to PDA’s thru Palm Treo devices (much before the word Smartphone was invented!). Of course, they struggled – acquisition by US Robotics, hardware and software separation, getting sold to a Japanese company and finally revival with a ray of hope with ex Apple iPod designer getting back as CEO; within months an amazing product came out (Palm Centro). Of course with a great vision Palm brought out Palm Pre and WebOS 2 years back, but could not convince the US carriers (I wish they had flooded Asian and European markets where  “free” phones dominate (not tied to a career)! US is the country where practically no one enjoys “free” phone; the Telcos control the market in USA; even Apple could not fight AT&T!) But the struggle of the past 2 years has almost finished Palm much to the disappointment of many of us (long time Palm admirers). I have used practically every model of Palm!

HP‘s foray into “handheld computers” is not new – it is at least 15 years old! I have a nice  PDA running Windows 3.0 of 1996 vintage! They followed it up with Jornada. With Compaq acquisition Jornada got killed and iPaq became HP’s key PDA. For a while, HP talked of manufacturing Apple iPad though it never happened. With Palm acquisition HP has a good chance of making it

Mobile phones are the future; Motorola created mobile phone but it is always in “fits and starts” in the market; Nokia created the market, but unable to master “smart phones”. Apple created “Smart phone”, but cannot get even 3 models in 3 years (unlike Nokia, Samsung or even Motorola with dozens of models). Microsoft Phone appears promising but they might go the Zune way (into nowhere). It would be really interesting if HP can pump money into Palm (they badly need it), get WebOS products out, manufacture & distribute (HP is really good at it) and “mobilize” all applications (the way BlackBerry mobilized one application called “EMail”)

I wish the marriage great progeny (of products!)

It will be interestuing to watch

Moser Baer to enter handset busineds

November 21, 2009

Moser Baer did India proud by focsing on optical media manufacture ( CD DVD). Then they entered music business and brought high quality music and movies available for Rs 15 to Rs 45. It will be interesting if they can bring a mass market Indian brand handset (dominated by Nokia today)

Motorola sees traction for Droid phone

November 21, 2009

Motorola invented mobile phone but it was Nokia that made it big with 400+ million handsets sold every year! Motorola had some succees with its Razr phone but could not hold it for long. With Android-based Droid Motorola seems to get traction again. One hopes to see the once mighty mobile company scale greater heights. in its 12th year – re-discovers itself as BangaloreIT.Biz

November 14, 2009

Nov 11-13 saw the 12th Edition of what started as IT.Com (it led to State level events in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala and Hyderabad). In one location (Lalit Ashok Hotel) it was focused event and great speakers (including Akamai Founder Tom Leighton). STPI co-hosted the event. ISA had Technovation Awards Ceremony in the event.

It is great to be a teacher, particularly in India

July 2, 2009

With 600 teachers from all across India and nearly 100 faculty members (mainly from US), the month-long IUCEE Workshop is an exciting event; in its third year of operation, I always make it a point to be there, thanks to Dr Krishna Vedula of UMass, USA (who coordinates from the US side) and Dr MP Ravindra of Infosys (who coordinates from the Indian side)

While several eminent academic heads talked about the challenges of teaching in India and the pathetic state of some of the educational Institutes, I used the time to talk about the positive side; to remind the teachers assembled to “count the blessings

I talked of just three things

  1. Widely known ideas about teaching that are well appreciated by the society
  2. Widely known ideas about teaching that are well appreciated by the society elsewhere, but not in India
  3. Not widely known ideas about teaching that are NOT well appreciated by the society

Widely known ideas about teaching that are well appreciated by the society

  • The general respect academics command in India, something that can be touching many times
  • The campus advantage; the fact that students & faculty live together for years leads to several spinoffs; SPICMACAY would not have happened without IIT Delhi campus
  • Freedom to pursue what you like; no need to listen to the managers every day

Widely known ideas about teaching that are well appreciated by the society elsewhere, but not in India

  • Opportunity to teach “Full time students”, who are supported by families all the way up to PhD without having to worry about supporting them or their families; the students can be given lot more challenging work, demanding work; campus life adds to this advantage
  • Students in India viewing Computer Science as Top 3 options for 20 years (unlike countries like USA where Computer Science is NOT in the Top 10 first choices)
  • Ability to see the world, thanks to conferences happening all over the world

Not widely known ideas about teaching that are NOT well appreciated by the society

  • Age advantage; we age every year but every year we get 18+ age group to teach; it keeps us younger!
  • The absence of topline and bottom line!
  • The 4Ls of learning getting transformed within the past 5 years, more so in India; Lectures going to e-learning, Library going digital, Labs going online thanks to tools like iLab and Life getting increasingly digital

IUCEE (Indo US Cooperation in Engineering Education) Workshop at Infosys Leadership Institute, Mysore on July 2, 2009

Bandra Worli sea-link is a reality

June 30, 2009

After years the marvelous engineering piece called Bandra Worli sea-link is a  reality in India. It was inaugurated by Mrs Sonia Gandhi on 30th June 2009

We have a curse that all major projects get delayed badly; this project is no exception. But we are equally to blame for NOT celebrating the success though delayed. None of the scientific / engineering community would communicate the excitement of such a project to the people at large.

We had a similar show five years back in Bangalore. The KR Puram bridge is a marvelous piece of engineering; no one ever sang a glory for the project. Today it is not even painted (white washed even) or lit!

I do hope we Indians learn to celebrate (just not movies and cricket) but great pieces of engineering too

CII IQ honors Moon Man, Steel Man and Brakes Man

May 9, 2009

Every year on May 9, 2009, CII Institute of Quality (IQ) honors a couple of individuals who have contributed to the cause of quality.

This year they had selected

  • Dr Madhavan Nair, Chairman, ISRO (Indian Spece Research Organization), whom youngsters call as “Moon Man” after the recent success of Moon Mission – where ISRO successfully put the Indian Flag on the surface of the Moon
  • Mr B Muthuraman, MD of Tata Steel who once again became “Steel Man” after Tata Steel emerged as the largest steel manufacturer in the world by acquiring Corus Steel in 2007
  • Mr S Viji the MD of Brakes India who has pioneered automotive brakes manufacture and known in Chennai as “Brakes Man” and currently devoting considerable time & energy to the cause of School Education by establishing a School in honor of his School Teacher Abraham Kuruvilla in Chennai and making a difference to Corporation Schools by providing quality inputs, training to teachers

Dr Nair talked of Moon’s surface looking quite “ugly” (unlike popular folklore where one compares the beauty of his/her sweetheart to that of the Moon) with 6,000 meter high hills that are just 200 meters wide! He talked of the “cost effective” nature of Indian space missions.

Mr Muthuraman talked of the need to “standarize, improve / innovate” cycle that must happen all the time if one were to achieve the goal of “world’s chapest stell production” (achieved by Tata Steel in 2007). He also talked of the myth that confuses standardization with “innovation killing”. He talked about the quality running across the organization – not limited to Board room alone. He also talks of “MD Online” where every month he himself comes online for the entire organization – where safety, customers, improvement, sales and rewards – are taken up in that order. Mr Muthuraman talked of the current goal of Tata Steel remaining EVA positive

Mr Viji talked of the need to work with teachers and government.

(I am fortunate to be on the Advisory Board of the CII IQ)