Open Source Politics – Making sense of the AAP phenomenon

The open source movement in the technology world has had significant impact on almost every aspect in the field – the Linux operating system and, more recently, the Android operating system being two leading examples. The open source approach involves sharing of the basic design or code in a collaborative environment where anyone can participate and contribute. Subsequent improvements and features help the development community push the technology further and ultimately benefit end-users. This approach attracts anyone and everyone who loves to get to involved, learn and try new things, and get recognized by their peers in the community.

While working within the community, the individuals involved might benefit by dreaming up new ideas built on these open source solutions or pick up consulting opportunities, teaching gigs, etc. But ultimately, it’s a community of developers that work together to progress technology in an open and transparent way. In short, it creates a fertile ground for new ideas, innovation, and out of the box thinking, unencumbered by commercial interests for the most part. In the process, it inspires an environment of healthy competition and somewhat selfless commitment to a cause.

Click here to read the rest of the article at the Economic Times website.

Politically Inspired Technology – The AAP’s platform

Very often, you find new technologies in search of a market. But in other instances, it is the reverse; new technology solutions are developed to address a specific need and then it turns out to be a winner. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has created some interesting opportunities for its young and technology savvy members to channelize their skills to solve pressing campaign problems. One of the primary goals of any political party involved in a campaign is to get access to data or information about its voters, its supporters, its members, its donors, etc. These “users” are scattered out across the globe and their identities are buried in various email systems, social networks and other Internet platforms. People from all over the world using a plethora of devices such as computers, phones, tablets, etc., to access and consume information, unwittingly leaving traces of their identity at most places. Then, in the physical world we have the age old technique of pen and paper based registration, hand written cheques, etc.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Time for some cell phone etiquette

There is no question that cell phones have had dramatic positive effects on people’s lives in India. The ability to get access to anyone and everyone and having access to all the information on the planet on your phone is surely an unparalleled example of people empowerment.

Unfortunately, like everything else in life, cell phone usage has a bad side – the sheer annoyance factor is one, the safety issue is another, the constant distraction being a third, among a long list of negatives. When communication was hard in the past, phones were used very selectively. For example, if you were going to meet some friends for dinner at a restaurant, there would be a land line call or two to firm up the plan. Today, it’s an entirely different story. Recently, when I was going out to dinner with a bunch of youngsters (in their 20s), I noticed that they called each other back and forth to give a literal commentary on the way to the restaurant: “I am this junction, there is too much traffic. Not sure how long it will take.” Then the friend has an idea and calls back. “Hey, why don’t you take this road instead? You might get there sooner.” A few minutes later, the friend calls back, “Hey, the traffic is better now. I should be there soon.” In short, at least a handful of calls and maybe a bunch of text messages had been exchanged for the most inane reasons.

Next, the issue of safety on roads. It’s good to see that, in many cities, the police are pretty strict with the use of cell phones while driving. Nevertheless, cell phone usage is rampant in cars and even two wheelers, and an increasing cause of accidents. Among the negatives, this is easily the most dangerous and needs to be dealt with urgently.

As for the annoyance factor, there is no end to the number of examples one can think of. There are everyday occurrences that stare at you in the face at almost every instant during the day (or maybe, I am just too sensitive to this!). I was at once at the office of large retail chain. There was a common waiting area and then a long stretch of cubicles and conference rooms. Youngsters, mostly in their twenties, frequently stepped aside from their cubicles to the common waiting area to answer personal cell phone calls. Many rushed down the elevator when the calls were “very private” in nature. The common waiting area was hence always crowded with youngsters chattering away on their cell phones during regular office hours. Interestingly, some even carried multiple cell phones!

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Internet, Social Media Jai Ho

It was a weekday evening. The TV serials were on in full swing. During the commercial break, my mother turned the TV off. A few minutes later, she tried to turn it back on and, lo and behold, it would not turn on. The red light at the bottom of the TV monitor turned to blue like it always does, but the TV did not seem to come alive like it normally does! In desperation, she gave up on the remote and tried the TV’s switch instead. Still no luck. She was distraught, as you can imagine, given the strangle-hold the TV serials have on our people, especially the aged. Promptly, the family queued up to salvage the crisis. Everything from turning off the main switch to slapping the TV on its back was tried, but to no avail. I am sure she had that sinking feeling at the thought of missing “all the serials” of the evening. It’s moments like this that stir people to action. In my mother’s case, she used a rare combination of “shaming” and “challenging” when she said to me, “You studied Electrical Engineering from IIT, don’t you know how to fix this?” Yikes! The first part was certainly true but the second was not, unfortunately. But it was my “izzat ka saval hai” moment. So I promptly fell back on most people’s modern-day be-all and end-all of solutions — Google search!

A few quick searches took me to the manufacturer’s website. As usual, you find all the information that is available except the one you are looking for. A fresh search on Google took me to some discussion groups where I found others who had similar issues. But alas, no solution to the problem. That’s when my better half decided to search for video solutions to the problem on YouTube. And guess what? A fellow TV owner who had the exact same issue had gone to great lengths to describe and demonstrate the solution to this problem! The problem was that two “diodes” on a particular circuit board were busted and needed to be replaced. It’s been years since I had touched a circuit board, let alone replaced a part on it. It was at this juncture that my wife decided that she had more than done her part. “You are the Electrical Engineer, you should know how to do this,” she said, rubbing it in.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Amazon opens Fire on the tablet market

After several weeks of rumors, Amazon formally plunged into the tablet market by announcing the Kindle Fire tablet device and a few cheaper models of its Kindle e-Reader. With the iPad, Apple virtually invented the Tablet market and pitch-forked it into the mainstream, despite a fairly high price tag. The iPad at its current price point, is viewed by many as an alternative to a laptop or a PC. A typical buyer of an iPad is one who might have otherwise purchased a PC. The drop in sales of PCs to some extent is a confirmation of this trend.

In an attempt to counter the phenomenal success of the iPad, Google launched the mobile OS, Android, as an open source product. Attracted by the success of the iPad, several manufacturers jumped on the tablet bandwagon with Android-based tablets. Unfortunately, Android tablets from the likes of Motorola, Samsung, and Asus were way too highly priced. While they were “somewhat” comparable in usability to the iPad, they are simply way behind on the number of available applications, and just marginally cheaper than an iPad. So they have barely made a dent on Apple’s lead in the tablet market.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Steve Jobs, Tussi Great Ho!

The dramatic rise of Apple during the reign of Steve Jobs, which unfortunately ended recently, is truly commendable. I remember seeing a Mac for the first time when I was in graduate school. At that stage, the Mac was used mostly by the Administrative staff at the University. Later, when I joined the workforce, I realized that Macs were used by the Administrative staff, the Technical Publications groups, and the Marketing and Sales teams within most organizations, while everyone else used PCs or Unix machines.

At this point, Steve Jobs was CEO of two private companies, NeXT Computer and Pixar, while Apple was struggling under various CEOs. While Apple experimented with management changes at the top, it lost its edge in the marketplace as PCs dropped in price and gained traction. Slowly, many corporations stopped buying Macs altogether. IT departments preferred to stick with one platform as far as possible, and that was Microsoft Windows on PCs.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Google plays catchup with Google Plus

I have been a very active user of many Google products and services over the years and I must caution you that it’s a lot like being on drugs. It grows on you. The more you have, the more you want. Some form of a Google fix several times each day is now part of my everyday routine. The good news for Google is that there are many millions around the globe like me. Yet, Google is threatened by a business started by a college kid who supposedly created a service to help “nerds pick-up chicks” — Facebook.

To read the rest of this article please click here.