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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy new year

I wish all readers a happy and prosperous new year.

Did Early Humans First Arise in Asia, Not Africa?

I generally dont post speculative theories, except that after the discovery of the 'hobbit' humans in Indonesia, all theories on the out of africa premise are getting a long hard look. There is a feature article from NatGeo.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Know your country - Carvaka philosophy

My general disestablishmentarian disposition hides my fundamental conservativeness :) For what it is worth I sometimes hold forth on historical philosophical fragments to demonstrate the vast diversity in thought and action in this vast sub-continent of ours. The resurgence of the fundamental right wingers in the name of majoritarian rights often makes me question their locus standi in claiming to represent 'Indian' thought. While major rational systems of thought like Buddhism and jainism have its origins in India there are a number of lesser known systems that predate the vedantic hindusim that is served as a kind of one size fit 'Indian religion' today. This post is on the carvaka school of thought that is thought to have flourished at about 600 BC. A unique school of thought that has shaped modern India, it is attributed to its founder Brihaspath, who also finds place in the Indian pantheon of rishis (though they generally don't tell you why).

Wikipedia has the following to say:
The Sanskrit word Chaarvaaka is generally understood to be a compound of two words chaari and vaak; chaari means sweet, attractive and vaak means speaking. Some other meanings are also ascribed to the word, but 'sweet speaking' is the most plausible. This school of thought was also called Lokayata probably from pre-Vedic times. Lokayata would broadly mean 'prevalent among people' or 'prevalent in the world' (loka and ayata). Read the entire entry here.

Apparently the agnostics were the sweet talkers of the pre-vedic era. Guess they could not stop the cult of Soma for obvious reasons :) Booze is more attractive than relentless logic!

The humanistic text's site has the following to say

The system of philosophy named after its founder, Carvaka, was set out in the Brhaspati Sutra in India probably about 600 BCE. This text has not survived and, like similar philosophies in Greece, much of what we know of it comes from polemics against it and remarks by its critics. There is a further similarity with Greece in that this is a rationalistic and skeptical philosophy, thus undermining the widespread belief in the West that Indian philosophy is primarily religious and mystical. Amartya Sen has argued, in fact, that there is a larger volume of atheistic and agnostic writings in Pali and Sanskrit than in any other classical tradition—Greek, Latin, Hebrew, or Arabic. He adds that this applies also to Buddhism, the only agnostic world religion ever to emerge.

CarvakaÂ’s philosophy developed at a time when religious dogma concerning our knowledge of reality, the constitution of the world, and the concept of an afterlife were being increasingly questioned, both in India and elsewhere. Specifically, the school of Carvaka contained within itself a materialism that ruled out the supernatural (lokayata), naturalism (all phenomena described in terms of the properties of the four elements), rejection of the Vedas (nastika), and a skepticism that included rejection of inferential logic, or induction.

One of the best sources for CarvakaÂ’s atheistic argument happens to be a book, Sarvadarshansamgraha (the collection of all philosophies), written in the Fourteenth Century by Madhavacarya, a Vaishnavite (Hindhu) scholar. You can read the entire entry here.

Fact of the matter is that Madavacharya is part of the bhakti movement that focused on getting vedic relegion into South India against the logical tide of Jaina beliefs & it appears carvaka logic. It was more geo-political than spiritual. In fact the southern branch of vaishnavism as represented by the iyengars (then kalai) was seeded with converts from other castes to overcome lack of support base. All our spritual leaders from the distant past to the present seem to be more interested in temporal affairs than spritual :-) Reminds me of the 'Bene Gessrit' of Frank Herberts opus 'the Dune'.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Justin Podur interviews RMS

Znet meets RMS. Looks like a number of sites that i frequent are merging :) Read more on the Osho's interview here.

The aesthetics of heat sinks

An interesting technical problem in SSL lighting is to design heat sinks that allow the lamp to function efficiently without 'cooking itself' in the process. A major jump in lighting technology is accompanied by a different set of challenges. Edison did not have to worry much about heat removal as the incandescent lamps that he worked with needed heat to work. Ditto with fluorescent technology, which actually underperforms in cold weather.

With solid state lighting it is a challenge to get the heat out of the die. The problem is very similar to the heat sinking in PC CPU's except that it needs to be a hell of a lot more reliable and cant use devices with moving parts.

One outcome of this is the extremely ugly and functional designs that we see in today's LED luminaries. As a major luminary OEM CEO confided in me, "What is the use of a 10 MM light source that needs a 6 inch heatsink? ? This is what we get for asking electronics engineers to design luminaries :) What the world of LED lighting needs is a kind of 'heat sink howard roark' (Ayn Rand, Fountainhead) who can extract the beauty of a structural form without resorting to ornamentation. In this we were shocked at the parallels between what ayn rand describes as a structure or design being aesthetic without resorting to embellishments and non-functional decorations and the precise need in modern lighting design (at least i was :). The philosophy behind the statement is what is driving heat sink development currently. The heat sinks available today are very functional, beautifully designed, have thermal maps simulated on the best of software but lack the genius of a Roark in bringing the natural beauty of the form out. This will become our next challenge, beauty in functional form so that it can be outside the box rather than being hidden away inside your luminary.

MS ends IE on Mac

Clearly a case of good riddance. read more here. Viva darwin !

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What's the principle behind SSL ?

One question that often pop's up in the context of Solid state lighting is what the fuss is all about. What it's all about is a fundamental technology change in generating light. While gas discharge tubes were a good innovation (incandescents are typically heating coils, nothing novel except it happened 100 years back). The material properties of different semi-conducting materials and their respective dopants are used to generate light via electro-phoresence. this is the direct conversion of electricity into EMR in the visible range. That is the magic..

Friday, December 16, 2005

MIT Media Labs new fiasco

Rajesh Jain's Blog is carrying an article on the new $100 Laptop that MIT's Negroponte is touting. Brings to mind the MIT India-Media lab project that ended in acrimony with the government throwing out MIT for greed and lack of results.

Uber heat scavenging in Turbosteam autos

Gizmag reports that BMW has developed a turbosteamer proto to demonstrate new ways to increase the overall efficiency of IC engines. While the whole concept of turbocharging is about recovering exhaust heat to increase volumetric efficient, the new concept has a twist, instead of a high speed turbo to compress more charge into the cylinder, this heat is used to power a steam engine that adds to the overall power of the auto. The magic seems to be the way the power is channeled via a combined drive system. What these technologies do is to help extend the life of the oil economy by optimizing resource usage.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The attack of the solar space spiders

The new scientist
has an article about spider like robots that will be used to build solar webs in space to pipe down solar energy to us. Guess what this will do to golbal warming ! Read more here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bio Hydrogen

One of the critical probelms with the Hydrogen economy is the source of all the clean hydrogen. Most current projects essentially extract it from fossil hydrocarbons, which needless to say defeats the whole point of renewables. An earlier post looked at sunlight as the fuel for hydrogen extraction. Here is a biological option. While this stuff is in its infancy, a combination of Solar and Bio fermentation could be the way the future goes.

Patent Pending

More on the ills of the US patent system and the problems associated .

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Viva Chavez

I have been an admirer of the Venezuelan supremo Hugo Chavez for many years now. His recent moves to provide cheap heating oil to BPL US citizens for the winter of 2005 is a major political master stroke that only reinforces my respect for his political acumen. What we are witnessing is a paradigm shift in the way the world works. Aid has always been a tool of leverage. In this case Chavez is using it to leverage open the minds of the recipients. What is being made clear to the US electorate is that their neo-liberal rulers don't give a whit as to the effects of winter on those who cannot afford the rates. It is to be noted that the war in Iraq has been exploited by the US oil majors to harvest windfall profits, and the same war is arguably the cause of this shortage. For the small subsidy on 12 million gallons of heating oil Chavez is able to underline the lacunae of the current global financial system and buy mindshare. To me this is like taking a leaf off the Marshall plan that "rebuilt" Europe and ensure the creation of a large beneficiary population within the zone of conflict.

What makes this even more interesting is that it is probably the first credible challenge to the Monroe doctrine of the US, that supposes that the entire Americas, especially meso and south America are a kind of US protectorate and will serve the purpose of a colony for the US. (This brings to mind Kipling rather honest appraisal of colonies as " A source of raw material and a market for our manufactured goods.") If and this is a big if, Chavez is not deposed, shot or imprisoned for "crimes against humanity", the scuttling of the Mar del plata economic summit is probably the tip of the iceberg.

Of course this is one side of the picture (the majoritarian one, and hey isn't that what democracy is about), there is no lack of Chavez haters (predominantly from the ex-ruling class of Venezuela which is remarkably articulate and well networked if a bit lacking in credibility). Some choice counter opinions here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Novell Doubts Microsoft Latest "Linux Facts"

Slashdot reports
Microsoft Corp's "Get the Facts" campaign comparing Windows with Linux continues to prove controversial, with Novell Inc describing the latest set of facts offered up by Microsoft as "misdirection".

In my personal opinion they are panicking. The data center is lost, the mindshare is lost now the application space is going. I spend an average of 2 hours a month in administering our Linux LTSP based thin client network and we are a hell of a lot more secure than any microsoft site.

U.S. Energy Dept plans SSL workshop

And the action hots up. The realization that a penny saved is a penny earned has hit policy makers and planners across the world. While the indian counterparts of the US energy dept are also trying to create similar plans, the majority are still clueless about how the latest lighting technology can have huge benefits in economic and ecological terms.


How long is an LED's "long life?" Traffic signals with Luxeon(R) LEDs
from Lumileds have been operating for seven years without failure.

Towns Shine Light on LEDs' Possibilities for Holiday Lighting reports that
Canadian and U.S. communities are using LED lighting for the holidays in greater numbers than ever before.

In Canada, certain communities' public displays of LED holiday lighting are shining the way, hoping to get consumers in the mood to use the latest, energy-efficient technology this season.

Read More here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Google Expansion

Sam Walton Taught Google More About How to Dominate the Internet Than Microsoft Ever Did. Nice statement and the article is equally startling in its reach. Read more here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Humour :)

The right half of the brain controls the left half of the body. This means that only left handed people are in their right mind.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What's in a bubble ? Entrepreneurial trials

Popular Science has a story on a guy who has spent the last 11 years coming up with technology to produce monochromatic soap bubbles. Never thought much about bubbles, but it appears that is the holy grail of the toy industry. Apparently a hell of a lot more bubble kits are sold than most people realize. Read more here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Leading from the front - APJ at it again

A five MW Solar Energy Power Plant will be set up at an approximate cost of Rs 100 crore at the Rashtrapati Bhavan here.

This was disclosed by President A P J Abdul Kalam while inaugurating the "Global Conference on India R & D 2005 - The World's Knowledge Hub of the Future.

''We are working on a project for creation of a five MW solar energy plant for meeting the power needs of the Rashtrapati Bhavan,''he said.

Dr Kalam said though the capital cost of the project might work out to Rs 100 crore, the cost could be brought down by 60 per cent if high efficiency photovoltaic cells were available.

In this context, he asked the scientists to develop solar projects which are cost and space effective.

Presently, silicon photovoltaic cells work with an efficiency of 13 per cent to 15 per cent, whereas research has already shown promise of achieving 50 per cent efficiency in solar photo voltaic cells with CNT and silicon bonding.

Educational institutions, R and D organisations and the industry should mount a mission mode programme to realise quantity production and marketing of the high efficiency CNT based photovoltaic cell within the next three years," Dr Kalam said, adding that : "in notional terms there will be a minimum saving of Rs 200,000 crore in capital cost for establishing 50,000 MW of solar power out of 100,000 MW of power from renewable energy sources required for realising energy independence in the country. " The President said the country should achieve energy independence within the next 25 years (by 2030).

Sunlight to Fuel Hydrogen Future

The latest way to exploit the sun is through tiny materials that can directly convert sunlight into large amounts of hydrogen.

Hydrogen Solar of Guilford, England, and Altair Nanotechnologies are building a hydrogen-generation system that captures sunlight and uses the energy to break water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The company's current project is a fuel station in Las Vegas that will soon be dispensing hydrogen fuel.

Read more here.

Truckers Choose Hydrogen Power

HFI is a bolt-on, aftermarket part that injects small amounts of hydrogen into the engine air intake.
Read more here.

Huge Solar Plants Bloom in Desert

The barren deserts of Southern California are known for relentless sunshine and miles of empty space -- the perfect combination for the world's most ambitious solar-energy projects.

Two Southern California utility companies are planning to develop a pair of sun-powered power plants that they claim will dwarf existing solar facilities and could rival fossil-fuel-driven power plants.

Read More here.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.
- African proverb

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Patents killing science ?

The AAAS has a new survey report on the effect of patents on research.
Of the 40% of respondents who reported their work had been affected [by patents], 58% said their work was delayed, 50% reported they had to change the research, and 28% reported abandoning their research project. The most common reason respondents reported having to change or abandon their research project was that the acquisition of the necessary technologies involved overly complex licensing negotiations.

The report is available online in the AAAS site.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Innovative solar product

Alternate Lighting has introduced a universal solar charger for mobile phones and personal electronics like ipods. The compact pocket size design supports most popular cell phone models and is an award winning product that uses a custom microprocessor to automatically detect the device and provide the right voltage and current. This is expected to be a huge hit in India as one can charge the devices anywhere without depending on mains power. Ideal for businessmen, adventnture sport enthusiasts and anyone who needs a compact charger on the move.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Alternate introduces MR16 hi-lux LED lamp

Alternate Lighting, Bangalore has introduced a new Luxeon based 2W LED lamp in the MR16 format. the lamp replaces 50W incandascents and has a life of about 11 years. The lamp has a 180 degree viewing angle and produces about 70 lux at 1 foot in a cool colour temprature. Being a luxeon the light rendering is excellent and produces a very uniform colour. Great product for retail and architectural lighting that can cut power consumption by more than 75 %.

Battle with Entropy

George Monbiot in his lucid style looks at the real implications of running out of oil. The key point he makes is that our current economies with complex structuring will have to go as the net available energy in the system will decrease. Read more here.

The end of the oil economy

Michael T. Klare elucidates on the end of the oil economy here.. The gist of what he says is that
Oil Shockwave identified a set of conditions that provide a vivid preview of what we can expect during the Twilight Era of Petroleum:

*Global oil prices exceeding $150 per barrel
*Gasoline prices of $5.00 or more per gallon
*A spike in the consumer price index of more than 12%
*A protracted recession
*A decline of over 25% in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index
*A crisis with China over Taiwan
*Increased friction with Saudi Arabia over U.S. policy toward Israel

Whether or not we experience these precise conditions cannot be foreseen at this time, it is incontestable that a slowdown in the global production of petroleum will produce increasingly severe developments of this sort and, in a far tenser, more desperate world, almost certainly threaten resource wars of all sorts; nor will this be a temporary situation from which we can hope to recover quickly. It will be a semi-permanent state of affairs.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Giant Flying LED board

A giant arial display based on LED technology takes to the skies this week.

Small companies fight for a foothold in white LED sector

The patents already in place have a huge effect on new enterants into the LED lighting field. The graphic below illustrates the mess the industry is in. There is a good supporting article here.

How does one change the status quo ?

Who would think that, in the year 2005, we would look to the inventor Thomas Alva Edison to help us think about how to introduce LEDs to the world?

Makarand "Chips" Chipalkatti for one.

At the LEDs 2005 conference recently, Chipalkatti--Osram Sylvania's corporate innovation manager--challenged an audience of LED professionals to imagine how they can speed the adoption of a disruptive technology.

"For Edison, there was no electric lighting. The infrastructure supported gas lighting, which was the incumbent," Chipalkatti told the 400+ professionals who gathered in San Diego to discuss the future of the LED industry in lighting.

Likewise, "solid-state lighting is the biggest disruption in lighting for nearly a century," said Chipalkatti, who chairs the SSL Section of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

"The well-established value chain, both in sourcing and selling, is under considerable pressure and changing very fast," he said. "And I think it's pretty confusing for people?particularly consumers."

Chipalkatti was sharing his observations last week as keynote speaker for LEDs 2005, a conference sponsored by Intertech of Portland, Maine, which featured more than two dozen speakers in the field of LEDs.

When Edison popularized the light bulb as a well-known invention, it required an understanding of commercialization.

"Its commercial value was proposed as early as possible. Without that 1% inspiration, the other 99% is just a lot of sweat," he observed.

Read More here.

new white LED technology

Attach a thin layer of ultra-small quantum dots to a blue light LED and what do you get? An LED that gives off a warm, white light with the familiar yellowish hue that we associate with the familiar incandescent bulb.

Read more here

Todays humour

Paranoia doesn't mean the whole world isn't out to get you.

Quantum theory killer ?

Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel.

Read more here.

China plans eco-cities

British engineers will this week sign a multi-billion contract with the Chinese authorities to design and build a string of 'eco-cities' - self-sustaining urban centres the size of a large western capital - in the booming country.

read more here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What is the cost of your *free* gmail ?

A nice take on the real heavyweight in terms of cost. The bottomline is that the electricity costs are the main costs of storage or for that matter anything. Read more in Rajesh's blog.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Global Investments in Alternative energy

Currently, only around $20bn a year is invested worldwide in renewable energy capacity; mainly wind and solar, with some in biomass and biofuels. A further $5bn is spent on research each year, particularly into hydrogen and fuel cells. But that figure is bound to grow. New Energy Finance expects the figure to increase to over $100bn within a decade - a sustained compound annual growth rate of 15-20%. That means there will be opportunities to make money provided investors make the right choice. read more.

Startup sagacity

Rajesh in his usual direct style has some simple advice for product startup's here. They say common sense is the most uncommon of the senses :)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Honda's home hydrogen cogeneration

Honda motors has introduced a new concept car (hydrogen fuel cell based) that comes with a home hydrogen co-generation kit (it however uses natural gas so its not like it is beyond petroleum). It is however a good start. Detailed article on the internals here.

Can Jatropha curcas L. help India ?

The Jatropha plant is a dryland marginal crop that does not need the petro inputs that go into conventional bio-diesel crops. The Government of India has the following to say



NEW DELHI, 3RD September, 2002 No. P-45018/28/2000-C. C. -

With a view to give boost to agriculture sector and reduce environmental pollution, Government of India have been examining for quite some time supply of ethanol-doped-petrol in the country. In order to ascertain financial and operational aspects of blending 5% ethanol with petrol as allowed in the specifications of Bureau of Indian Standards for petrol. Government had launched three pilot projects; two in Maharashtra and one in Uttar Pradesh during April and June 2001 and these pilot projects have been supplying 5% ethanol-doped-petrol only to the retail outlets under their respective supply areas since than. Apart from the aforesaid field through pilot projects, R & D studies also were undertaken simultaneously. Both pilot projects and R & D studies have been successful and established blending of ethanol up to 5% with petrol and usage of ethanol-doped-petrol in vehicles.

Discussions were held with concerned agencies including the Governments of major sugar producing States. While the Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has confirmed the acceptance for use of 5% ethanol-doped-petrol in vehicles. State Governments of major sugar producing States and the representatives of sugar/distillery industries have confirmed availability / capacity to produce ethanol. Government have set up an Expert Group headed by the Executive Director of the Centre for High Technology for examining various options of blending ethanol with petrol including use of ETBE in refineries. Considering the logistical and financial advantages, this Group has recommended blending of ethanol with petrol at supply locations (terminals / depots) of oil companies. In view of the above, Government have now resolved that with effect from 1-1-2003, 5% ethanol-doped-petrol will be supplied in the following nine States and Four contiguous Union Territories :

States & Union Territories 1. Andhra Pradesh 1. Damman and Diu 2. Goa 2. Dadra and Nagar Haveli 3. Gujrat 3. Chandigarh 4. Haryana 4. Pondicherry 5. Karnataka 6. Maharashtra 7. Punjab 8. Tamilnadu 9. Uttar Pradesh

Is ethanol really renewable ?

James at the Alternate energy blog has an interesting take on the true nature of the ethanol (corn based) economy here.
The key arguments is that there is a significant amount of fossil fuels that go into the production of ethanol and that the operation is not fossil fuel free. Worth a serious read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

India heading for a major energy crisis

Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) observes that:

With the international crude oil prices hovering around $ 65 per barrel and the oil import bill set for a jump of over Rs 55,000 crore, to reach over Rs 1,75,000 crore this year, India is heading for a major energy crisis. With a population of around 110 crore, we cannot afford to follow the high-energy consumption pattern of the West that has resulted in an indiscriminate exploitation of fossil fuels and high pollution levels.

Read the rest here.

CIA invests in reneawable energy

The christian science monitor is carrying this article about rapidly deployable poratable green energy generators using solar and wind power.

The US Energy act 2005

The extract below contains the key provisions of the new US energy act. It is progressive and rewards the right things (at least in the brief reading that i have given it). Surprising that this was passed in GB-2's administration :) We need something very similar in India as our current utilization is pathetic and the devices that we use are not constrained to conform to any kind of energy efficiency. Sometimes i think that this is a result of industrial lobbying and an unenlightened consumer class. An act like this will make genuine energy efficient products cheaper than their energy guzzling brethren inspite of having better technology. Something like what the Maruti did to the Ambassador. The government is contrast is withdrawing the subsidies that were granted for household energy generation and moved most of the subsidy support to industrial houses that invest in power farms. What we need is clear legislation that discriminates positively in favour of renewable energy devices. This will mark a return to policies that make sense in this energy hungry world.


The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (USA), includes many tax provisions to aid energy exploration, delivery, and conservation.

Key provisions of the Act include:

* New tax credits for the purchase of hybrid, fuel cell, advanced lean burn diesel and other alternative power vehicles. The size of the credit varies depending on the weight class of the vehicle and the rated fuel economy. The credit applies to vehicles placed in service after 2005, with termination dates varying with the type of alternative power vehicle. Additionally, (current law deduction for certain clean fuel vehicles and refueling property) sunsets after 2005 (instead of after 2006, as under current law).
* New 30% tax credit for the purchase of qualifying residential solar water heating, photovoltaic equipment, and fuel cell property. The maximum credit is $2,000 (for solar equipment) and $500 for each kilowatt of capacity (for fuel cells). The credit applies for property placed in service after 2005 and before 2008.
* New 30% business tax credit for the purchase of fuel cell power plants and a 10% credit for the purchase of stationary microturbine power plants, effective for periods after Dec. 31, 2005 and before Jan. 1, 2008, for property placed in service in tax years ending after Dec. 31, 2005.
* New 10% personal tax credit for energy efficient improvements to existing homes. The lifetime maximum credit per taxpayer is $500 and applies for property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2005 and before Jan. 1, 2008.
* New business tax credit for the construction of new energy efficient homes. The credit is either $2,000 or $1,000 per home, depending on the type of home and the energy reduction standard it meets. The credit applies to homes whose construction is substantially completed after Dec. 31, 2005, and which are purchased after Dec. 31, 2005 and before Jan. 1, 2008.
* New deduction for energy efficient commercial buildings meeting a 50% energy reduction standard. The deduction (generally $1.80 per square foot, but 60¢ per square foot in some cases) is effective for property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2005 and before Jan. 1, 2008.
* New manufacturers' tax credit for energy efficient dishwashers, clothes washers, and refrigerators manufactured in 2006 and 2007.

Middle class :)

I was reading Paul Krugman's syndicated column in the hindu this week, when i ran into an interesting issue. The columnist was (with ref to US auto workers) refering to the auto industry employment pattern and observing that it allowed "industrial workers to enjoy a middle class life style". What is interesting is how " middle class" is defined. If the class is defined by its energy consumption, the western middle class is probably on the apex of the consumption charts. If the rest of the world aspires to the same level of energy consumption, i guess we need 10 more earth's to supply the materials.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Where does IT spending go ?

Where do individual users and corporate spend their IT buck ? From my experiences the following are functional areas where people invest in IT.

1. Personal productivity (letters, documents, spreadsheets etc)
2. Accounting (tally etc)
3. Liesure (DVD rippers et al)

1. Automation
2. Transaction processing.

The rest of the market is blurred and does not bunch up. The key here is that if one were to assign an arbitrary weightage to each function and calculate the cost per function as a ratio of the speed of the processor and memory installed, the optimum point was reached maybe 5 years back. The cost of running tally on modern hardware (P4) vs older hardware (p2) is higher per transaction. Which begs the question as to when some one will create a purpose built system (using say VIA or transmits) that runs off a broadband connection and runs say 3 applications.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cross basin hydro transfers

This is a tricky issue. Ultimately the geography of a region should dictate its population and economic prospects. When i say geography this includes the residual energy of the system. The indra gandhi canal has brought its sent of woes to the command area including waterlogging and salinity. Cross basin water transfer is very dangerous and creates only short term relief. All irrigation projects only project the good. No project in india has taken drainage costs into the initial costs as this would make the whole concept financially unviable. In spite of all the intellectual thought that goes into it, humans behave like any other animal in the ecosystem (at least in countries like india) and follow the S curve of population growth. Unsustainable growth will cause huge pressures in the ecosystem and ultimately end like all S curves starvation, death and a reset to the bottom of the curve. If this appears exaggerated, observe the empirical example of India's green revolution. A population jump from 400 million to 1 Billion + in 50 years due to wide availability of cheap cereals via public distribution. Pound for pound cereals are the best energy source for the population with the possible exception of tubers. Providing the building blocks for population explosion without requisite checks and balances is shortsighted.
All in all my point is that any natural system has an intrinsic amount of energy available to it within the natural framework. Harnessing excess sources of energy and water energy is pushing us to the brink. (even cross border movement of concentrated energy resources like oil has this impact, as all our conversions, crude oil to motive power or coal to electricity are highly inefficient in absolute terms in to 30 - 50 % range)
Maybe the solution is the traditional one. Water must be caught and stored where it falls. Some NGO's line TBS ( have done amazing work here and are indeed more sensible than politicians who dream of linking rivers, and destroying the nation in the process. In fact TBS has worked extensively in rajasthan and shown how barren lands can be regenerated with commonsense and local participation. Why should our populance depend on the government and bureaucracy that fundamentally believes in central solutions for a problem that is a legacy of central thinking ? Cross basin water transfers will *not* benefit 'amm aadmi'!

Monday, September 26, 2005

The drivers make the difference

A number of LED products are hitting the stores. Some are excellent but most are poorly designed and have a huge failure rate. The key problems seem to be heat sinking and power supply. LED's are phyiscally robust and electrically fragile. A small voltage change in driving the led's cause huge current changes in the diode causing failure. Heat as in any other electronic component must be extracted and dissipated for it will also cut down life of the lamp. Most of the plug and play LED solutions suffer from both these problems. LED's must be driven with constant current drivers to ensure the best illumination and life for the lamp.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

CCFL's can fill the gap

While LED's are already in good shape to change the way the world looks at lighting another interesting technology that can find applications in general lighting is CCFL or cold cathode fluorescent tube technology. These are the lamps that are used to backlight LCD displays like those found in notebooks. While the light output is good, these devices are almost as low powered as LED's. Products using a combination of LED's and CCFL's will hit the Indian general and accent lighting market very soon.

Solar powered thin clients for mass computing

Our experience in setting up thin clients for lock down computing and the interest in non conventional energy for all human activity produced a vision for network computing (or nightmare depending on your point of view :) A small thin client with an LCD monitor can be easily driven by a 100 W solar PV module for about 4 - 6 hours a day. With good wireless broadband connectivity this diskless node can actually be the network computer of the masses. Think of a google like backend that even provides the OS at startup. Should be doable... Of course M$ will probably put out a "supari" on the creator of this system :)

LTSP Rocks

Our setup of LTSP for our office went off rather well. We have one P4 "server" that provides terminal sessions for 6 machines now and can easily support upto 20 odd terminals. Since our CRM system (SugarCRM) is web based and externally hosted, the employees needed no training to get to work. In fact a couple of them did not even realize that they were on linux.
1. Terminal Server: p4 1.8 G, 512 MB ram, 40x2 GB ide, FC4, LTSP (latest)
2. Nodes: p1, celerons et al, 64 MB ram, decent SVGA, PXE enabled ethernet

The total cost of providing 6 computing stations was so small that it is embarrassing to mention it :) We set it up in about 3 hours including tweaking the LTSP configuration and gettting the firewall settings right.

Its the content, stupid

The constant debate in software circles on various development models and which are better is rather passe. What is more important (IMNSHO) is for the vendors to forget the release cycles, the new "features" and other such currently irrelevant marketing ploys and look at the core functionality. Maybe Microsoft's talk of restructuring the company is good and will be applauded by the industry pundits and wall street mavens. (Who rave at anything M$ will do irrespective of how much sense it makes), but its really a question too little too late. The smart pack in IT has already moved beyond applications and unnecessary features to CONTENT. Goggle, Yahoo! And for that matter most web based guys have figured out that interface can only take you so far. They have also figured that people use the applications because of the content available! Goggle maps and the new digital library are spot on. Open standards, great functionality (as opposed to stupid paper clips dancing around as "features") simple interface, attention to detail and REAL CONTENT. This is the new mantra. The graphical user interface is still around as the primary mode of access simply as work on natural language processing has not yet hit critical mass. Who wants to point and click when you can "tell" the machine what to do ? you want to use the monitor to "see" things not for absolute control. The web model has to an extent thinned down the visual user interface and the only reason goggle will use flash or similar vector based rendering platform is if the content type requires it, not to provide eye candy.
In this the IT world has matured. From being mere number crunchers and word processors usage of computing has now moved to the next level where the utility is innovative content presentation.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Products that conform to renewable energy standards

A number of solutions are already available in using LED's for general and task lighting from Alternate lighting, that specializes in LED and CCFL based lighting solutions. While Alternate is focused on the rural market for bulk of its products, the current trend indicates that there is a huge uptake from urban areas as well. Goes to show that our grid based networks leave enough room for even the so called AEH homes to invest in Solar LED lighting systems. Alternate can be reached at

Power to the people

The debate on how the empower rural populations is as convoluted as a plate of pasta. On one hand it is clear that to expand the grid to cover the current unserved population is a slow and expensive process for many reasons including the cost of putting up the network as well as the environment damage of virtually all forms of power generation. The solution from this perspective is to concentrate populations (in a urban setting) and provide infrastructure that is paid for by the population. On the other hand the congestion in cities clearly indicates that urban migration has to be slowed if not reversed for many more reasons. Clearly decentralized power production at the community and household level is one bright ray of hope that can address both the issues above and provide urgently required resources to the unserved rural population. The challenges are manifold starting with rural affordability and government will. All governments exist for control and the thinking from Neheruvian days has been on centralized control of all vital resources. For India to break out of this a new thrust in decentralized power generation and management using Solar, Wind and biomass is required. Lets hope that need will force the political class to pass legislation in this direction given the limited hydro power capacity available and the problems India is already facing in coal fired generation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What are LED's ?

Light emitting diodes are semiconductor devices that have been around for decades. The last 5 years has seen dramatic increase in the amount of light the led's put out and hence have entered the world of general lighting with a twinkle. There are already led's available widely in the Indian market that emmit 9600 mcd ! These led's go into arrays that are widely being used to replace focus lamps as well as general lighting lamps. And for the rural market these devices are manna from heaven. A small rural houshold can be lit up very effiectively using a small solar panel coupled with led based luminares for about Rs 7000. And this is an investment that will pay off for 10 years which is the rating of the lamps ! The dream to light up homes in india economically, ecologically and reliably is finally being realized with the potent combination of renewable solar energy and LED lighting.

Lighting and India

India has caught the worlds imagination in the last two decades with advances in many fields including technology. Truth be told, only a small fraction of our population has participated in this boom and benefited from it. When one looks at the social indices and the human development metrics India still remains at the bottom of the heap. Some of the contributing factors for this have been historical, however if one key factor was to be highlighted, it the lack of modern power and hence devices.
Let me explain, i am not talking of PC's or GPRS networks, thought these are key in some other ways. There is a vast population that lacks the basics of modern living starting with sanitation, running water and electric lighting. While sanitation and water are usually addressed locally, power by its definition has meant grid based power networks. This has obviously left a large parts of this country without reliable power and hence its attendant benefits.
The new wave of technology has brought decentralized power to the center stage and coupled with exciting new technology like high power LED's and high efficiency solar panels the dream that every Indian home will be lit electrically looks within our reach...

Lighting and the state of the nation

Artificial lighting has been with humans from the day fire was harnessed. Our entire way of living has over the last millenia depended on reliable artifical lighting. The advent of electric lighting marked another epoch in lighting and changed the face of the world. Today satellite photography or even a plane ride over any major landmass reveals that artificial lighting is the most visible human artifact when seen from space. This blog will look at the various forms of lighting that exist and explore the state of the art in lighting as well as alternate energy sources to power the same.