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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.