Saturday, 17 December 2011

Dilemmas of India - Dec 2011 - Entering 2012

Manmohan Singh returns after attempting to further Indo-Russian relationships.

The press quoted that the Prime Minister promised to have Kudankulam up and running in two-weeks to further Nuclear Cooperation and have work on Plants 3,4 started out there. However, most of the Scientific folk agree that it would take between 2 months and 4 months to actually start power generation in Kudankulam after the Fuel Rods are installed in the site. The political unrest out there is preventing any constructive work from progressing. There have been enough reports hinting that a foreign power has been stalling our progress. Yet we are unable to resolve it.

The Mullai-Periar Dam Row seems rather mute, once someone reads the facts about the structure's strength and stability. Despite all attempts, no one has been discussing about measures that should be taken, should the Dam fail. That possibility must always be considered, for we cannot always take these for granted when Human lives are at stake. Hence, procedures and measures for responding to large scale disasters have to be in place, not merely for this Dam, but for any other Dam in India.

A further hike in Fuel Prices in India has merely been postponed to appease the general public. However, this hike is inevitable and will have to happen either immediately at the beginning of the new year or just before the new year.

It is hypothesized that if India does not resolve the power crisis it is facing right now, it will soon enter the dark ages - an age without electricity, consequently lose the ability to consistently manufacture goods and provide services. This issue requires a huge solution. With the Opposition party, preventing the ruling party from being able to discharge any of its duties that would be beneficial to the civilian population. Hence Central Government Paralysis is a joint responsibility of the ruling party and the opposition party.

With a broken education system, India is churning out hundreds of thousands of graduates in technical, scientific and non-technical field. Very few of these people are capable of contributing dynamically toward the growth of Industry. This unemployability of graduates fuels the lack of growth in many sectors, results in wage-inflation and also furthers unemployment with too little or no advantages for society which is investing heavily in education.

Indians, having lived as natives for several millennia are probably one of the few natives who have the luxury of living in their own land as free people with so much cultural diversity. Unfortunately, this social advantage translates to a disadvantage due internal barriers of language. The high population results in people developing a 'scarcity' mentality forcing the to exhibit lack-of-confidence, mistrust and results in heavy politicking with trust getting breached too frequently. This social problem is so deeply entrenched that addressing it would require a revolution in education at the very minimum.

Research in India does happen in a few segments, and is useful for the people of the world. However, this research is limited in comparison to the population and bears fruit too late and sometimes is not beneficial.

When the Indian Republic was first formed, the principle of 'Socialism' was absorbed, forcing all essential services as Public Sector Units (PSUs). Despite the availability of high quality administrators, technical labor and blue-collar labor, the PSUs have often been criticized of performing below expectations creating heavy deficits eating into the budget and therefore the tax-payers money.

Corruption easily exists within the political system as implementing a system to circumvent or prevent corruption has been proven to be too difficult, particularly when everyone in the system is involved. Further, problems like corruption include involvement of the citizens of the nation also - however, they are unable to remove a deeply entrenched system that has broken the bureaucracy which was made strong by the original British Civil Services.

Crime continues to increase at an uncontrolled rate in several cities which are critical to India's Export-Oriented-Units. However lack of enforcement interlinked with entrenched corruption aids in increasing crime levels - which are very high in cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon demonstrating fewer and fewer sites to setup computers.

The relevant question to ask now, therefore, is what can each of us individually or as teams do about these undecided issues. The future is definitely in our hands, with so many issues to tackle before India can become a superpower in 2020.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Cracker Hackdown

For all pun intended, we, the privileged members of the hacking (programming, improvising and resolving tech issues in a constructive way) should teach press to avoid misuse of the word hack in all forms of media.

If you want to become a black-hat or a cracker, you should try visiting "astalavista[dot]com" for  a set of basic tutorials. You should understand that these tutorials teach you how systems are secure and therefore their vulnerabilities. Exploiting the vulnerability for nefarious purposes including Denial-of-Service attacks (DoS) or database stealth of sensitive, private user information is against all principles of professional ethics. They will obviously be considered breach of law in every country which has now incorporated laws to govern transactions and activities possible on computing terminals, the internet and on electronically stored data.

You can be good at computing, software and be termed a hacker for being able to innovate and create code wherever necessary in short notice. To do this:
  1. You need to understand the basics behind the mathematical theoretical basis
  2. You need to understand Operating System Architecture, System Software
  3. Algorithms on Security - especially hashing, Cryptography need to be well understood
  4. Know the weakest link in security, for that is how any network or computer system is attacked.

Those who work towards understanding or using their knowledge of the above is deemed a true "hacker" in the MIT sense of the word. A hacker can identify exploits  or design flaws or use the design to build software or tools that ultimately are beneficial. The developers of the Linux kernel ( visit: ) are referred to as "kernel hackers."

It is usually enthusiasts in Computers, and therefore Hackers, who crack the whip on crackers who infiltrate computer systems and networks for nefarious purposes. A good example would be the dissection and reverse engineering of the 'Duqu' worm which posed a security threat. Therefore let us drive the crackers out, and let the Hackers [enthusiasts ref: #2.b] work toward building things better and understanding equipment still better.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Kudankulam, India and the Nuclear Power Stalemate

Would a government build infrastructure like an 8-lane express highway and then refuse to use it because there might be accidents on the highway in the future? I haven't heard this happen ever. Politics, it seems, leaves no such event untouched - and has demonstrated it through the effective self-sabotage of the operation of new Public Projects including Electrical Power Plants.

In the state of Tamil Nadu (TN), India, Kudankulam is a new Nuclear power plant with a capacity of 990MW. However the local populace have decided to conduct stirs, agitations and paralyze all efforts to render the plant operational. The Prime Minister of India has allegedly sent at least two letters to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to ensure that this plant is operational. However, nothing to this effect has been done.

The residents of this area  have expressed fear over a Nuclear accident of the scale of 'Chernobyl', and after new sensationalism after the Japanese disaster - they quote 'Fukushima' as an example. Whenever these protests are given coverage by the media, a huge number of Catholic priests from that region are seen participating and organizing the event. Tamil Nadu already enjoys power from one Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam in Chennai. Increasing Power Infrastructure which does not depend on fossil fuels is a top priority considering the population and growth of the Country. Further, the Government has yet to table a bill on the privatization of Electrical Power Generation plants which might hedge the financial risk of power production and distribution. This too has been on the back-burner for too long.

Due to the recent low pressure region in the Bay of Bengal, the Eastern coast of the peninsula including most areas in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have been receiving almost incessant rainfall. To add to this, agitations demanding separate state for Telengana (now a part of the state of Andhra Pradesh) have halted Coal productions from that region. With most power plants in Tamil Nadu having a cache of less than 4 days of Coal (against the mandatory 30 day supply required,) a serious power crisis looms, which if it happens, will undoubtedly affect industry and citizens alike in the immediate.

The people who are protesting and fasting against the operation of the Nuclear power plant including their press and publicity teams seem blissfully unaware of Nuclear Power Technology. Should a few people be allowed to hold an entire Country to ransom, when Electrical Power Generation here and more plants could ensure self sufficient power production in India if done at a quick pace.

Both the State Government (Tamil Nadu) and the Central Government have failed to act in the interests of all the people to get this plant operational. It is a bigger shame that the State Government of Tamil Nadu has personally requested the Central Government to halt all work at the Nuclear Reactor until the local populace's fear is allayed.

India has been suffering under Politicians (not Administrators - who are schooled by the Indian Administrative/Civil Services.) This negative influence has been persisting too long in delaying and sabotaging constructive efforts of the people. If we don't get enough electrical power, we will plunge into darkness and that would fuel poverty and confusion. All these governments are trying the patience of the people for a revolt without attempting to work with the people. India is undoubtedly the most populated democracy in the world and needs to be so. Everyone's opinion needs to be heard, but the needs of the majority are always ahead of the needs of a minority - be they elite, regional or communal groups.

It is sad that we watch the destruction of our own country by the inaction of the so-called representatives who administer the state. All the skullduggery at work at Kudankulam will only take India back to the dark ages, starting with the very state it has been constructed in to meet power shortage problems.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The easy way out: the plight of Higher Education in India

I have been spending time working at an engineering college (as they call them in India) named PITS (Facebook Page) in Thanjavur (my hometown) in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. I have been helping out in Technology, setting up an Incubation cell and a Placement cell. Here, I get a chance to observe closely the spirit, behavior and attitude of the students as they slowly reach their final year. Tamil Nadu has about 455 registered engineering colleges. Together they churn out almost 25,000 - 30,000 new engineering graduates every year.

After spending more than a year near the academic folk (I'd like to call them that, as they are entirely different - just as geeks and marketing guys and management gurus and medicos differ from each other), there is a lot I have understood about the how & why behind the failure and success of the society I live amidst.

Under the current system, the students reach either Polytechnic institutes or Engineering colleges without any hint of a career plan. A few consult relatives or senior family friends who offer some early advice. Parents believe in populist propaganda and succumb to peer pressure, at times, forcing their children to join Engineering courses in which the children have absolutely no interest. It is a wide misconception that Engineering and Medicine are fields that give one an opportunity to easily find a vocation. As decisions are made on poor input or lack of any input of how to choose a career - the result is left to fate rather than their own preferences and interests. This, at that time, seems to be the easy way out. It is only much later that many realize their mistakes.

Fundamental education in India has been deteriorating over the last three decades. Teaching in Schools (K-14) is a profession nowadays chosen only by those who find it inconvenient or impossible to find the one in the Industry. The testing, rating and evaluation system for school students in India is purely text based. In rural and semi-urban areas, students are trained to become memory devices for textbooks while their capacity to think out of the box and solve problems remains unattended. Communication is often in their mother tongue even if the medium of instruction is officially English. Despite English playing the role of a unifying language for India - especially North and South India, too few Teachers can speak the language fluently. This is true even of privately funded schools. No one bothers to better Language and Spoken Language at this level as it involves a lot of effort. Instead, they leave the issue to providence - the easy way out.

Students, while entering engineering, have already gone through a rigorous regimen of textual training that ensures that their analytical skills, out-of-the-box thinking skills are replaced by text in memory. Recall becomes an easier alternative to on-the-spot analysis and problem-solving. This significantly hampers their ability to understand concepts. Schedules during their 10th Standard and 12th Standard (or Pre-University in some states) are hectic. They stay in wait for joining Higher Education institutions believing that this would let them escape from hectic schedules - hoping that this is an easy way out.

When these students enter Engineering Institutions, few retain their problem solving skills and analytical skills. As Indian society is extremely protectionist, rural and semi-urban students suffer from lack of freedom and the ability to take decisions themselves to gradually mature. When they enter Engineering Institutions, they have an option to be away from their protectionist family with lesser restrictions for a long period of time. The first thing they seek is freedom from the protectionist attitude. Most education for Indian children are sponsored by their parents. Hence the children themselves have little understanding of how important it is for them to perform in their courses.

Spoon-feeding is extremely common especially in education in South India. Students are never encouraged to find solutions themselves unless they do so of their own volition. Intensive Training for Engineering Entrance Examinations and IIT-JEE is done by Institutes most of which leave no room for original thinking. This kind of "conditioning" is the easier way out rather than teach the same students to think for themselves and find their own skills.

When these students reach an Engineering Institution, the challenges faced by the Professors are humungous. As students have already come in without much training in English comprehension, writing and speaking -- this becomes a function of the Engineering Institution. Lacking adequate knowledge of English, which is the most common medium of instruction, students fair poorly. Too much time needs to be devoted to teaching them the medium of instruction.

Most students have little knowledge of the plight their parents face in paying for their education. Education inflation has been a global phenomenon  and has had a similar impact in India. The cost of education and therefore fees to be paid by the student for Engineering education is between Rs.300,000 and Rs.750,000. This is almost always paid by the parents without any terms of returning the financing. Beyond this many privately funded institutions require capitation fees which can easily be Rs.1,000,000 or several times higher depending on the Institution. When students do not take responsibility for the finances and do not try to help themselves and their own family by taking campus jobs or running a small firm, they take the easy way out.

Students spend their time without attempting to concentrate on their studies. Having not been taught the fundamentals well, the students frequently suffer from being unable to understand Basic Engineering concepts. The medium of instruction also becomes a huge turn-off. Further, the staff in Engineering Institutions come from the same school of thought as those teaching in Primary, High and Higher secondary schools. Most teachers lack interest in the actual task of teaching. They too prefer the easy way out. They'd rather let the students decide their fate themselves rather than find new ways of teaching. Some of their reservations are because of the failures they have met while experimenting newer techniques in the past.

Students seldom bother about their future until the end of their course. This is usually 4 or 5 years depending on the course taken. They end up unprepared to face job interviews and reality. Their last minute dash over the last 3 months of their education is definitely not enough to help them. Industrial companies and Information Technology majors in India spend at least 6 more months training shortlisted candidates and filtering them for a second time after their recruitment processes. Many, who lack communication skills, creative thinking, verbal reasoning and analytical reasoning skills end up being unable to get a job. The result is frustration for themselves and their parents who funded their education.

Worse yet, Parents discourage their children to participate in sports, technical, non-technical and cultural competitions due to several reservations. They believe that the period spent in earning the graduate degree is yet another time for adding more textual memory. IBM's 'Watson' too might detest such an expectation. The resultant is unhappy individuals with short attention spans who forget their own talents and skills as more and more is forced upon them without considering their interests and likes. As children forget their own talents and skills, they end up taking the easy way out. They'd rather sleep than spend a day playing sports of learning something new or working on a practical project.

"Education is teaching students how to learn - and what to learn - and never forcing them to imbibe in memory, the content that should be learned." This is almost entirely ignored by most Engineering Institutions I have seen. The focus of teaching students skills rather than elementary textual knowledge is fostered by the Universities in India and has not changed over the past three decades at the very least. For Universities, change is a nightmare in logistics and they would rather prefer not to - choosing the easy way out.

Most people never find this. Furthermore for students who have grown up studying in gender-exclusive schools,  the co-educational systems in Higher Education send them into a path of confused relations with the opposite gender. While conservative and protectionist society continues to shun the idea of boys interacting with girls on a friendly basis, this becomes a strong preoccupation besides gossip and smalltalk. 

It is easier to enforce rules and regulations with fear as a motivator, rather than use empathy and allow individuals to reason for themselves. Most have already been motivated by fear throughout their schooldays and hence stop responding to empathic motivation and initiatives to develop self-discipline. Parents send their children to educational institutions and believe that some magical transformation would lend them to become Engineers with certifications and academic laurels. They spend too little time in the interest of their children's education. They too prefer the easy way out.

Students do keep asking for longer periods of time to relax and rest after being numbed in boring Lecture classes. If this is provided, they find more time to take on the vices of society - alcohol, tobacco, drugs - being the least of them. If this is denied they end up being further numbed and refuse to improve themselves consistently. They would rather take the easier way out than work hard to learn and add skills and expertise to themselves.

During the last few months of their Engineering studies, students expect to be recruited somehow by Industrial companies and Commercial groups in Recruitment drives majorly composed of campus interviews. Few think of alternate options like Entrepreneurship. Some are prepared to take a post graduate degree outside India, after having figured out that the education insofar received has been of no use to them. Some prefer to leave the field of Engineering and enter the field of Business Administration - a rather poor choice considering that they could have pursued it earlier as their graduate course too. Students develop a strong mentality to always choose the easy way out.

Summarizing what I have observed and learned, the Indian Education System and the Higher Education System does not add any value to students. The only help it provides them is an environment where they can interact with others and therefore build social camaraderie. That is too little value for the price paid for education. Some knowledge is retained, but practical knowledge is always found lacking. Curiosity, the inner need to Learn, reading habits and the ability to resolve practical engineering problems is found entirely lacking.

Indian students in general lack taste in perfection. This is primarily because mediocrity is tolerated in education. Mediocrity and substandard results are tolerated, and worse yet - accepted by the parents. Hence Companies never recruit based on Engineering course scores, but prefer to conduct their own screening examinations and have complex recruitment processes which cost them heavily in HR recruitment budgets. There have been recent comments that the premium Engineering & Technology Institutions of India, the IITs, the NITs have also been dropping their quality over time. As more and more students graduate, all of them come out with a tendency to always choose the easier way out. They are unprepared and often unwilling to work long hours - a habit they acquire during their Higher education days that festers as time goes by. It is always the easy way out, rather than taking a challenge.

The result that the country faces is hard to digest. Today, Engineers in India are more unreliable than technicians in creating, maintaining and servicing products. A carpenter takes better measurements than a Civil Engineer. Computer Engineers can seldom program when they come out of college. Lack of appropriately skilled people reduces the value produced by the country and impacts the GDP heavily. Despite high population and therefore potential to create value in this age of Technology, India finds progress too difficult.

Issues like corruption are not uncommon in the field of Education. Universities engage in malpractices which are nothing short of extortion from students. Indians, especially in the South where educational institutions are numerous - have unfortunately attempted to take the easy way out. No one has tried nor succeeded in changing the system.

In the end, life is never easy and the easy way out turns out to be a blunder. It renders the country with substandard individuals dreaming of higher standards of life which they themselves are unable to create. The discrimination between blue collar labor and white collar labor is too high in India. This results in blue collar laborers moving themselves and their own children to white collar labor resulting in dearth of skilled labor. In the end the country is slowly grinding to a halt. Those who are extremely intelligent, and have succeeded despite the ill environment of the Higher education system pursue jobs abroad and contribute too little or naught to their own Country. Slowly, but surely, India is crumbling - as everyone continues to choose the easy way out.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Linux Juggernaut

The awesome growth of GNU/Linux from 1992 till date is a huge demonstration of the impact of Open Source and the principles behind it. The Linux kernel itself has been growing, much to the chagrin of some, it has become bloatware.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Destroying Mother Earth in Thanjavur

(revised once on 3-Mar-2011 and again on 28-May-2011)

I was earlier horrified at the destruction of a garden maintained by the public beside the Grand Anaicut (GA) Canal road. Yesterday, while passing by, I witnessed the most horrid result. Not only has the garden been removed, but the banks of the canal and the side of the road have been changed into the worst possible garbage dump. There is literally little to write about, these pictures are evident of what has happened.

I had earlier written a post in February of this despicable act. Here is what has unfolded.

The once Green banks of the GA Canal in Thanjavur
This was how this place once looked, beautiful, greenery carpeting the banks of the canal. It was a pleasure taking a walk beside it. The work to maintain and keep the banks clean went (without assistance, but unhindered by the local municipality) for over 20 years. Recently, not by ignorance, but by planned, calculated work, they have swindled the town and its citizens of the greenery. The green vandals (who are supposed to engineers in the interest of the public - being part of the municipality and the public works department) have systematically destroyed the greenery, dirtied a water canal, and converted it into a garbage dump. This is not the legacy we wish to leave to the children of the future. This must be stopped now. They must pay and toil for what they have foiled.
On the last day the greenery remained, 24 January 2011

Greenery systematically destroyed

Greenery is now an engineered Garbage Dump!

The Garbage legacy, left for Thanjavur, once Rice Bowl of South India
Earlier, I was misinformed to think this was a mere act of deforestation to build something constructive. Only Yesterday I found that this was a plan to convert our water resources to sewers. This is evil, the devil lives in the hearts of the greedy. They are blinded and darkened by their lust for the sparkles. All that is gold does not glitter. This greenery and the clean waters were a treasure we had, one that nature kept replenishing. Destroying it, I hope nature's retribution will be swift.

Those responsible for this heinous act must be warned. This is not merely about reversing this. INDIA NEEDS A REVOLUTION! THE TIME IS NOW!

Death of a Canal, Destruction of the Earth!
I hear plenty of comments on Fukushima and the great environmental threat it poses. Yet, we the people in Thanjavur stand by while others destroy the city before our very eyes. We do not see the true threat that comes disguised as urbanization.

The government mutes a corrupt and irresponsible press who cares not about people, but serves only sensationalists. Where is the Press? It seems Press in India is officially DEAD, India controls media far more than all the dictatorships of the entire world. "Democracy" in India is a farce. Misplaced Capitalists steal freedom and destroy this land again, and again, and again.

We are known as a tolerant nation. Tolerance of evil, Tolerance of destruction of our soil, Tolerance of wrong action - that is the true cause of all pain, turmoil and suffering. This deed shall not go unpunished. The perpetrators will fall. They will either rebuild the greenery and clean the surroundings, or unto dust and ashes will they pass.

I am most angered and consumed by my inability as a citizen to take any action. I see politicians squabbling and wasting tax-payers money. A few people of the present stand to destroy the future of mankind - they want to lead us to extinction and fade the achievements of our greatness. If the sewage flows through a river, mother earth shall turn them to blood. The quakes in Japan and Thailand should only remind us not to play foul with nature, for the power of nature that shields us and protects us can as easily leave us vanquished.

Update (28 May 2011)

The claim of the PWD, with a carefully taken photograph that avoids the bank having all the garbage and trash is on the newspaper here -

Anyone looking at the canal in summer will know that there is absolutely no flow of water - and the picture in the article from "The Hindu" is evident. I am not sure why de-silting works cannot be taken up without destroying all the ecology and turning the entire canal into a sewer.

The bigger picture is the NABARD has offered them a huge sum to put cement blocks on the canal flow - which is an ecological blunder. This will only make the canal maintenance more difficult in the future. There is also no certainty for the free flow of water here. The floor of the canal has to be specially designed to be water proof (concrete) and never impede flow of water. Looking at the pace, these machines are just waiting for the monsoon to wash them away.

Design has to be done with garbage disposal methods in place, which is not what they are doing here. Here is some information on water-proof concrete flooring on canals to avoid silt formation and therefore permit better drainage -

It is quite funny that similar concrete has been used to put up roads at several areas in Thanjavur - roads based on such concrete slabs. I have not seen such badly designed roads elsewhere.
The temporary halt of work, they say is due to the Assembly Election. That seems to be the convenient excuse for having halted all building work and should never be the case.

Friday, 20 May 2011

End(s) of the World

Time and again, people have been predicting the end of the world. This has been largely harmless as the rest of the world has chosen to ignore the claim of a minor group. I write this entry in wake of the immediate date - May 21, 2011 which has been made popular by Harold Camping, a 90-year old man who is also a Talk Radio broadcaster and President of Family Radio. According to him the end of things as they are is to come in the period between May 21, 2011 and  October 21, 2011. He had previously predicted the end of the world with the Biblical Second Coming of Christ in September, 1994.

The amount of publicity he has received is most surprising, as are the billboards that have sprung up with messages on the end-of-the-world. One would notice Investments and coordinated marketing toward this - despite knowing that there are numerous instances of the Biblical Second Coming of Christ predicted earlier (including 1999, 2000 and even much earlier in recorded history.) A good majority of the people of the world have ignored the May 21, 2011 rapture and are continuing with their plans for the rest of the year (and years to come.)

There are other theorists who pin December 21, 2012 as a date based on the reset of the Mayan Long Count Calendar and a little understood ancient Maya text which they claim is a prophecy of the end of the world.

Experts who study the Mayan culture have pointed out that the time-keeping techniques of the Mayans is worthy of praise. The Mayans calculated lunar cycles with high accuracy. It is probable that they also calculated the cycles of the Planet Venus with considerable accuracy.

However, from their complex creation myths and vastly different culture (which we cannot easily relate to,) it is almost impossible to understand surviving texts of the Mayans in proper context. It is also true that large volumes of Mayan documentation in bark-paper was destroyed in a regrettable move to stop idol worship by the then conquerors of the new world. The text that has survived as testimony of the heritage of the Mayan culture and archaeology has helped in scientific efforts to understand them.

Scientifically, efforts still continue to understand the culture of the Maya, their understanding of nature and particularly their fascination with astronomy & time-keeping. Most scholars agree that their time keeping was good and far better than the rest of the world in the time they flourished, but not comparable with the understanding of time and the level of time-keeping that exists today.

There are several claims about doomsday scenarios in 2012 - which attempt to connect the year and dates to the reversal of the earth's magnetic poles [which occurs roughly over 780,000 years - possibly taking a period of 1,000 years to effect], a solar climax [which occurs roughly every 11 years], mass extinctions [which paleontologists claim - happen roughly every 26 million years] and stranger theories. It is even unclear whether the Mayans believed in prophecies literally.

There are others who attempt to connect the fictitious 2012 end-of-word scenario with Babylonian creation myth, which is far more complex and is less understood. Some profess that an  unidentified planetary object called Nibiru is headed on a near-collision or collision course with the earth. This theory is probably the most implausible.

There are earlier instances when such fictitious predictions created mass hysteria and resulted in deaths or mass suicides which were socially engineered. I recall the more recent tragedy of the cult Heaven's Gate in March, 1997 in which 39 members of the cult committed suicide during the period Comet Hale-Bopp was at its brightest. Earlier cults in the 20th century included the People's Temple and the Solar Temple.

As Michael Crichton expressed in his novel "State of Fear", fear or heightened anxiety spread across society can be a complex behavioral element used in sociopolitical control. It is easy for people to be confused, deluded or harried by convincing arguments of cataclysmic scenarios which seem scientific and plausible. If a large population is swayed by fear of possible cataclysms, it would set the stage for groups or cults or even nations to use this fear to their strategic advantage. The damage could be anything between heightened stress levels to hostile behavior to ritual suicide or even war.

It is time to see our Demon-Haunted World (as Prof. Carl Sagan elegantly wrote) in the right scientific perspective. It is far too easy to ignore mainstream science for populist pseudoscience. In known history, Humanity has been continually progressing, and always striving to improve.  Understanding possible Disaster Scenarios to plan Disaster Recovery techniques and allocate resources to handle those scenarios is a scientific pursuit. There are also strategic studies to help plan resources for the future, optimize energy usage and re-engineer our cities for better living conditions. Much of this happens in day-to-day work (like city/town planning) and is not considered strange. Science continues to help us understand the our reality in a consistent way and simultaneously explore ways to create solutions to uplift our quality of life.

If anything diverts our current consistent and clear progress as a unified civilization, the setback might cost us dearly. Most of these diversions come from socio-political behavior. It is important that we do not engage our time in efforts that would destabilize human society. War has been known to wreak havoc on progress and improvement of the quality of life in several historic instances. Irrational belief in a time of natural disaster has also caused the destruction of past civilizations.

Pursuing myths of the end of the world or reality as we know it, could land us in such a situation if enough of us are convinced. We need to continue increasing our awareness, employ scientific method and use our awareness for the betterment of all life as we know it. History shows us periods like the Middle-Ages existed during which reason was abandoned, and we had to wait for the Renaissance to regroup and continue our collective pursuit of growth. We have to learn and avoid making similar mistakes that could cost our civilization several centuries of peace and quality of life. Reacting coherently and rationally to true natural disasters would also help us fare better.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden, Terrorism, What Now?

Today, President Obama announced to the world that Osama bin Laden, founder of the Al Qaeda has been killed in an operation led by United States Armed Forces personnel at Abottabad (District) in the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan. Before the announcement the Social Media Network was afire with speculation of the announcement. The People of the world believe that the removal of Osama bin Laden is a key victory in the war against Terrorism - which is what the United States administration from George W Bush's government has been targeting. This also comes at a time when Obama begins a crucial campaign for a second term of Presidency. As the announcement came out, news channels were keen to point out that defense forces of the USA and several other nations  will be on full alert to watch out for any backlash from the Al Qaeda.

Does the assassination of one man spell a major victory over a political ideology that has troubled several nations worldwide? The answer at this point seems to be affirmative. The elimination of the leadership of the LTTE in Sri Lanka created a sense of victory to the Sri Lankan forces and a semblance of stability in that region. Despite that, a permanent humanitarian solution for the ethnic conflict in the island nation of Sri Lanka is  yet to be found.

As President Obama reminded his audience of the resolve of his people after the infamous 9/11 attack - he definitely conveyed the opinion that elimination of one man, who masterminded several terrorist strikes that threatened civilians worldwide, an apt counter strike, akin to a victory in open war.

True change however will have to come as secular and inclusive ideology in countries where this ideology has been threatened - particularly by terrorist & extremist elements. Each country will have to respect the people of other countries in settling their own internal disputes. At this time there are several countries including Libya where their is internal turmoil threatening the stability & being of those nations. Despite what everyone may say, humanity has shown that concerns for people go beyond borders. As this influence beyond borders can only increase, people and leaders need to take great care in exerting their influence to initiate any change.

Here is another pragmatic, rather skeptic view of the claimed "triumph" - 

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Education System - Today

I have been always thinking that the education system needs a major change. Recently, I came across a video animated by RSA Animation, a talk given Sir Ken Robinson on (posted here The similarity of the present education system to Industrial manufacture (batches graded in terms of years [of manufacture]), the absence of emphasis on creativity and the systematic removal of divergent thinking is definitely counter-productive to humanity. While we spend a vast portion of time dedicated to education, the entire process would be wastage unless we correct it. The best way to start improving the system is to first understand it.

Watch this video - the animation makes it easier to stay with the talk.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Sachin Tendulkar, the Bharat Ratna or What?

As Cricketing nations celebrated in fervor, the grand finale of the ultimate championship in cricket, the ICC Cricket World Cup, in this year 2011 - fans had already started backing 'Sachin Tendulkar' for a Bharat Ratna.

The "Bharat Ratna," in India is given for exceptional contribution in the fields of art, literature, science and social service. The criteria does not have any mention of sports.

Considering the prior recipients of the Bharat Ratna are either involved in politics in the interests of the people or are exceptional in a form of art. Cricket, insofar is not defined as a form of art either.

The real question is whether a Sports Person should be bestowed the "Bharat Ratna". The tradition of the gems of India predate our colonial history. Not even in those ancient courts adorned by the Ratnas - was a seat reserved for a sportsman.

To get through the red tape, someone from the sports ministry will have to present a proposal to include sports  among the criteria for selecting candidates for awarding a Bharat Ratna. This proposal will have to accepted by the union cabinet. After this, a debate on which sport first, recollecting great names in sports, in much earlier times will definitely ensue.

So we are presented with a new problem; we seek new solutions. For incomparable commitment to a game, taking the game beyond its limits with performances that kept on eclipsing prior performances, an award that salutes the genius of the Cricketer that Sachin Tendulkar is, must be instituted and given to honor him, for he has already honored the sport, his team and his country. Looking at a Sports Award that indeed does some of what we've listed, the Laureus which has already been awarded to Rafael Nadal. All winners of this award seem to be European.

To recognize the likes of Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, a new cricketing award can be instituted. It is most important that the award recognizes the team commitment and honors the person beyond borders. His achievements are jewels to his home nation and his team, never lesser. As a core cricketing nation in the world, we could institute an award that lauds exceptional achievement in Cricket. Should the award be given when the player announces retirement or prior should be decided. Sachin deserves a new award, one that will define cricketers and sportsmen of the future! At what better time can the ICC institute such an award?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

FTA: EU & India -- Medical Impact

India is on top in manufacturing and delivering generic pharmaceutical drugs. India is also the world's largest democracy and the second most populous nation. The first HIV/AIDS case was reported in India in 1986. By 2007, over 23 lakh people are reportedly suffering from HIV/AIDS. Treatment of HIV/AIDS cases in India would be unaffordable if generic drugs were not available. Only 10% of these cases are provided "free" treatment by the government. This is possible only because of the availability of generic drugs.

The "Free Trade Agreement" (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and India has been pushed rather discreetly by the Prime Minister's Office.  Intellectual Property Rights on pharmaceutical drug manufacture has been interpreted correctly in India. This has given freedom to the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture medicines with innovative processes, while delivering them at affordable costs to the public. The situation insofar has favoured the citizens.

Patenting a mathematical formula is impossible. In simplistic comparison, patenting a discovery is also not possible. The discovery of Penicillin (the antibiotic) by Alexander Fleming and the X-Ray by Röntgen are attributed to be accidental. Knowing that discoveries cannot be patented, we could safely assume that neither Penicillin nor the X-Ray can be patented. A method or process or machinery to produce them can be patented, but the X-Ray itself or Penicillin (the molecule) itself cannot be patented. Our understanding so far is correct. Industrial production of Penicillin during World War II was critical. Rightly so, techniques for production of Penicillin were patented.

The advent of industrial biotechnology and nanotechnology would provide us with new methods to create substances that we have discovered. Pharmaceutical companies spend huge budgets in research. This research ultimately leads to the creation of new drugs that benefit people. The Pharmaceutical companies hope to recover the money invested in research when they sell drugs. However this slows down their ability to fund themselves. By licensing the manufacturing method they could enable multiple entities to manufacture and distribute a drug in return for a licensing clause-of-multiples. The volume of drugs produced could increase and therefore benefit both the company and the people. So Intellectual Property Rights on the whole seems good.

Now, if a company patented one method to manufacture a pharmaceutical drug and forced everyone to use only that method to manufacture a drug while imposing their Intellectual Property rights, they would (in an evil way) make more money. They would also stifle innovation, thereby preventing people from affording medicines that could save lives. This issue is certainly not new. Jonas Salk, during his famous televised interview with Edward Munrow quipped, "Would you patent the sun?"

Complying with a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union to permit a single manufacturing process to take over will inflate the prices of drugs, make generic drugs unavailable to the truly needy and ultimately hurt society. A "Free Trade Agreement" must facilitate trade and be mutually helpful to all people involved. Concerns on this FTA have been voiced several times last year.

They haven't reached the ears of the policy-makers though, until NGOs made a public demonstration to bring this to light. Let their concerns be heard and answered. While trade needs to be liberal, no policy should ill serve the people, and definitely not scourge those who are suffering from HIV. If we want to help those suffering from HIV let us not burden them, not by blindly signing policy in the name of development. We need to actively research and find ways to cure them. Such research and cure are truly not stifled in the absence of this FTA.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bulldozing the Green Drive (Thanjavur)

"Going Green" has been a mantra, India seems to echo in every trend. The people of Bangalore want the Garden City back. The Government recently banned the use of plastic sachets for tobacco. Environmental initiatives have been aplenty. The impression that civic sense was returning, echoed through.  We have a cabinet minister, acting as an environmental crusader, Jairam Ramesh.

Living in Thanjavur, with 'The Big Temple', as a tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage site, I have been witness to the creation of new infrastructure. The National Highway links, have finally been made four-lane and bypass the city actually. Within the municipality, though, the roads next to my home have, for quite some time not been built (just after a starting a rain-water harvesting drive, and a proper sewer system that hadn't already been planned.)

The Green is gone!
Driving through the G. A. Canal road [google maps, satellite], a portion which had been made green and maintained earlier as an initiative of people with good civic sense; I saw all the greenery gone! Fences preventing people from misusing the canal as an open-air toilet, a garden that stood bordering the canal had been pulled out. This was no urbanisation, uprooting trees, but rather a misinformed and misdirected initiative. The greenery bordering the  road had all just disappeared! I had no idea, what strangeness chanced upon this place leaving it barren, devoid of all greenery.

I learnt later, that this was some urban development drive. "Some urban development drive," indeed. Is our sense of development so obscure and misdirected? Are people supposed to resume using this as an open-air toilet? (Shamefully, that was the case, at least two decades back.) On later enquiry, I learnt that the banks of the canal were being maintained as a garden by citizens of Thanjavur.

Once Green
A Saint once said, "It is impossible for us to sense God; for as human beings, we sense what is, and suddenly is not - like 'light' and 'darkness' (the lack of it); How can we know God, when he always is." That is wisdom indeed.

We ignore nature, and fail to notice initiatives that make our world a better place. It was quite difficult to find a photograph of the same, before this happened. As luck had it, I managed to find quite a few. The road, happens to be frequented by tourists as it is home to a hotel, and is geographically, quite close to the 'The Brahadeeshwarar Temple', our World Heritage Site (map).

Stranger, was the fact, that press had most ignored any mention of it whatsoever. Not a word had been published on any of the local dailies. "Free Speech" and "Expression" for the citizen, it seemed were blissfully forgotten.

The "Bulldozing the Green" drive
I inquired further, and found photographs taken when they had bulldozed through all this. They had done this on the 24th of January, 2011, just a day before the world's eyes trained on Egypt. I had driven past at least a dozen times, and had failed to notice all the greenery and the neatness with which it was maintained.

If they were planning an initiative to make the town greener, this definitely wasn't what I was expecting. Upon further search, I found that such urban "green demolition" (mumbai) was not uncommon.

To the outside world, Thanjavur is supposed to be the "rice bowl" of South India. Bangalore was the "Garden City". What is the legacy, that we can leave to the children of the future: Cars, Mobile Phone towers, Technology, Patents or the protection of nature?

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Patriot's Paradox

I had to wait a while ( just 3000 seconds . I love waits (they're wondrous, sometimes they get me wild enough to leave immediately and save my day) before the Guest turned up. The welcome programme began with the right rhythm - welcoming, keynote, honouring (the Chief Guest.) The next item was "Chief Guest's Address," given the absence of a schedule, my narrative should do insofar. The event started just an hour late. Punctuality is to be suffered by the few who choose it.

The Chief Guest took to the lectern, and opened out what seemed to a long written speech. He is a Software Developer whose entire career has been between a Large Township supporting a Factory and Academic updates at a Regional Educational Institution. Until then, he had not spoken a word, and we looked at him with reverence.

The floodgates of callous, anachronic, disconnected sentences poured open the most obnoxious speech, I have ever heard of my Nation. "India is a nation that has always been and continues to be slaves. We have been and ever will be slaves to technology, except for the happenings of the past 3 decades where some hope has dawned." he began, shocking though as it was. This was the moment, the idiom "empty vessels make more noise," had waited for. He went on, "Alexander, the Great (Alexandros Megasthenos) defeated an Indian warlord Purushottam because they had superior technological advantage in cavalry. Purushottam (or Porus,) was defeated by the supreme army because he had slow moving elephants, while Alexander's cavalry were swift and made quick work of Porus' defeat." According to the Chief Guest, this was a great historical example of how Indian technology has never developed and bowed down to western greatness.

Insulting the people who lived in that time (c. 326 BC) and attributing a reason out of nowhere, while giving the keynote address of a Scientific Paper Presentation discourse. He seems to have forgotten that Elephant formations used cavalry for protection. Agile archers wearing no armour using the thick forest covers easily ambushed him. Given the genius of Alexander the Great, he defeated Porus with fair strategy. For a strange reason, he let him live, and also let Seleucus Nicator venture South Westward to establish the later Seleucid empire. Alexander's battle troops were too tired to be trained for better tactics to face interior India. The Kingdom of Porus is within the territory of present day Afghanistan. Accounts cite that Porus, grieved at the loss of his son, surrendered but refused to accept Alexander as his Emperor. Alexander's teacher Aristotle once quipped, "The east has a way of swallowing its enemies." The visit proved that to be true.

Did he know that the Greeks rode all the way down across Persia, with a cavalry, riding bareback on horses that did not have a saddle? Did he know that the Indian cavalry of Porus had saddles, and armory for the horse?

More words, now came, in torrents with confidence on a subject with minimalist knowledge.
"Babur invaded India somewhere in 500 AD, or something. He had superior artillery power which gave him full advantage and some other King in India, who had not invested time nor effort to build technology. That is why we (Indians) are slaves to technology."

This was Babur's special mention in historical annals. A force of 10,000 defeated Ibrahim Lodi's stronger force of 110,000 (arithmetically equivalent to 1 averaging 110 kills.) Ibrahim Lodi, despite strategic advantage lost. Wait, where and how did Lodi come from? At least at that time, Lodi wasn't considered a native Indian, but a descendant of recent migrants. The battle also took place in 1526 AD (a frequent one in 'are you smarter than a fifth grader?' [India]) We have forgotten that this is one migrant attempting to thwart another.

Emperor Ashok became King in 274 BC and held what is probably the largest Indian empire for another 8 centuries. Let's ignore him, his technology, the Arthashastra. Politics is misunderstood as history. It is also recorded that Ashok was one of the earliest monarchs to have passed an edict that outlawed slavery. Most battles are won or lost the moment planning is done, execution at every level has its surprises, but the political gameplay controls (almost) everything. India had advances in politics and diplomacy at that time.

He continues to drum on, while I reined in my eagerness to chip in. He then went on to say, "SAP started in 1973, with founders who had left IBM. They believed in a new model, but held their resolve for two decades, only to reap one of the largest market rates in 1993. We, Indians are not resilient, and therefore do not achieve."

SAP, as a company has a history, quite unlike the garage startups which originated from the Silicon Valley. Was SAP too slow to deploy? Did they find too early a solution? In today's market no one can be resilient? If they had started two decades later, we wouldn't be referring t them here.

Are Indians Resilient? Historically, we have always shown great resolve. All cultures who invaded us, we have assimilated. India: "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated." The ancient lifestyle is recorded in many books including the Arthashastra for a period 300 BC. After 12th Century AD, we have several documented examples to refer to and show our resilience. Indian software developers tend to develop a culture of sticking to a mother ship, rather than hitch hiking the galaxy on space trawlers. Yet, we are not slow, we are big, huge, larger than imagination might yield.

He tried his hand at humour, but that comedy is subject for another post.

He continued, "We Indians are still having the slave mentality. All the global companies I had worked with used to state that we are a nation of snake charmers. We do not want to start our own companies or build our own Intellectual property [snip] Indian Infotech professionals create IP and sell it cheap to big clients who make millions, if not trillions of dollars We are not patenting or creating new ideas and intellectual property. We must start creating at least now and not continue to slave and make products for big companies elsewhere in the globe."

Interestingly, he seems to forget that IP is not only created and monetized in India, but is protected by networks of law firms for the geographic region. Vinod Dham or Sabeer Bhatia probably aren't counted as Indians. All the technocrats who originated from here, what happens to them. India now has a TIE chapter (pun intended), several meets where VCs and Investors meet Sponsors. Entrepeneurship, IP creation, Originality, it's all here. Brand "Bangalore" has been made. No longer is India a land of Snake Charmers.

Can inventing, creating be given enough focus in college curriculum or should curriculum be shortened to teach essentials, allowing inventions and creativity to follow through in extended apprenticeships? That is food for thought. If what we are creating is invisible to the eye and intangible, and yet, we continue reaping fruits of our labour, we are creating, competing and getting better. Who owns land or the intangible is always debatable under legal jurisdictions.

Note to self: Next time you go to a function, take the last seat. If you are disinterested, leave the hall pretending to take a photograph. Run for some sanity cover.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Tablet Renaissance - 11 Items to Check

Tablet computing is reaching a vortex with Consumer Electronics vendors, pushing them into the market more enthusiastically than ever. The concept of the Tablet was tried more than once earlier (termed Tablet/PC), deriving designs from the Laptop/PC. Those attempts had mixed results, but no roaring successes. The HP Tablet/PC image on the right is sweet memory of what looked like an oversized Compaq/HP/iPaq. With new Mobile Microprocessors, the advent of platforms like Android, the game has undoubtedly changed. The Laptop/PC itself has evolved into the more portable and light-weight Netbook. We would quickly associate the term "tablet" to Apple's much hyped iPad.

Yet, will people take to using tablets? Practical usability of Tablets would depend on
  1. Size, form factor of the Tablet
  2. Interface usability - display readability, touch screens, keypads, voice recognition
  3. Weight of the Tablet (People hate lugging heavy slates.)
  4. Battery Life (surviving longer without a recharge.)
  5. Connectivity options (3G, WiFi, WiMax, USB, ethernet ...)
  6. Memory Storage (Internal Storage, Expansion Options, Maximum Limits)
  7. Application availability (Application stores, reasonable variety of options.)
  8. Utility and Productivity value (Business and Entertainment use.)
  9. Freedom to customize, theme and personalize
  10. Availability of Accessories (Docks, Sleeves)
  11. After Sales Support and Services!
As the market is highly nascent, 'size' is something that has not crystallised yet. Devices with display sizes varying from 5" to 11", with/without keypads or touchpads are available. The popularity of the Amazon Kindle (as an eBook reader) seemed to have triggered a Domino effect in creation and commercialisation of Tablets. Comparisons and theories on whether Apple iPad started the Tablet craze or the eBook readers did are abundant.

I find the form factor of tablets, a little heavier to carry around; while my laptop is still remains indispensable for my work. Screen size definitely improves readability, and the iPad probably got it just right in terms of readability.

I do find the tablet useful for
  1. Quick information lookup and search
  2. Updating a microblog
  3. Checking email
  4. Reading documents, eBooks
  5. Getting Navigation Assistance
  6. Testing out mobile applications
  7. An alternative when I cannot carry my Laptop
I still find a few issues that would have to be sorted out, as the devices become more commonly used:
  • Charger compatibility and standardisation
  • Video output for quick use as a presentation tool
  • Easy solutions to carry a Tablet
  • Information security and privacy concerns
  • Seamless and dynamic network connectivity/migration
  • Pricing of Tablets, upgrades and accessories is yet to settle down
  • Dependence on the "Cloud Infrastructure" is heavy, but is Cloud infrastructure failsafe?
Solutions do exist for the items I have listed, but they still remain open in search of better solutions. The Tablets overlap an application space taken up by smartphones, and once served by the PDA. Their advent in the markets is more an evolution of the PDA (into the Smartphone, and now the Tablet.) Players who were successful earlier, like "Palm" have found it difficult to keep up with the momentum of the smartphone era. Players who have succeeded in the Smartphone era like "Research In Motion" (RIM) are worried about their survival in the upcoming Tablet era. New entrants come in with lots of innovations. The "Notion Ink", for example, (image, left) on one variant claims 15 hours of battery life. Will such claims hold when the devices are put to real use?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Telephony Network: Voice & Data Access in India

The growth of Indian Infrastructure nation-wide over the last couple of decades has not been consistent and well planned. This accounts for Transport, Food, City/Town Planning and various arenas.

One area where Indian Infrastructure has been doing well (largely by having opened it to the private sector) is 'Telecom, Network reach, Voice and Data accessibility.' Data on actual network access has not been easy to get given the diversity off the players in the field. This Internet usage statistics (IWS) seems to ignore mobile users who now have some form of Internet access.

Mobile phone usage in India ranks 3rd in the world (ranking China and the EU ahead of India.) An independent study mentions that 40 million users access the Internet from Mobile phones. A paper by Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala and team illustrates barriers in technology while expanding India's telephone network (which made major upgrades in 1991-2010) incrementally improving accessibility.

Today, urban and rural users of telephony in India rely heavily on mobile phone networks. Accessibility in rural areas has also been growing. I was impressed by the availability of telephony, mobile network and broadband data access in remote estates south of the eastern ghats. The main user community are villagers around the area, while the nearest towns are located almost 200km away from the main ghat sections. The cost of voice/data services in India has been at an affordable level in comparison to other countries and regions.

Technology entrepreneurs are now relying on continuing increase of users to push solutions through mobile telephony. Every business, and therefore other infrastructure segments now have an opportunity to reach more people through communication. Applications targeted at farmers to help them in pricing their produce and planning their crops are good examples.

The volume, availability and affordability of telephony in India has been fuelled in part by the Government's Spectrum allocation and largely by corporate pricing wars across multiple players and entrants.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Linux Unleashed (2011)

Over a decade ago, the landscape of open source was predominantly GNU/Linux with Mozilla and the Apache foundation. Teamed up with MySQL, the server scape was slowly assimilated. The Desktop was young with Slackware, Debian, Redhat, Mandrake making early in-roads. Few saw Linux as a solution for the desktop where usability translated to simplicity. Hackers (programmers), sysadmins adopted GNU/Linux in whatever form it was available. At the same time, IBM was demonstrating Linux on its mainframes and packing it onto a wristwatch. They had proven that it was practically scalable. The impact at that time was subtle, but a revolution had begun.

In the early days of GNU/Linux, there were frequent comparisons of Linux with Microsoft's Windows and Mac OS (many serving as flame-bait in mailing lists and forums.) Computing devices were not yet commodity and the OS/System Software space was presumed to be an oligopoly. The "OS" was seen as a product, an end in itself, rather than the means to an application (which is easier from today's perspective.) To be fair today, Linux does not have a single perspective (or personality) to project it as a 'de facto' desktop OS alternative. Ubuntu, Knoppix, Linux Mint, Arch, CentOS, Fedora, OpenSuSE and the list goes on.

I remember a discussion in 2001 with my then CEO (Codito), Harshad Pathak. We were a group of hackers trying to define data abstraction, data hiding and data encapsulation. He came up with lines of wisdom, "I don't care what Operating System my Phone is running as long as I can make calls and use it for texting. Embedded Linux, Windows CE - it really doesn't matter." As techies, to us, the OS was sacred, and that transformed the discussion into an argument. An Operating System must facilitate the user to accomplish something, which could be done only through an application or service or a mix of both.

Today, we are precisely in the scenario where the GNU/Linux ecosystem has facilitated end-user productivity through applications, platforms and cohesive technology. Google uses data centres powered by the GNU/Linux ecosystem. Android derives from a Linux kernel. Chrome-OS derives from a Linux kernel. Facebook runs scalable servers powered by GNU/Linux. Desktop options powered by GNU/Linux are innumerable as this infographic reveals. Alternate OS platforms including Sun (now Oracle)'s OpenSolaris, OpenStorage, BSD's contributions as FreeBSD (forked as Darwin became a part of Mac OS), OpenBSD and NetBSD offer a much larger palette to choose from.

Android users are clearly using a phone, empowered with applications and web services from google. The Internet has many businesses providing services in a SaaS model, a good number of them powered by the ongoing Open Source revolution. Business models have undergone radical changes. Semiconductor companies (Intel, AMD, ARM, TI, FreeScale - to name a few) have gone out of the way to ensure System Software (compiler, OS) level support for new Silicon solutions through the Open Source Community. As this has gradually happened, there is a perceived reduction in solution costs that have been passed on to the end user. The spectrum of smart-phones and tablets at CES 2011 was more than proof of how semiconductor majors worked on reducing time-to-market and system-software costs.

Businesses are increasingly adapting and learning to use community source (rather than roll their own code for everything,) wherever it gives them a significant advantage. The businesses having understood the potential, have also begun to reciprocate to the community. It's happening right now, almost oblivious to the glitz and glamour of a Consumer gadget show or a Technology forum.
Proprietary stand-alone platforms are quickly revising and re-inventing. To name a few, Microsoft Live, Microsoft Azure have been Microsoft's answer to the changing technology scape. Rumour mills suggest Apple Sabertooth could be Apple's answer to the change.

Ultimately, what began as the GNU revolution, and then the GNU/Linux revolution, to a full-fledged ecosystem expanding with options as new players joined has changed Information Technology irreversibly. 'The Cloud' is often compared with earlier ideas proposing 'Network Computers', later 'Network Computing.' Yet, the cloud solutions available rely on the evolved Open Source ecosystem. Community Source / Open Source has finally emerged as part of the change and catalyst to the change. The entire system has evolved without serving goals or targets of its own original projects by allowing itself and therefore impact, goal and user-base to change. The business model of the Open Internet Venture is here to stay. Corporate Entities and Governments are also embracing Open Source (WSJ).