Woke up today to the news of the SpaceX rocket getting destroyed in a pre-launch fire. SpaceX has made commendable progress in establishing commercial space launches after NASA let go of the monopoly. Considering the amount of progress SpaceX has done in the past five-six years, the speed is tremendous.
In history, regimes can’t be classified in binary. Their activities, actions and achievements have to be summed contextually. Even then, without accounting for multiple perspectives, judging a regime as good or bad should not ensue.
The British rule of India is one such regime which evoke extreme opinions. The Brits, from most accounts, did run their government in a typically high handed manner.
However, one cannot but admire their steadfastness and rigor in the pursuit of scientific exploration.
This is best highlighted in the book “The Great Arc” by John Keay which traces a century of work to measure the length and breadth of India. This is a book that must be made compulsory reading in high schools across the world, for it lays bare, a story on how humans satiated their thirst for knowledge in a still primitive age, how they overcame all odds while achieving their goals and finally how they strove for perfection in the middle of very trying circumstances.
Some notes from the book –
- The whole business of measuring India’s “geodesy” started from Mysore after Tipu’s fall.
- In the absence of any “droogs” (durga) near Tanjore, how they tried to use the Brihadeeswara Temple’s arch to mount their theodolite and how it fell damaging the instrument. (There is however no mention of any possible damages to the temple arch.)
- In complete contrast, they do not even attempt to make use of the Taj Mahal fearing that it might be harmed.
- George Everest looked condescendingly towards his boss William Lambton’s assistants Joshua de penning, Joseph Olliver, William Rossenrode as they were “mestizoes” or half-caste Britons. (a la Muhajirs?)
- Radhanath Sickdhar, who was the Chief Computer towards the later part of the Survey, did not necessarily discover the peaks as is widely believed in India. His was a relatively smaller, but significant role in measuring the peaks while based in Calcutta.
The humongous magnitude of the survey can be probably inferred from the fact, that the persons who took charge after Everest retired and completed the survey probably weren’t even born when the survey was conceived by William Lambton.
Another important fact to be noted is that this survey was entirely bankrolled by the East India Company as a precursor to their expansion activities in India. This could be an indication to the amount of profits they may have been making from India.
Overall, a very important story for totally different reasons and perspectives. Only hope somebody writes a similar book on the Great Indian Railway.
The other day I was watching a show on mentalism on National Geographic. Though sceptical about such shows most of which seem to be staged nowadays, I couldn’t help but remember my own tryst with accidental telepathy, way back in high school.
It was the Doordarshan era and interesting shows were only a handful. “Turning Point” hosted by Girish Karnad was a favorite. That show had a Q&A section handled by Prof Yashpal. We could write our questions in a postcard and send it to them. They would choose questions using some heuristics and answer them in the show.
I was (am) a voracious reader and I read about some guys in a novel who were communicating with each other via “telepathy”. I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about telepathy and how it worked. I wrote my question in a postcard and posted it. And forgot all about it for some months.
One day, my English teacher at school asked me if my question about telepathy was answered in the show. I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t talked about my curiosity about telepathy with anybody and wondered how did my teacher knew about it. I asked her.
She gave a bewildered look and asked me, “You did tell me telepathically about your question and that you had posted your card”. Taken aback, I started thinking about when I did that and how did that happen. I was amazed with myself for having been able to transmit messages mentally. I was also wary about having amnesia. Maybe I had discussed this with my teacher and had forgotten about it. On all accounts, my mind was in a free whirl the whole day and a couple of days after.
After a week, my teacher gave me a postcard. That was my own postcard in which I had written my question and had posted it to Turning Point.
It turned out that I hadn’t posted it after all. Me and my teacher both used to go the public library in our neighbourhood to read and borrow books. I had written the postcard and must have kept it inside one of those books. My teacher had accidentally come across that postcard and used it to pull my leg.
I did send my question after that, but I guess Prof. Yashpal didn’t know the answer after all 😀
Some time ago – not too long ago – contributors to Open Source Software – nay Free Software – used to be highly motivated geeks mainly driven by the need to scratch their personal itch. Swarms of such geeks got together in the nascent stages of the Internet and built solutions such as GNU tools, Linux, Apache, Sendmail, Perl, Python, Ruby, GNOME, Debian, Slackware, etc. More importantly they built communities. LUG meets, Install fests, mailing lists, IRC were the places that inspired and helped Free/Open Source Software take roots.
And that was when individuals were looked upon with great respect and celebrated amongst these communities as heroes for creating cutting-edge software. A Marcelo Tosatti, who at a ripe age of 18 would decide what features would go into the Linux kernel, an Alan Cox, whose decision to take a sabbatical to study management caused a few ripples, Miguel de Icaza whose influence and contributions were stuff that made legends, Rasmus Ledorf, Monty Widenius, Brian Behlendorf, Richard M Stallman – names among others who were recognized and who inspired thousands others to contribute their mite to Open Source. This was what Eric S Raymondtermed as the Bazaar as opposed to the proprietary and big company Cathedral model.
Cut to the present. Open Source Software is mainly driven by commercial interests. Contributions based on an individual’s interest has decreased radically. Developers responsible for path-breaking tools and packages are no longer recognized by name. Instead, a Hadoop is Yahoo’s Open Source project, Go was written at Google, Docker, Chrome, etc where the individual’s name is lost in a marketing scheme of things.
So, is this change a bad thing? Has the community interest lost out to commercial interests? Are individuals no more motivated to contribute? Do idealism driven interests matter anymore?
I believe that this change has benefited the community as a whole. When there was minimal or no commercial interest in the open source software that one contributed to, the individual’s interests had to be subsidized by the organization he worked at. Hence the profiles of the contributors were more like academicians (eg Alexey Kuznetsov), students (eg Linus Torvalds), hobbyists (eg Bruce Perens) or committed idealists (eg Richard Stallman).
With companies, corporations and non-profits backing newer open source projects, there is a slew of cutting edge technologies available for everybody to use and improve.
- This has ensured that the same technologies that helped Google gain scale and solve problems are available to some students in a remote town in India to cut their teeth with.
- This has helped seed thousands of startups who wouldn’t need to license expensive technologies just to attempt and realize their ideas.
- This has helped lay consumers who use such open source technologies without knowing its technical intricacies. (eg Android).
This has also helped companies and corporations benefit from the value additions other companies/individuals make to the projects. Corporations also stand to gain from a huge talent pool that have already demonstrated their expertise using the same tools that their engineering teams use. It also helps that these open source software face almost no entry barriers into billion-dollar companies, which earlier was the case.
Nowadays, it is a given that the platform of choice for any application to be developed has to be invariably open source (Linux, Chrome, MySQL, NodeJS, etc). Free/Open Source Software also levels the playing fields for different sized companies alike.
So, the changing face of Open Source Software development from a Cathedral to a Bazaar to a Bazaar-in-the-Cathedral model has had a profound impact and is definitely benefiting the community as a whole.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andycastro/3759276819
It is heartening to note that the new Government is trying hard to involve people in more and more of their policy initiatives. One such initiative is their “Policy on Collaborative Application development by Opening the source code of Applications“.
Since I have extensive experience working with Government Organizations to deploy various solutions, I take the liberty to comment and suggest some points that augment the central idea in their draft policy.
Need for standardization and simplification:
The foremost problem I see in order to create a culture of developing and using open source components are complex rules. Though there has been a start, a lot more simplification of rules is the need of the hour. In my experience, though we started out with a good set of documented processes, we finally ended up translating Swamy’s Handbooks and Manuals to Software Code. Very obviously the software turned out to be heavily customized for the usage of the organization.
Simplified and standardized processes across government organizations help in developing reusable and easily maintainable code. This, I think is a must do to encourage proliferation of open source culture.
A cloud based platform for apps
One of the main problems, most Government organization face is that they do not usually have dedicated IT personnel and even the ones they have are inundated with a lot of work. This leads to under-maintenance, support starved and no motivation to use scenarios.
A cloud based platform similar (in concept) to Salesforce could go a long way in helping developers integrate components and solutions quickly, while easing maintenance nightmares for the organizations. Of course, the platform should be based on Open Source stacks.
Style Guides, Aesthetic Sense and Intuitive Design
Currently User Interfaces, most documentation (including this Draft Policy) suffer from just a “adequate-is-enough” syndrome. Recently there was an instance which made the rounds on social media, where a printout of a spreadsheet was pasted in another spreadsheet (for compliance) and circulated. As long as the real benefits of “digital” content is not realized by the user community, most of the efforts go useless.
Towards this, educating users, compiling and compelling adherence to style guides, inculcating an aesthetic sense towards creating content should be invested upon. Developers need to prioritize intuitive design, localization from the ground up for gaining maximum value from these efforts.
The Policy should consider these factors and put in a set of holistic guidelines, so that the entire program can be sustained and expanded.
I worked as a contractor for BARC, CSB, University of Mysore, BSNL to develop their e-Governance and other software for almost 10 years since 2001-2011. For most of them, I began by convincing them of the need to use open source software. I also committed to deliver and delivered the source code for software I developed.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rooreynolds/8574509123/
- The consumer price point seems to be just right to target the lower and the middle income population which is a significant chunk of India’s whole.
- The assembly is done locally by local partners.
- The specs look highly competitive.
- The software and some features are tuned to Indian needs and sensibilities.
Though they do not make money directly, Google’s monetization strategy from services like Search, Youtube, Mail look pretty sound and they should add significantly to their bottom-line from these markets. Especially since they could have a first movers advantage in the nascent vernacular markets.
There is an obvious lesson here for tackling the ‘Emerging Markets’ conundrums that lot of product teams in global companies face.
- Deciding what features to strip so as to de-value their cutting edge innovations to make it affordable in these markets (eg Car manufacturers)
- Bringing their innovations as-is with a significant cost reduction and risk “brand dilution”.
- Sell products targeting a premium and niche customer base and fail to gain suitable market traction.
Google seems to have found a solution for all these difficulties and might just go on to create a customer base of the next 5 billion smartphone users.
Can this be a template for others? Only time can decide.
Originally posted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140916110024-37393827-frugal-innovation-and-android-one
14 March 2025
Hi, I’m Gyanesh Harindra – a 36 year old investigative journalist with The Hindustan Dak. Of late, my efforts at digging for the truth are throwing up a lot of uncomfortable facts and questions. Let me take you through the journey that has left my brain think it is at the wheels of a rudderless boat.
12 January 2025
It was a chilly Sunday morning. I was getting ready to meet the mysterious caller who had called me last night. The caller had sounded very excited and worried at the same time. He had mentioned about some important piece of information he had in his possession. I thought it was odd that he wanted to meet me on the 0710 Chennai Express. In my career so far, this was the first time somebody wanted to meet me while travelling.
I quickly finished my breakfast Soylent and hopped on my bike. It was a good thing, I remembered to plug the bike for charging as the first thing when I woke up that morning. I was just in time to catch the 0645 metro to the railway station.
I was wearing my red pullover that served two purposes – to beat the cold and to identify myself to the mystery man. My next seat was occupied by a meek looking teenager, who was engrossed in watching a kannada movie on his Personal Access Display Device. As the train started to move, a short and stout bespectacled middle-aged man – with a prominent religious mark dotting his forehead and temple making him look very spiritually inclined – came and asked the boy sitting next to me if he could switch seats. The boy though taken aback, silently nodded and just as silently went and sat in the man’s seat a few rows away. My new neighbour made himself comfortable and slowly started searching through his pant pockets.
He took out his mobile phone – the model looked at least a few years old – and proceeded to check his messages. Quite suddenly, he turned to me and asked me if I had a spare memory pin. I understood that this was the mystery man who called me yesterday and had asked me to get a couple of memory pins. I handed him an empty memory pin, I was carrying. He inserted that into his mobile phone and started tapping furiously. He kept the phone in his shirt pocket, turned to me, gave back my pin and said – “Namaste, you must be Gyanesh”. I replied “Yes”. He followed:
“I’m Yethiraj Shodhan. I’m working at the UIDAI as a Project Specialist for the past six years. I know about your RTI applications seeking information about the recent Guttahalli property disputes.“
My eyes lit up expecting a stash of information about the most famous case in recent times. However he said “I’m sorry I do not have anything specific to the case, but I do however want to tell you something more sinister that is connected to that case. What you do with the information I’m about to reveal is upto you.”
“As you know for the past few years the UID as a platform gained quite a bit of steam and has established itself in an unassailable position. Every government body uses UID to authenticate and authorize, every financial institution tags every transaction with the UID, telecom companies use it to authorize their services, transport companies use it to authenticate online and book seats, toll plazas use it with their pre-paid cards to allow vehicles through their poll booths unattended, entertainment centers like multiplexes, amusement parks use it to verify access. UID is so ubiquitous, that people have long forgotten all the opposition and brouhaha it faced in its initial stages.
“UID has proved to be so effective for law enforcement that agencies have forgotten investigation techniques without using UID.”
At this point, I was a bit apprehensive about his credibility. However I asked him “Isn’t UID not supposed to track people? Wasn’t that guarantee provided when this was approved by the parliament way back in 2014?”
“You’ve been asleep at the door, my friend. Four years back parliament approved a one line amendment that allowed tracking of UID transactions, of course, to be closely monitored by an oversight committee. This was followed by the establishment of a new specialized agency called Internal Intelligence Unit. They are eponymously called just In2. Now, In2 owns a data center that has a peering arrangement with the UID data centers. Actually I’m not sure if there is only one or many, though.”
“I act as the liaison for UID and In2, and I know first hand how the UID has become a boon for law enforcement. For instance, the police identified the perpetrators of the bear run on the stock market within minutes and arrested them almost red handed at their own premises. Trailing and IDing suspects has become a no brainer now. The general law and order has improved quite a lot because of the UID, though the government doesn’t credit it publicly.”
“However, I’m not here to advocate for UID. I’m here to do just the opposite. There is a cabal of politicians, intelligence officers, businessmen, bureaucrats who are subverting the whole process and systems for their own benefits. Though there is a parliamentary oversight committee that meets once every month and goes through the summary of the logs prepared for them, they aren’t equipped to cross examine and go deep into the workings of In2.”
“The additional director and quite a few others are fixing these loopholes to their benefit. They have systems in place that ride on top of In2’s systems and obtain comprehensive information about any person who has a UID number. They also cross link the bank account numbers, PAN number, Voter number, Insurance, Licenses, business permits, Professional membership numbers, private clubs memberships, credit/debit card numbers, employee numbers and what not, to create fingerprints of private citizens and businesses. This information is then sold to whoever comes looking for it including political opponents, business competitors, stalkers, celebrity hunters, underworld goons, marketers and even foreign spies.”
“The way the cabal have stitched these systems, it is very easy for them to monitor the movements of any person entirely remotely without the tracked person coming to know about it in anyway. In fact the case you’re pursuing has the potential to blow the lids of these operations. I actually tried to piece together as to what would have happened on the case. This is my theory.”
“The Professor who had inherited a large property had no heirs. He wanted to give away the property to some charitable organization. He in fact had registered a will to that effect. But once he died, a new will was found which was linked to the property at the registrar’s office. Of course it was authenticated using his biometrics. This ‘will’ bequeathed his property to some individual who claims he had served the Professor as his secretary. But this is hotly contested by the charitable organization who says the Professor had indeed reiterated his intent to leave his property for the organization just a few weeks back before his death.”
“There is no doubt that there is some foul play in the whole story. I recently discovered that the same cabal had hired some underground hackers to create a nano device that grabs signatures from the wire while they are being sent to the UID authentication servers, which they can reuse for various forgery purposes. They’re very discrete in using this and I believe they’re using it only for a limited number of high value frauds like this one.”
“There is no way these people can get caught as they are always a step ahead of anybody who might want to investigate them. They are constantly monitoring the airwaves and the cables for communication about this facility. Once alerted,they simply throw them off trail or eliminate their threat.”
I was stunned by this deluge of information. I realized that I was not prepared for this at all. I asked him as to how did he expect me to proceed. He said;
“The UID is doing quite a lot of good for a large number of people, while it has the potential to bring upon a great deal of suffering because of the actions of some people. In my opinion stopping UID right now might not be a great idea. It should have been stopped way back when it was being conceived or was in its nascent stages.”
“I’ve transferred whatever I had with me about these activities into that memory pin I gave you. I’ve been spiritually inclined for the past couple of years and I have quit my job. I’m taking up Sanyaasa Deeksha. I leave it entirely to your discretion, as to what to do with the information. In some ways, I just shifted my wheel of burden onto your head.”
“My stop has arrived. I’ll alight. May you be blessed with the knowledge of righteousness and may you follow that path. Goodbye.”
As soon as he left, I got a message on my mobile phone – “Congratulations! Your data plan has been upgraded to an unlimited plan. Please swipe your index finger across the UID Validator™ in the device to accept and activate”.
Here is a sketching attempt I did out of boredom!
It depicts a scene that shows a man with a bump on his head shouting at a naughty boy. The naughty boy – whose shot at a mango from a catapult has missed and has hit the man on his head, is seen frightened.
I have uploaded it onto Open Clip Art for your usage pleasure.
Critique, comments welcome 😀
Here’s a simple python script to convert latitude, longitude to addresses. It depends on Google Map’s Reverse Coding API.