We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Papers and posters at ICTD 2012 Conference

Information communication technology for development is the latest trend in helping Computer Science research get into solving practical socio-economic problems around developing countries like India and many African countries. Here is a peek into different submissions of papers for the same for the conference.

Facilitated Video Instruction in Low Resource Schools, Richard Anderson, University of Washington; Chad Robertson, University of Washington; Urvashi Sahni, Study Hall Foundation; Esha Nabi, Study Hall Foundation; Tanuja Setia, Study Hall Foundation

Design of a Phone-Based Clinical Decision Support System for Resource-Limited Settings, Yaw Anokwa, University of Washington; Nyoman Ribeka, Regenstrief Institute; Tapan Parikh, University of California, Berkeley; Gaetano Borriello, University of Washington; Martin Were, Regenstrief Institute

Reporting Water Quality – A Case-study of a Mobile Phone Application for Collecting Data in Developing Countries, Michael Champanis, University of Cape Town; Ulrike Rivett, University of Cape Town

ICTs and Development in the Thai Bureaucracy: An Examination of Decentralization and Organizational Change, Radaphat Chongthammakun, University of Michigan; Joyojeet Pal, University of Michigan

See No Evil? Ethics in an Interventionist ICTD, Andy Dearden, Sheffield Hallam University

Improving Community Health Worker Performance Through Automated SMS, Brian DeRenzi, University of Washington; Leah Findlater, University of Washington; Jonathan Payne, D-Tree International; Benjamin Birnbaum, University of Washington; Joachim Mangilima, D-tree International; Tapan Parikh, University of California, Berkeley; Gaetano Borriello, University of Washington; Neal Lesh, Dimagi, Inc.

Considering Failure: Eight Years of ITID Research, Leslie Dodson, University of Colorado at Boulder; Sarah Revi Sterling, University of Colorado at Boulder; John Bennett, University of Colorado at Boulder

On the Relationship Between Socio-Economic Factors and Cell Phone Usage, Vanessa Frias-Martinez, Telefonica Research; Jesus Virseda, Telefonica Research

The Changing Field of ICTD: Content Analysis of Published Research, 2000-2010, Ricardo Gomez, University of Washington; Luis Baron, University of Washington; Brittany Fiore-Silfvast, University of Washington

M-Banking as a Link to Formal Financial Services: Findings From an East African Country, Ishita Gosh, Pennsylvania State University

The Role of ICTs in Downscaling and Up-Scaling Integrated Weather Forecasts for Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Muthoni Masinde, HPI, ICT4D Research School, UCT

An Analysis of Screen Reader Use in India, Edward McCarthy, University of Michigan; Joyojeet Pal, University of Michigan; Ed Cutrell, Microsoft Research India; Tanvi Marballi, NYU Poly

Measuring Water Collection Times in Kenyan Informal Settlements, Julio Miles, U. C. Santa Cruz; James Davis, U.C. Santa Cruz; Ben Crow, U.C. Santa Cruz

Emergent Practices Around CGNet Swara, A Voice Forum for Citizen Journalism in Rural India, Preeti Mudliar, UT Austin; Jonathan Donner, Microsoft Research; William Thies, Microsoft Research India

Power to the Peers: Authority of Source Effects for a Voice-based Agricultural Information Service in Rural India, Neil Patel, Stanford; Krishna Savani; Scott Klemmer; Tapan Parikh, University of Berkeley, California

Anthropology, Development and ICTs: Slums, Youth and the Mobile Internet in Urban India, Nimmi Rangaswamy, Microsoft Research India; Ed Cutrell, Microsoft Research India

Social Networking in Developing Regions, Azarias Reda, University of Michigan; Sam Shah, LinkedIn; Mitul Tiwari, LinkedIn; Anita Lillie, LinkedIn; Brian Noble, University of Michigan

A Prepaid Architecture for Solar Electricity Delivery in Rural Areas, Daniel Soto, Columbia University; Matt Basinger, Columbia University; Sebastian Rodriguez-Sanchez, Columbia University; Vijay Modi, Columbia University

Posters Accepted for ICTD 2012
VillageCell: Cost Effective Cellular Connectivity in Rural Areas, Abhinav Anand, University of California, Santa Barbara; Veljko Pejovic, UC Santa Barbara; Elizabeth Belding, University of California, Santa Barbara; David Johnson, University of California, Santa Barbara

Software for National Level Vaccine Cold Chain Equipment Management, Richard Anderson, University of Washington; John Lloyd, PATH; Sophie Newland, PATH

Sharing in Public: Working With Others in Ghanaian Cybercafés, Michael Best, Georgia Tech; Bence Kollanyi, Georgia Tech; Sunil Garg, Georgia Tech

Drinking ‘WATER Alert!’ for South Africans: Sending Symbol-Based Alerts via a Mobile Phone Application, Deana Brown, Georgia Institute of Technology; Gary Marsden, University of Cape Town

The Midwife’s Assistant: Designing Instructional Software for Diagnostic Ultrasound, Waylon Brunette, University of Washington; Ruth Anderson, University of Washington; Beth Kolko, University of Washington; Alexis Hope, University of Washington; Jacqueline Keh, University of Washington; Wayne Gerard, University of Washington

ICTD Interventions: Trends over the Last Decade, Christopher Chepken, UCT; Raymond Mugwanya, UCT; Gary Marsden, University of Cape Town; Edwin Blake, University of Cape Town

Network Traffic Locality in a Rural African Village, David Johnson, UC, Santa Barbara; Elizabeth Belding, UC, Santa Barbara; Gertjan van Stam, Linknet

Participation through Mobile Phones - A Study of SMS Use during the Ugandan General Elections 2011, Anna Karefelt, Uppsala University; Johan Hellström, Stockholm University

PhonePeti: Exploring the Role of an Answering Machine System in Community Radio, Zahir Koradia, Indian Institute of Technology; Aaditeshwar Seth, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

Grassroots Mobilization of Internet NGOs in China: The Cases of www.1kg.org and www.geshanghua.org, Tian Luo, Ohio University

The Role of Gender in Mobile Phone Use: Quantitative Evidence from Rwanda, Ashley Nguyen, U.C. Berkeley; Anita Mehrotra, U.C. Berkeley; Viraj Mohan, U.C. Berkeley; Joshua Blumenstock, U.C. Berkeley School of Information

Assistive Technology and the Employment of People with Vision Impairments in India, Joyojeet Pal, University of Michigan; Meera Lakshmanan, Cambridge

Local-Language Digital Information in India: Challenges and Opportunities for Screen Readers, Joyojeet Pal, University of Michigan; Vrutti Vyas, NYU Poly; Anjali Vartak, NYU Poly; Avinash Vutukuri, NYU Poly; Yeswanth Gogineni, NYU-Poly; Kunjan Sanghavi, NYU Poly; Vivek Veeraiah, NYU Poly; Kiran Bartakee, NYU Poly

ICT Access and Use by Microentrepreneurs in Mumbai, India: A Value Chain Model Analysis, Vigneswara Pandian, IIT Delhi

ICT Diffusion in the Republic of Armenia, Katy Pearce, U.C., Santa Barbara

Communicating About Users in ICTD: Leveraging HCI Personas, Cynthia Putnam, DePaul University; Beth Kolko, University of Washington; Siri Wood, PATH

Viral Entertainment as Vehicle for Disseminating Speech Based Services to Low Literate Users, Agha Ali Raza, Carnegie Mellon University; Roni Rosenfeld, Carnegie Mellon University; Jahanzeb Sherwani, Carnegie Mellon University; Christina Milo, Carnegie Mellon University; Guy Alster, Carnegie Mellon University; Umar Saif, Lahore University of Management Sciences; Mansoor Pervaiz, Lahore University of Management Sciences; Samia Razaq, Lahore University of Management Sciences

CVDMagic: A Mobile Based Study for CVD Risk Detection in Rural India, Pushpendra Singh, IIIT-Delhi; Amarjeet Singh, IIIT-Delhi; Vinayak Naik, IIIT-Delhi; Sangeeta Lal, IIIT-Delhi

Natural Obsolescence or Cultural Evolution? A Multidisciplinary Case Study of Village Phone, Kentaro Toyama, UC Berkeley; Sara Boettiger, UC Berkeley; Rezwana Abed, UC Berkeley

Designing a Voice-Based Employment Exchange for Rural India, Jerome White, IBM; Mayuri Duggirala, IBM; Saurabh Srivastava, IBM; Krishna Kummamuru, IBM

Thursday, November 17, 2011

IncTalks ...in association with TED

I was surprised to find this prestigious conference taking place in Lavasa near Pune. An achievement.

INK (Innovation and Knowledge) is an annual conference held in association with TED. It brings together influential thinkers and doers from around the world and in a variety of disciplines, including art, architecture, dance, design, music, science, social entrepreneurship, sports, and technology. What originated as TEDIndia in 2009 is now continued as the INK conference.


A related video

The Internet and Democracies ...A Delusion ....

Are the insurgencies spawned in the "Arab Spring" riding a wave borne by the Internet, or are the new information technologies more likely to subvert those very movements? 

Evgeny Morozov, Internet-savvy analyst of social protest, doubts that the new media necessarily represent "technologies of freedom." Instead, he argues in his new book The Net Delusion that repressive regimes may use social networking sites and other digital media to track and subvert popular
causes. Jillian York writes and speaks regularly about free expression, politics and the Internet, with a focus on the Arab world and particularly Morocco and parts of North Africa. Her work has been published in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Foreign Policy and Bloomberg. On November 17, Dissent magazine and the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues' Center for Research on Social Change and the CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative will feature Morozov and York in a forum on what democratic movements all over the world can expect from the new technologies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Intuition vs Intelligence

"Indians are very good at intuition, they do many things by intuition and not by intelligence. I learned to derive simplicity of user interfaces in my products from my Indian experience". A very strong Steve Jobs statement made me think hard on the difference between intuition and intelligence.

And as I thought more on that, it occurred to me, he is so correct. Intuition could be also termed as in a lay man's terms, "the common sense". Take an example of "the complex way in which Indian drive on the roads". No doubt there are tons of road accidents, however over a period of time, people learn to drive a pattern and learn to cope up. Indian democracy since its inception is always cited as one of the miracles on the earth. It has still survived inspite of severe predictions in terms of its fallout and this country getting into all kind of chaos. I can go and and on, citing examples.

What is Intelligence then? Intelligence in my thinking is a formalized intuition. For example. if you try to observe the way traffic flows at a busy interjunction in India where a casual look would showcase absolute chaos. A prolonged look will help you derive a pattern. If you look at the eyes of the motorists and how they signal each other, if you look at the necks of the motorists, the way they nod signalling each other. These all are patterns that you can observe. So if you try to derive a formula out of this chaos, I am sure after a while you will be able to find a pattern in this chaos too. Defining this pattern is nothing but intelligence.

Why is it that in-spite of third class education, third class services, third class politicians and third class governance India still survives? Indian youth still hopes high? Its because of this same intuition. The problems arrive when this intuition does not get converted into intelligence.

A good question to ask is, what converts the intuition into intelligence? In my understanding many times formalism and frameworks are responsible for that job. For example a good education system converts your intuition into a world class intelligence. However, since India lacks all these formalism on almost all fronts, India is a country in shambles the way we see it today. What does western world offers? It offers Intelligence. What does western society teach, they convey an idea of formalism which results into intelligence. That is why our most intelligent people are seen flocking western world, in search of fellow intelligent members who would help them prosper. That is why India can not produce a Nobel prize, where as only handful prize winners in existing Indian society are American residents. (Amartya Sen for example), because India simply does not offer the intellectual growth that is needed, it offers intuitional growth, which most of us witness and observe in our daily lives. Indians lives on their intuitions.

Great that Steve Jobs witnessed it so prominently in his 7 month stay in India. And great that this actually resulted into a better world with so many products he integrated and built.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Technology and Animals

What if your pets / other animals started indicating what they want to you, in an explicit manner? Would that help? This thought occurred to me while having a look at a painfully overloaded bull pulling a bullock cart during one of the religious processions in India.

Why do people make animals work like slaves beyond any means? A good question to ask is, will people stop cruelty towards animals such as exposing animals to huge workloads, excessive noise pollution that happens during festivals in India related such things.

Another interesting thought is, will the pet animals become more friendly if one can understand their body language in more explicit way. For example, your dog wags his tail as a sign of some affection. Would it be better to understand what is on his mind? Now, to understand this question another question to understand is, does a dog really has a mind? Now if we are some how able to transform an animals emotions into an understandable form? Will that help us communicate better or build more complexities in our relations? For example. many people in America keep pets as a sole reason because pets provide you unconditional love without expectations to return it back to you. Human relations are complex. If you have a girlfriend, she would want your attention in terms of spending your time with her, be emotionally available to her, pamper her etc etc. A dog does not expect all these things in an explicit manner, now its a different matter altogether if he might be really expecting these things, but not able to communicate it effectively, so the expectation stays dormant. However, some analysis says, since he is always there for you when you are back home, he loves you unconditionally without expectations. If you have a wife / girlfriend with whom you would do such behaviour chances are that she would divorce / break up with you soon, because she is a human and have definite expectations from you.

So if we are able to build such a devise by which these animals are able to express their emotions, would it complicate humans relationship with them? Like your dog would then be able to say, "Why didn't you not return home today, when I wanted you to return to take for a walk :)". This is an interesting question.

Now turning back to the bull story, even if we had such an expressive device I do not feel it would help to stop cruelty towards these animals, who suffer in muteness, because these acts are committed by selfish people who are just interested in making most out of their resources. An animal is just one of the resource for them. When humans are treated so pathetically at many working places (for example barbaric acts committed during slavery period in Africa), did their committers stop because these people protested? No, in fact they committed even more atrocacies like rape, murders to teach these people better psychological lessons to live under a constant threat. So my stake is even if we were able to form such expressive device, it will not be of any help, because these acts are committed for a purpose of greed, which is very difficult to control.

So I feel these atrocacies on animals will continue and poor animals would continue to suffer in silence.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lemelson-MIT Prize

Improving the World Through Invention

The $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize recognizes individuals who translate their ideas into inventions and innovations that improve the world in which we live.

Dubbed the "Oscar for Inventors," the Lemelson-MIT Prize is awarded to outstanding mid-career inventors, who have developed a patented product or process of significant value to society, which has been adopted for practical use, or has a high probability of being adopted. By recognizing and funding younger, mid-career inventors, the prize is designed to spur inventive careers and provide role models for future generations of inventors.

Lemelson-MIT Prize Objectives

The Lemelson-MIT Prize seeks to highlight the pivotal role inventive activity plays in the achievement of positive social, cultural and economic goals. The objectives of the Lemelson-MIT Prize are to:

recognize and reward America’s outstanding mid-career inventors
encourage broad dissemination of invention(s) to achieve maximum impact
celebrate individuals who enhance economic opportunity and community well-being through their inventive work
foster continued inventive work that creates opportunities and overcomes challenges
increase awareness of the work of inventors and the potential for commercialization and wider adoption of their inventions
promote role models who can inspire young people to pursue creative lives and careers

More here...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs - The genius

Steve Jobs passed away. I read this news with a great shock. The man who ushered an era of animation and the touch has gone forever.

A brief look at his life explains the motivation he drew. He was raised in the campus in Stanford. Many a successful American Technology Entrepreneurs were raised in the vicinity of Stanford. Would Steve Jobs be the same man, had he had missed this opportunity? Being raised in a charged environment at the peak of silicon valley's knowledge mecca, produces its own effects. It imbibes the entrepreneurial spirit, for which silicon valley is known for. It exposes one to the geniuses and their visionary thoughts.

Why can't India produce a Steve Jobs with such a brilliant population? Who is to blame? When technology is considered a distinct child whose existence is being felt just in last couple of years. How can we produce Technological marvels, and the visionaries of technology? Why America stands at the forefront of technology?

I believe there are many Steve Jobs amongst us, however they are lost permanently by the nonsense that goes around in India because of vested Interests of a few people such as politicians and corrupt section of society, which wants to keep India chained to the shackles of caste, religion, and poverty.

Interestingly Steve Jobs was not much famous for his philanthropic efforts, though he emerged from a very poor family background. Bill Gates who was born family rich, is on opposite end. He is turning out to be the biggest philanthropist.

Rest in Peace Steve. You changed the lives of people on this planet in a lot of different ways. Your legacy will never die.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Religion, Science and poverty in India

While reading the book "The God delusion", by Richard Dawkins an interesting thought came to my mind. Why is religion so much prevalent in India? What is the relation between poverty and religion? And what is the relation between Science and religion?

Well, a little bit of thinking made things clear. Religion could be described as the moral code using which a person is supposed to live his life. Now, GOD is considered a superpower who writes these moral codes which ordinary humans are required to follow. Now, this brings us to the position of GOD and science.

Early European scientists were made to retract their statements such as Earth revolves around Sun. Universe was created out of big bang, because it contradicted with the views and dictates of the church. Science was born to analyze why the nature behaves the way it behaves and various mysteries surrounding it, while Church in Europe was adamant in Gods hand in creation of this universe. Thus religion supported and spread a belief system, that Gods creations are not to be questioned. He is the ultimate superpower and should be worshiped.

India's poor have a lot to do with these above said facts. India had always been a fanatically religious country. It is still believed as a land of spirituality. Why are there so many poor people in India? Is religion to blame to some extent? Poor people because of lack of education, such as basic science etc. keep on believing in doctrines of the priests, and many religious leaders, now since they lack a scientific knowledge to question things around, their hold on beliefs such as superpowers and supernatural activities stays strong. Result is they can not come beyond this myopic world and their growth stays limited.

I often wonder. Instead of having so many temples, only if India had had so many basic scientific knowledge centers, this country would have gone so much ahead. There seems to end to the unending nonsense in the name of religion and resultant poverty that arises out of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vigyan Ashram

Vigyan Ashram is a center of Indian Institute Of Education (IIE) Pune. A scientist turned educationalist Late Dr.S.S.Kalbag started Vigyan Ashram in 1983 to find out solution to the problems in education.

For us “Vigyan” means ‘Search of Truth’ and “Ashram” symbolises ‘Simple living and High thinking for us, a organization where all are equal, it’s a modern version of old Gurukul system’

More on this here ...


An idea whose time has come ...

"An idea whose time has come", is a common term heard from many think thanks and visionaries. Recently it was quoted by Ms. Sushma Swaraj, a BJP member, from Indian politics. She said that in the context of "Indian corruption".

Ok. Lets consider it in a different context. There are many ideas that come to my mind daily, and I note them down diligently, who knows some day the time of that idea might come and I might be able to en-cash on it. So when the time would arrive, I would be required to be in the context to remember that "Oh, this is the opportunity and here its time has arrived." Lets en-cash on it.

I just received an e-mail about Social Entrepreneurship proposal for using Information Technology for benefit of emerging countries. CITRIS the whose member I was during my California graduate student days holds this competition every year. This year cash prizes worth $45k are to be awarded. I felt like wow. Expected input is a nice proposal on how the idea that you have in your mind could transform http://citris-uc.org/big-ideas-citris2012 the lives of people around you in countries like India, where things are messy in terms of healthcare, infrastructure, education, civic governance etc. Condition on members is that they must be students of UC Berkley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced. Or atleast one member should be a student from these universities.

So this is the time for putting my thoughts together and an action for writing a nice proposal for this event. Lets hope I am able to jot down some nice thoughts and come up with a good proposal.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Technology and Poverty line in India

The role of technology in deciding the poverty line in India at least shows some improvement in using infrastructure such as Tablet computers to collect data. I got an opportunity to attend one such function through a new friend I made today through a mutual friend.

The discussion was held under by the socialist movement of India. Government of India is planning to have a country wide census to decide the poverty line and determine the families living before poverty line. Rs. 32 per day is the income criteria decided for poverty in Cities and Rs. 26 is decided for rural poverty. Are you kidding me?

This discussion was about different strategy formations to make concerned representatives of people from various Indian villages aware about their role in this activity and make them understand the flaws in the way definition of poverty is defined.

I do not want to comment out on the ways the definition of poverty is defined. This is a huge propaganda to make another show off by the Indian government without any sincere attempts behind it. However, some striking positives out of this meeting that I noticed were.

1. One union leader stressed on why Government is not considering educational qualification and only insisting on economic qualifications.

2. How Government is going to verify authenticity and not manipulate the data.

3. How people's involvement could be made more such that they could be able to assist better in this survey.

4. How there is a need for people to be aware of the potential harms of manipulation of such schemes and how people should prevent it, by stressing on correct corrections. An interesting suggestion was, "Instead of counting number of poor, count the number of rich, and let them defend their richness and then declare all the rest of them to be poor".

5. Make government aware that food, healthcare, education are basic necessity of anybody and not just poor and the government should try to shed off its responsibility by trying to decide number of poor based on some nonsense norms, than actual facts and then get involved in corruption.

6. Role of technology such as tabloid computers in collecting information.

Well, this discussion made me aware about how different people at low level think and discuss when government introduces new schemes, how they are totally helpless when it comes to implementing the feedback provided by them to government, How Maharashtra government is a total moron and no will at all to implement any schemes with sincerity as compared to rest of the state governments in India, what are the different ways in which people could be made aware.

However, I strongly felt, most of the points which were stated were well known to any person who is well aware of these problems and why they exist. The discussion lacked any effective mechanism by which these things could have got implemented, the suggestions could have reached the government and their would have been a successful channel to propagate these discussions to grassroot people.

Technology has a huge role to play in such discussions. Community radio is a great idea that could help in having such discussions across different sections. However, a better scheme to have is make people aware the incentive behind attending such functions. People are selfish and if you are able to tune up your motivations into correct incentives which hit well with the people's moderate ambitions to make their lives a little better either in terms of economic improvements or materialistic comforts, people would turn in hoard for such must discussions. Well, that is what politicians in India do. They provide economic incentives for people to vote and people react. I wish our activists have a vision to make some logical tacticts like this to attract more crowd and make them dedicated to a cause, by making them realize its importance for them in the long run.

An interesting idea came to my mind in deciding about poverty of a person. Can a person by identified as poor by looking at his picture? For example. A poor person would be thin, he will be underweight, he will have dark skin because of constant labor etc. So there are some points in a person physical characteristics that could decide whether a person is poor or not. Calorie indicator is one such method of measurement for poverty.

So, here is an interesting question. Lets say I provide you with 100 digital photographs and ask you tell me who is poor amongst these? Could you do that solely on the basis of picture? I believe yes to some extent. There are sophisticated image processing algorithms, which could decide different parameters by taking a look at the person, for example, height of the person, ratio of various stats etc,. This is a hugely complicated problem, however I believe with more and more fine grained parameter control, such an automated process could be done to some extent.

Its a huge irony that in a country like America women activist take protests to get a right to bare their body in public citing reasons that male are allowed to go bare chested, then why not us? While in a totally different part of world like India some women do not have proper clothes to cover and could not find people to support this cause. Huge contrast across different sections of society across world.

Technology for emerging countries

CGNet Swara is an effort by Microsoft Research's "Technology for Emerging Countries" research group to make lives of people (mostly adiwasis in the Gondwana region) better by providing them a method to register their voice on web. The portal is gaining popularity as it is able to bring changes in peoples lives.

CGNet Swara.
Community radio and how it could be used for improving communication across villages in India.

A similar initiative on a different note to increase citizen participation in civic governance
I have had discussions with these founders, on the role of technology in enriching the lives of people and feel there should be more awareness about such initiatives in the Indian society.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mobile based jobs

Could mobiles be used to generate employment in developing countries? This is an interesting question.

Mobiles by far are used as the means for communication in the present context. Right from an top end executive to a low end construction worker owns a mobile now. And the penetration in the low end section of the society in India is going to increase in coming time.

A crucial question to ask is. Could this vast technological device be used to generate legal employment. Could low end micro-tasks be generated, distributed and completed on mobile phones? If yes, what type of tasks could they be? Who would generate them? What kind of payment method be employed for such type of jobs.

This is a hugely interesting question and as mobiles become more powerful mobile based employment would start picking up slowly. A key question could be, if such jobs are available, would the low end people be willing to work on such jobs in temporary time? For example. imagine an auto driver instead of chitchatting with his friends in his idle period of waiting completing a temporary job on mobile and earning some income.

Interesting proposition and I feel slowly this type of trend will pick up. There are already some moves in that direction.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Civic Sense and Technology

Can Civic sense be employed in people using Technology? This is a very interesting question and one really applicable in the context of Indians.

Indians by and large are one of the worst in the world when it comes to civic sense. It is a common sight to site a wealthy businessman letting open his Mercedes or BMW door and spitting his mouthful of beetle juice on road. It is not uncommon to see a housewife from a posh apartment throwing her garbage unattended in an unhygienic conditions just outside her apartment. It is one of the most common sights to see bottles of liquor, drinking water, etc. thrown at tourist places. Can technology be made to use to avoid such behavior? Can behavioral psychology of a person be changed using some sort of incentive / reminder in terms of technology?

What causes a person to throw away trash / disfigure public places. Lets for time being not consider the lower uneducated Indians. Lets focus on educated middle class. Is it their upbringing where parents themselves being ignorant of the civic sense, do not inculcate such values? Is it the inability to teach such values in schools as a school kid? I do not have exact answer.

However, here is an interesting experiment. Will people stop throwing garbage etc. if they are reminded constantly? I think this works to some extent, however after a period people become blind to such reminders as their mind gets used to it and the brain does not generate quick signals to recall the purpose of this reminder. So a quick solution could be change the method of delivery of the reminder.

Here is a solution. What is least bothersome way in which people could be reminded? By putting a signboard, asking them not to disobey the civic sense. Now, think of this other alternative. Instead start a sms service which in innovative ways sends people reminders about not to indulge in such activities. Now, the problem is how would you determine when to send such sms. The location of the person in question should be traceable for that matter. Well, the current advances in cellular technology does allow, a person's location to be traced based on his position in the cell unit, by collaborating with the cellular operator. Don't you get on your mobile the location of area you are in any city etc.? GPS is a very advanced technique for which you need your phone to be gps enabled. Now, who should run such a service. This could be run by some NGO for trial basis initially. I wont go much into its details further.

Who are the targeted users? Should they opt in or opt out? Why would a user want to opt out for such a service if he already is a responsible citizen? Questions are endless. Lets not try to bother ourselves with the endless such questions. This is just an idea based on a hypothesis, that by constantly training your mind to do a certain task you can train it to behave in that manner permanently. I can build on this method to enhance this scheme in further ways, however for time being I will not elaborate.

Now how can such garbage generated be used to create jobs? The next question to ask is, will people with no income at all be willing to take up such jobs at odd places such as some tourist location to clean up the place? For example. Lets assume a hypothetical organization "A" that delivers services of cleaning up famous tourist spots in various pockets by carrying out their service vans and by using professional sweepers etc. Next question to ask is, who would pay for these services? A good answer is these services could be made to some extent sustainable by running advertisements on the company vehicles, by promoting such services in the philanthropic NGO grants for trial basis etc. With experimentation would arrive more possibilities.

There could be decent amount of brainstorming that could go here too. Thus my point is, India is such a problematic country that, a clever and smart person with a little business sense could be able to provide services of any sort to such a large section of society who is slowly having capability to spend money and is willing to search for alternatives that would offer a better living standard.

Technology would have a huge role to play in all these services and slowly services with Indian specific problems resolving would slowly increase.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Computing and bureaucracy

Building on my previous post, Computing, Encoding and Decoding, here is a next food for thought. How would you convert a lethargic bureaucratic Indian Government to a action oriented, speedy governance.

E-governance as most of you must have heard. If we analyze the most fundamental question of why Indian bureaucracy is so much in-efficient and corrupt we can understand the problem lies in layers of hierarchy of controls created for permitting the licenses etc. For example, if you want a birth certificate, the only person who can sign the document and make it authorize is the Regional Commissioner in respective Corporations of Indian cities. Why burden him by making him sign the document when that time could be used for some better purpose?

The second most fundamental problem is transfer of documents in hard copy format. For example, a Birth certificate needs to be printed, the records for it are needed to be searched in old archives, the birth certificate is needed to be transferred from one place to another for authentication and validation etc. All this takes time, because it involves variable human factors such as travelling time, record searching time, data entry time, human negligence time etc etc.

Now imagine, if the physical files are converted to virtual files represented on Computers. Imagine the records are stored in Computer Databases, and now imagine, the travelling time on roads is represented by network transfer time in Computers. Once this is done, there will arrive huge respite because in all this procedure, human involvement is minimal. Most of the work is done by Machines aka Computers. And All these steps could be done at the cost of a few clicks by the governing officers. This would save a huge amount of time and would improve productivity.

E-governance is thus an important aspect for making the bureaucracy efficient and fast paced. We stay in a modern Computerized world and I hope India builds a solid e-governance infrastructure soon.

Computing, Encoding and Decoding

Computers were invented for the sole purpose of doing computations, i.e. number crunching. Because number crunching was a repetitive, yet hugely important task and any errors in it could mean disastrous effects. So this boring task needed to be automated and done by a machine, which would keep on doing it until it was provided by sufficient power to be able to do it.

However, soon computer became a general purpose tool for doing lots of real life tasks. For example. Gaming, document editing and storage, managing virtual infrastructure etc. Why was this possible? One simple aspect of encoding decoding enabled this transformation. Computers used a format called binary representation, to store, and compute its work. The work itself was converted to this format, and when the work was done, the work was re-converted to human understandable representation again.

This is in crux what is termed as encoding (converting one format to another format) and decoding (converting back the new format to original / another format). One important aspect here is, the input format was variable, however the format in which computer works was always fixed, termed the binary representation. For example. If I say, Mrunal is represented by - 0 and Ninad is represented by - 1, then in a coded language I can use many such combinations of 0s and 1s to represent different words and form a meaningful sentence. If I am able to form a meaningful sentence, I can go one more step ahead and use more such representations and build a complete full-fledged language out of just different combinations of 0s and 1s.

If encoding / decoding is the crux of doing things, I can literally encode (convert) any thing present on this earth to binary representation ( or for that matter any other representation), do some processing on it and convert it back to some another form / original form. For example. Lets assume I want to transfer smell of a rose to a person in America from India. I can use sensors which detect smell (Think how our nose works to detect thousands of smells it encounters daily. Our nose is a super sensor, it senses converts it to appropriate format which is understandable by our brain (processor) and brain works on how to use that smell to stimulate further action, like smell of a perfume might make you recall some fond person you were associate with and trigger those memories to come back etc.), so lets assume if we have such a artificial nose sensor, whose input is smell and output is a binary format (different combinations of 0s and 1s), then as long as we have corresponding decoder, which is able to reproduce such smell at the other end in American by using this binary representation as input, we have transported smell from your home to another country. Hurray.

Entire computer systems work on this magic of encoding /decoding. Thus you can apply this logic to any thing around you and if you are able to design such an encoder, decoder, you will be able to do amazing things with it. This need not be limited to physical things, abstract things such as emotions could also be encoded, decoded and transferred to the correct fine grained details.

This is the art of computing and its secret of success. As technology proceeds, and scientist are able to build better encoders/ decoders we will see plenty of such new utilities. Some day, by advances of Physics you will be encode a human being in entirely at source and send him to another place by decoding him.

Science is beautiful because it thrives on such ideas and helps humanity prosper in better ways. Only hitch is science should be made affordable to all types of people and not stay limited to only a certain section of society, who can afford it. Personal computers were an item of super luxury for middle class individuals a decade ago. Now, it has become a necessity. Mobile phones were also a luxury however, now your maid has a mobile phone. Thus, mobile phones will carry the sole onus of spreading technology to different strata of society. Because, for encoding / decoding you need an access to a device and mobiles will provide that access in coming time.

Bill Gates wanted his Windows OS to be a part of people's home computer, and he did it. I want our low end section of society to own a mobile and be able to afford access to information, which would empower them to be more knowledgeable, and help build a better India.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Economics and Education.

A nice piece of article on role of research and development and education on the Economics Index of leading countries.


Each year the World Economic Forum (WEF) competitiveness of countries. As a partner of the WEF, the Dutch institute INSCOPE collected the data for the Netherlands. Professor Henk Volberda, scientific director of INSCOPE states: "The indicators clearly show that the Netherlands is shifting gradually to a high knowledge". The strong competitiveness of our Dutch economy is in Volberda a reflection of our real economy and also great confidence in future growth. Volberda continues: "Despite the threat of" double-dip by rising budget deficits surrounding advanced western economies, the competitiveness of the Dutch economy improved again. The rise of an eighth to seventh position in times of high uncertainty may be seen as an historic achievement. " Switzerland leads rankings to, even Singapore, Finland and Denmark in the top-10 Switzerland remains the league lead Superior knowledge institutions, high investments in Research & Development (R & D) and the continued focus on innovation through collaboration between industry and universities, along with an excellent infrastructure, efficient markets and a reliable government guarantee for the Swiss number one position. Singapore, the leader of the Asian economies, increases this year for the first time to a second position. Singapore has not only the most effective government, but also excels in investments in infrastructure and education. The Scandinavian countries continue to dominate the Top 10 because of their high investments in R & D and education. Sweden is in a third place and Finland has increased from 7th to 4th place. Besides excellent education at all levels, these countries also have high quality public institutions, its capacity for innovation and a high influx of advanced knowledge. In particular Finland is at the forefront of innovation in Europe.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Engineering and doctor

If engineering has something to deal with engines aka machines. For example, auto-mobile engineering with auto-mobiles, computer engineering with Computers, Robotic engineering with robotics, aeronautical engineering with aeroplanes etc, then if the human body is the ultimate machine, why it is not termed simply as human engineering or something similar?

Why did the term *medical* come into existence? And if all of these people who are trained to operate in the respective engineering fields are called Engineers, why is a person who operates on human body (the ultimate engineering machine) called a doctor?

Coming back to the Computer Engineering terminology. If brain is the ultimate processor that could never be reproduced in terms of artificially created computer processors, then that makes the neurosurgeon ultimate engineer, because he operates on the ultimate super-processor aka brain. Now since he does not really reproduce any new processor but keeps on analysing the existing creation by lets assume GOD, he is actually an engineer of highest calibre, who understands and fixes functioning of brain. Remember he does not produce new brain. He just operates on existing ones. Experiments, analyses, draws conclusions and provides analysis.
Lots of abstract ideas and thoughts as I start thinking about this in more and more deep.

However, the term doctor still confuses me now that I have thought on this. A doctor should be some sort of a "Bio Engineer".

Interesting thought.

Technology and Emotions

What role does technology play in emotional upheaval of a person?

What role Facebook / social media plays in emotions of a person who is present in his country / away from country?

Emotion is a mental state in which a person feels a sense of neediness, belonging to a certain object. This object could be a living being, a physical object, a memory of a feeling in the past etc. An object could be any abstract as well physical entity. So emotions are a result of the attachment that arises due to the feeling of dependency on this object. Is it absolutely necessary to have this kind of object to be in place for feeling emotional? Yes. Can we control our emotions by being aware that such an object exists. May be.

Emotions need a vent to get expressed. Different mediums of expressions exist. Such as bodily expressions, physical expressions, abstract expressions, virtual expressions. Technology allows an instant solution to vent out the expressions and reach them to the concerned people.

Facebook or any social networking site, where people lose open their expressions is an excellent mass medium for such tasks. Twitter goes one step further, and allows the expressions in a more concise manner by sticking to 128 character format.

I wonder what would be the next tweak in the medium of social media to allow people a better way to express themselves. Perhaps a different type of "Emoticons", or visual social network, which will allow emotions to be expressed in a visual way. Smaller is the new better.

Here is an idea whose time has arrived.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jobs in Internet Cafes - Amazon Mechanical Turk - Low skilled workers

Will people be willing to work on low skilled jobs on Computers / Mobile phones if enough payment is provided to them? I recently finished off with this project and results were very good.

Amazon Mechanical Turk. www.mturk.com is a marketplace where low skilled jobs are put for people to work. These jobs are categorised mainly into three types
1. Transcription type jobs.
2. Article writing type of jobs
3. other menial jobs.

The payment varies from $20 to $.01 depending on the complexity of job. It was found that these jobs are not much popular and not picking up fast. Why is it so? After a good research the answer was found to be in the User Interface of such jobs. Low skilled people are too un-techsavy to understand fluent use of the interface provided by mturk.

The next question that could be raised was. If enough payment is provided, will people be willing to work on similar jobs if a good user interface is provided to them? How much is enough? We designed jobs which will pay users around Rs. 100 per hour.

We tried answering this question by running experiments in Internet cafes in India and Africa for around 2 months. We designed our own setup, strategy, user interaction, data collection and analysis. The results were encouraging. Different places displayed different trends, and users had different expectations. It was good to mingle with low end businessmen, low skilled people, and observe their behaviour.

This research will be published in the research track for "Technology for emerging countries".

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Language and learning.

In India, the language of the instructions for most of the higher education courses (10+2 and after) is English. How much role does the language plays in making the learning meaningful is an important study. I am sure there is a deep research on this already, but here are my three cents.

Any learning based activity involves some steps such as, building context about what is going to be learned, introduction to the learning material, effort to understand learning material, be able to comprehend learning material, ability to recall learning material and relate it to the live experiences around, mastery of learned material, production of knowledge based on already learned material. Now, one can divide various stages of education that one goes through based on these different steps and call it primary, secondary, higher, college, Masters, PhD etc etc.

What role does Language plays in learning. A study of early scientists from European countries suggests that most of them studied different languages early on in their initial years. Most of them mastered many languages before they started working on their scientific output. Many of them were also studied abstract subjects like philosophy, theology etc. I believe this method of study was extensive in developing their brains early on, in trying to cope up with abstract ideas that higher education / research requires.

The better in language you are, better are your chances in comprehending the material under study flawlessly without ambiguity. Else, brain stays utilized in trying to comprehend what is written and exhausts itself there only. If you have a great vocabulary and command over language, brain is free to do the rest of the stuff, that is the analysis of the material which is required to produce conclusions and derive new hypothesis. So, it becomes important one has mastered the language in which instructions are being studied.

Why most of the students fail to understand the material provided to them? Because they simply do not possess language abilities to comprehend it correctly. That is followed by lack of experience to apply the knowledge being learned, to real life incidences. Teachers fail here, because they themselves do not understand how to apply the knowledge they have to their surroundings. You bet, if they knew this, they would be already doing better things that keeping themselves involved in rotted teaching methods. They do not understand importance of language of instruction in a students life.

English is still not a native language for most of the Indians. 70% of Indians stay in villages where they are never exposed to English as a language until they enter city life, where they see their city counterparts, flashing their convent educated speaking skills. Language plays its role in building confidence also, because in the early immature peer pressure related age, where the intra-competition amongst students is extreme, language barrier could segregate students and lower their confidence.

India in its recent history since colonization period, never had any knowledge production. Whatever contributions Indians did to science, maths, literature, arts, politics etc. (world class contribution which is considered classics like Chanakya's epic on economics titled "Arthshastra"), were ages before. Most of the contributions to these fields came from Europeans. Classics like Shakespears works, Euclids "Elements", Platos "Republic" etc. and similar other were all in a language so distant from the reach of common Indians that, most of them grew without any exposure to such great classics in the above fields. Indian classics themselves too were in "Sanskrit". There are hardly a few thousand (5000?) people who speak pure sanskrit in India. In such a sorry state, it is not difficult to understand why most of the Indians grew up in a sorry state of affairs without true education. Literacy and education are two different terms which can be strongly witnessed in India. Most of the Indians are literate, they need not be educated. Check the difference between education and literacy by classic philosopher
Mr. M. J.Adler.

So my point is language plays an extremely important role in development of a person. It is important because it helps us read correct books, comprehend them correctly, be accessible to other classic literatures and build a knowledgeable society that craves for learning to solve important problems. But, I doubt many understand this except a few.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is higher education in US a big scam?

Came across this video documentary about the amount of debts US students are made to face in terms of different student loans and how this could be a next bubble like the real estate bubble.

Nice one.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Research and Questions

Can you form questions on a single topic that could be provided to you? Lets say, "road".

Basics of research could be learned by asking the right kind of questions. Why does a doctor asks so many questions to you when you visit him for a certain ailment? Because he is trying to judge what the possible cause could be, by trying to map the answers you give to the amount of knowledge/ experience he has accumulated over a period of time. Why does experience matter? Because experience thus lets you witness lot of cases. So, lots of questions are asked. Many times these question asking exercise seems a lot frustrating specifically for the people, who are not used to think critically, because the responses they provide thus could vary depending on time, and circumstances. A critical thinking person would provide consistent response in different situations, trying to map and analyze situation. So a lawyer asks lot of questions in different stages in different circumstances just to see, how much critical you are in your thinking.

Right to information act (RIT) allows a common man to question the procedures and seek information from governance related work. Asking questions of the right kind is an extremely effective tool in maintaining transparency in procedures, because again, if there is any discrepancy in the answer, it implies that, a correct procedure is not followed and depending on the laws of country, the governing body could be sued in the legal ways.

So, asking questions is an important aspect of our day to day life. Ever wondered, why you brush your teeth in a particular way only. Most of us think brushing teeth is an mundane activity which just gets done automatically as a habit. But if you think, it involves lot of things, if you do not provide correct attention while brushing, you might not brush teeth properly and might damage them in the long run. If you do not use the correct toothbrush, you might hurt tissues in your mouth. If you do not use correct sodium content in your toothpaste, you might deplete the tooth enamel in the long run. So, there is lot of thought that goes behind brushing. Well, there are tons of activities that we do daily in our life, which could be improved for our own benefits by paying a little more attention and being in presence, and asking the question, Is what I am doing a correct way of doing it? Could there be a better way?

And I guess by paying such attention one can reduce the extra money which people tend to pay for recovering from different type of pains, which come in the longer run, if enough attention is not paid at right time. Well, I strongly believe, people just are so unaware of so many things, that they just do not want to test their brains ability and learn new things.

Asking question is thus an integral part of a rich education experience, which in turn keeps us fit, healthy and peaceful for a long duration. Forming simple questions is relatively easy, but when the simple questions end, finding complex questions is an intense rigorous activity and chances are that your brain will hurt. Integrating all knowledge to ask questions and come up with an analysis is an extremely complex task, which not many can do. Brain hurting is awesome. Why? Because first it proves that you definitely have a brain. Second, when brain hurts for the right reason, right amount of new neurons integration happens inside brain, which activates your brain to be more sharp. So if you hurt your brain in the right amount for a considerable time, chances are that you will find yourself more clever. Isn't it great?

Ignorance is definitely not bliss according to me. More knowledge might bring more pain in terms of realization of working of different aspects of life, and why it happens the way it happens. But once that pain eases, there is tremendous composure in terms of finding the answers to the right questions, which is an extremely worthy process and gives a feeling of certain accomplishment. And feeling accomplished is an important aspect of human existence as that gives a person his identity.

So ask questions. Have your own identity :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tornedos and education

American states were again hit by powerful tornados that destroyed huge amount of property and resulted into 40 casualties. While swifting through the photo essay on www.Time.com I was prominently thinking about the after impacts of such natural disasters, which totally change the course of life for the affected.

I was particularly sad to see the amount of destructions being made to public property such as school buildings and children swifting through the leftovers from destroyed school buildings. What is the impact of such disasters on lives of these young kids?

This is a world of competition. We keep on hearing, seeing and witnessing that around. Such a competition that people will go to any extent to be unethical in right manner, to protect their interest to stay afloat in the competition. Its the survival of the fittest. What gives them authority to compete? Competition could be of different types. Intellectual competition, monetary competition etc. In intellectual competition, you are a winner only if you are persistent and understand the basics very firmly. There are quite a very few rockstars, when it comes to intellectual stardom. Why? First because it is a skill that usually needs extreme nurturing and builds on the past. What do I mean by that? what I mean is, if you grew up in a wrong environment, chances are that you picked up wrong things, and wasted a lot of time of your life, when you could have actually learned lot many good things. Your intellectual abilities were left underdeveloped because they never got exposed to lot of formal ways of learning. Making money vs making intelligence are two extremely different things. Making money is comparatively easy. I go outside and rob a person. I have money with me. Intelligence is not the same. You can not rob another person of his intelligence. Where I am heading to, with all this gibberish?

Point is. If tornado's or any natural disaster destroys property and change the course of life for people. How do these kids who lost so much of time because of no fault of theirs will ever compensate for that gap which they faced in their education?

Now this brought me back to my second thought. Is it dependent on society or individual? For example. In a country like Japan, USA where people have extremely strong ethics, where people understand the value of time, things are extremely productive. People are aware that such problems will arrive in kids psychologically, and take care of the same. But if we consider developing countries like India, where people are so unethical and the rule of survival at the cost of others are so much prevalent, people actually might behave in a totally different manner. They actually might feel this is an opportunity where their competition is removed altogether? Corruption starts even at such recovery levels.

So the question is, is the professional attitude, never say die attitude of these so called modern professional societies like Japan, USA is built because in the first place they are always being surrounded by such natural threats? Because they know, they will have to stay disciplined to move ahead in life, because such disasters will keep on happening? And is the total chaos that we see in lets say Indian situations is because people are so lethargic and unprofessional and do not understand value of time, that they believe nothing great changes if some people in their country suffer.

If this is the case, how will these underdeveloped countries ever reach developed status? Because its the question of attitude? Does developed status only means, lots of money and constant media projected boasting of high GDP and economic growth?

I beg to differ.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Are IITs the only best places for Tech education?

Indians boast of IITs as being the cream institutions of their country. Well, that is true, but here is a new angle of looking at the same story.

Except for the few IITs like say till some years ago 7 IITs and now 15 IITs, the rest of the educational institutes in India were privately owned. Engineering college privatization started from the state of Karnataka, where ministers started launching opening colleges as they saw a huge opportunity in minting money from this path. Family bound Indian parents were always interested in making a best future for their kids education wise and a country where there is dearth of opportunities. So hundreds of colleges were born with total disregard to quality and so the engineering dream of Indian kids started. And soon it flowed to other states, like Maharashtra, where politicians took no time on establishing their own private colleges. Engineering colleges were soon converted to deemed universities and under a single campus, one could get education starting from junior K.G to advanced engineering degrees, management degrees, medical degrees. Quality was never a criteria because when you have so much of a demand, any thing sells. That is the basic law of economics and it was aptly at work in India.

Only IIT's boasted qualified faculty such as PhDs. The rest of the faculty as one can guess did not have enough qualification to teach, but since India never believed in PhDs, all these faculty was accepted with its low standards. With the advent of IT and outsourcing from 2001 year onwards, India started witnessing Software outsourcing wave, where people started getting paid in handsome amount as compared to the rest of the working class in India and soon rush to outsourcing based jobs started. Point to be noted is, in this rush, Computer Engineering faculty's standard and quality got degraded to new worst levels, as people never turned up to college teacher jobs as salary's offered there were pathetically low as compared to the prestige, infrastructure and status offered by a software job.

So now we are in a state in present India, where IIT's are considered cream institutes and the rest of them are so pathetic that one can not even compare them with IITs. Well, IITs too have downgraded in their quality over a period of time because of Indian conditions such as corruption etc, but atleast one has a guarantee that the teacher teaching there is a qualified PhD. PhD degrees sell in India for few thousand Rs. So I do not ever consider validity of a PhD degree, unless it is obtained from IISC, few IITs and couple of other so called premier institutes.

That raises the question. Is cream status of IIT justifiable? When government fails to create quality education for masses, is it valid to call a few institutes which it created (Indias first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru created IITs and IIMs) as its cream? Isn't it hypocrisy, that you do not raise standard for others, ignore the mass destruction of quality, and keep on boasting about the few institutes which were created some decades ago, as your cream? Is it not a crime to fail to create good institutes in 3,4 decades and deprive millions of young Indians quality education that they deserve, rather than keeping the vested interest of their own in mind while creating new private institutes for churning out money as people have no options. Is it justifiable to boast about the IIT JEE exam being toughest and only brightest being able to crack it? Does it indicate that the rest who failed it, were dumb and deserve to study in such pathetic conditions that their careers could get jeopardized?

Whenever I think of these questions. I feel a deep unrest about the so called hypocritical Indian behavior, which I keep on observing every day around me. Indians take a huge pride in self boasting, when in reality they do not at all understand, how they lack so many things.

IITs, I do not consider you as cream institutes, because you are given that status, because of vested interests of our politicians. I believe that is the reality.The way Indian government totally ignores quality of education for masses in India and lacks any vision of any sort in making this country self sufficient in technology, education and research makes me wonder, why thousands of those students who migrate to developed countries to seek higher education, are not a mere reflection of the sad Indian society, who really is not interested in real quality education. Because I do not understand how these people do not feel a strong desire to change the way things work back in their country, because their kids, will have to suffer the same trauma again in some years. Or is it the case that the Indian society has lost its thinking abilities under constant glittering value of sudden flow of money in their lives?

Do not know. But the whole scenario is extremely depressing. Government plays with future and careers of millions of deserving kids, who realize the things they have lost, once they are prime their innocent days and then they really can not do anything, except develop new found expectations from their own kids to fulfill.

I feel its a mentality problem.

Monday, March 28, 2011

India does not need to learn from West?

An headline article in "Economic Times" caught my attention today. "Are Gates and Buffet" buffed by India Inc?

At the end of the complete read, I felt poor about India Inc and my deep bias towards Indian family culture grew manifold. The summary of the article was. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the billionaires from west, on their tour to India found only a couple of handful Indian billionaires attending their philanthropy promotion dinner. The article went on to explain in details about how Indian businessmen are different than western. A summary is here.

Left side is the comment from Article - Right side is my reaction.

1. India has a rich culture - (What is the definition of rich? Handful of Brahmins ruling the knowledge world, handful of kings ruling poor people to support their luxurious lifestyle? And tons of nonsense religious superstitions and spiritual richness, which are not really helping anybody to make any progress to the extent half the country's poor go to sleep without food?).

2. India has a strong family culture - (Yes, where Ambani brothers fight in public for left overs by their father).

3. Indian family businesses need to live for their heirs and can not spare for others - (Yes, else those poor heirs who grew up traveling Mercedes, would not have a baseline to make their future travels in Jet Liners).

4. India believes in family culture and not independence - (Yes, family culture, where only your family matters, outside your family, your home, there is deep nonsense as a society, as long as you are doing good as family, screw the society. Why build independent kids who can think on their own, because else how could families be not able to manipulate them?).

5. India inc has its own ways of giving - (Yes, that is why you see such a pathetic education system, such pathetic infrastructure and such pathetic society).

At the end the article said, India does not need to learn from West. I am like what? God save this country. If this country and its businessmen rule on the attitude of "we do not need to learn from others"...I can imagine its future ....Well ofcourse these are the views of the article author, but a super respected business paper, like Economic Times, providing such conclusions on its headline article, leaves lot to worry about the overall attitude of Indian society.

But on a cheering note, there was also an article in Economic Times that Indians are the fourth largest donors to Wikipedia worldwide with an average donation of around $17. Well I lost the statistics completely, but this is more cheerful a news.

Only if our industrialists understand their role in building societies. I have the highest respect for Tata's, Premaji, Narayan Murthy, Birla's. The view in this article, does not include them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to teach ...

I was thinking hard on the different methods in which different teachers teach things. I was trying to derive a common theory behind why most of the teachings that students get to attend in classes, colleges goes bad? Why students are not motivated to learn and why students feel education is boring, and they are forced to study it.

Some prime reasons that I could think upon were as follows.

1. It is very difficult to find a person who has become a teacher for the love of teaching. Teaching in today's society is many times considered a task which is done by people who can not get better jobs. Well, if a person has become a teacher because he/she is not capable of getting a better job, then I guess he / she will not be equally dedicated towards it either.

2. In order to get motivation in teaching, students should be given a big picture of how the things that they are being taught fit in the bigger canvas. That is any kind of teaching needs a top down approach. First explain the context, explain the practicalities of why the learning that is going to be done, is so important and make it interesting for kids to understand it. Once kids are able to relate it to their day to day life experiences, once teacher would start teaching the nitty gritty details of the information (content of the teaching), students would be well prepared mentally to absorb it.

What happens in usual cases is exactly opposite. Teachers teach from bottom up layer. And to be frank, they never reach the upper layer, since most of them are not conversant of what that upper layer is, because they themselves are not that much knowledgeable.

Teaching is different from information delivery. You do not need teachers for providing information delivery. There are books, online medium and other sources for doing that. Teachers role is to make teaching a pleasant exercise for students to understand it, at minimal basic level and be able to articulate the basic concepts, so that students can go on their own, in the higher exploratory path.

3. Every kid out there is smart and he / she is special in some way, but these teachers, fail to understand it, because they never understand the importance of the role they are playing in shaping the child's future. Why ? Again because if they had that knowledge, they would have simply stopped being a teacher and would have accepted a higher paying job. There is some strong co-relation in why most teachers are teachers and why most of them are pathetic. Its a systematic vicious cycle.

4. What could be alternatives to this. There are definitely a very small percentage of teachers out there, who are extremely dedicated, motivated, and passionate to teach and make a difference in the lives of children, But unfortunately they are extremely handful and mostly they become an envy of the other majority, and face lot of politics in one way or other, for the lack of others to raise up to their level.

So, a better experiment could be. Lets try to create a replicated model of our teachers, who are good, in an animated way. An animated teacher never gets tired, never shows disrespect, never complains and could be easy to use. A good question to ask is, how to make him more interactive, like a real school teacher is. It is easy to make use of a pre-programmed teacher but it is an extremely difficult task to learn how to make an intelligent, interactive teacher.

Research is being carried out and I Am sure soon we would have better teachers, to teach our kids, for a better future. And I hope then we would be able to have a better society, because then we would be able to have lots of kids, who would turn up growing into responsible adults, who would be doing the work they love to do, than are forced to do, because they never got motivated in schools.....


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dance and learning

How could dance be used as a means to learn important social issues? This was a question raised in my mind on the occasion of my visit to a good friend of mine who is an awesome dancer and dance instructor. Is dance instructor and choreographer same? I am not sure, so avoiding the term.

Dancing or any form of art is an expression of freedom to express emotions. People dance to celebrate, to socialize, to perform. Could dance be used in another form to teach relevant social issues? A human being can possess six intelligence, out of which sense of dance in musical term is one. While I got to witness the training session where my friend trained his students I went through several questions. I would classify them as follows.

1. Dance and its history.
2. Dance and its training
3. Dance and its improvisations (Research in dance)
4. Dance and its social impact
5. Technology and dance.

Dance and its history.
What is the origin of dance and its timeline?
Why do people dance?
What are different types of dances that are performed in different cultures?
What is the contribution of India towards dance?

Dance and its training

How does training of different dances compare for example Salsa vs Bharatnatyam?
What is the difficulty level of learning each?
How can a trainer use cognitive psychology related material for more effective training?
How does dancing compare with playing an instrument? For example say learning to play guitar vs learning to dance?
Can anybody dance? What role does physical parameters like weight, height, bone density etc play in a dancers skills?
Do there exist specific tools to assist learn dance movements faster? Like can a device like foot massager be used to help feet move in a more better manner by providing supportive moves? Or could such a device be manufactured which would be trained to give your body parts synchronize movements in a given specific manner to train your muscles movements?
What role could technology play in making learning fast? Could youtube vidoes have an alternative in terms of learning steps? Could there exist better means to remember steps?

Dance and its improvements

How are new dance steps invented? For example how has dance transformed itself in time?
How much combination of different dance items could be made to propose a fusion or such genre of dance? What is the threshold?
What kid of formal research gets done in the universities which offer "Fine and performing Arts" degrees? Are there conferences to judge the quality of research?

Dance and its social impact.

Could dance be used as a means to teach socially relevant lessons to masses?
Girls love dancing. Girls play an important role in any family as the same girl goes on to become a wife and a mother. But mostly girls tend to avoid serious topics like politics and socially relevant subjects and are a lot ignorant about these issues.
Could dance be used like street plays to portray such messages in an effective manner?
How would a dance on a topic like environment friendliness look and feel like?

Technology and dance

What are the different changes in dance due to technology. For example electric guitar sounds and arouses different feelings than acoustic guitar. How it has influenced dance?
What role does technology like Video sharing plays in spread of dance culture?
Can small children be made to learn dance in an effective manner by using a virtual trainer, for example a video of trainer instead of a live trainer?
Can dance moves be improved by using devices which assist you in learning faster, for example say you strap a motion restriction device to your legs and hands, neck or whatever body part that moves. You configure this device for restrictive movements and the device provides you a feedback like your hand turned 10 degree more than your configured movement. Training your brain with the help of a device.
What other scope does exist to train your mind using cognitive psychology techniques, for effective fast training for your body parts?

I guess there are too many open questions here which could be easily thought upon for coming up with a better and improvised style. Learning is so much fun, if you could apply to set patterns of asking questions to different types of learning. Dance is just one of that.

Children and speeches

Today is India's Republic day.


How many of you know what a republic day is my first question. Does it signify anything in the lives of the Indians is my next question.

In millions of school across India, millions of speeches are made, by students, teachers, politicians saying lots of things. How many of these speakers understand what they are speaking?

Next to my building is a primary school, where a local politician made some speech. He mentioned something like "Our leaders fought for things so that our lives could be better" blah blah. My simple question is, why torture children with so much of nonsense? Are these children able to understand even a single thing that is being mentioned in there? Yes, some of them may be. But if only some of them are able to understand it, what is the meaning of wasting everybody's time by indulging in activities which are going to end up in nothing concrete coming out of it.

So next question is, what could be an alternate way of making children understand the importance of freedom struggle, the importance of a free India, the importance of taking motivation from such acts etc. Games. Games are a great way to learn things in a playful ways. Games could be arranged to make learning such acts in a natural and attractive way. Learning should be fun. Drama's is another way. Basically any form of Art and power of expression could act as a powerful medium to convey the message. Speeches get boring. They become a memorized version of some teachers view points, wherein students do not have maturity to understand the complexities of the content. Why make their life complex when you can make it simple.

Now one most important question. Why it is not being done? Because nobody gives a damn about it. Our politicians are busy in looting this country. Our parents are busy in thinking about how to earn more money to support a better lifestyle and our teachers are happy that they are not being supervised for not doing their job and still getting salary. I feel pity about millions of poor children, who under such hypocrisy suffocate. Adults kill the curiosity in children much before they could leave their childhood. These are implicit killers, unlike the girl child killers who are so rampant in India. A latest report estimates about 8million girl children are aborted in India every year.

So whats the option. Technology is the option. In coming decade we will see lot of proliferation of technology enabled learning for children, wherein they will be able to exploit different aspects of their childhood in a more better manner.

In my lifetime, I would like to be woken up in an India wherein a poorest kid would be attending school, and be understanding what it means to be born in a free India. Is it possible? I pray, to make this possible. I pray, Indians get brains to invest their money in the right thing, which are their children. Else this country which has already gone to dogs, will see no return from its misery.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nirman - Search for restless youths

I was lucky to meet Priyadarshan Sahastrabuddhe, a volunteer at Nirman, a NGO started by Dr. Abhay and Dr. Rani Bang for addressing the problems in present society.



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Intelligence and exposure

Are intelligence and exposure complementary terms in defining and making a student? Is intelligence inborn or can it be built by sufficient exposure? These are some of the questions that needs to be addressed and thought upon highly by any educationalist who has responsibility to teach, mentor and guide.

The problems with most of the Indian colleges is that they fail to understand that exposure is immensely important in making educational activities interesting. With exposure arrives interest, and the curiosity. These two are the the most essential part of any learning based activity, since it keeps students hooked to the learning environment.

Intelligence and exposure go hand in hand. Exposure provides different dimensions to raise intellectual question asking capacity, observational skills and ability to analyze situations from a critical point of view.

This is where most of the Indian institutes fail, since for providing exposure to students, teachers must be highly exposed to good teaching habits, good ethical practices to indulge in innovative research and ability to guide students. A teachers role is to provide a vision to students in terms of how the current teachings fit in a larger perspective of things, from academia, industry, society or any other perspective. And for being able to tell students all these things, a teacher has to have that much knowledge himself and sadly most of them do not have it, unless they are a PhD, which officially gives you an authority to teach.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Beautiful Qutoes from Swami Vivekananda....

Swami Vivekananda, (1863-1902)

We believe that every being is divine, is God. Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance; the difference between soul and soul is owing to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.

For links to some information about Swami Vivekananda, please visit



First, believe in the world—that there is meaning behind everything.

Don't look back—forward, infinite energy, infinite enthusiasm, infinite daring, and infinite patience—then alone can great deeds be accomplished.

This is the first lesson to learn: be determined not to curse anything outside, not to lay the blame upon anyone outside, but stand up, lay the blame on yourself. You will find that is always true. Get hold of yourself.

Tell the truth boldly, whether it hurts or not. Never pander to weakness. If truth is too much for intelligent people and sweeps them away, let them go; the sooner the better.

This life is a hard fact; work your way through it boldly, though it may be adamantine; no matter, the soul is stronger.

This I have seen in life—those who are overcautious about themselves fall into dangers at every step; those who are afraid of losing honor and respect, get only disgrace; and those who are always afraid of loss, always lose.

“Face the brutes.” That is a lesson for all life—face the terrible, face it boldly. Like the monkeys, the hardships of life fall back when we cease to flee before them.

Those who work at a thing heart and soul not only achieve success in it but through their absorption in that they also realize the supreme truth—Brahman. Those who work at a thing with their whole heart receive help from God.

I, for one, thoroughly believe that no power in the universe can withhold from anyone anything they really deserve.

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you free.

Fear is death, fear is sin, fear is hell, fear is unrighteousness, fear is wrong life. All the negative thoughts and ideas that are in the world have proceeded from this evil spirit of fear.

Why are people so afraid? The answer is that they have made themselves helpless and dependent on others. We are so lazy, we do not want to do anything ourselves. We want a Personal God, a Savior or a Prophet to do everything for us.

As long as we believe ourselves to be even the least different from God, fear remains with us; but when we know ourselves to be the One, fear goes; of what can we be afraid?

There is one thing to be remembered: that the assertion—I am God—cannot be made with regard to the sense-world.

All that is real in me is God; all that is real in God is I. The gulf between God and me is thus bridged. Thus by knowing God, we find that the kingdom of heaven is within us.

First get rid of the delusion “I am the body”, then only will we want real knowledge.

What the world wants is character. The world is in need of those whose life is one burning love, selfless. That love will make every word tell like a thunderbolt.

God is merciful to those whom He sees struggling heart and soul for realization. But remain idle, without any struggle, and you will see that His grace will never come.

We have to go back to philosophy to treat things as they are. We are suffering from our own karma. It is not the fault of God. What we do is our own fault, nothing else. Why should God be blamed?

Fill the brain with high thoughts, highest ideals, place them day and night before you, and out of that will come great work.

Who makes us ignorant? We ourselves. We put our hands over our eyes and weep that it is dark.

Desire, ignorance, and inequality—this is the trinity of bondage.

We must have friendship for all; we must be merciful toward those that are in misery; when people are happy, we ought to be happy; and to the wicked we must be indifferent. These attitudes will make the mind peaceful.

Every action that helps us manifest our divine nature more and more is good; every action that retards it is evil.

We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise.

Are great things ever done smoothly? Time, patience, and indomitable will must show.

Great work requires great and persistent effort for a long time. … Character has to be established through a thousand stumbles.

Even the greatest fool can accomplish a task if it were after his or her heart. But the intelligent ones are those who can convert every work into one that suits their taste.

Those who grumble at the little thing that has fallen to their lot to do will grumble at everything. Always grumbling they will lead a miserable life…. But those who do their duty putting their shoulder to the wheel will see the light, and higher and higher duties will fall to their share.

Learning and wisdom are superfluities, the surface glitter merely, but it is the heart that is the seat of all power.

Each work has to pass through these stages—ridicule, opposition, and then acceptance. Those who think ahead of their time are sure to be misunderstood.

Watch people do their most common actions; these are indeed the things that will tell you the real character of a great person.

“Comfort” is no test of truth; on the contrary, truth is often far from being “comfortable”.

Whenever we attain a higher vision, the lower vision disappears of itself.

We came to enjoy; we are being enjoyed. We came to rule; we are being ruled. We came to work; we are being worked. All the time, we find that. And this comes into every detail of our life.

We are ever free if we would only believe it, only have faith enough. You are the soul, free and eternal, ever free, ever blessed. Have faith enough and you will be free in a minute.

A few heart-whole, sincere, and energetic men and women can do more in a year than a mob in a century.

Stand as a rock; you are indestructible. You are the Self (atman), the God of the universe.

Stand upon the Self, only then can we truly love the world. Take a very high stand; knowing our universal nature, we must look with perfect calmness upon all the panorama of the world.

"I am the thread that runs through all these pearls," and each pearl is a religion or even a sect thereof. Such are the different pearls, and God is the thread that runs through all of them; most people, however, are entirely unconscious of it.

Stand up, be bold, be strong. Take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, and know that you are the creator of your own destiny. All the strength and succor you want is within yourselves. Therefore, make your own future.

It is the patient building of character, the intense struggle to realize the truth, which alone will tell in the future of humanity.

If there is one word that you find coming out like a bomb from the Upanishads, bursting like a bombshell upon masses of ignorance, it is the word “fearlessness.”

Be a hero. Always say, “I have no fear.” Tell this to everyone—“Have no fear.”

The world is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow come through concentration.

Work and worship are necessary to take away the veil, to lift off the bondage and illusion.

The powers of the mind should be concentrated and the mind turned back upon itself; as the darkest places reveal their secrets before the penetrating rays of the sun, so will the concentrated mind penetrate its own innermost secrets.

It is the cheerful mind that is persevering. It is the strong mind that hews its way through a thousand difficulties.

The mind is but the subtle part of the body. You must retain great strength in your mind and words.

All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in our own mind.

Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know.

However we may receive blows, and however knocked about we may be, the Soul is there and is never injured. We are that Infinite.

Perfection is always infinite. We are the Infinite already. You and I, and all beings, are trying to manifest that infinity.

Blows are what awaken us and help to break the dream. They show us the insufficiency of this world and make us long to escape, to have freedom.

So long as there is desire or want, it is a sure sign that there is imperfection. A perfect, free being cannot have any desire.

The more you think of yourself as shining immortal spirit, the more eager you will be to be absolutely free of matter, body, and senses. This is the intense desire to be free.

The Self when it appears behind the universe is called God. The same Self when it appears behind this little universe—the body—is the soul.

As body, mind, or soul, you are a dream; you really are Being, Consciousness, Bliss (satchidananda). You are the God of this universe.

The essence of Vedanta is that there is but one Being and that every soul is that Being in full, not a part of that Being.

As soon as I think that I am a little body, I want to preserve it, to protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies; then you and I become separate.

Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to Truth or die.

If superstition enters, the brain is gone.

Superstition is our great enemy, but bigotry is worse.

A tremendous stream is flowing toward the ocean, carrying us all along with it; and though like straws and scraps of paper we may at times float aimlessly about, in the long run we are sure to join the Ocean of Life and Bliss.

God is self-evident, impersonal, omniscient, the Knower and the Master of nature, the Lord of all. He is behind all worship and it is being done according to Him, whether we know it or not.

As soon as you know the voice and understand what it is, the whole scene changes. The same world which was the ghastly battlefield of maya is now changed into something good and beautiful.

Delusion will vanish as the light becomes more and more effulgent, load after load of ignorance will vanish, and then will come a time when all else has disappeared and the sun alone shines.

Come out into the broad light of day, come out from the little narrow paths, for how can the infinite soul rest content to live and die in small ruts?

Come out into the universe of Light. Everything in the universe is yours, stretch out your arms and embrace it with love. If you every felt you wanted to do that, you have felt God.

This is no world. It is God Himself. In delusion we call it world.

Understanding human nature is the highest knowledge, and only by knowing it can we know God. It is also a fact that the knowledge of God is the highest knowledge, and only by knowing God can we understand human nature.

This is the great lesson that we are here to learn through myriads of births and heavens and hells—that there is nothing to be asked for, desired for, beyond one’s spiritual Self (atman).

Perfection does not come from belief or faith. Talk does not count for anything. Parrots can do that. Perfection comes through selfless work.

Strength is the sign of vigor, the sign of life, the sign of hope, the sign of health, and the sign of everything that is good. As long as the body lives, there must be strength in the body, strength in the mind, strength in the hand.

Impurity is a mere superimposition under which your real nature has become hidden. But the real you is already perfect, already strong.

If you want to have life, you have to die every moment for it. Life and death are only different expressions of the same thing looked at from different standpoints; they are the falling and the rising of the same wave, and the two form one whole.

Astrology and all these mystical things are generally signs of a weak mind; therefore as soon as they are becoming prominent in our minds, we should see a physician, take good food, and rest.

Religion as a science, as a study, is the greatest and healthiest exercise that the human mind can have.

The varieties of religious belief are an advantage, since all faiths are good, so far as they encourage us to lead a religious life. The more sects there are, the more opportunities there are for making a successful appeal to the divine instinct in all of us.

Be perfectly resigned, perfectly unconcerned; then alone can you do any true work. No eyes can see the real forces; we can only see the results. Put out self, forget it; just let God work, it is His business.

Look upon every man, woman, and everyone as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege.

Are you unselfish? That is the question. If you are, you will be perfect without reading a single religious book, without going into a single church or temple.

Nature, body, mind go to death, not we. We neither go nor come. The man Vivekananda is in nature, is born and dies; but the Self we see as Vivekananda is never born and never dies. It is the eternal and unchangeable Reality.

The less passion there is, the better we work. The calmer we are the better for us and the more the amount of work we can do. When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work.

Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know.

There is no help for you outside of yourself; you are the creator of the universe. Like the silkworm you have built a cocoon around yourself…. Burst your own cocoon and come out aw the beautiful butterfly, as the free soul. Then alone you will see Truth.

Have you got the will to surmount mountain-high obstructions? If the whole world stands against you sword in hand, would you still dare to do what you think is right?

Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love.

Our first duty is not to hate ourselves, because to advance we must have faith in ourselves first and then in God. Those who have no faith in themselves can never have faith in God.

Every individual is a center for the manifestation of a certain force. This force has been stored up as the resultant of our previous works, and each one of us is born with this force at our back.

Why are people so afraid? The answer is that they have made themselves helpless and dependent on others. We are so lazy, we do not want to do anything ourselves. We want a Personal God, a Savior or a Prophet to do everything for us.

I fervently wish no misery ever came near anyone; yet it is that alone that gives us an insight into the depths of our lives, does it not? In our moments of anguish, gates barred forever seem to open and let in many a flood of light.

Religion has no business to formulate social laws and insist on the difference between beings, because its aim and end is to obliterate all such fictions and monstrosities.

Is there any sex-distinction in the Atman (Self)? Out with the differentiation between man and woman—all is Atman! Give up the identification with the body, and stand up!

He whom the sages have been seeking in all these places is in our own hearts; the voice that you heard was right, says Vedanta, but the direction you gave to the voice was wrong.

The essential thing in religion is making the heart pure; the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, but only the pure in heart can see the King. While we think of the world, it is only the world for us; but let us come to it with the feeling that the world is God, and we shall have God.