Books read recently

Yet to read The Last Temptation of Christ and iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It

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Radio Schizoid

Schizoid Personality Disorder is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, and emotional coldness. The playlist at Radio Schizoid is however otherwise. Started by two folks who are regulars (well nearly) on #linux-india, the streams are nice and not quite run-of-the-mill. Check them out but read the FAQ.

Is the media an ass ?

Well what else can one say ? Dear FN in his true style posted this article excerpt on the India-GII list and thus (un)knowingly laid bare the sensationalist nature of modern media. For the record, Sudipta Sengupta posted the original article here and before we become all too anxious to blame Orkut or detect the evil machinations of a debased capitalist society all eager to wipe off our morals take a deep breath and relax.

The internet is a public place and the means of connectivity and easy access to a social network only amplifies the danger that is there in a public forum. There’s nothing stopping any media to start bashing me in print (although whether that’s going to help the print equivalent of TRPs is another different story) and in the same manner each one of us can be similarly made a villian on social network.

Now imagine the panic of the moral guardians when folks start uploading their “home videos” on sites and make them available for download free or otherwise. MMS extrapolated many times. So instead of an informed article on how to be wary on the social networking circuit what we end up with an overtly sensational article that might have suited fine on Tez TV. Speaking of which, one should have a straw poll of which of the news channels have the best means of presenting mundane non-news items in a sensational manner. The more I see of the current state of the channels, the sadder I get. With the influx of channels it was assumed that there would be an exponential increase in quality of content. What has happened is that we have had more of *twits who “think” they can handle the reporting bit.

And just in case you think that the advertising got any better – think again. Take a look at the recent Pril advertisement talking about the virtues of 1 drop of that stuff removing the grease of 2kgs of fries. Now one suggestion – don’t even try that at home 🙂

The absence of Presence

The Desktop is dead. Long live the Desktop.

We are not talking about the desktop as a hardware but the desktop as a metaphor. The desktop metaphor includes the by now familiar things that we observe on any GUI. The desktop/workspace is physically represented in this case by the display are afforded by the monitor (for example the screen I am using to write this has a small footprint by choice) and the concepts of documents, folders as one can have on the physical desktop are denoted by icons which link to the location on the datastore (HDD, Flash, DOM etc). The desktop metaphor evolved from the physical workspace and the filing cabinet ie the need to organise data in some hierarchy. The Desktop Manager (sometimes called the Desktop Environment) provided the simulation to the end user along with the required levels of usability and comprehension through a Graphical User Interface (or even a Command Line Interface). The metaphor has the over-riding limitation of being tied into the physical workspace ie spatial staleness. Sure one can have a set of file sync-ed up and with proper sync protocols update/modify them but that factor denies the full usage of mobility. The other area of note is that the things to do are tied to software centric usage or applications.

This is where the metaphor needs to be changed to evolve into the metaphor of Presence. What one does on a daily basis can be tagged as activities which center around presence eg presence on mail, IM, IRC, presence as denoted by edits on file/media, tagging of data. So the next metaphor would be driven by devices aggregating content and ensuring presence. The nature of presence might just be more than what social networking offers and could well extend the capabilities of tools like Mugshot which allow sharing of content and hopefully interoperability. One of the bigger hindrances is that data (in terms of text data or media files data) is not interoperable. But strangely enough with the requisite RFCs already existing it is only the will of the operators that will ensure that the data gets wrapped in a standard tag that allows archival, time-awareness and classification and thus can be accessed through devices. The devices need not be only client devices like PDAs or smartphones. They could just be the datastore enabled TV or the music/home-theater system that allows synchronous data transfer and updation. Most of the underlying magic is based on network-layer protocols while the remaining are presentation-layer and there are already prototype devices in the market that allow such a digital-life-real-life convergence.

It is this “absence of Presence” that I expect would get filled in the coming year(s). Through a more comprehensible usage of Open Standards and Protocols, content can be made to be over-reaching and presence and thus facilitative computing be made easy.

Some numbers…

The new year is upon us and here are some numbers:

  • 60% of mobile phone subscribers are first time mobile users
  • 27.69% of attendees at FOSS.in 2006 wanted to learn about the Social Aspects of FOSS
  • 17.55% of attendees at FOSS.in 2006 wanted to know about Localisation
  • 54000 cr INR is supposed to be the amount being invested by various players in the retail segment

While the above might appear to be unrelated, at one small level the data above are interconnected. Recall my rant about content some posts back, This is a build up on that. The pistons of the engine of the new web-economy would be content, standards and devices.

The significant amount of interest being shown in the retail segment by Walmart, Woolworths, Carrefour and Tesco along with Reliance, Tata and Bharti could only signify the need to provide service to the conscious customer by engaging them on their daily spend (groceries) and monthly spend (indulgence). What it also signifies is the eagerness to change the rules of the game by attacking the supply chain to ensure leveraging the cost kinks and churn money. Add to this the idea of microfinancing cellular phones (Nokia and Motorola already have this in place I guess) and you end up having a large base of customers who would be eager to use the devices to augment daily “activities”. The era of the non-smart phones wherein customer interaction or customer response was initiated by the (un)willing customer can change to content being made available and used in a “Find and Use” mode. Smart devices make it possible to wrap content around “activities” rather than the age-old metaphors of desktops and workspaces.

What is important is to ensure that Open Standards drive the content enablement of smart devices as well as the devices themselves are build around Open Standards.

Now, the important question: how many devices do we have out there that enable such open content driven “activity/presence” based model ?

Another year ends…

Optimism is something that supposedly comes naturally to mankind. Although the glass paradigm is ever present, humans are thought of to be generally the “happy kind”. In a way that’s good. Another year ends in 2 days time and in the linear nature of time – a new one will begin. Optimism ensures that I look forward to the new year with a much more positive outlook and hope for some of the things to be better. 🙂

This year has not been bad either – personally and professionally. Finally settled down to what can be called a family life, shifted residences, purchased stuff that fills up a home and have had warm home cooked dinners that can make up for the days when takeaways seems to have become a regular feature. This year had one incident that was unexpected and runab talks about it on her blog. And I have not been down to Kolkata for a long time – but I guess that might change soon enough. Got a good cache of books to read (16 at the last count) and around half a dozen movies that I need to catch up with. That said, it has been the one year where I have been un-subscribing from the huge number of mailing lists that I ended up being on. Someone said that I chew mails like a beast – well I plan to change that to more human levels.

Professionally it has been an interesting ride but what caught me by surprise around a week back was how far down the road I have come from being an enthusiast to someone who is more concerned about the economics and philosophy of FLOSS. When I began as a “code illiterate” “technology flake” I did not have too much to do with the surrounding noise, and I guess I never did figure that it will catch my fancy. But looking back I hazard a guess that it was inevitable. Being exposed to a real nice mix of academic systems, it is not hard to figure out that poking and probing is a habit that is not alien to me.

What I wish could have been ? Some balance in between my life and work perhaps … and of course a better health. 2006 has been a year when the back has played up to a level that sometimes sitting and working is an exercise in patience and tolerance of bearing pain. There has to be some means of getting a back into shape through exercise not involving too much rigidity

Is there anything wrong with the FOSS movement in India ?

lawgon asks what’s wrong with the FOSS movement in India. Honestly, I don’t think anything is wrong. We are in far better shape than before, there’s a larger number of companies doing work on FOSS and attempting to follow a FOSS business model, there’s greater interest from the institutions and more importantly the government on issues related to FOSS (and sometimes related to patents) – so I would say it is fair progress from where we were around 5 years back.

Now since I did not attend foss.in I have no clue about the Decade of Indian FOSS panel discussion, but here’s what’s my take on the scene: the only thing that is very wrong with the FOSS movement or efforts in India is the lack of a community. And I would venture so far as to say that this glaring lack is going to be a huge pull-down factor when we begin to plan for things that are forward looking.

I never expected or even hoped that the flourishing LUGs and their mailing lists (filled as a norm with mails from FN about various FOSS happenings) would lead to a wave of coders churning out FOSS code by the console-full and thus ensuring that there are large number of contributors. That’s a bit of me-too. Having caught up with the FOSS wave long after the US and Europe, we have had the distinct disadvantage of trying to put up with the development models (of code, community and economics) that are not ours. What I expected to happen was an increasing base number of folks would come up through the ranks (making it sound rightly meritocratic) and figure out how to do projects that address the future.

The future is going to be an interesting time. There’s content and it is precisely this concept of content that we are missing along with the context of presence. Before anyone thinks that I have gone batty, consider the following: Nokia is putting an 8GB HDD in its phones, LG is enabling content storage capacity for 33 hours of programming in its TVs, the set top boxes that are all to familiar because of DishTV and TataSky enable custom selection and access of content. What applications like Mugshot and Skype enable is presence and sharing of content. So sooner than later the desktop metaphor which we are familiar with since we nearly grew up with it would be replaced by the metaphor of activities. And it is precisely this area which bothers me. I don’t see too many folks coming up with ideas and contributions upstream or even in individual projects that will address this change or what is so cutely termed a paradigm shift. If the content and presence are added together, what we are beginning to look at is devices. Devices and not gadgets. Client devices which facilitate presence and allow access to content are going to be pervasive more in the coming year. With the looming presence of such nice stuff like DRM and Trusted Computing, ensuring Open Standards on Client Device based computing would be the need of the day.

LUGs not providing yeoman service is something one can live with. For a large number of reasons, the annoyances with hardware and the operating system seems to be dying out. What the LUGs need to do is go from v2.0 to v3.0 where they perform more of consultative SIGs and thus ensure that a larger base of mentees can come up. This can happen with active community building and not merely paying lip-service to the word community. It comes through providing infrastructure and more importantly challenges that can motivate new joinees to innovate. It is not really worthwhile lamenting that the private sector will suck up talent. Until and unless there is an infrastructure that provides comparable if not equal opportunities, this is a case that is going to happen. What however needs to be done is that figure out a way to work around this problem/issue. Should not be too hard to do. Driving work through the LUGs has the drawback of creating silos. LUGs have this record of well intentioned in-house project creation which does not go back upstream.

I think lawgon is being a bit unfair 🙂

A look at life – lived, loved and longed for.

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