Archive for the 'Technology' Category

India’s Mars mission


How do you ship a spacecraft in India? By Tata truck, of course. [Click on the image for Emily Lakdawalla's post and more photos]

The 400-million kilometres, 299-day, Rs 450-crore (about USD 74 million) voyage to Mars, set to launch on October 28.

Ahead of the rollout of the spacecraft—the 1,343-kg main bus carrying the 15-kg Mars Orbiter—prayers were conducted for success and blessings were sought for the spacecraft.” Johnson T A on the mission in The Indian Express

More photos here

Meet the woman behind Pakistan’s first hackathon

In Wired:

Sabeen Mahmud has short-cropped hair and rectangular glasses; she’d fit right in hunched over a laptop at Philz or behind the counter at one of Apple’s Genius Bars. Her resume matches her style. She’s founded a small tech company, opened a hip coffee shop and organized a successful hackathon. But Mahmud doesn’t hail from the Bay – she lives in Karachi, a city more closely associated with extreme violence then entrepreneurs.

“Fear is just a line in your head,” Mahmud says. “You can choose what side of that line you want to be on.”

Mahmud represents something new in this ancient city. Mahmud “fell in passionately in love” with the first Mac she saw, teaching herself MacPaint and MacDraw in college in 1992, and devoting countless hours to Tetris. In 2006, Mahmud decided Karachi was sorely missing a space where people could gather around shared interests, an interdisciplinary space for collaboration and brainstorming. Despite the fact that in Pakistan, many women are not allowed to finish primary school, much less graduate from college and start their own company, she decided to start The Second Floor café, not letting the fact that she didn’t have any money or experience faze her. “I was living with my mother and my grandmother at the time,” she says, laughing. “I had done zero market research. I just hoped people would show up.” More:

India’s mission to Mars in Nov. 2013

The Indian Cabinet on Friday cleared the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) mission to Mars in November 2013. The project, which comes on the heels of the Chandrayaan mission to the moon, envisages putting a spacecraft in the red planet’s orbit to study its atmosphere, with the help of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Nasa’s Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to land in just two days — 1:31 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6. To get an idea how big a deal the mission is, read this in the Washington Post:

The descent and landing in the early hours of Aug. 6 will be the most complex and hair-raising in planetary history. The destination is a deep crater with a three-mile-tall mountain that NASA could only dream about using as a landing site until very recently.

It’s the most ambitious, the most costly ($2.5 billion) and the most high-stakes mission ever to another planet. It was also described last week by the agency’s top scientist, former astronaut John M. Grunsfeld, as “the most important NASA mission of the decade.”

Nasa will broadcast it live from New York City’s Time Square on Sunday night (Aug. 5).

Paintable battery

Research by Neelam Singh, Charudatta Galande, Andrea Miranda, Akshay Mathkar, Wei Gao, Arava Leela Mohana Reddy, Alexandru Vlad and Pulickel M. Ajayan. From Innovation News:

The rechargeable lithium-ion batteries now found in many mobile phones and laptops may one day be sprayed like paint onto virtually any surface, potentially ushering in a new generation of thin, flexible devices, researchers say.

Spray-paintable batteries even might become available to the general public someday at hardware stores, the scientists added.

Lithium-ion batteries power most portable electronics nowadays, but their spiral, jelly-roll-like design generally limits them to rectangular or cylindrical shapes.

Now researchers have succeeded in painting these batteries onto a diverse range of surfaces, including glass slides, stainless steel, flexible plastic sheets, glazed ceramic tiles, and even the curved side of a beer mug.

“We can convert almost any object to a battery,” Neelam Singh, a materials scientist at Rice University in Houston, told InnovationNewsDaily. More:

Running away from the trolls

Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times:

Like a teenager in the giddy days of an early relationship, I found I couldn’t get enough. I woke up with a sense of anticipation and thought about it long after I had gone to bed. Back then there was the sheer thrill of finding new people and the silly delight in knowing the ‘cool’ people were following me back. With 140 million active users, 10 million of them in India, I was plugged into a giant machine that gave me access to how the world and Indians think. How could I not feel euphoric?

To older friends, convinced that Twitter is Salome’s dance inside the devil’s den, I countered: “It gives me an inside into what moves people.” Twitter gave me the buzz. It was often faster than all the screaming ‘breaking news’ banners on TV. Rinkle Kumari, for instance, the Hindu girl abducted and forcibly converted in Pakistan was making waves on Twitter for nearly a week before news channels picked up the story. And tweets by politicians like Omar Abdullah, @abdullah_omar, are often turned into full-length stories by newspapers the morning after. For journalists and writers, Twitter is also a way to reach out to readers.

Writer Ashok Banker, @ashokbanker, however, says he loves Twitter not as a tool to promote his books but “for its chatty interaction with people, being able to share news, tidbits, pics and info all day long and, of course, its ideal use for witty social commentary”.

Sadly my infatuation came with a short use-by date. Before I knew it, I was snarling, blocking, complaining. Twitter just wasn’t fun anymore. More:


Access to this video is blocked in India

Posted by AW:

What is a flame?

What would you say if an 11-year-old child asked you to explain, “What is a flame?”

The Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University recently asked scientists to answer the question “in a way that an 11-year-old would find intelligible and maybe even fun.”

The Center is a project of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

By April 2, the deadline for “The Flame Challenge”, the Center had received as many as many as 822 entries from the United States and from 30 other countries. “They ranged from a single sentence to pages of prose; from poems – including one shaped like a flame – to live-action and cartoon videos with special effects.”

The winning entry is a 7-minute video with an original theme song by Ben Ames, an American working on his PhD in quantum optics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

The Center posted the winning video at it website ( ), but if you are living in India you cannot watch the video. An “announcement” on the site says “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications.” Even the video of the interview with the winner is blocked in India.

There are many ways of sharing videos on the web. The two popular routes are either to put it up on YouTube and then give a link on your website, or post it on Vimeo, a video-sharing website on which users can upload, share and view videos. Once you have uploaded your video you embed it on your blog or website or give a link to it. A viewer can then watch it either on the blog/website or go to YouTube/Vimeo and do a search.

The problem with “The Flame Challenge” winning video is, the Center posted it on Vimeo, and access to Vimeo has been blocked across India by a court order. Check out [By the way, you can download the video from Vimeo, but you cannot watch it online]

Anyway, for all of you with curious minds and inquisitive kids, here’s the winning video on YouTube. It’s truly brilliant.

 Related post: Hackers take protest to Indian streets and cyberspace

Hackers take protest to Indian streets and cyberspace

At WSJ / India Real Time:

In the last few months, Anonymous –a group of hackers, or hacktivists as they like to call themselves –has gone after Web sites of political parties, government sites and Internet service providers, the latest being MTNL, to protest censorship on the Internet.

The group says they are opposing laws including the 2008 Information Technology (Amendment) Act and the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules of 2011, which they say unfairly restrict Internet freedom.

On Saturday, the hackers will take their protest to the streets, with an Occupy Wall Street-style march called ”Operation Occupy India” planned in 17 cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur in Maharashtra and Kundapur in Karnataka. The group has requested all protestors to wear Guy Fawkes masks, the symbol of Anonymous. More:

Open Letter from Anonymous to the Government of India

at Kafila:

Dear Government of India,

We are Anonymous. It has come to our attention that you have blocked filesharing websites in India. We also know you are in the process of making a Great Indian Firewall, to censor the internet in India. Anonymous believes, however, that pursuing this direction is a sad mistake on your behalf. Not only does it reveal the fact that you do not seem to understand the present-day political and technological reality, we also take this as a serious declaration of war from yourself, the Indian government, to us, Anonymous, the people.

We, the Anonymous are attacking the websites of Government of India, Internet Service Providers with a DDoS attack for past 15 days to spread our message. We would also like to bring to your notice that no content or the data was harmed in this process. More:

Also at Kafila: Anonymous, India and the Blackhat Spectacle by Oxblood Ruffin, a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow publishing and hacktivist collective.

The war for India’s Internet

Rebecca Mackinnon in Foreign Policy:

“65 years since your independence,” a new battle for freedom is under way in India — according to a YouTube video uploaded by an Indian member of Anonymous, the global “hacktivist” movement. With popular websites like blocked across India by court order, the video calls for action: “Fight for your rights. Fight for India.” Over the past several weeks, the group has launched distributed denial-of-service attacks against websites belonging to Internet service providers, government departments, India’s Supreme Court, and two political parties.

Street protests are being planned for this coming Saturday, June 9, in as many as 18 cities to protest laws and other government actions that a growing number of Indian Internet users believe have violated their right to free expression and privacy online. A lively national Internet freedom movement has grown rapidly across India since the beginning of this year. The most colorful highlight so far was a seven-day Gandhian hunger strike, otherwise known as a “freedom fast,” held in early May on a New Delhi sidewalk by political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and activist-journalist Alok Dixit. Trivedi’s website was shut down this year in response to a police complaint by a Mumbai-based advocate who alleged that some of Trivedi’s works “ridicule the Indian Parliament, the national emblem, and the national flag.”

Escalating political and legal battles over Internet regulation in India are the latest front in a global struggle for online freedom — not only in countries like China and Iran where the Internet is heavily censored and monitored by autocratic regimes, but also in democracies where the political motivations for control are much more complicated. Democratically elected governments all over the world are failing to find the right balance between demands from constituents to fight crime, control hate speech, keep children safe, and protect intellectual property, and their duty to ensure and respect all citizens’ rights to free expression and privacy. Popular online movements — many of them globally interconnected — are arising in response to these failures. More:

Pakistan blocks Twitter over “blasphemous content”

[Update: Twitter access was restored after eight hours]


Pakistan on Sunday blocked access to Twitter in response to “blasphemous” material posted by users on the microblogging and social networking website, a senior government official said.

“This has been done under the directions of the Ministry of Information Technology. It’s because of blasphemous content,” said Mohammed Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

“They (the ministry) have been discussing with them (Twitter) for some time now, requesting them to remove some particular content,” he said.

Pakistan blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and about 1,000 other websites for nearly two weeks in May 2010 over blasphemous content.

Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by many Muslims, who constitute the overwhelming majority in Pakistan. More:

Video sharing sites mysteriously blocked in India

In India Ink / NYT:

Popular video-sharing Web sites like Vimeo and The Pirate Bay were blocked this week by two of India’s major Internet service providers, cutting millions of people from the Web sites.

Indian and foreign media companies, including Reliance Entertainment, which is controlled by billionaire Anil Ambani, Viacom and UTV Group, appear to have sparked the block by filing a series of lawsuits in Indian courts related to movie piracy.

The shutdown could create friction in the film community: Vimeo is a favorite of independent, aspiring filmmakers, while Reliance Entertainment is the financial partner behind Steven Spielberg’s Dream Works Studios.

Bharti Airtel customers who tried to access Vimeo and other movie-sharing Web sites from India earlier this week were greeted with a notice that said “Access to this site has been blocked as per Court Orders.” Reliance Communications customers saw a similar notice. Reliance Communications is also controlled by Mr. Ambani. By Friday morning in India, service to the sites had been restored for some Bharti Airtel customers but not all.

The two companies combined serve about a third of all telecommunications customers in India. More:

Live from Mount Everest: A blog!


As I write this, it’s about 1 a.m. in Nepal and, according to National Geographic magazine’s iPad app, a group of climbers is camped on the side of Mount Everest, possibly sleeping (though we can’t be totally sure), at nearly 21,000 feet. They expect to make a final summit push in early May.

Implications aside for a moment, this knowledge is pretty amazing. Two years ago, for better or worse, a 3G network was installed around the foot of Mount Everest. Which allows intrepid climbers like Conrad Anker, Cory Richards and Mark Jenkins to basically live blog their ascent for the magazine.

It’s not the first time an Everest climb has been cataloged in almost real time (and really, you don’t need 3G to do it); but Nat Geo says this is the first time that a publisher is giving real-time updates in a tablet app. Some of the dispatches can be found on Geographic’s “Field Test” blog. But to see it all — including the map that tracks the climbers — you’ll have to get your hands on an iPad. More:

Vijay Kumar: Robots that fly … and cooperate

Vijay Kumar is an Indian roboticist and professor in the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. A TED talk:

India’s $35 tablet slammed by testers


A “$35″ computer launched last year in India as the world’s cheapest tablet has run into problems and companies will be invited to bid again to make the device after complaints of poor performance and hiccups rolling out a pilot model.

The government has hailed the Aakash tablet as an achievement of Indian frugal engineering that would end the digital divide in a country where only one in every 10 of its 1.2 billion people use the Internet.

Products such as Apple Inc’s iPad are beyond the reach even of many in the fast-growing middle class. The locally assembled machine has a cost price of around $50 and was to be sold to students by the government for $35. More:

Indian government sanctions prosecution of Google, Facebook


India’s communications ministry Friday sanctioned the prosecution of Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Facebook as well as 17 other companies over a complaint that their websites carry “unacceptable” content that could incite communal violence.

The clearance paved the way for an Indian court, which ordered top executives of these companies to appear before it on March 13, to expand the case to cover charges such as inciting enmity among different groups and deliberate and malicious acts intended to upset religious feelings. Such charges need the federal government’s clearance for a court to proceed with the trial.

The court order follows a complaint from an individual, Vinay Rai, who wants the companies to be prosecuted for alleged offenses such as criminal conspiracy, defamation, promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion and race, and obscene content. More:

Pak bans dirty texting: just say no to monkey crotch

Shivam Vij at

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned 1,795 expletives on SMS, ordering telecom companies to filter out SMS-es containing these offending words with effect from 21 November 2011. The letter includes a list of 1,109 English words, more pornographic terms than expletives, and another 586 Urdu words which are more colourful sexual expletives of the standard South Asian kind rather than the plain garden variety pornography.

A letter from the PTA, dated 14 November and signed by its Director General (Services), Muhammed Talib Doger invokes the “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009″ to pass the order.

The English list is here and Urdu here

The Pakistani Twitterverse was on fire last night as the two lists make for hilarious reading. The English list begins with A.S.S. and ends with yellowman. Some words sound harmless (crap and crappy), others bizarre (Jesus Christ, flatulence, murder, monkey crotch). Many are commonly used obscene words (“FUCK YOU”) and care has been taken to account for alternative spellings (biatch, muthafucka). More:

In The Express Tribune:

Medical terms to be banned:

Athletes foot









Daily usage words to be banned:








Raghava KK: Shake up your story

Artist Raghava KK demos his new children’s book for iPad with a fun feature: when you shake it, the story — and your perspective — changes. In this charming short talk, he invites all of us to shake up our perspective a little bit. TED Talks

Where is India’s Steve Jobs?

Samanmth Subramanian at India Ink/NYT:

Perhaps this is a hollow, even narcissistic, question. Brazil hasn’t produced a Steve Jobs; neither has China, the Philippines, Zambia, Australia or any one of dozens of countries around the world. We cannot even be certain that America “produced” Jobs, in the sense that a factory produces an automobile, by processing a load of raw material into a finished specimen; Jobs may have been entirely sui generis and only coincidentally American. But I put the question anyway to Aditya Dev Sood, the founder and chief executive of the Center for Knowledge Societies, a consulting firm that works in what may be considered Jobs’ pet areas: user experience design and innovation management.

The question of innovation has been weighing particularly heavily on Mr. Sood’s mind because, later this week in Bangalore, his firm will host Design Public, a conference on innovation and the public interest. Mr. Sood’s first thought, unsurprisingly, concerned the Indian education system, “which prepares us for society by a series of instrumental grading mechanisms that treat us like chickens in a hatchery.” This is, he contended, a legacy of colonization, and although Thomas Babington Macaulay’s infamous Minute of 1835 is now deep in India’s past, it still lays out colonial sentiments on education vividly. More:

Aiming for the other one billion

From NYT:

DataWind, the company behind the $35 tablet computer unveiled by the Indian government on Wednesday, hopes to spark an Internet revolution in the country.

The company plans to offer a souped-up version of the tablet it is making for the government to the general public for 2,999 rupees (about $61) by late November, packaged with unlimited Internet access that costs only 99 rupees a month (about $2).

“I truly believe the revolution that happened in the mobile phone industry will extend to the Internet and personal computers” when prices are lowered, Suneet Singh Tuli, the chief executive of DataWind, said in a telephone interview. More:

India launches “world’s cheapest” tablet computer

From Reuters:

India launched what it dubbed the world’s cheapest tablet computer Wednesday, to be sold to students at the subsidized price of $35 and later in shops for about $60.

Most of India’s 1.2 billion people are poor and products such as Apple Inc’s iPad are beyond the reach even of many in the fast-growing middle class.

“The rich have access to the digital world, the poor and ordinary have been excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide,” Telecoms and Education Minister Kapil Sibal said.

The government is buying the first units of the lightweight touch-screen device, called Aakash, or “sky” in Hindi, for $50 each from a British company which is assembling the web-enabled devices in India.More:

Hailing the Google bus

From The Economist:

Like the travelling fairs that still roam India, a snazzy white bus trundles along the subcontinent’s B-roads, stopping in small towns for a few days at a time and inviting locals into another world. But in place of tightrope-walking girls and performing monkeys, its main attraction is access to the internet. For some visitors, it is their first time online.

The Google Internet bus is a free, mobile cybercafe dreamed up by the search giant and run in association with BSNL, a large state-owned internet service provider (ISP). It has covered over 43,000km and passed through 120 towns in 11 states since it hit the road on February 3rd, 2009. Google estimates that 1.6m people have been offered their first online experience as a result. Of those, 100,000 have signed up for an internet connection of their own. Like a high-school drug dealer, though admittedly less nefarious, the idea is to hook them young and keep them coming back. In return for its efforts, Google says it gains a better understanding of their needs. That, in turn, lets it develop products for the potentially huge local market.

Internet penetration rates in the developing world continue to lag far behind those of the west. Last year there were still only 20 internet users per 100 people in the developing world. In the West the figure is 69. (The global average is about 30.) But that is changing rapidly. In the ten years to 2010, internet users in the developed economies just about tripled. In the rest of the world, their number grew ten-fold. More:

Border between India and Pakistan is so brightly lit it can be seen from space

On NASA website:

Clusters of yellow lights on the Indo-Gangetic Plain reveal numerous cities large and small in this astronaut photograph of northern India and northern Pakistan. Of the hundreds of clusters, the largest are the capital cities of Islamabad, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India. (For scale, these metropolitan areas are approximately 700 kilometers or 435 miles apart.) The lines of major highways connecting the cities also stand out. More subtle, but still visible at night, are the general outlines of the towering and partly cloud-covered Himalayas to the north (image left).

A striking feature is the line of lights, with a distinctly orange hue, snaking across the center of the image. It appears to be more continuous and brighter than most highways in the view. This is the fenced and floodlit border zone between India and Pakistan. The fence is designed to discourage smuggling and arms trafficking. A similar fenced zone separates India’s eastern border from Bangladesh (not visible).

In Dawn, Karachi: The distrust and fear that divide India and Pakistan can also be seen from the space — a bright orange line snaking through hundreds of miles across the earth’s surface.

Indian company makes unique light-bulb design speakers

From Economic Times:

The next few weeks, the festival season, could decide the fate of an audacious Indian startup which is challenging some of the best-known consumer electronics brands in the world. If it succeeds, Violetcould become a household name, alongside home entertainment giants such as SonyPhilips and Bose.

But it has a huge mountain to climb-convincing consumers that paying Rs 65,000 for a 3D home theatre system which looks like nothing they have seen before is a great bargain.

Snap Networks, the Bangalore-based creator of Violet, has already climbed two mountains in the nearly three years of its existence. It has a created a product which it says has no equal in the world. And Violet is Made in India from top to toe, with no trace in it of China, where most of the world’s electronic goods are produced. The really hard part–positioning itself in a barren, inhospitable part of the market–begins now.

“We have taken people by surprise so far. There is more to come,” says Ashish Aggarwal, the CEO of Snap Networks, who set up the company in 2009 after leaving a job as director of R&D at Harman Kardon, one of the world’s top audio systems makers. Aggarwal, 35, teamed up with L H Bhatia, former BPL executive who is providing some of the funding and much of the marketing expertise.

Snap Networks stands out for a number of reasons. In a country where product startups are rare, and consumer electronics startups rarer still, the company has demonstrated its ability to create valuable intellectual property and manufacture its device in India.

It has also shunned the safe option of licensing its IP, opting instead to carve out a space for itself in the unforgiving consumer electronics marketplace.

The company has relied on a group of eight angel investors who have backed Aggarwal’s dream.

“Given his passion and the size of the market it was a reasonably easy decision to make,” says Ashok Vittal, who has invested more than $ 50,000 in Snap. More:

Cloud computing for dummies: “…data can be lost if there’s a storm”

In which India’s former income-tax commissioner Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, an adviser to Baba Ramdev on the issue of black money in foreign banks, explains cloud computing. He believes that cloud computing is about real clouds, and explains how data can be lost if the cloud bursts into rain. (“Today the entire technical system, Google, is cloud based… But there is no study on what happens in a storm…”)

Angry Birds meets Team Anna


Tired of corruption? Angry at corrupt leaders? Well, now there’s a new way to take it out on them.

A new game modeled on the hugely-popular Angry Birds, allows players to sling anti-corruption activists against corrupt politicians who have been “stealing our beloved nation’s money.” (The premise of Angry Birds is a little different: there, the birds are upset with a bunch of pigs who stole their eggs.)

This version of the game, “Angry Anna,” is named after the 73-year-old social activist Anna Hazare, who has been fasting for 11 days to press the government to pass his version of an anti-corruption bill.

The game, designed by the Noida-based company Geek Mentors Studio, encourages visitors to “Play to support Anna Hazare” in his battle against corruption in India.

“Anna’s rallies and protests are going on nationwide, but many who support the cause can’t go out on the streets to participate. So the idea was that people play the game as a support to the noble movement of Mr. Hazare,” said Mohammed Shah Nawaz, one of the game’s developers. More:

I don’t believe in legacy: Narayana Murthy

Infosys Ltd chairman and chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy stepped down on Friday to become chairman emeritus. Excerpts from an interview in The Times of India:

It’s your last day at Infosys, how do you feel?

On Thursday my son was asking me the same thing. I said till the last day I have given all I could for this company. As somebody who doesn’t believe in the past, does not believe in legacy, I think what is important is to do the best in present so I can create a bright future.

So what are your plans?

My son asked me that too. I said I deserve to take it easy. If I want to go to my home-office I will go. When I want to read I will read. Any case, my external responsibilities, attending board meetings, all of that will continue. I don’t believe in the concept of second innings.

You are too young to say that.

You have always been kind to me, but the reality is different (laughs). More:

Indian women bloggers find a voice

They typically come from small towns and often write about what being a woman in modern India means to them. Indian women bloggers are finding their voice in a multiplicity of tongues, writes Nilanjana Roy in IHT.

Rashmi Swaroop, who just completed her M.B.A. exams in the small tourist town of Ajmer, Rajasthan, is celebrating on her blog. Over at the popular Bengali-language site Desh-Bidesh, Nasim, a resident of Kolkata in her 60s, shares memories of the city in the years after Indiaachieved independence in 1947. Kalki Subramaniam, an actress and transgender rights advocate, has kicked off a debate on marriage for transgendered people.

As the Internet opens up to different Indian languages, the profile of India’s female bloggers is turning out to be far more complex than many commentators might have suspected.

Ms. Swaroop writes in Hindi, Ms. Nasim and the other posters on Desh-Bidesh blog in Bengali, and Ms. Subramaniam’s two blogs are in Tamil and English.

Until recently, it would have been hard for anyone who did not speak the original languages to follow their blogs. The Indian blogosphere, a thriving community of millions now, was long constrained by language. more

Whatever happened to India’s $35 laptop?

In July 2010 the Indian government proudly unveiled the prototype of a $35 laptop. Over a year later there’s still no sign of India’s ‘answer to MIT’s $100 laptop’ says Pamposh Raina in NYT

The Indian government promised the world a $35 laptop a year ago. In a few weeks it will deliver, said Kapil Sibal, minister for human resource development. “All the naysayers will be unpleasantly surprised,” Mr. Sibal said during an interview in his New Delhi office. He said he already has a version of the dirt-cheap laptop. What’s it look like? Well, unfortunately, it was at home, not in the office, he said. “I must be able to work on it.” Unveiling the prototype of the laptop a year ago, Mr. Sibal flaunted the gadget as his answer to Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (O.L.P.C.) project, which aspires to develop a $100 laptop. Currently there are three million children across 41 countries using the XO laptop developed by O.L.P.C., said Satish Jha, the India head of the project. But the current price of each laptop hovers around $200, he said. more

Deciphering the Indus Valley inscriptions

Rajesh Rao is fascinated by “the mother of all crossword puzzles”: How to decipher the 4000 year old Indus script. At TED 2011 he tells how he is enlisting modern computational techniques to read the Indus language, the key piece to understanding this ancient civilization.

The revolution’s new leaf

With a little help from the Tata Group, man has managed to replicate photosynthesis in a lab. In the future, you could well have an artificial leaf powering a house in an Indian village. Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

It is almost a tautology to claim that most of the energy we use on earth has its origin in the sun. The food we eat, the coal and gas we burn, eventually trace their way back to a vast array of photons striking the earth. Our own efforts to directly tap this ubiquitous energy have been largely ineffectual. Solar panels do work, but the cost of generating electricity in this manner exceeds the cost of using fossil fuels, especially if we do not factor in the environmental damage caused by the latter. Yet, plants seem to achieve this miracle with ease, producing sugars and carbohydrates from photosynthesis at no great cost, which are then converted into more complex molecules that form the basis not only of our bodies but our fuel.

The principles on which a leaf works have been known for a long time, but replicating them has been another matter. Now a team led by MIT scientist Daniel Nocera and funded by the Tata Group has achieved a breakthrough that may make this possible—and in an affordable way—within the decade. An artificial leaf, at the moment a slab of silicon the size of a playing card coated with catalysts on both sides and encased in water, could well generate enough energy for a household in an Indian village. The actual prototype, though, would be much larger; it would take a leaf the size of a door placed in a gallon of water to power a house, but scaling the technology up does not seem a problem.

“A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” said Nocera, speaking at a meeting in March this year of the American Chemical Society (ACS) where he first unveiled a working prototype. “We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he added, “One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.” More:

Image: Open magazine

India puts tight leash on Internet free speech

Vikas Bajaj in The New York Times:

Free speech advocates and Internet users are protesting new Indian regulations restricting Web content that, among other things, can be considered “disparaging,” “harassing,” “blasphemous” or “hateful.”

The new rules, quietly issued by the country’s Department of Information Technology earlier this month and only now attracting attention, allow officials and private citizens to demand that Internet sites and service providers remove content they consider objectionable on the basis of a long list of criteria.

Critics of the new rules say the restrictions could severely curtail debate and discussion on the Internet, whose use has been growing fast in India.

The list of objectionable content is sweeping and includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.” More:

In The Times of India: New internet rules open to arbitrary interpretation