Friday, June 22, 2007

My favorite posts

Looking back at last year's posts, I like the following ones more.

A 95-year old poet
OLPC - Is it a reality?
Multitasking - Is it effective?
All About Prime Numbers
Concious Mind - Limited in ability - Use the subconscious
Object loss and biological vulnerability (Mind vs. Body)
Osama - Deeply moving piece of cinametic art
Are you typically typed?
The Placebo Effect (Mind & Medication)
Brain Foods - Are there such things?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Free services aren't really free

Last year I switched from Yahoo mail to Gmail because of its superior features. However, recently Google let me down for a couple of days by denying access to my Gmail account due to unavailability of service. Since it's free we have little way of getting any sort of customer service. It goes well with the line "you get what you pay for". And I cannot complaint much about it as it is still in beta. Once I got access to my account again, first thing I did was to read the terms of use. Among other things, it is written in black and white, "the Service is provided on an AS IS and AS AVAILABLE basis. Google disclaims all responsibility and liability for the availability, timeliness, security or reliability of the Service."

This is the situation with pretty much every free service irrespective of who provides them. What we need to realize is that free services, let it be email, web hosting or something else, are not the solution to all the problems and needs we have. This is particularly true in a business environment. Before you go ahead with these free services, do take some time to assess the cost of using them:

How important are those free services you rely on?
How does the unavailability of services affect you and your customers?
Cost of unavailability vs. Cost of paid service?
What alternative sources are available to augment free services you are using?
How does the response time affect you?

It's always healthy not to rely on free services for your important and primary services. I am not completely ruling out the use of services like free mails - they are great for certain things but not for everything. In fact, I will continue to keep all developer/user mailing lists I have subscribed to under Gmail.

I hope someone will come up with a really cool mail service which leverages on existing free mail services like Gmail, Yahoomail and Hotmail. A naive example would be, we get an email address and the actual email is replicated in the three major mail provider accounts which will dramatically reduce the cost of relying on one free email.
(Gmail does allow to forward a copy to some other account while keeping a copy, but I am thinking of something that will work even in the face of unavailability and I am not considering the possibility of manually setting up a forwarding list through a paid service)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wireless Power

While I was reading the WSO2 blog feed, I stumbled upon this post. Thought of investigating further of the current status and the physics behind the $subject.

Physicists at MIT headed by Marin Soljacic have successfully demonstrated how to wirelessly illuminate an unplugged light bulb from seven feet away [1, 2]. There work is based on magnetically coupled resonance. Just like in acoustics, two objects with same resonant frequency interact with one another strongly while weakly with off-resonant objects. Their first paper on "Efficient wireless non-radiative mid-range energy transfer" describes the theory behind method. The abstract goes as follows:

We investigate whether, and to what extent, the physical phenomenon of long-lifetime resonant electromagnetic states with localized slowly-evanescent field patterns can be used to transfer energy efficiently over non-negligible distances, even in the presence of extraneous environmental objects. Via detailed theoretical and numerical analyses of typical real-world model-situations and realistic material parameters, we establish that such a non-radiative scheme can lead to “strong coupling” between two medium-range distant such states and thus could indeed be practical for efficient medium-range wireless energy transfer.

Researchers have been experimenting on this $subject for centuries. Electromagnetic radiation is one such method, but they do have their own limitations. For example, if we use radio waves, we may end up wasting a lot of energy as it spreads in all directions. We may overcome this limitation by using lasters, but the problem with lasters is that you cannot have obstacles in between the energy source and the device that you want to power.

This work is different from the wireless charging technologies based on radio, induction or resonance. Apple, Motorola, and many other companies are already into this. Companies like SplashPower, WildCharge, etc. have already come up with the technology that can charge multiple devices at once by simply placing the gadgets on a mousepad-like surface. In the future, you'll just dump your devices on a pad and in no time they get charged!

Tribute to the champion behind the ICT industry in Sri Lanka

It was sad to hear the demise of the most valued person in the ICT industry in Sri Lanka, Prof. V.K. Samaranayke last week [1, 2]. He was instrumental in taking IT to the rural areas of the country. Among numerous initiatives in his 4 decade long commitment to IT industry in Sri Lanka, we will never forget his immense contributions to computerize national election, take IT to rural villages through programs like nanasla, standardize Sinhala character set, enhance Internet connectivity in Sri Lankan universities, introduce the BIT (Bachelor of Information Technology of Colombo University) external degree program. Many a awards he received during this period are good evidences for his contributions.

Before the introduction of BIT, only a few students from high schools get the opportunity to study Computer Science/Engineeing/IT in state universities. More than 99% of student population is denied of getting into this field due to limited resources. I, being a lecturer for this external degree program in 2005 and 2006, have met many talented students because of this initiative.

You can leave your e-condolence message here.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Access to Information to Everyone

I had the opportunity to listen to the talk “Technology for the Global Good” by Cliff Missen, the founder of WiderNet project, at the Fulbright Science and Technology seminar held in San Jose, CA.


Schools and universities in most of the developing countries have limited or no internet connection. This is especially true in African and South American developing countries. In Sri Lanka, an Asian country, most universities provide free internet access to their students. However, the bandwidth is much more less than that in developed countries. Further, most schools don’t have access to vast amount of information available in the Internet.


I am impressed by the eGranary project which aims to bring information to African students free of charge. Since these countries do not possess enough bandwidth to directly connect to the Internet, the basic idea is to create an offline version of educational web sites and store them in a persistent storage. You may think this is not useful, but the point is something is better than nothing. If these countries don’t have the infrastructure to deliver the high bandwidth demanding content, the next best option is to replicate the information and make it available through other means. How often do we think of the perfect solution and give up when we cannot overcome the obstacles? This is a good lesson for all such thinkers. It is not the prefect solution that matters, but the impact you make by implementing a feasible solution.

They use the open source HTTrack software to replicate educational sites in the Internet. One obvious question, with information in the web changing constantly, how do we keep the offline copy up to date? The key idea is to use a protocol that updates the offline copy based on the tentative update frequency of actual web sites. We need a similar protocol to do the other way round; that is, reflecting the changes done to offline copy in actual web sites. You can contribute to this project by allowing eGranary to use web content you own. Currently the update process is manual, but I think it is not far way goal to fully automate update process both ways.

It’d be quite useless to have gigabytes of information offline without a search facility. I am really impressed of the search engine that is provided with eGranary digital library – it’s simply like Google search result.

IMHO, this is a really good way to bring information to high school students in countries like ours. One further step would be to make different offline copies different sets of audiences.

There are other benefits of using the above idea as well.

As we all know, the Internet is full of information, most of which is useless for a particular group of audience. By filtering out only the useful information, we not only make information search quick, but also build a network of trusted web sites.

Parents are increasingly concerned about protecting their children from harmful content in the web while allowing them to access information.This'd be a good way to ensure we meet both objectives.