Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Is OpenOffice really bugged?

Andrew Brown, The Guardian

The OpenOffice project vividly illustrates the limitations of open source as a way of producing software.

Of all the myths that have grown up around open source software, perhaps the most pervasive is Eric Raymond’s aphorism that “Many eyes make bugs shallow”, suggesting that if lots of people can view a program’s source code, they will find and fix its errors more quickly than commercial products whose code is jealously guarded. The only problem with this is that it’s not true - certainly not in one of the flagship projects of open source, ‘OpenOffice’.

This project is most often quoted as the threat to Microsoft's cash-generating Office suite. The free suite comprises a word processor, spread sheet and presentation programme; and graphics, equation editor and database programs if you want.

OpenOffice is the only free and open source product competitive with Office, able to read and write Microsoft format documents almost flawlessly. For Linux desktop users, it is the only way to communicate in the universe of business. But it also vividly demonstrates the limitations of open source as a way of producing software, and its futility as an ideology.

Full Story

Monday, December 26, 2005

How India can be the most innovative place on earth

Anand V Chhatpar | December 26, 2005

The author is CEO, BrainReactions LLC, and has been named among the Top 5 entrepreneurs in the US under the age of 25 by BusinessWeek.

I lived in India for 19 years, and feel fortunate for my wide range of experiences in this blessed land. Born in a business family with a silver spoon, I never had any shortage of resources for learning and growing.

I grew up with the strict discipline enforced by my parents and grandparents and the high standards set by them. I was a class topper all throughout my primary and secondary school, and received tremendous love and support from my teachers and friends.

After my 10th grade, when I went for my diploma in computer engineering to Government Polytechnic, Mumbai, I got to see a very different side of life. I learnt to do hard work with my hands as I learnt things like carpentry, welding, plumbing and smithy along with the basics of technology and engineering.

I commuted in crowded local trains for one and a half hours each way every day to and fro my college. I still remember sitting around a table in the canteen with friends who had come from various remote villages of the state and who were used to studying under the street lights because they did not have an electric connection in their house.

I had friends who had gone through great troubles to afford their education. These sons and daughters of farmers and labourers had, through their perseverance and undying hope, reached a stage where they could finally rub shoulders with the rich kids who could simply get in to colleges by paying huge donations. I knew that a change was in the air.

During my diploma days, I had both a research-oriented focus and an entrepreneurial drive. My internal drive has always been to do something different and stand out from the crowd. I found that many well-established people in India are closed to new ideas. There was often a cynicism about India in those days, and people who I approached with radical and modern ideas used to discourage me or be critical of these ideas.

My friends -- Atul, Sidharth -- and I, using our own research and self-study, started a software and Web development company while I was still pursuing my diploma. We did some innovative work for the time, but always had trouble collecting payments from our clients.

Indian businessmen have the tendency to bargain hard and yet not pay on time, or sometimes, not pay at all.

To pursue my academic and research interests, since it was not possible to do research at the undergraduate level in India, I decided to go to America. The environment I found there has completely changed my thinking.

I became great friends with Osman Ozcanli who was an international student from Turkey, and an incredibly creative and positive thinker. Constantly challenging himself to think of ways to improve everything he touched, his imagination and 'everything is possible' attitude were very inspiring for me.

Having made friends who had come to America from all around the world, I got a truly global perspective. Religion, race, and socioeconomic class become completely unimportant to me as soon as I realised that people are part of this global human race before anything else, and people who are essentially good and care for others are respected everywhere.

Osman and I together designed several inventions and participated in invention and business plan contests at our university. We lost several times with multiple different invention entries. "We never give up" was our motto. It took us 12 prototypes before we could finally win the Tong Prototype Prize in 2002 with the OZ Pack, our ergonomically designed stationery binder.

Osman went home to Turkey that summer and found manufacturers for the product. He even found retail distribution through a chain store called Migros. All of a sudden our product was in 72 retail outlets all over Turkey and we could see people using it. It is the most amazing sight to see random people on the street carrying around and using a product that you designed.

I also found stores in the United States to test market our OZ Pack. We both had no business education, but we were making it happen. Action, I realised, can make any idea a reality. Just start and keep trying until you get what you want.

Osman and I also did an internship together at a place called Concept Studio in a company called Pitney Bowes. There, we learnt the formal techniques of customer-centric innovation, ethnographic research, brainstorming, prototyping, and market validation.

I realised that innovation can be systematically taught. I wished there was access to such knowledge in India, where the potential for improvement and innovation was much greater. We had the good fortune of working under great mentors: Tom Foth, Brian Romansky and Jonathan Wolfman, all of whom are prolific inventors.

I filed several invention disclosures while working there and now have four issued US patents to my name, whereas three more are pending.

I also learned in Pitney Bowes how corporations stifle creativity. Outside our small Concept Studio subgroup, people used to work in cubicles. They had to follow policy manuals for everything: even the margin on the letterheads was pre-decided for them and they had to go through political hoops to get approvals for almost every decision.

When Osman graduated and moved to Chicago to work with Inventables, we could not keep the OZ Pack going. However, brainstorming and innovation was in my blood now and I could no longer imagine working in a traditional type of job. I used to organise brainstorming parties on campus calling some of my most creative friends and people that I had met at the invention contests.

At one such party, Nate Altfeather, winner of the $10,000 Schoof's Prize for Creativity, suggested that I start such brainstorming for companies as a professional service. No such business existed at the time, so it was a doubly exciting project for me.

Nate and I formed BrainReactions LLC to tap into creative young minds and innovate new ideas for companies. We had to do several brainstorms for free for non-profit clients and friends before we had improved the process to a level where we were able to approach for-profit corporations to be our clients.

The breakthrough came when after making over 30 phone calls, Tom Foth, my mentor from Pitney Bowes, referred us to the vice president at Bank of America, and we had our first paying client!

Bank of America was impressed with our work and we got great testimonials from them that got us attention from the media and from other companies who wanted to try us out.

I was still a student then, attending my college classes every day, and immediately after class making phone calls to CEOs and vice presidents of Fortune 500 companies to run my business over nights and weekends. Over time, we improved our systems for finding and ranking our idea generators which ensured superb results for our customers.

The idea generators we had chosen were also winning invention contests and business plan contests after we had found them through our system, so that further validated that our process worked. Our successes with new clients made our marketing change from lots of outgoing cold-calls to returning incoming contact requests through our Web site.

I was at the risk of dropping out from college during my final year, but I stuck with it, spending almost no time studying during the last semester. It was a time when I had stopped caring about my GPA, which was a perfect 4.0 at the time, so it dropped minutely by the time I graduated and became full-time with BrainReactions.

Within six months of being the full-time CEO at BrainReactions, I was named by BusinessWeek as one of the top 25 young business leaders in the US, and the readers of the magazine voted me into the top 5, with me being the only Indian in that group.

The following month, we received opportunities to work for the United Nations and were also invited to Japan by the Japanese External Trade Organisation. The Council for Competitiveness invited me to share ideas on how to make America more innovative and competitive globally.

Meanwhile, I came to India to visit my parents and was awestruck by the development taking place in the top-tier cities. The IT/BPO sector had started booming, high paying call centre jobs were available to graduates straight out of college and there was new infrastructure being built everywhere.

India's top 5 per cent now had the same infrastructure that was available in Silicon Valley. Their payscales had increased but their job satisfaction had decreased, with peak attrition rates as high as 43 per cent.

Therein lay a huge opportunity. The people in Bangalore used the same Dell Inspiron computers, the same broadband Internet connections, the same Microsoft Windows platform PCs, the same programming languages and databases used in Silicon Valley, but the people in the US were making multi-billion dollar Google, while the people in India were still testing office applications and doing grunt-work for American companies. Why?

In fact, almost 40 per cent of Silicon Valley start-ups have been formed by Indian entrepreneurs. Why then were the entrepreneurs in India still doing work on contract in the service sector and not innovating products for the world?

Globally, India was being heralded as a software powerhouse, but I did not have a single programme on my computer that was made by an Indian company. It was time to change things. Indians deserved to have access to the same tools, techniques, processes and training for innovation that was available in the US.

India can be the knowledge powerhouse of the world. We cannot only make products for the world, but create jobs in other countries, especially in the US. My mission was now to drive this change.

With the help of Atul Khekade, my friend from college and my business partner from my earliest start-up, I established a programme called Innovation Trip that could take Indian leaders to the US and get the best of breed experts to train them on all the various topics required to establish a successful innovation pipeline.

MIT and Stanford are considered the innovation capitals within the US, so we decided that those have to be on the tour. To present the workshop on finding disruptive innovation opportunities, we approached Innosight, the company of Clay Christensen, who has written the book on the topic.

Similarly, for teaching customer-centric innovation methods to act on the new market opportunity, we brought in Icnivad that had established itself as the leading innovation house for knowledge processes within Fortune 100 companies.

At Stanford, we brought in Originaliti, a well-known Silicon Valley-based company that would provide insight and training on creating a culture of creativity and innovation within the company.

Finally, we brought in Ken Tanner, author of several books on employee retention and recruiting excellence, to present a workshop on retaining employees and on anti-poaching, which is a huge problem in India.

With the programme in place and with the support of Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies; Pradeep Gupta, CEO of Cyber Media; Pankaj Agrawala, joint secretary of IT, and other top CEOs in India, Innovation Trip has seen a prominent launch.

Today our target should not be to serve 300 of the Fortune 500 companies, but to be 300 of the Fortune 500 companies. We can, we will, and we are taking action towards making India the most innovative place on earth.

Indians are naturally creative and intellectual. Our heritage is rich with diverse thoughts, ideas and prominent scientists. Our culture has taught us tolerance and positivity in the face of adversity.

There is nothing stopping us from channeling our creativity into innovation for the world. Let us learn the best from the West, and enhance it with our eastern mindset and give back to the whole world. Its time for this giant nation to stop following and start leading.

Let us say 'no' to grunt work, let us do something new! Innovate India. Innovate!


Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Battle for Bangalore

India is turning into a battleground for the hearts and minds of software developers. On one side are the forces of opensourcing, ranged against them is Bill Gates's Microsoft. It is a battle neither can afford to lose, writes Gervase Markham

A nasty catfight has been going on in Washington and the American press. The essence of the battle calls into question the patriotism of CEOs who would sell out their countrymen for a quick buck by taking advantage of offshoring - a word guaranteed to cause an American software engineer to choke on his high-caffeine Jolt.

American companies, being squeezed by low-cost, high-work-ethic competition from Asia, are looking to cut overheads by outsourcing their IT jobs. The destination of much of this exodus is the booming tech sector of India, as the world's second most populous country leverages the widespread knowledge of English, a legacy of its colonial past. The nexus of this growth is Bangalore, which boasts more than 200 technology companies and the highest number of engineering colleges of any city in the world.

And now a different fight has begun in earnest. In terms of the global IT landscape, it is perhaps more significant. It is the battle for the hearts and minds of those tens of thousands of Indian software developers.

On one side is Microsoft, hoping to tempt them with visions of a smoothly-integrated development system from a single vendor. On the other side is the free software movement, talking about the importance of liberty, unrestrictive licensing and control of your own computing environment. At stake is the ability to harness the brainpower of an entire subcontinent of hackers.

In the most recent exchange of fire, Microsoft's shot made the loudest bang. Buoyed by a no doubt sincere but also profile-raising series of visits by Bill Gates to Delhi slums and AIDS counselling centres, there was extensive international coverage of Microsoft's "Ready Launch 2005" event at the Bangalore Palace. There, Gates announced a $1.7 billion investment in India over the next four years, split between "donations" of software to schools, job creation and building, and developer evangelism.

However, reading the reports, one can't help but see a slightly patronising tone in their approach. One announcement which typified this was "Code4Bill" - a recruiting exercise dressed up as a competition, involving a series of online tests and real-world interviews. These whittle down the entrants to a final 20 who win internships at Microsoft India, and maybe even (gasp!) a job. The lucky grand prize winner gets to work in the "Bill Gates Technical Assistants Team" in Redmond for a year.

By contrast, the FOSS.IN (FOSS stands for "free and open source software; .IN is the country code for India) conference, a week beforehand in the very same venue, received comparatively little publicity. There were 2,700 attendees gathered to hear big names in the Linux world such as Alan Cox, the impressively-bearded Welsh kernel hacker, who gave "brutally technical" programming talks. The event's sponsor list reads like a roll call in the ABM ("Anyone But Microsoft") army - Intel, Google, Sun, HP.

At first glance, despite the Microsoft marketing muscle and donated dollars, free software should be a shoo-in. In a country which wants to encourage entrepreneurship and expand its economy, why pay more for less control? However, the free software community has its own, rather unexpected hurdle to overcome - a cultural one. Despite India being "the world's largest consumer of free software", not much code is making its way back to the major projects. It seems that Indian developers often have a difficult time engaging with the community.

There have been several reasons suggested for this. One is that the Indian university system is more oriented to creating large numbers of employable graduates who pass tests, assembly-line style, than encouraging creativity and risk-taking. In a country where an engineering degree is the ticket to a reasonably comfortable life, no one wants to rock the boat. Another factor is that Indian developers are often most comfortable with a structured work plan and clearly-defined boundaries. This style of working is not a good fit for the self-motivated, somewhat chaotic style of the free software bazaar.

So at the moment, the scales are evenly balanced. India is there for the taking. In five years' time, will India be Coding 4 Bill, or Coding 2 Share?

Gervase Markham works for the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting choice and innovation on the internet. His blog is Hacking for Christ


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hira Punjabi among the winners of the National Wildlife Magazine's Annual Photography Compitition

Hira Punjabi
Maharashtra, India
On a frigid winter morning at India’s Tal Chappar animal sanctuary, Punjabi came upon two male blackbucks battling for dominance against a glowing backdrop of dust and light. The graceful animals, once overhunted, can now be seen in herds throughout India. Punjabi made the photograph with a 500mm telephoto lens.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Kaun Banega KDE Hacker: KDE India Founded

Thanks to the efforts of Till Adam and Sirtaj Singh Kang at the event held last week at Bangalore, the KDE India has been formed to promote and develop this amazing project in India. Energized by their powerful talks and seeing how simple and easy it was to create an application in KDE using the various KDE libraries and Qt utilities, a group quickly formed around them to know more about this project. And the result was - KDE India!


Thursday, December 08, 2005

India hits back in 'bio-piracy' battle

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

In a quiet government office in the Indian capital, Delhi, some 100 doctors are hunched over computers poring over ancient medical texts and keying in information.

These doctors are practitioners of ayurveda, unani and siddha, ancient Indian medical systems that date back thousands of years.

Yoga exercises have been patented in the west
"The tulsi (holy basil) plant has medicinal qualities
"People outside India are not aware of our immense traditional knowledge wealth"
VK Gupta, project director

One of them is Jaya Saklani Kala, a young ayurveda doctor, who is wading through a dog-eared 500-year-old text book for information on a medicine derived from the mango fruit.

"Soon the world will know the medicine, and the fact that it originated from India," she says.

With help from software engineers and patent examiners, Ms Kala and her colleagues are putting together a 30-million-page electronic encyclopaedia of India's traditional medical knowledge, the first of its kind in the world.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Balancing needs of wildlife and tourists

By Ben Sutherland
BBC World Service, Kuching

An idea to ensure tourists visiting wildlife parks catch a glimpse of the animals they came to see has been proposed at an environmental conference in Malaysia.

Bernard Harrison, a zoo manager and designer, suggested the construction of "managed wildlife sanctuaries" on degraded land would allow people to enjoy what he called "orchestrated random encounters".

Ecotourism is a key contributor to many countries' economies
"One misplaced foot can destroy decades of growth" - Sir Peter Crane, Kew Gardens

Speaking at the International Media and Environment Summit (Imes) in Kuching, he said this approach would suit many ecotourists who did not appreciate that the creatures they had paid to see often preferred to remain hidden.

The sanctuaries could be created on environmentally damaged land because such areas were actually often rich in food, he added.


'New mammal' seen in Borneo woods

By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website

In the dense central forests of Borneo, a conservation group has found what appears to be a new species of mammal.

WWF caught two images of the animal, which is bigger than a domestic cat, dark red, and has a long muscular tail.

"You don't find new mammals that often, and to do so must be extraordinary" -
Callum Rankine
The find was made in Kayan Mentarang national park on Borneo

Local people, the WWF says, had not seen the species before, and researchers say it looks to be new.

The WWF says there is an urgent need to conserve forests in south-east Asia which are under pressure from logging and the palm oil trade.

The creature, believed to be carnivorous, was spotted in the Kayan Mentarang National Park, which lies in Indonesian territory on Borneo.

The team which discovered it, led by biologist Stephan Wulffraat, is publishing full details in a new book on Borneo and its wildlife.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Time Indian techies logged in: Free software movement

India’s biggest open source software meet asks programmers to break away from company-driven coding


Posted online: Monday, December 05, 2005 at 0129 hours IST

BANGALORE, DECEMBER 4: Geeks, computer guerrillas and the philosophy of freedom ruled Bangalore’s Palace Grounds last week. Microsoft and proprietary software were almost bad words; open source, free software and Linux were the operating terms.

After four days of ideological debates, tech exchange and interactions with some of the who’s who of the free and open source world, India’s biggest ever free and open source software conference (FOSS.IN) wound down this weekend. The message from the virtual Woodstock software engineers to Indian programmers was loud and clear: break free from company-driven coding and express themselves in the open source and free software world — which offers among other things star status for innovators.

Attracting over 2,700 techies, FOSS.IN, in a way signalled the coming of age of the open source, free software movement in India. ‘‘The free software and open source movement is about self determinism, it is about guerrilla activism. You don’t meet too many people in that space in India as yet but as the middle class grows you will see it,’’ said Intel and the Open Source Initiative’s, Danese Cooper — a star herself in the FOSS world.

‘‘Why should programmers in India not achieve the status of a cricketer or a Bollywood star? It’s obvious that open source will be used by everyone. Solve local problems in India using open source software,’’ Cooper who calls herself a guerrilla evangelist for FOSS told Indian programmers at the meet.

‘‘Empowerment at the individual level produces great products. FOSS changes everything. This process is challenging software development,’’ says software consultant, Linux advocate and organiser of FOSS.IN, Atul Chitnis. “This event’s primary objective is to empower individuals to allow them to get involved with free and open source software,” Chitnis said.

Given the large number of programmers in India, contributions by Indian programmers to open source and free software projects is sluggish compared to countries like Sri Lanka. For instance, Google’s recent open source summer of code project for students threw up no project mentors from India while Sri Lanka contributed four.

‘‘With free software, a developing nation can take greater control of its infrastructure, avoid paying hard-currency licensing fees. There is no doubt that use of free software in India is growing, but the country has not always been strongly represented in the development community,’’ wrote editor of Linux Weekly News (LWN.NET) and one of the speakers at Bangalore, Jonathan Corbett, in his introduction to FOSS.IN.

The Indian government, while not publicly championing open source in governance, education or other spheres has been privately supporting the movement. FOSS.IN — known in its earlier four editions as Linux Bangalore — itself was sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Technology. ‘‘The IT ministry is fairly open to open source. Prakash Karat recently said open source is helping India democratise IT. The approach however varies from state to state. All application development for the Maharashtra government is now in open source. Karnataka is more pro Microsoft,’’ said Red Hat’s Venkatesh Hariharan.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

10 Biggest Brain Damaging Habits

1. No Breakfast

People who do not take breakfast are going to have a lower blood sugar level. This leads to an insufficient supply of nutrients to the brain causing brain degeneration.

2. Overeating

It causes hardening of the brain arteries, leading to a decrease in mental power.

3. Smoking

It causes multiple brain shrinkage and may lead to Alzheimer disease.

4. High Sugar consumption

Too much sugar will interrupt the absorption of proteins and nutrients causing malnutrition and may interfere with brain development.

5. Air Pollution

The brain is the largest oxygen consumer in our body. Inhaling polluted air decreases the supply of oxygen to the brain, bringing about a decrease in brain efficiency.

6. Sleep Deprivation

Sleep allows our brain to rest. Long term deprivation from sleep will accelerate the death of brain cells.

7. Head covered while sleeping
Sleeping with the head covered increases the concentration of carbon dioxide and decrease concentration of oxygen that may lead to brain damaging effects.

8. Working your brain during illness
Working hard or studying with sickness may lead to a decrease in effectiveness of the brain as well as damage the brain .

9. Lacking in stimulating thoughts

Thinking is the best way to train our brain, lacking in brain stimulation thoughts may cause brain shrinkage.

10. Talking Rarely

Intellectual conversations will promote the efficiency of the brain

Link to original post by Bharani

Friday, December 02, 2005

Look beyond IT, Kalam tells researchers

Chennai, PTI:

Painting a grim picture where one quarter of the world's population does not have safe drinking water, President A P J Abdul Kalam today asked researchers in the country to look beyond IT to areas like water conservation and farm engineering.

"Of the projected eight billion population of the world by 2025, one fourth would not have access to safe drinking water or would not have water at all. Cost effective desalination plants alone can solve the problem and Indian universities should conduct research on this," he said during a lecture on 'Technical Education and National Development' at Anna University here.

He told the institution, where he was a teacher before becoming President, that institutions should see beyond information technology and concentrate on evolving courses in hydraulic water conservation and farm engineering. These branches also offered more employment opportunities, he said.

Another area of concern was transmission losses faced by the power sector, he said adding that sometimes "there are geniune line losses and most of the time, unauthorised losses" in an obvious reference to power thefts.

He suggested creation of a "knowledge grid" connecting the universities by a high bandwidth fibre cable network so that there were exchange of views on the curriculam among the the universities.

In the age of global competation in education, the Indian universities should offer competative courses, which were "cost effective and had quality", he said. This alone would make them withstand the competition, he added.

Kalam said the universities should develop new entreprenuers in the country.

The industries and the science laboratories should also help them with the expertise and research, he asserted.

Wasteland farming was one potential area of creating more employment opportunities and jethropa farming, which is a source for biofuel, should be encouraged in a big way, he said.

At the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, he had undertaken jethropa cultivation and was planning to invite farmers from all over the country to show them the income potential from it, Kalam said.

He said by 2007, several countries would be joining together to launch a satellite exclusively for youth. This would help in exchanging views among the youth in various countries, he said.


Cyber police nets hi-tech housekeeper

By Rashmi Murthy DH News Service Bangalore:

The Cyber Crime Police of the Corps of Detective, Bangalore, has, for the first time, nabbed a criminal in a net banking fraud case, wherein a housekeeper cheated a software engineer to the tune of Rs 1 lakh.

The Cyber Crime Police of the Corps of Detective, Bangalore, has, for the first time, nabbed a criminal in a net banking fraud case, wherein a housekeeper cheated a software engineer to the tune of Rs 1 lakh. On Thursday, the cyber police arrested the 22-year-old who used his computer skills to siphon off money from the accounts of a senior techie of a multinational company.