Tag: India

Zoho Mail

Wednesday, 10 April, 2019

Those who mail Rainy Day, and some people do, are guaranteed delivery (99.9% uptime). This is thanks to Zoho Mail, an excellent service provided by a company that was founded in 1996 by Sridhar Vembu and Tony Thomas in Pleasanton, California. Today, Zoho has its global headquarters in Chennai, formerly Madras, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Along with mail, the Zoho product range includes a web-based office suite containing word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, wikis, customer relationship management and project management applications.


The World Obscura: Taj Mahal

Thursday, 8 March, 2018 0 Comments

Simon Mulvaney says he’s currently on a round-the-world trip, “working my way east from India to the United Kingdom.” You can follow his adventures on smulvaney.tv. His visit to the Taj Mahal, one of the New7Wonders of the World, was “consumed by a fascination of it’s visitors desperation to capture their moments on camera.” Apropos our obsession with recording every moment of every experience:

“As I myself spent most of my time capturing their moments, it became brutally clear to me that neither this film, nor their photographs can ever capture the heart-wrenching beauty of that stunning building, yet only succeed in completely detaching us from the moment itself.”


The End of Typing

Tuesday, 8 August, 2017 0 Comments

The full title of Eric Bellman’s excellent Wall Street Journal article is “The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice.” Some commentators are criticizing the tech companies Bellman writes about on the grounds that their push for video and voice means that they have a vested interest in prolonging illiteracy. Possibly, they have, but those low-end smartphones also have the potential to enhance the lives of millions of people who are desperately disadvantaged. Snippet:

“Instead of typing searches and emails, a wave of newcomers — ‘the next billion,’ the tech industry calls them — is avoiding text, using voice activation and communicating with images. They are a swath of the world’s less-educated, online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans and intuitive apps that let them navigate despite poor literacy.”

Eric Bellman gives the last word to Megh Singh, a railway porter in New Delhi, who uses a basic Sony phone with 4GB of storage. “Life has become better. Life has become faster. I wish I had it earlier. We wouldn’t be so backward.”


The Google Lunar XPrize: shooting for the moon

Thursday, 26 January, 2017 0 Comments

Ten days after the death of Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, the Google Lunar XPrize has revealed the names of the five teams going forward to the final stage of its competition. To claim the award of $20 million, the winner must launch by 31 December and their lander has to move at least 500 metres across the surface of the moon, and transmit images and high-definition video back to Earth.

The five finalists are:

  • Synergy Moon, an international venture aiming for cost-effective space exploration
  • SpaceIL, a non-profit operation based in Israel
  • Moon Express, a lunar-resources company based in the US
  • Team Indus, a for-profit lunar company from India
  • Hakuto, a Japanese venture operated by ispace, a private lunar exploration company

Notably absent is Part Time Scientists, a team based in Germany that announced it had secured a launch contract last year. And the really big surprise is the nonappearance of the long-time front-runner US-based Astrobotic. It said it was withdrawing because rushing to make the XPrize deadline conflicted with the company’s goal of building a long-term business. Astrobotic hopes to launch its first mission in 2019.

SpaceIL and Team Indus have signed launch deals with the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, respectively, and Hakuto will share the trip with Team Indus. Moon Express and Synergy Moon will launch with Rocket Lab USA and Interorbital Systems.

XPrize


Facebook vs. Democracy

Monday, 15 February, 2016 0 Comments

“In our post-internet age, labor and commodities have been replaced by attention and connectivity. By controlling these, Facebook in many ways has its algorithm decide what is important in the future. I am positive that its role as a gatekeeper of information will cause much deeper problems in the long term,” so writes Om Malik in a hard-hitting post titled “Nothing Is Free, Not Even Facebook Free Basics.”

The background here is the fiasco of Facebook’s Free Basics initiative to bring internet access to the poor in India. Had it succeeded, the users would have found themselves in the a world where Facebook was the centre of their online universe, allowed to see only what Mark Zuckerberg defined as the internet. On top of that, many Indians felt Zuckerberg and his team didn’t understand the politics, the culture and the history of country that is deeply suspicious of global corporations. What the Silicon Valley coders couldn’t comprehend is that the East India Company had been there and done that. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me, as they say in New Delhi.

This just in: “Facebook says India MD Kirthiga Reddy’s US move not linked with Free Basics.”

But back to Om Malik. His worries about Facebook are not confined to India. A much greater threat looms in his adopted homeland, he contends:

“In a more draconian scenario, it isn’t hard to imagine Facebook helping sway the outcome of elections. In the U.S., election-spending and Facebook are a potent mix, as we are made aware every day. In emerging economies, where money has an outsize influence on election results, can Facebook stand up and say no to dollars? Can it say no to money — anyone’s money, for that matter — if its overall growth starts to stall?”

Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreessen are on the back foot now, which is an unusual and unpleasant place for them to be. They’ll rebound, no doubt, but a little more humility and lot more honesty is now needed from Facebook. With great power comes great responsibility.


The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.


Fighting illiteracy with e-books: There’s an app for that

Monday, 28 April, 2014 0 Comments

The San Francisco-based non-profit organization Worldreader distributes e-books in poor countries. Its app, which has more than 300,000 users in the developing world, lets people choose from over 6,000 e-books on low-end mobile phones, and Worldreader says it’s delivered nearly 1.7 million e-books since its launch in 2010.

A new UNESCO study (PDF 1.6MB) based on interviews with 5,000 Worldreader app users looks at reading habits in seven countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe — where the average illiteracy rate is 34 percent among adults and 20 percent among children, and the conclusions are uplifting. Snippet:

280414reading “The tendency of digital reading to increase overall reading is not limited to Worldreader Mobile users. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in the USA observed that the overall reading consumption of individuals tends to increase following the adoption of digital reading. The Pew report shows that, over the course of 12 months, users reading e-books read 24 books on average, while the average number of books read by non-e-book readers was 15 (Pew Internet, 2012). For champions of literacy this trend is extremely promising, as it suggests that the benefits of mobile reading are exponential and may accelerate literacy development.”

Without a decent educational system, greater access to books won’t necessarily raise literacy levels, but greater access to books can nurture a love of reading and writing and expose readers to unimagined new worlds. UNESCO puts it like this: “While it is true that books, by themselves, will not remedy the scourge of illiteracy, without them illiteracy is guaranteed.” The Worldreader e-book initiative deserves our support.


Kipling on Christmas

Sunday, 8 December, 2013 0 Comments

When the US government was fighting the Great Depression in the 1930s, tree-planting was used as a tool to create work and fight soil erosion on the Great Plains. The “Shelterbelt Program”, as it was called, took trees from many parts of the world — including a hardy species from Asia, called the tamarisk or […]

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Pouring in Mumbai

Tuesday, 12 November, 2013 1 Comment

Containing notions of frugality and deluge, the concept of “the rainy day” offers endless opportunity for cogitation and blogging. “The Rain” is a video clip by Harshal Chavan, who describes it as a “small compilation of footage I shot during rainy days.”