Russian software industry growing profits onshore. Moscow Times
Russia's offshore software development industry is growing at an estimated rate of 50 percent a year. From year to year, offshore development will play more and more important role in the Russian economy. Russian programmers are capable of solving the whole problem in its entirety. It is just that attitude that has put Russian universities at the top of the list at international programming competitions over the last few years- an accomplishment that has not gone unnoticed by companies like the Microsoft and IBM.
As demand for programmers worldwide continues to outpace supply, information technology companies from around the globe are increasingly outsourcing work abroad. And companies like Cognitive Technologies, an incubator that helps grow small IT start-ups, are poised to cash in not just on that trend, but on the increasing demand for software solutions at home.
One project wherein Cognitive Technologies has invested is the Siberian Information Technologies Center (SibIT), launched in November, 2000. Sib IT has already attracted investments from within Russia totaling around $15 million, mostly from Russian investors such as the Factor Industrial Group, which specializes in nonferrous metals and energy. Another Cognitive project is the Chernogolovka Center, a start-up based in a chemistry _physics institute in the nearby Moscow region. Chernogolovka has been operational for less than a year and it is already forecasting revenues of $10 million for 2001. The Chernogolovka Center is one of many software companies that has been formed around universities and academic centers. Another success story is the IBS Group, which got its first outsourcing contract with IBM and Boeing in 1999. Now, 80 percent of the company's contracts come from abroad, with the remainder coming from domestic mobile telephone operator Vimpelcom and several leading banks. The strength of software companies in Russia is better measured by the number of employees it has as opposed to the amount of revenues it generates. If some company grows above 500 to 600 employees, that will indicate that the revenue stream is quite good.
Luxoft, which was founded last April, currently has about 260 employees, including a rapidly expanding sales and marketing team. The company plans to grow to 350 by the end of the year, with increases of 70% to 80% for the next several years. A handful of large companies focusing on offshore software have between 150 and 250 employees. With an estimated 6,000 and 10,000 programmers involved in offshore programming, that translates into hundreds of small teams, many with only about 10 employees. The future of the market depends on how the industry manages to consolidate. Some leaders are emerging , such as Luxoft, but it is still not clear whether this will be a sector dominated by two to three houses of many small teams.
The current recession in the US economy will undoubtedly have repercussions in Russia, but opinions differ on whether it will benefit or harm the nascent software development sector. There is a revitalization in Russia, despite the crisis with US companies. Russian companies are seeing an upswing. Auriga SDC, located at Moscow State University, has approximately 100 employees involved in research and development and programming. Companies still need to work on internal systems to streamline operation and work more cost-effectively. US companies are taking care of the cost structure, this is where outsourcing fits well.
Despite the progress, however, a deficit of middle management and the government's slow response to calls for encouragement are still obstacles. Value estimates for the industry range from $120 million per year, but numbers are slippery because it is so hard to define the market itself. Many companies offer offshore software development in addition to other services, such as maintenance and consulting.
Inhouse developers, such as Intel's Nizhny Novgorod Laboratory and Motorola's St. Petersburg Programming Center, are usually not counted. Intel acquired one of its former contractors, the Nizhny Novgorod Software Laboratory, in June 2000. The Lab has 130 employees and plans to increase to 500 within two to four years. There are other reasons besides the bottom line to encourage growth in the industry.
-- Reproduced from Science & Technology in Russia, May 2001, p.16-17
Personal ID systems
Personal identification systems that use new methods to distinguish individuals have been developed separately by Hitachi Ltd. and Fuji Xerox. Hitachi's system used the pattern of blood vessels in the index finger. The system creates a cross-sectional image of the finger by emitting near-infrared rays and then registering a pattern from those that pass through the finger. Because the hemoglobin in the blood absorbs near-infrared rays, blood vessels show up as shadows in the cross- sectional image.
Using their newly developed numerical data processing technology, the system can draw the blood vessel pattern in just 0.5 second . It takes only one second for the system to complete the whole identification process, including the time required to compare the pattern with up to 50 pattern stored in its memory. In a trial run, the system identified 700 participants with complete accuracy and continued to identify them accurately for one year after the sample images were taken.
The other personal ID system is based on a computer mouse that is equipped with four light emitting diodes on its surface. The mouse measures the reflection of the light from the LEDs on the subject's palm, using built-in optical transistors, and computes the shape of the palm based on differences in the brightness of the reflection at different areas of the mouse's surface. The system has an error rate of 3% but Fuji Xerox believes its low cost makes it ideal for use as a personal identification system for personal computers with a number of users. The worldwide market for personal identification systems that use human physical characteristics will rise ten times in two years to $500 million.
Fingerprint-based systems are by far the most common ID systems in use. But their reliability was placed into serious doubt when it was revealed at an academic conference that they can be fooled by an artificial finger covered by a gelatinous film imprinted with a fingerprint. Personal ID systems that use the iris have already been commercialised, but they are not popular because of the reluctance of many people to have light beams directly at their eyes.
-- Reproduced from Science &Technology in Japan, June 2001, p.12-13
Print holds steady, radio slips, TV soars: NRS
The print medium continues to retain its share of urban media consumption at 16 percent, according to the National Readership Survey [NRS] for 2002 released on Thursday [5 July 2001]. The survey finds that an average urban Indian spends two hours every day on media consumption. Of this, 19 minutes or 16 percent is spent on reading newspapers and magazines - a proportion that is unchanged since 1995.
TV viewing forms the single largest chunk of an urban Indian's media consumption, accounting for 72 percent or 86 minutes of his or her total time. Since 1995, TV's share of the total media pie has increased from 62 percent to 72 percent in 2001. These gains have come at the expense of radio, which has slipped from 22 percent in 1995 to 11 percent in 2001.
The Times of India, the third highest read newspapers in urban areas, remains the only English language daily among the top ten urban newspapers with a readership of 5.2 million daily. This represents an increase of more than half a million readers compared to last year when NRS 2000 placed the paper in fifth place among urban dailies.
Filmfare also remains the only special interest English title among the list of the top ten rural and urban magazines and was ranked at number six with a readership of 4.9 million. Among urban magazines, Filmfare is ranked number three with a readership of 4.1 million.
Overall, the survey found that in the last decade, the reader base in urban India has grown from 63 million to 96 million, a growth of 52 percent. There is significant scope for growth as 59 million urban adults are literate but do not read any publication. However, of the 178 million readers in India, 46 percent live in rural areas.
The survey also found that reading is largely an urban habit, with only 17 percent of the literate population are served by publications in rural areas. The Internet makes its mark on NRS 2001 with 12 minutes or one percent of media time in the urban areas being spent by literates on the Web. However, the predominance of e-mail is declining, with 59 percent in 2001 using the Net for mail compared to 71 percent a year ago. Similarly , the number of people chatting on the Net has increased to 32 percent in 2001 compared to 23 percent last year. What is striking is the surge in Net users from 1.4 million in 1999 to 4. 63 million in 2001.
In terms of TV viewing, not only has there been a 52 percent increase in viewers during the last decade to 160 million, but the growth of the regional language channels has been a striking feature.
-- The Times of India, 7 July 2001
First Internet exchange to roll out soon
INDIA'S first Internet exchange, INIX Public Peering Point Pvt. Ltd. is all set to roll in the next three months. This new concept would help Indian ISPs significantly cut forex costs, by saving on their international bandwidth bills.
Unlike now, when even domestic Internet traffic between Indian ISPs has to be routed through international gateways, once the Internet Exchange (also called public peering point) is implemented, domestic Internet traffic can be exchanged in the country itself. INIX is being promoted by international bandwidth exchange company, BandX. The exchange is being supported by all the major ISPs, who will be represented on INIXs advisory board. Interestingly, BandX is planning to be a no-profit, no-loss operation.
"INIXs USP will be its neutrality. We don't operate in the ISP space ourselves, so ISPs can feel free to get their traffic peered at our exchange" says BandX CEI Pran Mehra.
The concept of peering is similar to the clearinghouse in banks. Band X's efforts to get FIPB approval for its Internet exchange had initially hit a roadblock with the government refusing approval on the grounds that such approval was not covered under the automatic route. But on BandX's insistence that it will neither be an ISP nor provide any service under the scope of the NLD policy or build its own network, the proposal got the government's green signal. .
-- Reported by Prasenjit Bhattacharya,
The Economic Times, 18 June 2001
Cable Net fails to catch on
Despite the initial hype surrounding the launch of Internet over cable a year ago, the concept has failed to live up to expectations. Though still early, initial figures (estimated at a few thousand in Delhi) just do not add up to significant numbers.
The cable over Internet has failed to penetrate non-PC households as Internet access via television is yet not happen. So far, demand for cable Internet has come mainly from the small office home office (SOHO) and cybercafes.
The pricing of Internet over cable makes it suitable only for consumers with high usage patterns. No wonder, many households where the option is available still use dial-up connections.
In Asiad Village area in Delhi, for example, out of a total 650 homes having cable connections and 500 homes PCs, only 60 have adopted cable over Internet. A majority of 425 homes still depend on dial-up Internet despite the fact that Internet connections are now available at just Rs 5 per hour.
For a consumer who uses the Internet on average one hour a day, it is much cheaper for him to opt for a dial-up connection. In addition, the high cost of a cable modem has also been an obstacle. In the same area, there are only two homes that access Internet using television. Furzail Waris, the owner of Extra Vision and the cable operator in the area, informs that a copyright issue between Worldgate and Spectranet has led to such a pass.
Moreover, the high cost of a set-top box and limitations of accessing Net using television has led to its unpopularity. For consumers with very high expectations of faster download speeds, shared connections have come as a let-down.
Ashok Juneja, CEO, Bharti Broadband Networks which is running its pilot cable Internet project in Delhi says, "The overall feedback is that it has been adopted by higher usage rate homes who see a major price-performance benefit." Mantra-via Cable is being offered in Vasant Kunj, New Friends Colony, Sukhdev Vihar, etc by eight cable operators. Spectranet is also offering its services with the help of 15 cable operators in various parts of Delhi. In New Friends Colony, for example, cable connections are being extensively used by cybercafes for whom it is a cheaper alternative compared to leased lines. "The popularity of cable will grow exponentially when the cost of a cable modem comes down to Rs 5000 or 6000. "At present, we are providing access through shared modems," says Viky Choudhry, who manages the Home Cable Network that offers Mantra via Cable.
A new way of delivery of bandwidth to consumers has already raised a whiff of controversy with charges and countercharges. The LAN/WAN system, launched by Space Age Internet, a licensed cable operator, is delivering bandwidth at roughly the same price but with one big advantage over normal cable-based delivery, i.e. it requires no expensive cable modem. Detractors of the system, however, claim that there is bandwidth degradation with distance apart from other problems.
"In our system, the cable operator need not upgrade his cable network to costly fibre optics. We are asking them to just set up a parallel network using copper cable to deliver Internet," says Raghvendra Agarwal, the venture partner of Space Age. The new system uses normal copper (R G II ) cable to deliver bandwidth while Spectranet and Mantra use fiber optics as the main pipes and copper in the last mile. Space Age claims that it has already touched 500 subscribers and is adding around 15-20 each day.For the home segment, it is offering 32 kbps peak bandwidth at Rs 1,500 per month. In comparison, Mantra offers Internet at Rs 1,000 per month for a peak bandwidth of 64 kbps but the subscriber has to pay for the modem, also available on lease . Spectranet is priced at Rs 1,500 per month and a subscriber has to buy a cable modem for around Rs 14,000.
With bandwidth increasingly becoming a commodity business, ISPs will have to devise new ways to captivate the consumer with value-added services if they want to succeed. Meanwhile, in a significant development, the lieutenant governor of Delhi has suspended digging work by ISPs and basic telephony service providers to lay fibre optic cables.
-- Reported by Saikat Chatterjee The Times of India, 6 July 2001
Database on key enzymes
Genetic information database on a family of enzymes thought to determine drug efficacy for individuals has been launched jointly by Shionogi and Fujitsu. They plan to market one database to drug makers and food processors trying to develop drugs with fewer side effects and another database to hospitals eager to improve diagnosis. Understanding the cytochrome P450 enzymes, which break down drugs and other chemicals in the body, will help in tailoring drugs to suit the particular requirements of individuals.
The P450 enzymes are found in a broad range of creatures with slight variations among species and organisms. Differences in efficacy between individuals are caused by the slight variations in the enzymes present in humans. The database for companies will eventually contain genetic information on more than 2000 P 450 enzymes whereas the database for hospitals will have information on more than 3700 drug interactions, helping physicians and pharmacists get a better control on dangerous side effects. Both databases will be accessible online and each user may have to pay a couple of thousands of US dollars per year. .
-- Science & Technology in Japan, July 2001, p.16
Few takers for e- books
Richard DeGrandpre wrote Digitopia as a warning about the false promises of the wired world. Then it was published as an electronic book, and all his predictions came true. Digitopia, issued by Random House in March 2001, was never reviewed or promoted or, it seems, downloaded. "My book is just dead," said DeGrandpre, a psychologist.
So are just about everyone else's e-books. The publishing world's attempts to turn electronic fiction and non-fiction into a lucrative revenue stream has yielded only a trickle of customers. Flaccid sales aside, publishers face even bigger challenges. Digitizing the printed page has put the very nature of books up for grabs, unleashing heated battles among writers, readers, librarians and technologists over who should control electronic books. "There's only one place e-books are popular: the courtroom," said publishing consultant Lorraine Shanley.
On Monday morning in San Jose, California, a judge is scheduled to decide whether to release on bail the defendant in the most explosive e-book case yet. A Russian graduate student named Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested three weeks ago for writing a program that breaks the encryption on e-books. Prosecutors say he was violating copyright law. Sklyarov's defenders say he was merely trying to give owners of e-books some of the rights that owners of printed volumes enjoy. Two years ago, e-books were heralded as a technology that would make the traditional printed volume obsolete. Random House, like Time Warner, Simon & Schuster and other major publishers, began developing an e-book line. Enthusiasm was stoked by an Andersen Consulting study done for the Association of American Publishers. It concluded that by 2005, 10 percent of book sales, or $2.3 billion a year, would be electronic. Another study said, 1.7 million specialized devices for reading e-books would be sold by then. "E-books had a glow about them similar to what music videos had in the mid-1980s," said Random House spokesman, Stuart Applebaum. "You weren't cutting edge, you weren't truly progressive publishing executive, if you didn't see e-books as part of the great future for your imprint." Worried about being "Napsterized" with their books freely distributed in digital form around the globe- publishers enveloped their e- books with digital locks to prevent transferring, copying and printing. Sklyarov is accused of figuring out how to pick the lock. While no industry-wide statistics are being kept on e-books sales, consultant Jim Lichtenberg says the market is practically nonexistent.
-- Reported by David Streitfeld The Times of India, 7 August 2001
Hyderabad University to digitalise library
The University of Hyderabad has entered into an agreement with Sun Microsystems, India for the digitalisation of the University library over a period of two years. The University will be the first in the country to computerise its library operations with UGC support. The Sun and the University have agreed to build a network of digital libraries with other institutes in India to facilitate mutual exchange of contents and services via an open architecture, leading to the development of digital library info hub in India.
-- MALA Newsletter 2001; 14(3): p.3
No patents, please
Richard M Stallman, founder of the 1984 GNU project that aimed to develop a free operating system, while speaking at Kochi on the Danger of Software Patents said, "Software patents cannot protect or invigorate the computer software industry: they can only cripple it. He further added, "developing a software programme today in the US is like crossing a field of landmines". According to him software developers are victims of the patent system as they often meet with legal hurdles put up by patent holders. "Ten thousand patents were being registered every month in the US sometime back," he said, adding that the number would have gone up now. These patents hold back the progress of the science of computing. For example, public key encryption is an area of computing that was held back for a decade because of patent laws.
Stallman maintains that the large number of software patents makes the patent approval process slow . In the US alone the total number of software patents must be around 200,000. The process of determining whether an invention already exists also becomes difficult.
There can be duplication and a patent examiner who gets only a few hours to examine a patent issue can often make mistakes leading to legal tussles between corporates. That patent system protects the Internet of the small inventor is a myth that has been exploded on several occasions. The software patents ultimately serve the interest of only the large multinational corporations. Small companies, which cannot afford the cost of patent searches or litigation, often give in to the demands of the bigger corporates. On the other hand MNCs use their patents to cross licence programmes.
Recipient of several awards for his original contribution to the science of computing, Stallman explains that there are ways to overcome the challenge of a patent regime. He is of the view that countries like India should work closely with other nations in effectively blocking the regime of software patent system. In Europe, France and Germany are the countries where the anti-software patent movement has gained momentum. Going one step further, he says that India can sign a `No Software Patent Treaty" with these countries. The WTO cannot cause problems here as the new trade regime does not necessitate country patent system for software.
-- Reported by S Sanandakumar. The Economic Times, 26 July 2001, p.11
Online Directory of Web-based Courseware in Information Technology
The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi has developed the directory under a project sponsored by the Ministry of Information Technology, Govt. of India. Interested persons can visit the directory at http://www. Iitd. Ac.in/courses/. It has listed more than four thousand courses in the field of information technology from more than 450 institutions including universities, institutions of higher learning and other commercial organizations from all over the world. .
-- Reported by Dr Jagdish Arora, Head, Computer Applications Division, Central Library, IIT Delhi
Foundation for Information and Communication
The general body meeting of the Foundation, an NGO, was held recently at Tenali, Andhra Pradesh. The following Executive Body was elected. President _ Dr B Ramesh Babu; Vice-Presidents _ Dr P V Konnur, and Dr P Ashok Babu. Gen. Secretary & Treasurer - Shri L Venkateswara Rao, Secretaries - Dr Dev Raj Singh, and Sri P V Malleswar. PRO - Dr K Nityanandam, Members - Shri N Sukumaran Nair, Prof A R D Prasad, Mr V Kasirao, Mr NK Bar, Mr M Muthuswamy, and Dr S P Sood, .
-- Reported by Sh L Venkateswara Rao, Gen Secretary
Broadband. Is it a reality or hype?
When broadband communication comes to India, Web casting of family events will be as routine an affair as video-graphing today. Broadband communication essentially is transmission of various kinds of data through a wide bandwidth at high speed. Right now too many technologies are being tried by several players and the commercial angle still remains undefined.
Reliance has reportedly completed laying fibre optic cable across 230 km of the proposed 300 km in Chennai. Some smaller Internet service providers (ISPs) are offering broadband via cable. In Chennai alone, there are at least three major players offering cable modem connectivity. While Dishnet is offering broadband through DSL technology, Hathways and Cyberwave are offering Internet through cable modem. Despite vigorous marketing by these ISPs about the cost advantage of cable modem over dial-up, the response has been tepid.
A major chunk of Internet users in India access Web through browsing centers and another sizable number surf the Net at office through the corporate network. Thus, individual Internet connectivity is not availed by all Internet users. With a small percentage of the total population owning a PC at home, the number of actual connectivity is insignificant. Several of those who use a dial-up connection are not even aware of the existence of broadband technologies, and among those who are aware, many think that broadband is too expensive for the kind of usage they have. Broadband connectivity, as it is offered today costs Rs 12,000 to Rs. 15,000 for the cable modem, Rs. 4,000 for installation and another Rs. 1,000 as monthly subscription. Cable Internet may be cost-effective for those who use the Net for more than two hours a day, certainly not for people who use the Internet mainly to check e-mail. Another reason why the cable modem- one of the broadband technologies currently being used in India- has not picked up is that there is no standardisation of the hardware used for the connectivity. A user who has purchased one kind of modem cannot use the same if he relocates to another city and wants to switch his service provider. Each ISP uses different technologies which are not compatible with each other. Given the Indian scenario, the million-dollar question is _ would broadband and convergence ever be a reality in India?
"Net users get ready for big pipe", says S Mahalingam, Chairman, Confederation of Indian Industries, Southern Region, "I have no doubt that broadband is going to be the future and it is going to change the way we live". Agrees S Sriram, Managing Director, and says, "Dial-up connection for Internet will be soon eased out by the arrival of broadband. It is true that each ISP uses different technology. But the standardisation will soon emerge." And he avers that his user base has increased substantially. "The growing demand for broadband is evident from the fact that we have built our customer base from 0 to 1100 connections in nine months," says Karthik Bhaskaran, Head, Sales, Marketing & Customer Services, Hathway Cable & Datacom. The company has pumped in over Rs 3 crore into broadband infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the broadband service providers try to rope in customers with various schemes. Hathway for instance builds volume by offering Night Bird scheme. "This scheme is available non-stop during certain hours at night and during the weekend. Many Internet users use it only during the night or the weekend. Such users can pay just Rs500- a fraction of what they pay for telephone connectivity- and avail nonstop net time," says Karthik. Cyber Wave's Sriram tries to overcome the problem of non-standardisation by offering to buy back the modem. "Customers who are relocating can get back the cost of the modem with our buy-back scheme," he explains.
While the major players are providing broadband through Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology, which uses cable TV network, some small players have their own ideas. Hailing from a family of real estate developers, M R Selvakumar, a computer science graduate, decided to do something different . "My company, KMR Online, provides broadband using different technology. We don't use modem. Instead, we directly connect the cable to the user's PC through Ethermet card. It is neither LAN nor WAN. But based on both, we developed this technology ourselves. You can call it Metropolitan Network"
However, other broadband providers point out that this direct link method may not be very secure and the physical connection also cannot be done beyond certain distance from the main hub.
Yet, no one has written off the idea of broadband. Industry sources observe that everyone is waiting for the convergence bill for a clear blue print. "Once that is in place, you will see a plethora of players coming up with multitude of schemes on broadband, and the prices will automatically fall," says Karthik.
-- Aruna Srinivasan The Economic Times, 10 September 2001, p. 11
Report on dissemination of lessons learned from failures: MEXT
The panel for managing lessons learned from failures, set up by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), under the chairmanship of Mr Fumio Satoh, Adviser to the Board of Toshiba Corporation, has compiled the output of discussion on active dissemination of lessons learned from failures. The panel discussed how to disseminate the lessons learned from failures based on real case studies from enterprises, i.e. National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) and Japan Nuclear Cycle Development (JNC), to which the members of the panel belonged, and the discussion was extended to their root causes and background results. They were examined from various viewpoints, and compiled as a proposal for measures to positively utilize failure experiences.
Despite the fact that dissemination of lessons learned from failures is effective for restructuring established knowledge base, technological innovation, prevention of failures, and augmentation of ability to solve systematic problems, dissemination of lessons learned from failure experiences has not been so common in Japan, due to inadequate recognition of risk based on the insistent recognition that technology development will work well, and cultural background of excessively maintaining honour to the extent of concealing failure.
The scrutiny of the failures that were reported to the panel, has resulted in the identification of the following eight root causes : 1) deficiency in understanding and decrease in handling ability due to lack of related information, 2) deficiency in supervising ability, 3) insufficient technological basis, 4) deficiency in management of peripheral functions, 5) lack of fail-safe system, 6) interruption or insufficiency of information, deficiency in understanding and insufficient safety measures, 7) unclear responsibility and information channel, and 8) deficiency in risk concerns.
The report pinpoints the case to which these causal factors apply, besides the result of investigation in US which the panel member included. This proposal concludes that in order to use failure experiences better by grasping their root causes, the following should be taken into account. As technology has a limit due to the limited knowledge obtained to date, it is important in uncertain fields to handle technology after holding social recognition since a failure might occur anytime. It is also necessary to develop a system to acquire new knowledge and data obtained from failures, and to utilize them. In addition, comprehensive analysis should be carried out, research on factors suspected to lead to failure conducted, and organized database that can be used for various purpose created. It is important to develop entrepreneurial abilities through technical education or programs, and to recognize the effect of dissemination of lessons learnt from failures. Through these measures, "technology of dissemination of lessons learned from failures" should be established and its social dissemination should be promoted. [Modified]
(For further information, please contact: Basic Policy Section, Science Technology Education Policy Bureau, MEXT; Phone: 035253-4018-4021)
-- S & T Today, Aug. 2001, p.8
Mobile phone: a curse or a boon?
Two researchers, last year, compiled results of studies conducted around the world on the effects of cellular mobile phone use on health. The paper suggested that cell phone usage could, among others, affect the body's cancer-fighting capacity, cause red blood cells to leak haemoglobin, contribute to Alzheimer's disease and affect the functioning of the nervous system. The results, obviously, could not have been music to any cell phone user's ear. They might even have prompted many, already in two minds about buying a mobile phone, to trash the idea. After the `Black Tuesday' some of them might just disregard the health warnings- which mobile companies rubbish-and reach out for the mobile phone.
Not only for the status symbol value that a Ukranian teenager died last week- jumping to his death from a multi-storeyed building when his mother refused to buy him the handset- but also the phone could mean all the difference between life and death. As it did last week when several passengers aboard the fourth hijacked aircraft, heard about the three previous attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and as is believed, fought the hijackers from crashing into another building. Instead, they let their families and the world know that they fought back. Pittsburgh passenger, Mr Mark Bingham, called his mother on a mobile phone to say, "I want to let you know that I love you", while Ms Barbara Olson, aboard the aircraft which crashed into the Pentagon, used one to inform her family of the hijacking. And when the planes did crash, it largely were the mobile phones which allowed survivors and rescue workers to communicate. Unlike the damaged wired lines, it was relatively easier and quicker to get the mobile phones working. Wireless communications major, Verizon, for instance, was quick to deploy portable cell sites in Manhattan, across the river in New Jersey and the Pentagon, to replace cell sites knocked by explosions and fires. Other mobile phone companies did likewise, enabling people trapped in the debris to call emergency services and relatives for help. Even in instances where people were feared dead or buried under the debris, their mobile phones were helping rescue and recovery workers to locate their bodies. Cutting edge radio frequency "sniffers" from Lucent Technologies were used to track down the devices.
Mr T V Ramachandran, Director General of the Association of Indian Cellular Operators, says the role which cellular phones played in the US attacks, only drives home the point that mobile phones were no longer a luxury but an `essential' commodity. "It is the most useful device in case of an emergency, whether it is something on the scale of the WTC attacks or a personal emergency," he added.
Now that mobile phones have a demonstrated their utility in emergencies, wireless companies expect sales to go up in near future.
-- The Statesman, 9 September 2001, p.12
Biotech to bioinformatics
Many of the familiar names in the information technology industry, and not so familiar names from academic computer sciences departments across the world are making moves into genomics and proteonomics. Genomics is well known and is the study of the blue-print for human life. Proteonomics specialists study the actual building blocks, proteins, the living matter that genes produce. Proteins are responsible for everything from how your body grows to how it digests food. When they go "bad", they cause the body to break down. By figuring out which proteins do what, proteonomics firms can significantly narrow the search for drugs to fight diseases lime cancer. It turns out that genomics and proteonomics research requires a tremendous amount of computing power and computer science knowledge. It has spawned, and recently accelerated, a whole new field called bio-informatics, potentially giving rebirth to the IT industry.
IBM has committed $100 million to Blue Gene, a supercomputer designed to simulate protein structures, and also another $100 million to build a life sciences business unit. Other computer companies are not far behind. Compaq has formed R&D alliances with Celera Genomics and Sandia National Laboratories, and supplies systems for most major gene sequencing centres. Compaq has also invested over $100 million in early-stage genomics, bioinformatics, and related companies via venture capital funds, and is developing a "bio-supercomputer" called Red Storm. Silicon Graphics is busy developing specialised servers, workstations and 3-D visualisation tools aimed directly at biotech research in companies and universities. Sun Microsystems has formed a consortium to support the development of Java and XML-based tools for the life sciences industry.
The main impetus for this IT-based activity comes from the international effort to map the human genome, which has led to an explosion in data about the nature of life. Around 30,000 human genes were decoded last summer, and many more are set for discovery in the next two years. Scientists think that there are at least a million human proteins. It is necessary to find out the functions of these genes and proteins. Which proteins keep the heart beating? Which one is responsible for colon cancer? What changes do human proteins go through, especially in geometric shape, before they go about regulating the human body? This process is known as "protein folding" and misshapen proteins are thought to be a major trigger of disease. Which genes are responsible for the flawed proteins?
Many of these tasks are done these days using computer power and computer science knowledge. A popular form of gene discovery is to do a computational search and explicate every form of potential genes. This task is combinatorially explosive, and requires efficient search algorithms, effective database architecture, and really fast computers. Understanding the role of proteins and protein folding and their role in promoting disease requires expertise in solid geometry, pattern recognition (i.e. recognition of complex chemical and biological patterns), search techniques, and really fast computers. Thus, most computer companies, IBM and Compaq in particular are designing supercomputers focused in the main requirements of the biotech industry.
Not many companies and researchers can afford bio-supercomputers. So what are small players supposed to do? A case in point may be the work being done at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California by molecular biologist Arthur Olson. In order to research new AIDS drugs, Olson has been tapping into the power of 26,000 computers distributed around the world, for free, using a service provided by a San Diego company called Entropia. Those who download Entropia's FightAIDS@Home software give Olson's laboratory access to the idle processing power of their Internet-connected computers to match millions of potential drug compounds against different versions of the AIDS virus. This distributed (or parallel) computing solution uses the fact that people use only about 5 percent of their computers' processing power at any one time. Oxford University and United Devices have also launched a research project along the lines of distributed computing. Since April of this year around 600,000 people are networked together and running through 3 billion combinations trying to fit compounds with proteins like a puzzle, to determine which might make effective drugs. Computers like PARAM, designed and built in India and based on a parallel and "distributed" architecture, could be well-positioned to give a fight to Blue Gene and Red Storm, provided the opportunity is realised, and the technology is perfected and marketed well.
In a recent article in Industry Standard, Sia Zadeh, manager of Sun's life sciences group is quoted as saying that "Biotech growth will more than replace any loss of dotcom revenue." In recent presentations, IBM has predicted a $40 billion market for life sciences technology. Indeed, many of those who came into prominence in the IT industry are now making their moves into the biotech industry. Jim Clark who was responsible for Sun, Netscape and Healtheon now sits on the board of a few biotech companies like DNA Sciences. Nathan Myhvold, Microsoft's former chief technology officer and one of the IT world's most famous oracles is now busy on the biotech conference circuit. Softbank, the Japanese investment bank that is best known for moving Yahoo into global prominence, is just about to launch a life-sciences venture capital fund. What they are funding is not simply computing power, but also genomic and proteonomic software based on computer science knowledge.
Many computer scientists around the world are getting into the biotech start-up business to commercialise their expertise in specialisations including pattern recognition, database architecture and management, algorithms and search techniques, and data mining . Some of the computer science professors at the Indian Institute of Sciences at Bangalore have started a biotech company called Strand Genomics to help unravel the mystery of the Human Genome. Should the stalwarts of the IT industry in India be far behind?
-- G Anandalingam, The Economic Times, 27 September 2001
Association for Computing Machinery
The world's oldest and largest educational and scientific computing society, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) since 1947 has provided a vital forum for the exchange of information, ideas, and discoveries. Today, ACM serves a membership of more than 80,000 computing professionals in more than 100 countries in all areas of industry, academia, and government.
ACM Digital Library comprises over 20 ACM publications online, a
15-year archive of journals and magazines; a 9-year archive of ACM conference proceedings
with more than 250,000 pages of text, and a bibliographical reference database for most of
the ACM publications.
The Association works closely with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in a joint task force on Software Engineering Ethics and Professional Practices (SEEPP). SEEPP's mission is to codify and document the software engineering profession's collective wisdom for resolving ethical conflicts and delivering high quality care and service especially in difficult situations and across national boundaries.
Customized package is available, which fits into user needs. Separate arrangements are made for consortia and corporations desiring site licenses.
Contact: Mr. Nirmal Bengani, :Balani Infotech (A division of Aditya Books Pvt. Ltd.),119, Vinobapuri, Lajpat Nagar-II, New Delhi-110002 for more information.
E-mail: email@example.com. Phone: 6921409/6849132/6845890. Fax: 6831051
It's time to send e-mails without a PC
A relatively unknown Ahmedabad-based IT company MOH Ltd has come out with an innovative technology called World on Phone (WoP). It enables one to access a range of Internet-based services through touchtone phone or cellphone, without a computer and Internet connectivity. Demonstrating the techno-innovation, where a simple phone converges with the Internet, MOH managing director Sunil Shah said that one could use WoP connectivity to send and receive e-mails and voice messages worldwide as well as access information from the Internet and for a number of other Internet-based applications. "To send a message, all that one has to do is to dial a WoP centre and speak out the message.
This message can be delivered to the addressee anywhere in the world in the sender's own voice through a telephone or cellphone within minutes. It can also be received by the addressee in conventional e-mail," he said. Similarly, from a telephone or cellphone, the WoP member can access all the messages in the inbox as well as all other incoming phone messages by dialing the WoP number and listening to them as voice messages or accessing them through conventional e-mails.
Emphasising that the WoP system works on the simple principle of
transforming text messages into voice messages and vice versa, Shah said that anyone could
avail the WoP services round-the-clock by paying Rs 1,000 as annual subscription fee.
-- Suresh S Menon.
Business Standard, 4 October 2001, p.6
Facial image recognition system . Xinhua, 5 July 2001
Two companies in central China's Hunan Province have jointly developed a biological facial image recognition system, marking a major breakthrough in the country's high-tech recognition research. Developed by Subotech Data System Engineering Co. and Huaxiang Digital Co., the system consists of the technologies for facial image gathering, facial recognition and facial image information processing. Experts say the system is ideal for use by police in crime investigation, border control, and computer and e-commerce security.
-- Reproduced from Science and Technology Report from China, June/August 2001, p.8/9
Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2002, p.22-p.30