June 27, 2009

 

Technology developed at IIT Kanpur to be used for National ID card project

The national Unique Identity Card is the smart card is based on the specifications of Smart Card Operating System for Transport Applications (SCOSTA.) [Source:BS] Now, SCOSTA is of interest to me as I have personally seen it developing in the lab back in 2002. SCOSTA has been completely developed at IIT Kanpur. It was the M.Tech thesis Ravinder, who was senior to me. Ravinder belonged to the rare species who manage 10/10 without sweating too hard. The professors involved were Prof Rajat Moona, Prof Deepak Gupta and Prof Manindra Agrawal ("Primes is in P" fame) all from the Computer Science department.

You can check the presentation by Prof Moona to learn more about SCOSTA.

If you need the proof that world-class technology can be developed in India, you don't need to any further. I wish the management gurus of IIM learn something from this. IIMs recently chose Prometric ETS (the company which conducts GRE) to conduct computerized CAT. Apparently, it simply gives you one of the 30 question papers with random ordering of questions, and not completely online and adaptive test like GRE. From whatever little I have learnt about technology in last 10 years, I can assure you developing operating system for smart card is incredibly harder compared to conducting computerized exam however sophisticated.

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Go Nandan. Go!

Nilekani has been appointed the Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India and he will be equivalent of a cabinet minister. I must admit I was quite disappointed with UPA govt's last term and was hoping they will lose election. But a thumping victory has catapulted the mood of the government. And now I have nothing but admiration for the new govt. This definitely marks a new beginning in governance where an eminent, competent person has been entrusted with a major responsibility. According to some estimates this project will have budget of Rs 10,000 Cr spread over 3 years.

But, guess what, not everyone is happy with govt's this decision. Immediately, the red flags of conflict of interest have been waived. Yes, Infosys will be competing to get this project (or part of it as I see.) Nilekani has already resigned from the Infosys office. He has also made it amply clear that he will excuse himself from the decision process which involves Infosys. It seems that's not enough. They are asking what will he do with his some $700 million dollar worth holding in Infosys.

Few things.

First. Infosys is one of very few companies in India which made "Corporate Governance" way of life long before the term gained currency. Nilekani has been an integral part of the process with which they built Infosys. The conduct of Infosys management has been impeccable. (Short exercise. Pull out the list of top paid management executives on India. Check how many of them are promoters of the companies. Check if their compensation was in line with the performance of the company.) If you are asking for highest (and unreasonable) ethical standards from the man who has amply demonstrated it, you need a break. And let's not forget we are the country which elects hundreds of murderers, embezzlers, criminals, rapist, robbers as our representatives.

Second. Let's find out how much Infosys stands to earn if they win the project. The budget of 10,000 Cr will be spent over 6 years. A significant portion of this money will be spent on hardware which includes hundreds of millions of smart cards. (When you buy a new vehicle, the RTO issues a smart card with details of vehicles. They charge Rs 350 for that. If you take Rs 50 per card or $1 for mass production we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, which is significant portion of the budget.) I would be surprised if the actual spend on software is more than Rs 3,000 Cr in all - that is Rs 1000 Crore per year. Obviously this is a huge project and you will have multiple software vendors. Let's say we are talking about 3 vendors. That roughly translates to Rs 300 Crore per year per company. If Infosys is one of the vendor, it will get 300 cr revenues per year. Don't expect the profit margins on this project to be superhigh as there is no labour cost arbitrage.

To put numbers in context, Infosys reported revenues of Rs 21,693 Crores. An additional 300 Cr will hardly change their financials in a tangible way.

For the sake analysis, let's say Infosy's stock prices moves up by 10-15% due to revenues of this project. Now, what is it in this world that Nilekani can do with $800 million but not with $700 million? Nilekani has spent his lifetime to build reputation and name for himself. He is not going to take any action which will jeopardize that pristine reputation. It's foolish if someone thinks he will trade his reputation for few extra millions. Last I heard he didn't own a private jet or a yacht or an island. He seems like a frugal man to me.

It's been 15 years since the start of Voter's ID card project and even today the cards are issued with wrong name and address. This is a himalayan waste of public money. We need competent person to look after such gigantic projects. By making fuss out of nothing, we are scaring lots of good people from corporate world whose expertise govt may wish to utilize. Now, if Deepak Parekh is asked to head a new authority on affordable housing and there are going to be similar noises due to his connection with HDFC, we will keep him away. It would be a shame if such great people, who are willing to commit their time and energy for the larger good of society, are kept away due to some non-issues.

All the best, Nadan!

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June 14, 2009

 

Google's Twitter problem

Some folks speculate that Google is launching vertical search for micro-blogging services. Given the lack of competition for Twitter, it means, Google is launching a vertical search for Twitter.

Let's find out how many tweets are generated each month. Twitter gives unique identity to each message, which could be found at the end of this URL. http://twitter.com/kshashi/status/2156645977 That's a sequential number for each message. From my own stream I found this number for 14th June (today), 14th May, ... 14th Jan. (I realized, I should have picked 1st of each month instead. Never mind.) This is not most accurate, but should be close enough. Here is the chart for # of tweets for each month starting on 14th.



For the month preceding 14th Feb, the # of tweets was 91 million. 4 months later this figure stands at 364 million. That's a 300% absolute increase. In another 3-4 months, Twitter will hit the Billion tweets a month mark.

Come back to Google and spare a though about how Google indexes. Google crawls each of these tweets as html pages. Each page is almost 8KB in size. 8KB for information which is closer to 140 bytes in most cases. Storage is not such a issue as Google must already be handling exabytes of data. There is a whole lot of processing on this data before one can extract meaningful information. Each of these html pages need to be parsed to figure out the actual tweet. Almost all of these tweets are never going to have any inlink from other page. So, that processing is wasteful. This wasteful computing is not so much about $$ lost, but the added delay hampers the core offering of "real-timeness." All this processing is necessary as by the time you know this tweet is useless, you have already spent your time to find it uselessness.

I wonder if Twitter will go out of its way to provide fat pipe to Google through which all the tweets are transported. I suspect it's highly unlikely. (Why? I leave it as an exercise for you.) This "problem" is only going to be worse by each day as Twitter's popularity continues to rise. And the solution to this problem has wildly and widely been speculated out there for a long time.

(Yours truly is contributing to this problem in a small way at @kshashi )

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June 01, 2009

 

Rahman's concert in Pune

Over a long period of time, as your memories fade and only the prominent ones remain stuck adamantly. But even these memories are mostly remembered in a single evening. Last evening was one such evening. It was Rahman performing live in Pune for the first time. There were enough event management problems, which I am sure, nobody will care to remember after few years. I see many finding themselves at loss of words to describe how great the show was. But I am simply underwhelmed by the show. I liked the show in parts, but I wasn't elated while walking out few minutes before the end.

Well, there were enough good singers with some marquee names like Hariharan performing there. Of course, that is apart from the man himself, who sang beautifully and vividly. Yet, listening entire Delhi 6 album, with liberal sprinkling of Ghajini, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Slumdog Millionaire is not enough for it to etch in my heart. I am not sure which tastes he meant to cater by missing out on Lagaan, Dil Se (only the title song was performed by the man himself), Swades, Rang De Basanti, Yuva, or even Yuvvraj. He sang two beautiful sufi qawwalis - Khwaja (Jodhaa Akbar) and Maula (Delhi 6), but then he missed out my personal favourite Piya Haji Ali (Fiza) which arguably is one his best composition. Overall, the mood of the programme was fast-paced with little room for sombre music. But then what about Chhaiyya Chhaiyya which has achieved a level of popularity no other song has touched in last decade? Or was it the case that Sukhwinder Singh, Sonu Nigam, Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik were not available?

There was another thing which bothered me a lot. It was not a music programme but an entertainment show. With all the fancy stage, lots of painstaking lighting arrangement, dozens of dancers occupying the stage, it was palpable that the show was more for the pleasures of eyes than ears. That made it look like a filmfare award ceremony gone wrong as there were no Katrina Kaifs dancing on the stage. I would have been so much happier to if the performance was sans all the glamour and glitz. I guess, I fall into a minority (or a small cult) which demands such things from music.

Nevertheless, my love for Rahman's music has not diminished a bit.

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