Tuesday, January 23, 2007

India learns the art of Satellite Recovery

India's latest successful Polar Synchronous Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launch is commendable for more reasons than merely overcoming the failure of the last unsuccessful mission. Not only did the PSLV inject into orbit 3 satellites (which included a 680-kilogram remote-sensing satellite named CARTOSAT-2 that will gather climate and geographical data, an Indonesian Earth-observation satellite, Lapan-Tubsat and a satellite from Argentina, Pehuensat-1) but it also carried into space the fore runner of the capsule that might eventually be used to bring back Indian astronauts safely from space.

India has indicated that it's working toward putting humans into space as early as 2014, with an eye toward sending a crew to the moon in the 2020 time frame. An unmanned moon mission is scheduled for 2008.

Yesterday, the capsule, returning after 12 days in Earth’s orbit, survived a fiery re-entry into the atmosphere and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal, from where it was plucked by a coast guard vessel to be ferried back to the Sriharikota space centre. This marks the entry of India into the club of space faring nations that can not only inject satellites into orbit, but also recover them back from space.

In recovering the capsule, ISRO achieved capabilities in precision control and heat-resistant silica tiles for safe re-entry into the atmosphere, parachutes to slow the capsule’s descent, and even a flotation system triggered by salt water.

With such recovery possible. ISRO plans to give the Indian scientific community a boost too. ISRO said that it can now help carry out microgravity experiments which would help scientists study material behavior in space and create materials with special properties. Earlier, such experiments were possible only at the International Space station. Now, a capsule with science experiments can routinely piggyback on large satellites.

Might look like a small step for the world, but a giant leap for Indian Space Research !!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The attack of the FM stations

Can a revival of old technology throw up challenges to newer technology? Can renewed public interest in an hitherto used and sidelined technology, be so great that it causes the masses to shun a more recent breakthrough?

"Bangalore 93.5 Mast Maja Madi" (Bangalore 93.5 Have some rockin' fun) was what I heard two radio jockeys shouting their voices off on one of the FM channels. I was in Bangalore the last week and was surfing the airwaves on my FM radio. Just five months before when I had last been there Bangalore had 3 FM stations. Bangalore now has a total of 9 FM channels.

  • Part of the reason for this rise in FM channels is the relaxing of the government regulations and the license fees that new FM startups need to pay up to start these channels.
  • The other contributor to that end has been the veritable improvements in FM broadcasting equipment and technology.
  • The increasing heterogeneity in the social makeup of Bangalore has also contributed to allowing a wide number of FM channels to share space and yet cater to key sections of Bangaloreans'

I found something else that was more interesting than an increase in FM channels. I never whipped out my MP3 player to listen to music to during my entire stay in Bangalore !! That was a first for me. I never found the need to, given the range and quality of music that was being dished out by the 9 channels day in and day out. This interested me. I asked my cousin who used to plug onto his MP3 player on his way to office in the mornings if he was using it anymore? The answer was a resounding 'NO'. Every auto rickshaw that I climbed into had one of the FM channels blaring away to glory. Cars of my friends had not played CDs ever since the attack of the FM stations. Let alone all this, the most striking fact of all that I heard was that the sales of mobiles with inbuilt FM radio in them had sky rocketed in Bangalore. I suspect that similar episodes are being enacted out in other Indian metros.

So for no fault of its, a technology like MP3 that offered more personalized audio options on the move finds itself sidelined in favor of an older technology, FM. A single FM station cannot offer music to suit every Tom Dick and Harry's tastes, but how about 9? How about letting DJ's and RJs managing our playlists than have ourselves do it? Public behavior can cause nightmares to technology predictors. While MP3 players were expected to steam roll FM out of public imagination, here we are seeing the FM empire strike back with a vengeance.

Photo courtesy: The Hindu

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why moblogging hasn't taken off in India?

I was explaining my inquisitive cousin studying in 9th grade what moblogging is all about. He asked me if I do it. I said I don't, but could show him a few who do. I scourged the net to see if I can find some m0bloggers. I could hardly lay my hands on a few mobloggers. That got me wondering why moblogging hadn't caught up so well in India despite the hype surrounding it. Blogging by typing text and clicking photos via your mobile camera and using GPRS to send it to a platform like Blogger to be published seemed quite straight forward. How come nobody was taking it up?

A few clicks and searches on Google led me to this excellent interview of conducted by Kiruba Shankar on why moblogging is not taking off in India. And if you are wondering who Jace is, he is one of the few mobloggers in India. The reasons that pop out from the interview are

  • Technical difficulties in getting GPRS setup on one's mobile
  • Lack of MMS popularity due to low critical mass of users
  • The prohibitive costs of good camera phones
  • Setting up blogs and access paths from your mobile phones to blogs.
  • The associated difficulties of filtering out headers and footers that service providers attach to MMS messages sent.
Not everything is gray though, Jace says. Things are improving in terms of special support from sites like Flickr who are making moblogging a lot easier. Jace has also put together a small program to enable his content make its way from his mobile to his blog without any hitch. Quite a neat blog that he has going, I must admit.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Top Ten Technologies that shaped India in 2006

As I step into 2007, I cannot help but look back in wonder at the amazing strides we are making as a country. Technologies that are helping integrate India with the world economy at a faster rate every new day. Technologies that are helping Indians stretch out and make their presence felt globally. Listed below are the ten technologies I felt have made an impact in this direction in the past one year.

  1. WiMax
  2. WiFi
  3. 3G telecom services
  4. IPTV
  5. Social Bookmarking
  6. VOIP
  7. Storage & Backup Technologies like SAN and HDDs
  8. Blogging
  9. Social Online Networks like Orkut, Friendster, MySpace
  10. FM Radio Broadcast

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