Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Resolutions

It is a fad to have New Year resolutions. Some of the popular new year resolutions are Quit Smoking, Read a book etc. Now a days the Internet helps you to find ideas on New Year resolutions. Take a look at this and this and this. All these picked from a simple Google search.

Does an Institute make new year resolutions? It may be a little unusual but yes.

Tradition dictates that every 365 days, you should try to kick bad habits and start your life anew. So the idea is to sit down with a cup of coffee, a paper and a pen, and reflect: What kinds of New Years Resolutions will we make for Institute this January 1st?

I have a few ideas about a few things we should not do and a few things we should do as an Institute.

Develop a sense of belonging and ownership:

We are a very new Institute. Being a Government Institute there are no owners of the Institute except the Government itself. So what is meaning of a sense of belonging and ownership. The students and faculty now call this Institute my Institute. When the students will pass out and do not live on the campus any more, they will still call it my Institute. They will take pride in good things that the Institute does. The Institute will do well only when its faculty, students and its Alumni do well. It is a challenge of very high order.

Develop a Innovator's mindset:

I had said on many occasions that the Institute should be a technology play ground. I am afraid we are far from being a technology playground. To use technology and to develop technology should be trait with everyone in the Institute. We need to take some positive and proactive steps to kickstart this habit.

Develop an atmosphere of certainty:

Lack of precision and certainty is a prevailing characteristic of Indian way of life. IIIT has inherited some of these characteristics. In our communication, we need to develop a sense of precision and in our action, we need to develop a sense of certainty.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Foundation Day Debate

Finally, on 19th Dec we had finals of the Foundation Day debate.

I am an ardent fan of debates. I almost never miss Big Fight on NDTV. The debates bring the best minds to cross swords intellectually. My personal favourites are Suhel Seth, Swapan Dasgupta, Vinod Mehta. Our own Jay Panda also is a good speaker on national channels.

Recently, there was a interesting series of debates called Intelligence squared debate on BBC. The format is pretty routine. There are two teams of two members each. The teams speak in turns, take questions from the audience and then sum up. What is interesting is the way the winner is decided. At the start of the debate the audience is made to vote for and against the topic. Then, at the end they are allowed to vote. The winner is decided by the amount of audience win by a team. This format is very novel.

One of my favourite movies is The Great Debators. Directed by Danzig Washington, produced by Winfrey Oprah, the movie is based on a true story. It is about a debating team from a black college beating the Harvard team in a national finals. This movie was screened during the orientation programme of our first batch of M.Tech. Students. The arguments, rejoinders, rebuttals are truely enjoyable to watch.

I witnessed last 10 minutes of the Finals of the Foundation Day debate. I was a little disappointed. The audience was thin. The format of the debate was like a GD. The arguments were shallow. But the debators exhibited energy and passion.

Prof. Tanutrishna did put in a lot of hardwork to make this happen. She and Lipika did a good job of pushing a reluctant bunch of students to take a small faltering step in making what possible can be an iconic annual event of the Institute in future.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The CAT fails online

The failure of the CAT - the entrance examination is in news now a days.

My experience with On-Line entrance goes back a many years ago when XLRI tried to convert XAT to a on-line test. It was a disaster too. The entire exam was cancelled on the day it was supposed to begin. Problems were many: the company was inexperienced, infrastructure was inadequate, logistics of testbank delivery was uncertain. I had raised many of these questions with the company. They paid attention to the question bank security and overlooked the logistical issues.

Many of those problems are a thing of the past. The infrastructure is fairly good. There are many agencies who have made a business of on-line testing. The applicants are computer savvy. Hence, it is a right time for the IIMs to go on-line.

Are there any benefits of conducting a on-line test. To my mind there are none. The speed of processing improves by a few days. But it takes many more days to conduct the test. You have to buid a huge question bank which is a difficult task. The glamour associated with on-line testing is fading.

If a foreign agency conducts the on-line test, will it succeed. Not necessarily as the CAT experience shows. But the IIM have the excuse that they awarded the task to a reputed agency.

Why did the CAT failed online. One, heterogenous environment, two, the scale of operations, three, insufficient preparations.

There are lessions for software development in CAT experience. When you have no option but to take a bigbang approach to software deployment, what should you do. Prometric will answer with hindsight.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Anniversary Galore

The month of November and the Year 2009 are unusual in many ways as they are anniversary months for many important events and mark significant milestones.

This is the month when the Foundation Stone of IIIT was laid. IIIT is going to to be 3 years old. We are very young Institute indeed. How will we celebrate our Foundation day? I have asked Prof. Tanitrishna to organize a foundation day debate among the students. This will the topic of my next blog.

This is the year when we have started our B.Tech. programme. We hope to start our Ph.D. programme this year too. We walked on the long corridors of the newly constructed building this year.

Every one is talking about Sachin's 20 years in cricket. Sunil Gavaskar was there for about 17 years. What is Sachin's secret for such long tenure in cricket? To my mind, it is his raw talent, simple life style and staying away form captaincy. The last one is the most important. Most good players after assuming captaincy have lost their touch. Sachin is smart enough to avoid the trappings of captaincy and stick to his core competency: just play cricket.

This month twenty years ago, the Berlin wall came down marking the end of communism. I still remember the debate: will West Germany pull up East Germany or will the East Germany bring down West Germany, Will the combined Germanies lead to another world war. Fortunately, the German nation has not led to another war. The Berlin wall signifies the artificial walls we create to foster our own interest.

This is the fortieth year of Internet. Internet has been a game changing technology. Countries like India have benefited immensely. The penetration of Internet is still slow. We need to hasten this process and the break the digital divide. I watched a Bob Metcalfe (inventor of ethernet) interview on Youtube. He talks about how in 40 years we have got clean and abundant Internet Bandwidth. For him the next challenge is the give the world clean and abundant energy in next 40 years.

This month we celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru's Birth day as the Children's day. My wife who is the president of Innerwheel club, celebrated children's day with the students in Malipada M.E. school near IIIT campus. The condition of the school is bad and there are hardly 25 students in the school. While we extol our achievements in higher education, our primary education is in shambles. We need to ask ourselves what needs to be done to bolster out primary education system.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Busy Week with NPTEL, Damascus Sword and Nebula

Last week was a unusually busy one.

To start with Prof. Roddam Narasimha visited IIIT on last sunday. He was on his way back to Bangalore from BPUT convocation. I had written about him earlier.

Prof. Mangala Sundar of IIT Madras visited BPUT in connection with NPTEL. I was there in my capacity as the Chairman of ICT committee of BPUT. He wanted more discussion with me. So I invited him to IIIT. He discussed NPTEL and other issues with me. I have experimented a lot with Technology Enabled Learning in the past. I shared my experience with him. He appreciated that a lot and wanted our involvement in NPTEL development.

Prof. Omkar Nath Mohanty visited to address the students. He spoke about his research on development of auto-body parts. Fluent, incisive, and lucid was his talk. He, of course, aout damascus sword and India's metallurgical prowess in the millenia gone by. I demonstrated our Hibiscus to him. He had a look around the campus and expressed his appreciation.

Finally, there was nebula. The students were planning for a party to welcome themselves since there are no seniors to welcome them. I told them that I will extend all support. They came out with an idea to invite some DJ. I told them that IIIT is about show casing student talent not a DJ's. They took my message and prepared well. They prepared a budget and discussed with the faculty about their plans.

On sunday (today), I reached about 10 minutes after 11 in the campus. The students told me that they will be about 20 minutes late. The programme began about 45 minutes behind schedule. The first few items were tentative with many hiccups. The girls danced with practically no music as the sound system could not be connected. Then the tempo picked up. Things got better as the time went on. There were dance, play, mimicry, quizzing, musical chair and many others. The students got the audience involved. They involved the faculty in a few items.

The anchoring was very good. Quite a few students participated. I was very happy with the quality of the programme.

Then, there was lunch. The students organized a banquet style lunch for the faculty. The students were very indulgent and fussed a lot over little conveniences of the faculty.

One can see a strong bonding developing among the students and Institute and the Faculty. I hope it continues to flourish and every student get an opportunity to exhibit his/her talent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Prof. Roddam Narasimha visits IIIT

Prof. Narasimha was the speaker for BPUT convocation. He was to arrive in Bhubaneswar on 23rd, proceed to Rourkela, return to Bhubaneswar on 25th and fly back to Bangalore. VC Prof. Mohanty requested us to take care of him when he is in Bhubaneswar.

We received Prof. Narasimha at the airport. I had not met Prof. Narasimha before. Prof. Ajit Das had seen his photograph in his homepage. After trying three people, we could guess him right. We took him to the Raj Bhavan. As usual Raj Bhavan was full of bells and whistles. We had a tea with him. Then, we met the Governor HE Bhandare. He was watching golf on a tv channel while meeting his guests. He discussed about state of research India. After meeting the Governor, Prof. Narasimha proceeded for lunch. We discussed about the possibility of his addressing the students. He agreed to do that on Sunday.

On Saturday, we informed the students about the Lecture. We made it compulsory for resident students and optional for the day scholars. Some resident students wanted to go home for the weekend. We denied their request. One student said her parents have already come to take her home. Another said her mother has already cooked for her and it will be wasted if she doesn't go. We paid a deaf ear to all excuses and said no.

Prof Ajit Das picked Prof Narasimha and came to the campus. I went to IIIT right away. I ensured that the sound system etc were functioning. The lecturer was well attended. Prof Narasimha spoke about the research challenges he had faced in his very long career. He urged to students to pick research as a career. The students asked a few questions.

We took Prof. Narasimha to the Airport. Prof. Mohanty met us there. The flight was delayed for about 2 hours. Prof. Mohanty suggested we go to Khandagiri and Udayagiri. I had not visited the two hillocks for more than 10 years. Prof. Mohanty spoke at length about the historical significance of the two hills. He took Prof. Narasimha to the Airport.

I was impressed by the simplicity and scholarship of Prof. Narasimha. His knowledge about history, mythology was impressive. He is 76 and yet a very active researcher. I hope that his inspiration will work and some students will be motivated to take research as a career.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Diwali Celebrations

There are a few celebrations in India which transcend religious barriers. Diwali, Holi, Christmas are among them. I wanted the Diwali celebration in IIIT to be a special one. When I discussed with faculty members, they pointed out that the exams are going on. Hence, any Institute initiated celebration will be distraction for the student. Though I was not convinced, I relented. Then, a few students approached me with their proposal for diwali celebration. They wanted to share the diwali with families of the Campus Construction Workers. I thought that was a fine idea. Sweta Rout has been pestering me for a creativity club. I asked her to write her creative piece for Diwali. Here is her piece:

Diwali is the biggest festival of India that celebrates the victory of good over evil. This festival symbolizes the vanquishing of darkness and the emergence of light. We celebrated Diwali for the first time in our institution, IIIT. The festival was preceded by a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. The environment of IIIT on the day of Diwali was lull of traditional and religious passion. The girls worshipped Goddess Kali and offered prayers to her. We decorated our institution with candles and diyas. An eye-catching rangoli added to the charm of the crescendo. We also shared sweets with the workers who suffer tiresome days and nights for the construction of a world-class infrastructure of our institution. Then workers had decorated a board with candles depicting the name of our institution as “HAPPY DIWALI IIIT”, which was extremely stupendous. We, then, burnt a lot of fire crackers which included the ones that made a stunning view of colorful stars in the air. The guards guided throughout the celebration to make it a safe Diwali for us. The bonfire made the day more exciting with a delicious dinner made by the mess. It was certainly a day of celebration and an amiable experience for all the IIITians.
I am happy that the students have shown the initiative and celebrated a special festival in a very unique fashion.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

I am not a great cricket fan. But I follow cricket occasionally. During the summer of 1983 world cup in England, I was at home. I had just completed Engineering and about join a Job in Mumbai. There was no TV in those days. We tuned to BBC to listen to the cricket commentary. West Indies was a force to reckon with. There were Clive Lloyds, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge as Batsmen. They had 4 very dangerous fast bowlers. West Indies were unbeatable. But India beat them in the first encounter. Very unexpected. India was to beat Zimbawe easily. In the match against Zimbawe, India was 17 for 5. Then came Kapil's 175. India beat Zimbawe in the most unexpected way. India's victory in the finals was very unexpected. It was a low scoring game. Viv Richards was supposed to finish it single handedly. That was not to be. The guys who bet on India's victory - there were not many- has the unexpected joy of laughing all the way to the bank. That year West Indies visited India. We expected the series to be well fought. India lost every single match comprehensively.

The recent cricket matches are very unexpected. After IPL, India was to be superstar in 20-20 cricket. In the 20-20 world cup they were out in the first round. In the champions trophy, they were out in the first round. In a Series of matches before that India has a unenviable record.

In the world today the winner expects the unexpected. This is a contrarian view which opposes the view held by the majority. Consider the job market. A few years ago the job market was very bullish. The market for IT professionals was kissing the sky. In the last couple of years the job market has seen the bad times. What do you expect the job market to be in future. Th unexpected?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Chief Minister Comes to IIIT

We wanted the IIIT campus to be inaugurated by the CM. He was there when the foundation was laid by the-then President APJ Abdul Kalam.

We had sent a proposal to his office. Initially, they gave us a date on 19th September with a lead time of about 5 days. We had to make the campus presentable. Our builder painted the Academic buildings. Efforts started to level the frontage. With the JCB and the road roller in action, the noise was enormous. The toilet on the second floor was made ready. Everybody swung into action. By 16th Sept I came to know that CM has postponed his visit. We kept it a secret and let the work progress rapidly. On 18th morning we revealed the CM's programme. The CM gave the date on 9th Oct.

There was Puja Vacation lasted about 10 days. Ajit went to Nainital for Vacation. As is my wont, I stayed at Bhubaneswar working on the new Website, Hibiscus, chaning the OS of all my computers to ubuntu, watching a few movies. I visited the campus every alternate day. The work had come to a standstill. Everybody went home for the vacations. I had a meeting with IT Secretary Pradipta Mohapatra. He was concerned about the arrangements. I assured him that every thing will be ready.

On Oct 5th the Institute reopened. We took stock of what needs to be done. The laundry list of things to do ran into about 3 pages. We divided the responsibility. Prashant, Sidharth, Debasis, Umakanta, Bishoyi and others were given tasks, deadlines, quality parameters to fulfil. Every one was one campus till midnight. We tried several permutations and combinations for our plans. Initially we planned refreshments for the guests. Later we changed it to lunch after discussing with Ashok Panda. We briefed the students about the details of the CM's Visit and shared our expectations from them. We had discussions with Prof. Tanutrishna who would be the anchor.

We had the Minister, MP, MLA, Chief Secretary on the guest list. We invited guests from the Academic community, Government, OCAC, IT Fraternity. We did a rehearsal the previous day.

There were goof-ups. The weather was very humid and hot. We wanted to put a couple of ACs for the guests of the dias. The event manager brought window ACs which could not be installed. Fortunately for us, the weather turned pleasant.

The function went on with clockwork precision. All the guests arrived in time. The CM arrived about 5 minutes late. We had the unveiling of the plaque. We discussed the the campus plan with the CM. He said that the devil lies in the details. He seemed happy with our campus but made a few comments. Why is the floor not polished. Why the campus is not green. He suggested that we take ideas from a landscape architect Mr. Shaw. He promised to give us another 17 acres of land we have requested.

I had shared the dias with the CM on a few occasions before. But, I never had discussions with him from such close quarters. The stakes were high. I was nervous.

The function went precisely as we planned. The MP Sri Patsani was very entertaining. The CS promised to make efforts to make IIIT an University. The CM shared that 9th was the birth day of Gopabandhu Das. It was a coincidence and I was not aware of that fact. The CM gave a pep talk to the students and the faculty. Others spoke with brevity. I gave the Vote of thanks. I spoke about the amount of coverage Orissa got in the last general elections and its coming of age. I shared the pencil story with the students. The function lasted less than an hour which was our estimated time. Even though we had arranged for some refreshment, the CM declined but requested the rest of the guests to have lunch with the students and faculty.

After the function was over many people complimented me saying the function went off well. I was feeling relieved. Most of the staff were tired and left a little early.

On 10th Oct, IT Secretary Mr. Pradipta Mohapatra called me and told that the CM was happy with organization and the conduct of the programme. He complimented him.

The Foundation Laying was the First important function. I was not with IIIT at that time. In fact there were no one with IIIT except Ajit who was the OSD. The CM's visit was next most important function. This function had the involvement of the faculty, staff and the students. I am happy that it went off well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Social Networking and IIIT

One of the important features of Web 2.0 is social networking. So you have Orkut, linkedin Blogger etc.

I felt that Social networking is for individuals. Many use it with great effect. In NDTV Vikram Chnadra and Barkha Dutt use it in a very interesting manner.

Today, as I was generally surfing, I came across a many sites which use Twitter and Facebook. One such site was University of Michigan. U-M is one of the best university websites.

So I felt let IIIT tweet on twitter. IIIT website now has a gadget which gives summary of IIIT Tweets.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

M.Tech. Project

Masters in engineering used to be a 3 semester course. Later it was changed to a 4 semester course.

In many institutes the last two semesters are used for a project. In our case we followed a system of 3 semesters course-work and one semester of project. In the 3rd semester there is Seminar component.

Depending on the career preference of a student, a student could do a research oriented project or a industry oriented project. Last year some of our students went to company projects while others did projects in the Institute.

When we started introspecting on this issue, we found that the quality of projects done in the company was below the standard we were expecting. Even some projects done in the Institute had quality problems.

Hence, this year we are planning to experiment with a new model. The seminar and the project will have some continuity. The seminar will be used for literature review, methodology review leading to a project proposal by end of the third semester. The fourth semester will be exclusively used for working on the problems contained in the project proposal.

The students can work on various project types: a. development of a business software, b. development of a technology, c. academic project etc. At the end of the project the deliverables will be a thesis and working paper or thesis and a software.

The project phase will have milestones mentioning the delivery expected at that point. We hope that this process will result in high quality thesis worth show-casing.

In essence, we will integrate the seminar and the project components and se

Monday, September 14, 2009

IIIT Gets Electrified (Literally)

We have been on the campus for more than a week. We managed to keep a fact very secret: IIIT did not have electricity connection. We were getting electricity from the Contractor's Generator. He had two generators. We were getting electricity round the clock with the help of these two generators. 

It is a very curious thing in India that very basic things are very hard to get. Getting electricity connection, gas connection, phone connection are some of the very challenging aspects for an Indian citizen.

We could not get electricity connection because CESU and BDA were disputing over right to use of a Electricity Pole. Even though we were ready in every aspect, this dispute led to the delay. We had to persuade many government agencies. Finally on 14th Sept, IIIT got electricity.

Since we are in a rural place, the quality and reliability of the electricity is doubtful. Hence, we have already ordered for a DG set to fully support us in case the electricity fails.

Now, IIIT needs to get electrified figuratively. The energy has to be derived from the faculty and the students. Hence, my blog on electrification of IIIT will continue...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Two days after the D Day

On 5th Sept I got a call from our dean while on my way to the campus. He said that the campus bears a pathetic look and we are about to welcome our new students. When I reached the campus, I rushed to the 3rd floor where the student will be accommodated. The workers were fixing the dadoes, grinding the marble floor, the taps and fittings were missing from the toilets.

The parents were donning a very worried look. When I started talking to them, they expressed their concern over the state of the hostel. I tried to passify them with assurances. I and Ajit got into project management mode and told the project people about our priorities.

By evening, the partitions were ready, the taps were fitted, the toilets were ready, one unit of the dormitory with 11 cots was ready. The worried look of the parents was slowing giving way to assuring look. I came back early as I was part of panel discussion on IT leadership.

On 6th, I reached the campus early. I went to the Hostel first. I met the girls. I asked if they had any problems. They said no problems. I felt relieved. The students and the parents who came were not having a concerned look of the previous day. One of the guardians who came and left the previous day and visited again on 6th was looking delighted and expressed his satisfaction at the pace at we have completed the hostel.

On 7th, we had the orientation programme. I along with the faculty addressed the Students and their parents in the really large hall in the 2nd floor. We addressed the parents separately. We briefed the student on academics, labs, hostel life, library etc. The students looked curious and keen. The parents looked satisfied.

I feel that gambling on asking the students to arrive on 5th September was a good idea. The energy, enthusiasm of our staff and workers was amazing when they saw the students on the campus. Their concern for the student's well being was something to witness.

FYI, 5th September was Teacher's Day.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The D Day is tomorrow

We had announced that the date for arrival of the students in the campus is 5th Sept. That day is tomorrow. The student strength will now jump six fold.

We have asked the faculty to report in the Gothapatna Campus on 25th. We started relocating from OCAC to Gothapatna since Aug 31. We had already informed OCAC about our relocation plans.

The D Day is imminent now. Are we ready to welcome our students tomorrow. The answer is a very big yes and a very small no.

While many of the things we planned are in place, there are a few loose ends. Even though we had placed orders well in time, vendors have generally failed us on the delivery deadlines. The contractor has done his best. But a few few activities are still pending.

All the activities are 95% complete and only 5% is remaining. But I wish 95% of the activities were complete and only 5% activities were remaining.

But I hope that in a few days we will complete 100% of our activities.

I am excited about the new chapter about to begin in IIIT.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Computing in Vernacular Language

I enjoy coding and creating business software. When I was in XIMB, I created an accounting system called PAMIS. It was a novel system very useful when you need to do project based accounting. The Panchyati Raj department in Orissa Government found this useful and adopted it for block level accounting. It was the biggest e-governance initiative. Thanks to the keenness of the secretary and the department, it was a very successful project. Subsequently, the department was planning to implement this in Panchayats.

PAMIS was developed with an English Language interface. At the block level it is fine as we have english educated people available. However, in a panchayat English language interface will not work. We now faced the challenge of modifying the software to make it Oriya enabled.

Oriya is available as a part of the Unicode. However, there are not many fonts available. When I researched, I found though Windows XP was multi-lingual, it did not have a Oriya language interface. I found someone in Hyderabad had developed a roundabout way to do data entry in Indian Languages including Oriya. We did a lot lot of experiment with the javascript code to adopt it for Pamis. However, the proposal for GP automation got shelved and my interest in multilingual software also waned.

Recently, S. N. Tripathy who returned to the Panchyati Raj department revived the idea of GP automation. I have again started taking interest in multilingual software. Now, both Windows and Linux have a multilingual language interface. Both systems have an identical way to change the keyboard. Developing software in a Indian Languages is a lot easier. The challenge is to translate business and technical jargon in Oriya. For example, what is the Oriya equivalent of Debit? ଆପଣ ଡେବିଟକୂ ଓଡିଆରେ କଣ କହିଵେ. I used Gnome in Ubuntu to write the above Oriya sentence.

Microsoft was prodded by the Government of Orissa to develop Oriya input for windows. Linux have done it with no prodding. I feel very happy that one can today develop software in Vernacular Language with some ease. The digital divide will reduce considerably because of this reason.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Internetting in IIIT

I had my got my email account in IIT Kharagpur in 1991. One had to go to the electronics dept to send or receive an email. When I visited Antwerp in 1995, I had my exposure to Internet i.e. access the web using Netscape Navigator. It just struck me in the web possibilities were mind blowing.

When I came back, I explored if we could have access to Internet in XIMB. In those days, Internet was provided through STPI, ERNET and NIC. We were desperate to get Internet. But, Institute of Physics was even more desperate. After pleading with STPI, OCAC which dealt with ernet, we had a breakthrough. STPI agreed to provide Internet access to educational Institutes. Institute of Physics got it first and XIMB was the second one to get it. In 1997, we had 64kbps bandwidth.

Over the years, we have got used to highspeed internet. In XIMB, we virtually doubled out our bandwidth every year.

When I joined IIIT and we started functioning out of OCAC, OCAC was kind enough to let us use their bandwidth. Subsequently, when we started our Masters programme, we get 1 Mbps bandwidth from STPI.

As we are moving to our new campus, the issue of Internet hit us again. Our campus is a little remote for most of the ISPs. As luck would have it, BSNL was laying its fibre optic cable in Gothapatna and saw IIIT as a client. They extended their fibre to IIIT. Then, they came out with an offer we just could not refuse. They offered 10 Mbps at a very attractive price. We just fell for it.

So in the gothapatna campus, we will start with a 10 Mbps Internet Link. BTW, IIITs have requested Govt of India to include them in the Konwledge Net which with give Gigabit access for free.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prince Dance group wins IGT

A bunch of labourers from Berhampur, Orissa won India has got Talent. The event has caused a mild hysteria in Orissa. I watched the finals for 3 hours. I watched their other performances on Youtube.

Most of our classical dance forms which are very refined are solo performances. The folk dance forms are group performances. They are not very refined though very entertaining. When I watch similar shows from India and abroad, the finesse of shows from abroad stand out. What was surprising about the performance of the Prince group was the absolute finesse. Their dance was more about formations, coordination and finesse. It was not about footwork or facials.

There was a huge campaign in Orissa for voting the group. I sent at least 10 messages for the first time in my life. There were hoardings on streets of Orissa cajoling the public to vote. There was a campaign on a TV channel and a FM radio channel. I have not seen such coordinated media campaign in Orissa before.

The Prince groups win reiterates the point again: the days of the under dogs have arrived. There is such dearth of talent in urban centers that it has to surface from semiurban and rural areas.

As we are about to start our 1st year of the B.Tech. programme, there is a lot to learn from the Prince Group: Be inspired, be innovative and imaginative. Did I repeat the IIIT byline. No, I saw these traits the every movement of the Prince groups dance. As Sekhar Kapur said ours must be to be a world beating act and to that one needs a combination of talent and inspiration.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Campus Accommodation for B.Tech. Students

From the beginning, IIIT is designed to be a residential campus. When we announced out B. Tech. Programme a couple of weeks ago, the foundation casting of the hostel was being done. There is no way the hostel will be ready by 1st Sept when classes will begin.

Parents of a lot of candidates called us about hostel accommodation. Our answer was that there is no hostel accommodation on the campus till 2nd Sem, but we are trying. We wrote a letter to the Government requesting them to allot a few flats. That request is still in progress.

Some parents of girls meanwhile argued that since they are not from Bhubaneswar, they will have a very hard time finding accommodation. They also raised the issue of security and safety. I completely agreed with them. I discussed the issue with Prof. Ajit K Das and Siddharth. We decided to scout for hostel accommodation in the City last weekend. While accommodation was available, the conditions were not satisfactory. IIIT can not lend its name to such accommodation. I told Siddharth to find alternatives.

Siddarth came up with a bright idea. The 3rd Floor of the Academic Building is ready but unfinished. We were not planning to use this space in the first year. Why not provide dormitory accommodation in the first semester in that space. We thought about it. The more we thought about it more we liked the idea. There are several plus points: safe and hygienic accommodation, no travel, etc.

It is not the same as providing our regular Hostel Accommodation but far better than staying in some shabby place in the city. We will provide a bed, table and a chair to the students. About 11 students will be accommodated in a room. We should be able to accommodate able to accommodate about 180 students.

I hope that the students and their parents will appreciate our efforts. In a few months the hostel will be ready and the Dormitory accommodation will be a thing of the past.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My encounter with our First B.Tech. Student

Today, in my office a mother and a daughter came looking very dejected. They informed me that the girl has already taken admission in IIIT in the JEE counselling process. I was alarmed to see their dejected face. I wanted to know the reason.

The girl informed me that she came to know about the IIIT Fee after taking admission and found the fee very high. She wanted our help in any way. We tried to explain our fee structure and then wrote a letter to the JEE authorities requesting them to inform the students about our fee structure before they exercise their choice. I also requested the JEE authorities to give the girl one more chance to choose her institute and branch.

I joined for B.Tech. 30 years ago in IIT Kharagpur. The tuition fee was about Rs 200 year and I used spend about Rs. 250 a month on boarding and lodging. Looks very cheap today. My father who was a teacher used earn about Rs. 500 per month. The point is that Engineering education was very expensive those days inspite of near-zero tuition fees. After three years when my brother also took admission in Burla, nothing was left from the salary to feed our family.

About 10 years ago, I was the admission coordinator in XIMB. The institute decided to raise the fees to provide computers and other facilities to the students. I was not sure if the students will accept such a sudden hike. During the admission interviews, I tried to gauge the reactions of the students to this proposal. To my utter surprise, the typical reaction was that if it is going to improve the quality of the education, we will pay; we have not come here to cut cost but to get quality education.

Today, the earning capacity of the general public is a lot more. The middle class values education and hence is willing to spend if it means you get quality education. Look at the fees charged by the IIMs and craze to join these Institutes.

IIIT is a government Institute. The general perception is that in a Government Institute education should be free. Hence, some students and parents are surprised by our proposed fee structure.

IIITs operates with a different paradigm. The government funds us for the capital expenses like the Building etc. The revenue expenses are to be self generated. The faculty has be very good. You will not get good faculty unless they are paid well. The facilities have to be good. The atmosphere has to be eclectic and any visitor must experience inspired creativity in the campus. To achieve this, one needs finances. The finances may come from the Government or from the students. In case of IIITs, second option is chosen.

The students will get education which will be best in its class. We are confident that the time students will spend here will remain the high point of their life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Remote Desktop

I have been a fan of Serverside computing for ages.

In XIMB and IIIT, we used thin clients using RDP protocol to access a windows server. It works really cool. It reduces our maintenance efforts to a great extent.

I always wondered if a Linux desktop can be shared in a similar fashion.

The common Xserver software available are not very elegant. In any case they do not give you a desktop.

I came across nomachine ( which permits a similar functionality as RDP. It has a free version of the software. I have been playing with by installing the server on a Ubuntu Box and the client on a Windows box. The performance is good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

AICTE Approval

Finally, we have got AICTE approval to start B.Tech. Programme. It is a milestone for IIIT Bhubaneswar.

Three years ago we made a promise to create an Institute of national Importance. For an Institute so young it was a grand vision. We laid the road map. Start M.Tech in 2007. Start Building the campus in 2008. Start B. Tech. in 2009. We have achieved each of these mile stones. Every one lent a helping hand. The Government of Orissa, AICTE, the contractor, our own faculty members, students and our staff have helped us in achieving this.

Now, we will go through the admission process for B.Tech. programme.

The tougher part starts now. The kids who will join us are to be moulded to be the among the best in the country. After the bureaucratic success, we are determined to achieve the real one that is create the best engineering brains for the country.

Friday, May 29, 2009

M. Tech. Projects

Long ago, an M.Tech curriculum consisted of 3 Semesters. Two of them involved course work and the last one involved working in an industry environment.

Even the B. Tech. programme involved summer projects in the second and the third year.

Over the years the student community has grown exponentially. The companies find it hard to accommodate students in such large numbers as useful projects in such large numbers is a problem. Moreover, the students complain about lack of seriousness of the company for the summer project.

The other option is to work with an project with a research bend. Working with literature, addressing a problem of current interest would help a student to work towards Ph.D.

It is moot point to consider: whether a post-graduate student (especially a Computer Science Student) is doing justice to his education by working with an project in a company or working with an academic project.

If one wonders what can come out of an M.Tech. Project, consider Google's page rank technology which was an MS project.

My feeling is that in the absence of a worthwhile project from the industry, a project of academic nature will add a lot more value to the students.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A New Government in Place

Today, the sensex jumped 2000 points to hit the circuit breaker in Bombay. This was exuberance exhibited by the market to the new government about to be installed in Delhi.

Last election around the same time, the sesex shed about 25% or 1500 points to the news of the government being elected.

It is good news for everyone.

A good stock market improves consumer confidence and consumer spending. This helps the companies to sell more, raise more funds, and generally do good business. Good business helps IT companies to sell their services. That results in a booming market for IT professionals. That is good news.

However, this election is remarkable in many ways. The EVMs are a huge success. The results were declared in about half a days time. In the past, it used to take days for declaring the results. Pronnoy Roy used to excel the analysing the data slowly. The new media such as Internet, SMS, Voice mails were are used extensively by the parties. However, BJP which used it more extensively than any other party had to bite dust. It just shows that the message is more important than the medium. In this elections, many old guards lost. Perhaps the citizens are asking for a young leadership.

I hope that the exuberance spreads to other parts of the society and economy and the cheers come back to the millions.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oracle and Sun Merger

After many days of rumours of IBM and Sun merger, we hear the news that Oracle will take over Sun.

It is amazing how iconic technology companies just fail to do business and eventually survive. I can think of Digital Equipment Company (DEC) which along with IBM, Unisys etc started the computer revolution. Among many products they had worth mentioning are, Operating System VMS, PDP Mini computers, Alpha Superfast microprocessors. When the PC revolution started, they lost market and were taken over by Compaq. It is unimaginable for me that Compaq a PC box seller would take over a true technology company like Digital. Compaq was a great marketing company but hardly a great technology company. Then, HP took over Compaq. Digital technologies are now part of HP. However, one finds no information of VMS, Alpha, or Digital Unix. All these products have been laid to rest.

Sun is a special company as one of its founders was Vinod Khosla, an Indian. In many ways it resembles Digital. It has its own microprocessor - Sparc, its own OS - Solaris, its own Hardware etc. Interestingly, Sun has promoted Java - the most popular development platform. Sun did amazigly well during the DotCom Boom. It had acquired Staroffice and started open source project Open Office. It has acquired Mysql, a popular and formidable database. However, one of the problems of Sun was anti-Microsoft stance. Scott McNealy wanted to kill Microsoft. Many of the Sun's projects were designed to be Microsoft Killers not revenue earners. Someone commeneted IBM made more money out of Java than Sun. How Ironic!

There is raging debate on implication of Suns acquition on its Open Source Projects specially MySql and Open Office. My feeling is that MySql will not be killed. In India, we had the case study of Coca Cola acquiring Thumsup. Thumsup still survives after nearly 20 years of acquition. If Oracle tries to kill MySql, it will assume a new avatar and survive.

However, there are lessons to be learnt from Sun travesty. More on these lessons another day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Elections and Euphoria

Tomorrow  is election time in Bhubaneswar. We have slowed down on many of our activities to observe the election code of conduct.

I had my first taste of election in 1977. 

I joined college in 1976. It was emergency them. Mrs. Indira Gandhi has been critisized by everyone for declaring emergency. Of course, freedom was curtailed for everyone. There was no freedom of press. There was general sense of fear around. One of friend's father who was a labour union activist was arrested and put into prison. However, as a young student, my observation was that classes ran on time. Professors came to the class on time. The examinations were held on time. My college had a history of being banned by the university due to unruly student behaviour. This was a thing of past during the emergency.

In 1977, the emergency was lifted. The general elections was called. The Janata Party was formed by everyone other than congress. We watched with great excitement the as the Janata party gained momentum. The leaders of the party were tall and famous. George Fernadez, Charan Singh, Biju Patnaik, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jagajivan Ram were some of them. We all rooted for Janata Party. Of course, we could not vote as we were underage. When the results were being declared, we gathered aroung the Soochna Bhavan. We completely enjoyed the drama and suspense of the results being declared. Janata party won by a thumping majority. We were all euphoric. There was a sense of deja vu all around. Morarji became the first non-congress Prime Minister. 

My first disappointment surfaced when my college union called for a strike to make some demands. There were no classes for a few month. Fortunately for us the final examinations were held on time. The same chaos surfaced the the central government with parties within the janata party fighting with each other and the Government collapsed in 1980.

China at that time going through transition and lais the roots for its economic resurgence. They were liberalizing like there is no tomorrow. In India, the Janata Government threw out Coca Cola and IBM.

In my view, no election will ever be as exciting and euphoric as the one in 1977.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Elections and Technology

TOI calls it the dance of democracy. Other news papers have coined various names. We are talking about general elections. The election posters have replaced telco billboards. Election Ads have replaced toothpaste ones. Every newspaper carries Ads of at least three parties every day.

I think elections can compete with Bollywood and Cricket in the entertainment quotient. In fact right now IGL (Indian General Elections) is competing with IPL ( starring cricketers and bollywood stars). Let's see who will entertain the public most. Both can compare with a Agatha Christi Thriller. The result will be known at the very end. But, Hercule Poirot and Prannoy Roy et al. will privide the entertainment of a life time.

The Election Commission is very IT savvy. Witness the evm machine, the voter ID card. When florida was counting and recounting and re-recounting the votes, India was carrying out voting through EVMs and with no glitches. Amazing!

A couple of days back I got a call from Naveen Patnaik. When I tried to interrupt, It did not work. It took me some time to realize that Technology was fooling me. It was a recorded message. Then, I have received calls from many contestents. All of them are recorded messages.

Any web site I visit today has an Ad from This appears many more times compared to the matrimony ads which was the most visible ads. If the population of India drops, you can safely blame the elections.

It is surprising to see how the official machinery, political parties, voters have embraced technology to make this election a memorable one. I hope that the deserving candidates win. No matter who wins the elections, the marriage between the technology and elections is a winner.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Software Market in India

Sometime ago, IT department in Orissa invited bids from IT Biggies like Infosys,TCS, WIPRO for a software project. Most of these companies did not respond. The project was eventually awarded to a smaller company.

I came across a news story where wipro and tcs are competing for a government software project.

India was never a big software market. All IT services companies depended on the West for their bread and butter. TCS catered to the domestic market. But Infosys, Wirpro never did projects in India. It was because the market was small, the margins were this and west had the glamour. Today the scenario has changed. The markets in the west have saturated. The growth is non-existent. The economic downtuen has hit companies and their IT budgets.

And, the Indian market is growing. The Government spending on IT is growing. These are signs of country coming off age.

In Japan, the country was closed to foreign palyers but the japanese companies fought fiercely for the domestic market. The country was very quality conscious. This helped in building world class companies in every industry sector.

I hope that in India similar phenomenon would take place. The domestic market should give rise to many more Infosyses in every part of India.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Strategies in Economic Downturn

I had an opportunity to attend Oracle Executive Summit. The prevailing theme was what to do during the current Economic Downturn. 

Each of the presentations by Oracle executives had the same (obvious) message: invest more in IT; The Upturn is coming soon; you will be ready for the upturn when it comes.

However, it is serious problem on hand for everyone in our sphere. For the students, campus jobs will be hard to come by. For the institute, more student applications for our programmes is expected as a result of the first reason. For the Institute, more applications are expected for our faculty positions. For the Institute, mobilizing funds from the Indutrry will be challenging as they have put a stop on the discretionary spending.

I will rephrase the advise from Oracle summit for the students: invest in education so that you are ready to grab the opportunity when the industry offers.

For the Institute it is opportunity to acquire faculty talent during the economic downturn. More important is to develop and retain the talent when competing forces claim the talent during the economic upturn.

The economic downturn has already brought some benefits. As the steel and cement prices mellow, the construction of the campus will be be somewhat cheaper.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hirakud and Heavy Engineering

I had an opportunity to visit Hirakud Dam in Sambalpur. There are a few thoughts that occurred to me.

One thought is the constant efforts of the Human being to tame nature. The Dam was built to contain floods which happen in the Mahanadi Delta. This effort is only partially successful as evident from the recent floods in 2008. We may or may not have tamed the nature but surely we are destroying it. Normally at this time in Sambalpur one should be freezing. The temperature is unbearably high at this time of the year. At this rate, one gets a feeling that all human activities including building dams will one day make the earth un-liveable.

I had a look at the powerhouse in Hirakud which produces clean electricity. The turbines, the generators, the sluice gates are huge and marvels of heavy engineering. You get to see iconic names like English Electric, MAN, Hitachi on the equipments. And missing were any Indian names. While we in the IT industry thrive on smallness of our design, the Hirakud presents a picture of everything mammoth and gigantic. IT has become synonymous with technology obliterating (in the popular perception) the existence of the other forms of engineering. While India has become a powerhouse in IT arena, we still have a long way to go in the Heavy Engineering towards becoming a world leader.

The Dam has a life of about 100 years and it is already 50 years old. As children we studied about the Hirakud and Bhakra-Nangal Dams and we thought that these are eternal structures. Hirakud has reached middle ages and perhaps will cease to exist in our life time. It is a very poignant thought that some thing as mighty as this will vanish before our eyes.

The Dam was built in eight years. Unbelievable, but it is true. This is a tribute to the spirit of newly born India that we could achieve such feat in such a small time.

There are lessons for us here. We must learn to celebrate the spirit of engineering. We must learn to co-exist with nature. We must achieve the speed at which Hirakud was built in constructing our campus. And, Build an Institution which will relevant in changing times.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


My favourite image viewer was Irfanview for several years. It can view pictures, crop, resize picture, create a slide show etc.

Couple of years ago, I adopted Picasa from Google. Picasa could organize pictures on your system like itunes did to music. It could create a slideshow while playing a background music. Most important feature is it can upload pictures on the Internet and create slideshows for the web. Last year in my rotary club , I presented the secretary's report as a picasa slide show with a Yanni piece in the background. It was an instant hit and got me outstanding secretary award in the district.

Photostory from microsoft was another nice software. It creates a movie out of pictures with a background music. When my wife Sanjukta presented secretary's report for the Innerwheel Club , I used Photostory to create it with some latin flute music.

A couple of month's ago I came across Fast Stone Image viewer. This can project a slide show on an extended display. I use my Samsung LCD TV as an extended display to my notebook. The presentation is very good.

When we started our new website, I told Susmita to cycle pictures to break the monotony of the website. She was curious to know how to do the photo editing. I told her about Irfan view, picasa etc. To get great effects, you will have to use Photoshop or some such software. Photoshop is really hard to master for amateurs.

Then, I came across a really cool piece of software Photoscape. You can do all kinds of stuff like put frames around pictures, round the edges, correct for backlight, stitch photos etc. I was floored by its abilities and simplicity of use. Susmita now uses this to give a facelift to the pictures in our website.

I have always believed that the good things in life are not expensive (like air, water and street food). It is absolutely true in case of software. All the cool pieces of software mentioned here are free (except Photoshop).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

M.Tech Admissions

We have started the M.Tech Admission process from today.

In different times, different levels of education are considered as the basic standard. During 1950s, passing Matriculation was considered as a very high qualification. Many mentioned their degree as MA (Matriculation Appeared but Failed). Even appearing for an examination was considered as a qualification. A person with matriculation would find a job easily in those days.

When we were doing engineering, B.Tech. was the final degree for many. Today, B.Tech. has become a basic degree for students. In good times, B.Tech. alone fetches a good job. However, as you grow, your are faced with the glass ceiling. In bad times, you may not get a job when you have completed your B.Tech. Degree. At that stage, one needs to differentiate from the rest with a good higher academic degree.

Hence, MBA and M.Tech. degrees are helpful. Acquiring the degree from a good institute which believes in rigorous education is more important.

By design, we have tried to bring rigour to our M.Tech. degree through a number of courses, seminars, projects and other pedagogical means. It is our objective to ensure that the two years should be a very memorable part of one's life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

BBC Click

I have followed a BBC programme Click Online. Now it is called as click. There is one section in the programme called webscape. This segment describes interesting websites. I have come across very interesting websites through BBC Click.

Last week it talked about a website . This website makes you an abstract digital artist in no time. The result of this website is amazing. You can save your master pieces in jpg format and use it else where. There is flickr site which has hosted some of these bomomo created images.

I was wondering what technology Bomomo is using. It did not appear to be flash or a java applet. It probably uses Ajax. I was impressed with its versatile and interactive abilities.

There were a few impressive websites with similar functions as bomomo. One such site was which provided a online sharable white board.

Using technology to enhance learning has been going on for ages. Present day technology perhaps has not been exploited enough for learning purpose.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How many beds per room

When we were discussing about the hostel design, One issue which came up is how many beds per room.

Both Prof. Ajit K Das and I have studied in single rooms (Single bedded really) in IIT Kharagpur. In IIMB, it was single rooms all the way. In XIMB, it was common to have single rooms.

However, we had studied in an era with few students (In my batch in IIT, we had 30 students in Electrical Department). It was also an era when Government made the education virtually free. Today, it is very different. The strength in a class is high. Hence, today in IITs, single rooms are no longer available. Investment per bed turns prohibitively high if you choose a single bedded. Hence accommodation charges will be high if we choose single bedded hostels.

Do different types education need types of hostels? We felt that under-graduate students will benefit from company in their room. A chum in the room will provide emotional and other forms of support which will be needed for young kids just out of home. However, post-graduate students being mature perhaps will benefit from solitude and privacy.

Hence, we felt that multi-format hostels capable of accomodating single bed and more than one bed would be a good idea. We will have a combination of single bedded, double bedded and triple bedded rooms to meet needs of different categories of students

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fraud at Satyam

Yesterday when I met Vishal Dev in IDCO, he asked me what is happening at Satyam. When I came home for lunch and switched on the TV, I realized what he meant. Satyam has committed the biggest Enron style fraud in the recent history. Ramalinga Raju has resigned as the chairman of Satyam.

Software Services Companies always (I think justifiabily) rode the moral high horse: no corruption, no frauds, no scams. This was possible as they did their business abroad.

They grew at breakneck speed. Look at the number of people working in TCS, Infosys, Wipro. The tyrnover, the profits grew at amazing rates for decades. The shareholders, the employees and others benefitted most and expected the companies to perform like this eternally.

How do you meet such high expectations? Satyam found the answer in cooking the account books. I hope that other companies are finding more ligitimate means.

Institute like ours focus on technology educations. I think time has now arrived to expose the students to the other side of technology: moral and ethical business practices, corporate governance. I hope that the future curriculum will educate the students to be good corporate citizens.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Green Campus

Last Sunday, TCS unveiled their campus in Bhubaneswar. I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Muthuraman, Mr. Ramdorai among others. In his address Ramdorai talked about the Green Building of TCS.

A few weeks ago, the Director of the Regional Museum of Natural History mentioned that in one year time the varity of butterflies has grown to over 100 in their campus. The butterflies live a full life cycle from caterpillar to butterfly. (The director was a Botanist)

IIIT campus has to be green: it should have plants and lawns. The buildings need to be green: we should consume less energy and emit less carbon dioxide. It should be an inviting place: it should invite intellectuals, and animals and birds. Since I hated zoology and botany when I was studying Biology, I really have no clue about the flora and fauna. We are consulting the people from the forest department and horticulture department to understand the idea of greening the campus.

I hope that IIIT campus will impress visitors its with its calm, green and full-of-life features rather than the steel-and-glass imposing structures and don't-come-near-me features.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Website

I love services of Google. I liked Google sites for its numerous features but specifically for its ability to integrate other google products like google docs, picasa etc.

Our website was getting a little monotonous with never-changing content and a little boring look. So I thought let's change the website using Google Sites.

In the last week of 2008, I played with Google sites to create the new IIIT website. My son Rahul who was on vacation was accomplice in this process often by being critical of the aesthetics. I spend my new year eve working hard on the website while others were partying hard. The Bloochip guys were unhappy because we were dumping their CMS for Google Sites.

I announced the arrival of the website to the Students. They loved it especially the parts where their photos appear :). Prof. Ajit K. Das liked the pages where there were photos of the Cricket Match (because his photo appears there?).

Ph.D. Programme

IIIT now has a decent faculty : 6 numbers. 3 of them hold doctoral degrees. Other three are on the verge of completion.

We feel that it is a good time to start our Ph.D. programme. It will be consistent with the objectives of the Institute. The programme should have a slow start rather than a kick start. It should be a low key affair rather than a fanfair.

To start with we should start with may be a couple of students. The entire institute will work with them to make it a worth while programme.

Rather than a symbolic programme, it will be a programme which will bring us respect among our peers for the quality and the rigour of the programme.