Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Seeyon Sanchari on the Autobahn

Imagine you are one of those NRIs driving down the Autobahn in your second hand Mercedes and all of a sudden you feel home sick. You need something that makes you feel like you're back home, on the sands of the Pampa accompanying grandma to the Maramon convention. So you say, "Edi, do you have any Maramon convention songs." Your Personal Computer, actually a software agent residing in what looks like a mobile phone, understands that you are talking to it because there is no body else in the car. The phone searches through your music collection but finds nothing because that’s not the kind of music you usually listen to. So it does a search of Internet radio stations and finds one that’s playing a song from last year's Maramon album. You are not wearing your wireless stereo headphones, so the phone routes the music to the car's music system instead. “Thanks”, you whisper. The phone feels happy.

Phones with feelings are a bit farfetched for now. The rest of it is on the drawing board and may happen in the foreseeable future. But you won't have to wait too long for Internet radio on the mobile. Infact, the technology is already here but adoption has been limited due to the high cost of mobile internet access in most parts of the world. Think about it. Listening to the radio is the most natural thing to do with a mobile device. Not reading the newspaper. Not even watching the latest video posted on YouTube. Audio is what the mobile phone was made for. And as mobile broadband technologies mature in the next few years, this is where a lot of the action is going to be.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A bit of satire and very little else

I was just going through my previous posts and realized that some people might possibly, probably, just maybe, find my blog too serious and boring. So here is a small story. It is meant to be funny.

Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fiction, et cetera.

Once upon a time, there lived a maharaja who had five elephants and a mahout to manage them. Then one day, after much deliberation and contemplation, this mahout decided to pursue opportunities outside the country. So the maharaja had to hire a new mahout. He called together the finest head hunters and sent them out on a mission to find a replacement. After searching far and wide, sifting through numerous applications and going through endless rounds of interviews, they offered the job to a candidate who had more than ten years of experience managing a much larger team consisting of fifty goats and thirty cows. The king was pleased, the head hunters were praised and the newly appointed mahout couldn't wait to start on his new job.

The new mahout started by briefing the elephants about his extensive experience, and how he planned to draw on it to bring in new processes to fix quality problems. To reduce costs, he moved the elephants to a cow shed and changed their diet to dry grass. Based on his previous experience he set up a biogas plant to convert the elephant dung to biofuel. He exhorted the elephants to take ownership of the project and produce more dung. The maharaja was pleased with the new process and honored the mahout for his achievements. But when it was time for the annual appraisal, the mahout gave the elephants a bad rating ostensibly because they did not produce any milk. To add insult to injury, he accused them of being too fat. Eventually, the elephants also decided to pursue opportunities outside the country

But the mahout wasn’t the least bit perturbed. He successfully managed attrition by hiring a few cows and goats. When it was time for the maharaja’s annual procession through the city, the mahout brought the meekest of the goats to the maharaja and managed to convince him that it was an elephant. The maharaja believed the mahout. After all, the mahout was supposed to be the expert on elephants and he should know. No one dared to tell the maharaja that he was being taken for a ride. A little boy tried but he was promptly exiled for his efforts. Halfway through the procession, the goat could not bear the weight any longer and collapsed. The maharaja fell down and broke his crown. And all the maharaja’s men couldn’t put it back together.

End of satirical rant.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


This is about a little experiment that could change the meaning of the word 'wireless'. Even the coolest mobile device today is not truly wireless. Every once in a while, you have to plug it into a wall. And thats the end of mobility. Fortunately, someone decided to do something about it.

Late one night, Marin Soljacic, found himself standing by the kitchen counter in his pyjamas staring at a mobile phone. As he recalls, this was probably the sixth time in that month that he was awakened by his cell phone beeping to let him know that he had forgotten to charge it. And he wondered what a better world it would be if the thing could just take care of its own charging.

After much research, his team at MIT have set up an experiment to show that magnetically coupled resonators, basically just copper coils, can be used to wirelessly light a bulb over a distance of a few meters. Now, why didn't anybody think of that before?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Traveler's Dilemma

Recently happened to read this article on the Traveler's Dilemma by its inventor Kaushik Basu. My take on the game is that it is important to appreciate that fact that one traveler does not know if the other will behave rationally and choose the Nash equilibrium. In the absence of this information, it is possible to abstract it out and say that the other person will act randomly. Now if the other traveler chooses a purely random number, it becomes possible for the first player to choose a number that will give her the highest mathematical probability of gain.

If one has to choose a number between 2 and 100 with +/-2 being the reward/penalty, one gets the highest probability of gain by choosing 100. On the other hand, if one has to choose a number between 90 and 100 with +/-90 being the reward/penalty, one gets the highest probability of gain by choosing 90. In both cases, these numbers would be the first emotional response as well.

PS: In game theory, agents are assumed to be rational (AFAIK).