Category Archives: Accessibility

Belling the Cat

New York. London. Belfast.

A random pick of three news items, each of which discusses the public availability of free wireless connectivity in mass transit systems. In London and New York, the service provider is a third-party private, for-profit, agency, while it is not mentioned in the article on northern Ireland, but seems to be the transit company itself.

Now, as many people would know, wifi is not currently the most protected and secure wireless connectivity option possible, but nearly all modern portable devices can connect to it ‘out of the box’. Continue reading

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Filed under Accessibility, Communication, Community, connectivity, Democracy, development, Radio, Self-help, Wi-Fi

Privacy is a public concern

March began interestingly for me this year, with two big meetings back-to-back, in Panglao, a tiny island in the Philippines. The first was with Privacy International, the London-based public service PI_Gang_Panglao.pngorganisation. It has worked tirelessly for over two decades to keep public awareness of personal privacy rights.

Surprisingly, for most people who hardly ever need to think twice about such an obvious attribute of free people, this right is fast vanishing around the world, and most dismayingly, in democratic countries. Continue reading

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Filed under Accessibility, Blogroll, broadband, Broadcast, Communication, Community, connectivity, Democracy, development, Education, energy, governance, Holistic, Internet, Media, Privacy, Security, social processes, technology, UID

Rules and Misrules

At the very tag-end of 2008, an extraordinary event took place. India’s Parliament met for a stormy Winter Session, during which little of note was discussed, and little value was added to the fabric of society. And then, as the Session was drawing to a close, a number of Bills were brought up for voting, and within a few minutes, with little or no words exchanged, they were passed in toto.

The utter disregard of the country and its people implicit in this kind of facile performance is stunning and salutary, especially in light of the public agitation that has spread across northern Africa and parts of Asia, with citizens of many countries taking to the streets to express their disgust at the way that they have been taken for granted, by governments and leaders that claim to have their best interests at heart. Some of the perpetrators of such callousness now find themselves scrabbling to escape, together with untold amounts of wealth stolen from their hapless countries.

That the Indian public has so far been a little more forgiving of such small degradations is a current feature, not a guarantee.

Today, February 28, 2011, I am trying to be equally forgiving. Continue reading

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Studying the Foundation

The UIDAI project is arguably one of the biggest initiatives, in both scope and cost, undertaken in independent India, without any of the expected norms of prudence (oversight) and democratic consensus. Variously estimated to cost anywhere between Rs 40,000 and Rs 150,000 cr (INR), which is roughly equivalent to about USD 1 bn to USD 15bn, it has been kicked off with a Cabinet-sanctioned budget of Rs 1,900 cr (ie about USD 50mn) this fiscal (Apr10-Mar11). The budget is believed to be somewhat of a smokescreen, as it does not appear to include moneys taken from other agencies. However, the lack of clarity about money is not the only issue, as the project has been cleverly positioned within the Planning Commission, an arm’s-length agency charged with perspective planning for the country, which is independent of the usual line of command. As a result, the project has neither Parliamentary sanction nor even a (temporary) Ordinance.

The UID project is in many ways a global watershed, expecting to assign a unique number to every resident of the country, well over 1.2 bn people, a staggering concept, the scale of which has itself been used to justify taking on the project (by equating the immensity of the challenge to its worth). Considering my association with Privacy International, my concern is well-founded on grounds of potential destruction of personal privacy, but this is a very difficult viewpoint to defend in India, which does not have a specific privacy law, and for which the existing Constitutional protections (alluded to, not spelt out) have not always been strongly defended by Indian courts.

An international project, studying Privacy in Asia, seeks to ameliorate this situation, by getting to grips with comprehending Indian attitudes (ie, within the ambit of Asian attitudes). However, given that the UID project is gathering steam and proceeding willy-nilly, it is imperative to make every effort to bring it to a halt, at least a temporary halt, until sufficient information is available. Continue reading

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Doing less with more, or, fossil fools

I know. That could be about just about anything we humans do with the natural resources at our disposal – except manage the residue, it seems.

But this post is about spectrum usage, and energy. Odd combination. Eager readers of my tireless prose might wonder, since I have already posted here about alternate energy conversion routes, and about spectrum, at length (friends assure me it is entirely too much length, in fact. As Garth Brooks put it, I’ve got friends. On the other hand, maybe I don’t have a lot of readers).

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Filed under Accessibility, Blogroll, broadband, Communication, Community, development, energy, Fossil Fuels, Radio, social processes, Wind Power

Size matters

Not long ago, the nation of India decided it was mature enough to allow people to communicate with each other, even poor people (of which there are, as it happens, still a few). Not just talking, which is more or less a habit, but using high quality electronic telecommunications, of which the very cheapest is FM (frequency modulated radio broadcasting, using the medium wave band). Continue reading

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Filed under Accessibility, Broadcast, Communication, Community, Democracy, development, Media, Narrowcast, Radio, Security, Self-help

Primative Communication

For quite a while, many years, I would say, I have assumed speech to be a pretty level playing field factor for HCI (vis-a-vis human computer interface design), and much of the work Arun and I have done, even the “name” we used to do this work (Radiophony), implied “speech” as a deliverable.

Two interesting snippets makes me feel a rethink is worthwhile. As primates, the evolution of our collection of species is exceedingly communication-centric, and no species on earth has developed communication more complexly and richly than humans. Continue reading

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Money doesn’t Grow on Trees

“One could make this argument [with TRAI]“, says my friend Dr Arun Mehta, “that the people who need it most are being denied mobile phone value added services.” We have been discussing, on the India-GII mail list, the enabling of money transfers through mobile devices.

But TRAI cannot act in this matter, unfortunately, and that’s to do with the implementation of the capital system (not political, I mean the nuts and bolts of the system). This blogpost looks at why, but (since it is difficult to shut me up once I have got started) it goes further, to chalking out a scenario where virtual cash rules.
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Filed under Accessibility, Communication, connectivity, Democracy, development, governance, Privacy, Security, Smart Cash, social processes, technology

Missing the Woods for the Trees?

An interesting new study has kicked off in Belfast, Ireland, says this news item. Under the broad aegis of the Queen’s College project called SEMAINE, SAL, the Sensitive Artificial Listener, will be designed to sense the unspoken (ie non-verbal) signals that characterise what most humans use whilst communicating. I haven’t found out just what the longer acronym means yet, but it possibly derives from ‘SEnsory MAchine Interaction Network on Emotion’, since its earlier counterpart HUMAINE, led by the same Belfast researcher, apparently means ‘HUman MAchine Interaction Network on Emotion’.

The news appears in another magazine also, curiously similar, veritably identical in fact. What does that say about human communication, eh? Continue reading

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Less Power, More Power

A Little Energy Goes a Long Way

Somehow the concepts of ‘less is more’ and ‘small is beautiful’ do not ring out loud and clear in the community networking environment. Perhaps they are just too obvious: however, I suspect that for urban-focused networks, with their routers and access points dangling from eaves and out of windows, drawing energy from house utility connections, it is really irrelevant.

In the countryside, things are different. Networks stretch across the kilometers, lonely towers in remote spots relaying signals between clusters of homes, over jungle and desert, from hilltop to distant peak and down to the shaded valley below. In this scenario, efficient power solutions mean less money spent on expensive solar power, generated locally and guarded from the depredations of monkeys and men.

Needless to say, the deliverable goes further. In older systems of information delivery, mankind sought to create efficiency by centralising content creation in one place, transmitting across the world with megawatt transmitters, pumping powerful shortwave signals across the world. What price such efficiency, focusing on the packaging till the words became meaningless, the songs capsuled till the music couldn’t be heard.

How many times have I heard techies and engineers shake their heads and mutter, “There has to be a better way“? In the world of information exchange, evolved and transforming the age-old traditions of information dissemination, we find a semantic that neatly divides the e-Generation from its elders and [not-so-?]betters.

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