Saturday 14 June 2008

Financial Express: Sand to Silicon

Intel’s India Plans Got Shot Down Once

Sunday , February 15, 2004
http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Intels-India-Plans-Got-Shot-Down-Once/99360/0
Chitra Phadnis, Financial Express
In today’s world, all of us are users of high technology. Most of us are familiar with the jargon and perhaps some of us even flaunt it without a proper understanding of what all of it is really about. For someone, who would like to know how the World Wide Web came into being, or what a chip really does, Mr Shivanand Kanavi’s maiden book, Sand To Silicon has all the answers.

Mr Kanavi, now executive editor of Business India, is a “theoretical physicist” from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, who writes frequently on business and technology. He has in the past, also been a lecturer and a development consul- tant. He attempts a ‘‘pop’’ history of digital technology — the pop part of it surprisingly easy to understand, considering the complexity of the subject. The book may not be everyone’s idea of bed-time reading, but it does explain the evolution of computing, communication and convergence, the history of micro electronics, starting with the semicondutor and how the chip came into being, followed by the computer and the PC (personal computer) and finally networking, telecommunications and the Internet, as we know them.

Mr Kanavi simplifies technology for the common man, using ordinary, if unusual, metaphors. The chip manufacturing process, for instance, is likened to stencil printing, writing on a grain of rice and layering a cake. The easy writing obviously comes from Mr Kanavi’s understanding of the subject, the enormous research and work that has gone into the book, and the fact that he has been a technology journalist for the last ten years.

A couple of things do strike the reader about his style.

This is not just a technology expert writing a smart book, targeted at an international readership. Mr Kanavi seems to be proud to be an Indian. His book is international enough to be about technology in general, but he takes care to underscore the Indian contribution to global advances in technology.

The book is very Indian in experience too, as Mr Kanavi writes of the tremendous strides in telecommunications the country has made. He manages to draw out a smile too sometimes, with for instance, his description of the classic “trunk call” of 20 years ago. Remember how people booked calls, waited to be connected through an operator, shouted conversations into the telephone, and then wasted precious time asking the guy at the other end if they could be heard? That story also drives home the huge leaps that have taken place in technology since.

There are other tidbits of information, like how the Indian government rejected a proposal from Intel to set up a chip company in the 1960s. (Ironically, today it is wooing the company for more investments.) Attitudes such as this created the dichotomy between Indians and India, he says, pointing out that while individuals have always done well in technology when they went abroad, their growth had been stunted within the country, by various restrictions.

The book has been sponsored by The Tata Group, which “supported the author financially during the research and writing of the book”. The foreword by the sponsors describes it as a “commemorative tribute” to Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, “the visionary who laid the foundation of modern Indian industry” and Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, “who reached out to new frontiers in industry and technology”. The book does indeed look at the evolution of digital technology from the beginning of the 20th Century.

In the preface, Mr Kanavi says that he proposes to use an ‘‘informal walk about style’’ and ‘‘chat’’ about technology — a promise that he delivers on.

Financial Express: Book Review Sand to Silicon

Intel’s India Plans Got Shot Down Once

Sunday , February 15, 2004
Chitra Phadnis, Financial Express

In today’s world, all of us are users of high technology. Most of us are familiar with the jargon and perhaps some of us even flaunt it without a proper understanding of what all of it is really about. For someone, who would like to know how the World Wide Web came into being, or what a chip really does, Mr Shivanand Kanavi’s maiden book, Sand To Silicon has all the answers.

Mr Kanavi, now executive editor of Business India, is a “theoretical physicist” from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, who writes frequently on business and technology. He has in the past, also been a lecturer and a development consul- tant. He attempts a ‘‘pop’’ history of digital technology — the pop part of it surprisingly easy to understand, considering the complexity of the subject. The book may not be everyone’s idea of bed-time reading, but it does explain the evolution of computing, communication and convergence, the history of micro electronics, starting with the semicondutor and how the chip came into being, followed by the computer and the PC (personal computer) and finally networking, telecommunications and the Internet, as we know them.

Mr Kanavi simplifies technology for the common man, using ordinary, if unusual, metaphors. The chip manufacturing process, for instance, is likened to stencil printing, writing on a grain of rice and layering a cake. The easy writing obviously comes from Mr Kanavi’s understanding of the subject, the enormous research and work that has gone into the book, and the fact that he has been a technology journalist for the last ten years.

A couple of things do strike the reader about his style.

This is not just a technology expert writing a smart book, targeted at an international readership. Mr Kanavi seems to be proud to be an Indian. His book is international enough to be about technology in general, but he takes care to underscore the Indian contribution to global advances in technology.

The book is very Indian in experience too, as Mr Kanavi writes of the tremendous strides in telecommunications the country has made. He manages to draw out a smile too sometimes, with for instance, his description of the classic “trunk call” of 20 years ago. Remember how people booked calls, waited to be connected through an operator, shouted conversations into the telephone, and then wasted precious time asking the guy at the other end if they could be heard? That story also drives home the huge leaps that have taken place in technology since.

There are other tidbits of information, like how the Indian government rejected a proposal from Intel to set up a chip company in the 1960s. (Ironically, today it is wooing the company for more investments.) Attitudes such as this created the dichotomy between Indians and India, he says, pointing out that while individuals have always done well in technology when they went abroad, their growth had been stunted within the country, by various restrictions.

The book has been sponsored by The Tata Group, which “supported the author financially during the research and writing of the book”. The foreword by the sponsors describes it as a “commemorative tribute” to Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, “the visionary who laid the foundation of modern Indian industry” and Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, “who reached out to new frontiers in industry and technology”. The book does indeed look at the evolution of digital technology from the beginning of the 20th Century.

In the preface, Mr Kanavi says that he proposes to use an ‘‘informal walk about style’’ and ‘‘chat’’ about technology — a promise that he delivers on.

The Hindu, Sand to Silicon

India shining? IT's there, everywhere!

http://www.hindu.com/seta/2003/12/25/stories/2003122500241600.htm

These are strange times, when the global media speaks of `India rising' and discusses the `threat' posed by Indian technology to the West. In this year end appraisal, Anand Parthasarathy finds Indian ingenuity all across the IT spectrum .

BIHAR'S MOST colourful politician is credited with the memorable question: `Yeh IT, YT kya hai? Will it bring rain to the drought stricken?' Clearly, it cannot, but thirty years into the computer revolution, we are fairly confident that it can help us manage our drought relief programmes better. That is because, late starter though India was, it has carved out its own special space in the Information Technology (IT) arena and Indian expertise and talent drives key sectors of the computers-and-communication business worldwide.

A new book, out last week, chronicles possibly for the first time — the story from a `desi' perspective and weaves Indian achievers and achievements into the very fabric of IT and its brief international history. Sand to Silicon: The Amazing Story of Digital Technology is the work of technology journalist Shivanand Kanavi, currently Executive Editor of Business India magazine. It is published by Tata McGraw-Hill (www.tatamcgrawhill.com), costs Rs. 295, and reading it, will make every Indian proud.

While tracing key developments in semiconductor and computer technology, Mr Kanavi repeatedly reminds readers of Indian contributions that tend to get overlooked: Jagdish Chandra Bose created a semiconductor microwave detector using iron and mercury in his lab in Kolkata in 1897, the year Marconi used a version in his wireless radio receiver.

When Neville Mott received the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work in solid-state electronics, he remarked "Bose was at least 60 years ahead of his time." In the 1980s, while the first microprocessors went under the hoods of the first personal computers, Pallab Chatterjee at Texas Instruments was honing the technology to pack more transistors on to a slab of silicon and Tom Kailath at Stanford University developed the signal processing to compensate for the effect of `masking' during chip production.

Kanavi reminds us of the work of Indians behind key milestones in computer history: Vinod Khosla co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982, a company that created the PC workstation. Vinod Dham at Intel, created that company's most successful chip ever — the Pentium. The book pays tribute to pioneers of mainframe computer programming in India — R. Narasimhan at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR); H. Kesavan and V. Rajaraman of IIT Kanpur... a tradition that continued into the 21st century when in August 2002, Manindra Agrawal of the same IIT, with two students, won global recognition for solving the centuries-old problem of how to test for prime numbers.

The foray into Indian language computing aids was led by Mohan Tambe at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) while it is rarely appreciated that a significant part in the development of that industry-standard presentation software, Powerpoint, was played by Vijay Vashee at Microsoft. The birth of the Internet spawned a new generation of Indian technologists like Sabeer Bhatia who created the Web's first free email service, Hotmail; Arun Netravali, now Chief Scientist at Lucent Technologies, who provided key building blocks for video streaming and digital satellite TV, and N. Jayant of Bell Labs who helped create the MPEG standard for audio compression.

One could go on and on, digging such fascinating facts from Kanavi's Indian `take' on global technology. Rather than lifting large chunks from his work, let me share with readers a few bits of `thaja khabar' emanating from India's silicon city, Bangalore in recent days. These days, every other announcement of a new IT development seems to involve Indian ingenuity somewhere in the process... often in the unlikeliest corners.
Consider:
* In Mumbai, recently during the Intel Developer Forum, I bumped into Krishna Srinivasan, Executive Vice President of Sandhill Systems, an Indian IT company based in San Jose, California (U.S.). His core work is an example of e-governance osmosis in reverse. Sandhill has created E-Forms and a complimentary server, `SubmitIT' that key US federal departments are using for the electronic capture and transmission of a variety of citizen forms.

* When P.V. Kannan, founder CEO of the California- based 24/7 Customer, voice and email-based support services player told me last week that his company boasted 20 master Black Belts, I wondered when Karate had became a qualification in the call centre. I soon realized he was taking of the Six Sigma Black Belt given for quality of service, not kicks. The company is the first Indian contact centre ever, to receive the ISO 9002 certification.

* Another US Silicon Valley-based company, SiNett Semiconductors, will soon unveil the world's first multi gigabit System on a Chip (SoC) for wireless networking applications... with 150 million transistors on board. Last week co founder and CEO Shiri Kadambi was in Bangalore to help set up an R&D centre here.

* Two graduate students from the Karnataka Regional Engineering College Aravind Melligeri and Ajit Prabhu founded QuEST in Schenectady, New York. Today, the company provides critical solutions in aerospace, automotive and power generation industry leaders. Their crash analysis work is used by leading manufacturers in Detroit to build better cars. Their testing and analysis of aero engine turbines, bolsters new designs that roll out from GE, Pratt and Whitney and other globally respected brand names that go into the Boeing and other passenger aircraft. And 80 per cent of their engineering muscle is located at Whitefield, Bangalore.

* When Hewlett Packard decided to participate at the Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) expo at the UN- sponsored World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva earlier this month, they decided to project some of the exciting initiatives in their `e-inclusion' programme .. to take IT to the rural heartland of the world's developing nations. So what was the key exhibit? Scriptmail, a handy device on which one can scribble a message in Kannada or Hindi or Telugu and see it converted into machine readable format and then emailed so that it can then be received and seen exactly the way it was entered. The product was developed at HP Labs, Bangalore, by Indian engineers.

As the Net becomes all pervasive, so seemingly is the inventive reach of Indian ingenuity. And on the global IT road map, each of these developments is one more meaningful signpost for a nation whose earthy goals were elegantly expressed by her most fervent techno-evangelist, the late Dewang Mehta: ` Roti, kapda, makaan, bijlee aur bandwidth.'

Friday 13 June 2008

Profile: Asian Age


Realising the digital dream

By Jayalakshmi Menon
Asian Age, Dec 9, 2003

"In India, we had only screwdriver technology, where everything was merely assembled, not invented or manufactured. It is really weird how we do nothing and blame everything on our country. I have heard business presentations where every member has a global vision, but when speaking of the Indian perspective, the common opening statement employed is. ‘But in a country like India…., mouthing the collective pessimism in which we drown development in India,” says Shivanand Kanavi, first-time author and executive editor of Business India.

Clear observations, facts and research-based information form the essence of his first book, Sand to Silicon. He traces the history of the expedition that has made information technology and communications central to modern existence. “There are three aspects to this book, it gives the popular exposition on technology, highlights the Indian contribution in the revolution and the impact of technology on the lives of people,” he explains.

With 300 years of history to be told, Kanavi’s approach has been “slightly evangelical.” As he asserts, “I want the word of technological developments to spread across to people young and old. So I have used simple terms and language to explain technological advances to readers.”

Kanavi has mixed feelings about becoming an author. He says, “ Journalism and authorship is a lonely form of communication because you don’t get to see the result or people’s reaction to what you write. I remember bribing colleagues to read my article, when I was new in journalism,” he laughs.

Sand to Silicon covers the entire gamut of developments in semiconductors, fibre optics, telecommunications, optical technology and the Internet, while highlighting the achievement of people, who played a crucial role in giving life to the digital dream. Sand to Silicon also focuses on the role played by Indian scientists and engineers in the evolution of the digital revolution.

Kanavi comes from a family of well-known Kannada writers, but brushes aside talk of literary genius. “I had a very liberal, hands-off kind of upbringing. I attended several literary conferences and grew up in an environment where I was allowed to read a lot.”

The book also pays homage to the role played by two Indian institutions, ISRO and C-DOT, in promoting research and development in technology, in India. Interestingly, Sand to Silicon has a chapter on the role of Bangalore. India’s IT capital and home to the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, which as Kanavi asserts, was one of the first universities in the world which offered a Ph.D. in communication technology. On his future course of action, Kanavi adds, “I have two or three books planned out. One will be about quantum mechanics and another on the Bhakti movement in India. Let’s wait and see how things shape up.”

Sand to Silicon, Review-Val Souza

In the byroads of Basavanagudi
Val Souza,
Editor, Express Computers
http://www.expresscomputeronline.com/20040209/opinion01.shtml

Ten years ago, when software methodology maharishi Ed Yourdon visited India, he wrote about India’s software industry having matured into what he called “Stage-2”—wherein the Indian pitch had changed from one of bodyshopping of cheap programmers for onsite software coding and maintenance, to one touting high-quality offshore software development “on time, on budget and with a high degree of predictability.” He bemoaned the fact that India was however far from his definition of “Stage-3”, in which software products are produced and marketed extensively by the local software industry.

A decade on, we don’t seem to have moved far ahead on the Stage-3 track, and I don’t think we will ever see a proprietary, packaged desktop software bestseller (such as a Word or a PhotoShop) emerging from a company in this part of the world. But no longer does that seem the nagging worry it used to be not so long ago. Even Yourdon, who has since been inducted into the Computer Hall of Fame (and the Board of iGATE), has altered his views significantly. He was recently quoted in a Cutter Consortium release as saying: “The next razzle-dazzle technology may be created in Bangalore… Bangalore also has some very hungry, very ambitious entrepreneurs… the next generation of Indian IT professionals firmly believes that the US no longer has a monopoly on innovation.”

Indeed, we’ve come a long way since the $350 million mid-nineties. Several billion dollars later, services still contribute a large chunk to revenues. But in the interim, we’ve got offshoring pretty much down pat and the industry is moving up to speed on its global delivery model; services are being offered at various levels of the famed value-chain, with business process outsourcing thrown in for good measure too. ‘Back Office of the World’ is nothing to be ashamed of, seeing as it’s bringing in billions of bucks and keeping a cool million of our folk gainfully occupied.

Actually, even if you are determined to find fault and remain ashamed regardless of the magnitude of India’s software services success, you can now take heart in other things—hardly a week goes by without another announcement of another global software company setting up R&D shop or moving part of its product development work out here. We have software product development by proxy, if you will. And homegrown companies are merrily joining the fray, making Bangalore and other cities a hotbed of research in chip design, embedded systems and similar esoteric stuff. The trickle is yet to build up into a flood, but the juggernaut is unstoppable now.

That’s why there’s a growing feeling that America doesn’t have a monopoly on the Next Big Thing in digital tech any longer. No one knows what it’s going to be, but it’s somewhere down the road, and that road could well be in India.

Anyway Indians have contributed in the past, directly and indirectly, to several Big Things of the digital revolution. But apart from a handful like Sabeer Bhatia, Vinod Khosla, Kanwal Rekhi and others who’ve made big bucks, they’ve remained largely unsung heroes. Until now. Shivanand Kanavi’s book, Sand to Silicon—The Amazing Story of Digital Technology, sets right that wrong quite adequately indeed.

Kanavi traces the evolution of Information Technology from the early days of valves, transistors, and semiconductors, through to the invention and development of the integrated circuit, personal computers, the Internet, fibre optics and the complete digital convergence of computing and communications technologies. Such historical accounts are widely available on the Net, but Kanavi has a unique twist to the tale—he repaints digital history from the perspective of the contribution of myriad brilliant Indian scientists, researchers, academicians and entrepreneurs, all of whom played a critical role in technological breakthroughs that have made IT what it is today.

Have you heard of Narinder Singh Kapany? I hadn’t. Turns out he carried out pioneering experiments with optical fibres and actually coined the term ‘fibre optics’ in the 50s. It was only in 1999 that he was recognised, by Fortune magazine, as one of seven unsung heroes who have greatly influenced life in the twentieth century. Innumerable Indian scientists have been key members of research teams at Stanford, Xerox PARC, IBM, Texas Instruments, Bell Labs, Intel, etc, and the contributions of many of them are mentioned in the book. While Kanavi has concentrated on explaining the technologies in detail, one would have also liked to see more graphic biographical sketches of all the great Indians covered—especially since the author spent about six months meeting and interviewing them. Perhaps he’s reserving all that for the sequel.

The book mentions the award-winning exploits of a few individuals like Raj Reddy (Turing Award), Praveen Chaudhari (US National Technology Medal), C K N Patel (US National Medal of Science) and Bala Manian (technical Oscar), but Kanavi clarifies that technology creation and evolution has largely been a collective effort rather than “the romantic mythology of a few oracles spouting pearls of wisdom, or flamboyant whizkids making quick billions.”

Which brings us to IT in India. A few names stand out from the very recent past: R Narasimhan, H Kesavan, V Rajaraman, N Yegnanarayana, Sam Pitroda. And a few more are contemporary: Mohan Tambe, Ashok Jhunjhunwala and Manindra Agrawal, to name just three. But the next chapter in the amazing story of digital technology could well be unfolding right now somewhere in the byroads of Basavanagudi in Bangalore. Or, as Ed Yourdon recently stated: Maybe in Pune or Hyderabad or Chennai, for all you know…