INDIAN ENGINEERING DESIGN FORUM

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19
June
2017

FinTech in India: Three Things to Note

Takeaways from a Singapore-India FinTech event at Bangalore

FinTech in India: Three Things to Note

I have to start with a disclaimer that I'm no expert in the area of FinTech. What I'm going to share here are some things I picked up at an event today where experts discussed FinTech in very specific terms. The event brought together the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and FinTech Valley Vizag, along with Bangalore start-ups and corporate delegates. MAS is partnering with the Andhra Pradesh government on a number of tech initiatives and FinTech is one of them. While Singapore is becoming the FinTech hub in Asia, Vizag is making bold moves to become the FinTech hub of India.

Three things stood out for me at the event:

  1. Beyond Payments
  2. Government Policy
  3. Skilled Manpower

2
June
2017

Why, How and What of Custom SoCs

An opinion

Why, How and What of Custom SoCs

Ever watched the Ted talk by Simon Sinek, How great leaders inspire actions? Not yet? Then I encourage you watch this 20-minute talk. This video covers the most fundamental thing that most companies fail to address: connecting with customers! Often companies focus on their products, going into details about the technical features, price, engineering innovation, etc. However, they fail to address the basic thing that is needed for a successful sale: Why they are offering the product? Answering this question bridges the gap between product and market. Revenue is an outcome, not the sole purpose of a company’s existence.

Let us take an example of a conventional sales pitch for the embedded computing platform: System on Module (SoM).

“We offer SoM that has a SoC, memory, power circuitry, Operating System, and BSPs, all integrated on a small form-factor board that offers you a platform for building your next embedded product”.

Sounds exciting? Well, it depends. However, it does not generate a great interest. Now, how about the following as a sales pitch?

18
May
2017

Power and Misuse: The Case Against Aadhaar

An opinion

Power and Misuse: The Case Against Aadhaar
Image source: Kumar, M., 2013, ‘Digital Privacy, Internet Surveillance, and The PRISM – Enemies of the Internet’, The Hacker News; Security in a Serious Way.

The world we have built around us is due to human ingenuity as well as engineering skills. Tools play an important role in this. It's not an exaggeration to say that most engineers think about the tools at their disposal before starting to give form to their ideas. To sculpt something, you need first good chisel and hammer. To build a bridge, you need precision measuring instruments. To dig a tunnel, you need a boring machine. In today's digital economy, you need connected servers, software platforms and algorithms.

Tools improve both efficiency and effectiveness. The problem with the use of tools is the intent. A knife can be used to cut fruit or to kill your neighbour. A cook and an arsonist use fire in very different ways. Now imagine what will happen when a powerful tool is created with bad intent but the public is told that it is for their good. Aadhaar seems to be in this category.

9
May
2017

The AWS Alphabet Soup

An opinion on the diversity of cloud services

The AWS Alphabet Soup

I've just returned from AWS Summit held at Taj Vivanta, Bangalore. It was a busy day of multiple back-to-back sessions interspersed with networking over tea, coffee and lunch. The venue was packed. The sessions were heavy, at least for someone like me who has never used AWS in any big way. I was familiar with some of the terms before coming to this event but I was surprised how much more there is to the AWS platform. They say that as a developer you can focus on developing your application while the cloud takes care of everything else: deployment, configuration, scaling, security, access control, monitoring, etc. While this is certainly true in the long term, as developers we need to put in upfront investment in terms of time and effort to understand the plethora of services that a particular cloud platform provides.

They say there are 90+ services in AWS. It's bad enough that developers need to aware of all these different services at their disposal. It's worse when you consider that making the choice of the right set of services for your application isn't trivial. This is particularly hard for folks used to only on-premise software built in monolithic fashion. We have to be really clear what we mean by the word "monolithic", which is usually not properly explained in such summits.

27
April
2017

Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature

Book Review

Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature

Author: Marcus du Sautoy
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008

Published first in the UK as Finding Moonshine, the first US edition got a title that a layman can relate to more easily. Symmetry is everywhere, in nature as well as in man-made objects. Symmetry gives balance and stability to structures. Symmetry is aesthetically pleasing just as lack of symmetry can be used cleverly to draw attention or to suggest that perfection must be left to the Gods. Flowers use symmetry to attract bees, whose vision has been honed to recognize patterns rather than colours. The way bees form their honeycombs is also symmetrical. Outward symmetry can sometimes hide inward asymmetry, as in the human body. Symmetry exists in the molecular structure of methane.

The way to explain symmetry is through mathematics and this book takes the reader through the journey of one specific branch of mathematics called group theory. In particular, the book is about the classification of finite simple groups (CFSG), which is the pinnacle of achievement in this branch. While mathematics is not every reader's cup of tea, this book simplifies the subject a great deal. Anecdotes make it entertaining. The book is also an insightful view into the world of mathematicians and how they work.

24
April
2017

The Story of UPI, So Far

Payments made easy

The Story of UPI, So Far

It was in December 2016 that the BHIM app was launched by our Prime Minister. BHIM couldn't have asked for better timing. It came at the heels of demonetization when all of India was focusing on cashless payments. Cash was in short supply and alternative means of payments were in demand. About two months later, YourStory carried a story about 27-year old Nikhil Kumar who had apparently built the BHIM app in just three weeks. A few days ago Nikhil Kumar spoke at a small gathering of enthusiasts at Thought Factory, Bangalore. I attended mostly to know about UPI and BHIM but also partly out of curiosity to see the man behind the app.

I am yet to install the BHIM app on my smartphone. While I'm not a Luddite who stands against the advance and adoption of technology, I'm certainly not an early adopter. Since I know the engineering side of things, experience tells me that early releases are prone to contain bugs. Particularly in today's world of MVP releases and lean/agile processes, no one waits for a well-tested product. First releases will certainly contain problems when test-driven methodologies are not followed; or test automation has been sidelined due to more pressing delivery deadlines. So I haven't been using BHIM but I certainly wanted to know what it was.

17
April
2017

RISC-V: Open Source Instruction Set Architecture

The new kid on the block

RISC-V: Open Source Instruction Set Architecture

The emerging IoT industry is an aggregation of products and services, complementing each other to enable efficiency and cost optimization in multiple industries. It does not have a vertically oriented value chain. IoT end nodes will be scattered in billions in various industries.

As mentioned in my earlier post ARM vs Intel: The new war frontiers, COTS processors will not be ideal for building these end nodes, as the latter are application specific. Companies would be inclined to adopt custom processors as they offer flexibility to assemble only required parts. These parts can include analogue sensor, DSP, proprietary IP, etc. Further, custom processors substantially reduce BoM cost and die size, which will minimize power dissipation. It also helps companies to differentiate their product from those of their competitors. In view of failing Moore’s Law, customization is the answer as it can reduce the BoM cost significantly.

5
April
2017

Artificial Intelligence: The Time Is Now

Takeaways from Intel AI Developer Workshop @ Bangalore

Artificial Intelligence: The Time Is Now
Images in this article are copyright of Intel.

I just returned from a full-day developer workshop organized by Intel. The focus was on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how Intel is contributing in mankind's best efforts to teach machines to sense, reason and decide. The event was a useful peek into what Intel is bringing to the table in terms of both hardware and software. Beyond that, it was not an event that I would call a developer workshop since there were no hands-on sessions, demos or even tips and tricks that developers can use. The event was structured as a line of talks in order to bring awareness of Intel's involvement in AI and where the market is headed.

AI originated in the 1950s but it was only in the 1980s when Machine Learning (ML) came about that people started to think it might be possible to realize AI. Machines can be trained and then asked to solve problems. Their algorithms could be tweaked as they learn and relearn with more sets of data. Deep Learning (DL) came about as a sub-branch of ML, where neural networks became the basis of learning. DL has brought us closer to the dream of realizing AI but DL alone did not achieve this.

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