India’s maiden moon mission which terminated prematurely is now showing results which support’s ISRO’s claim of mission success.

Moon Chandrayaan-1, India’s mission to moon has found damp soil which confirms the existence of water near the polar regions of the moon. The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) calls this as a major breakthrough that international space scientists were waiting for in order to kick start the moon exploration program again.

The discovery was made using a Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument built by NASA to go onboard Chandrayaan-1. It is being thought that considerable deposits of water could be available around the poles of the moon. Speculations are on that moon has 1 litre of water in every tonne of soil.

This can be a very important discovery for the future of space missions as the moon can now serve as a base for the future deep space explorations. It is relatively easy to extract oxygen from water molecules and this oxygen can be useful to sustain life on moon for longer durations or to fuel the long distance rockets. Also building a space station can be relatively cheaper as compared to building and sustaining the International Space Station (ISS) which is essentially a spacecraft suspended in space. But on the other hand the conditions on Moon are pretty hostile, so techniques to survive and sustain research labs on Moon can help us in a longer run to learn how to handle some of the challenges we face while moving into deep space.

The astronauts from Apollo missions brought back samples of rock which showed some traces of water, however it was considered to be contamination from Earth as the containers in which they were brought had leaked and considering the bone dry nature of rocks from Moon they would have a greater affinity to absorb moisture from atmosphere.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft which passed by Moon in 1999 on it’s way to Saturn provided signals showing detection of water/hydroxyl. The Cassini data shows a global distribution of water signal with the stronger signals received from the poles.

The Deep Impact spacecraft, as part of its extended EPOXI mission and at the request of the M3 team, made infrared detections of water and hydroxyl as part of a calibration exercise during several close approaches of the Earth-Moon system en route to its planned flyby of comet 103P/Hartley 2 in November 2010.

The signals from three different instruments on board Chandrayaan-1, Cassini and Deep Impact Spacecraft answers questions that scientists have been long looking for.

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Ever since the “push” became the buzz word for iPhone 3.0 OS, I was curious to find out how the push notifications worked with iPhone. My initial thought was that, iPhone needed a dedicated push server visible within the operator network, just like Blackberry, but then how did iTouch used the same apps and still used the push notifications for the Wi-Fi. I began investigating and found a cool technique that Apple implemented for it’s push notifications, but I also found out a few things that I really didn’t like.

Why Push?

There is an inherent problem with the iPhone OS and the problem is that there is no “backgrounding” on iPhone, which means unlike other smart phones, the apps don’t run in background on iPhone when you exit them. This effected applications for iPhone which needed constant polling with a publication server. E.g. a RSS reader application won’t be able to poll the feeds for the new updates from the phone. To read the feeds, the user will have to open the application and manually fetch the feeds. To address the issue Apple came up with a smarter approach. They implemented push mechanism for iPhone.

Poll vs Push

An application constantly running in the background of your phone and polling for feeds or updates causes battery consumption. So if you have multiple applications doing the polling from your mobile device, your battery might get drained pretty quickly than you expect. Push however doesn’t implement the poll mechanism and you get updates as it happens.

So how does the “push” work in iPhone?

Okay, consider this, you have an application on iPhone which enables to have the push mail experience for your Gmail or AOL or any of your home grown IMAP email server. Here is a representation of how “push” mechanism would work with iPhone.

 

iPhonePush

Apple implements an intermediate server (under their own control and not under operators control or visibility) called as the Push Notification Server (PNS). The device (iPhone) maintains a constant TCP/IP connection with this server. The application developers server (or the 3rd Party Server) maintains a session with the mail server. When a new mail arrives an alert will be sent from the application developer’s server to the PNS which then pushes it to the iPhone 3.0 through the open TCP/IP socket connection. So if you had a RSS reader application, to have notifications sent to you automatically as update on a feed is available, the application developer will need to constantly monitor the feeds and notify the PNS as anything happens.

Essentially what Apple has done is moved the polling or processing need from iPhone to an intermediate level called the “App Developers Server”.

Sure this approach works for the battery benefits where background applications can claim as much as 80% of battery drain as compared to 20% on Push notifications using Apple’s technique. However the way I see it, there are some issues.

So what are the issues?

The first issue that I see from an application developer stand point is that, if I had to write a RSS reader type of application then I would have to deploy my own backend server which would monitor the feeds for the end users and notify PNS to have notifications on updates. Basically not all applications really need a backend service, but with this technique that additional layer has to be implemented. So if the number of users for my applications grow, I’ll need to setup a server farm and to recover the cost I’ll need to increase the cost of my application or charge the user a service fee which is not good either for me nor for the user.

The second and most concerning issue that bothers me is, privacy issue. Well if a third party application developer needed to constantly monitor your inbox or IM or even the RSS feeds, then it would need your credentials to establish and maintain a session with the actual mail server/chat server or should know exact feed URLs so that it can monitor them incase of RSS. How many people would really feel comfortable to know that their email usernames and passwords are being stored on a 3rd party server probably unencrypted and probably anyone managing the server would have visibility to it? To me this is the biggest issue with this approach.

A few days back, Rajesh Jain, MD, Netcore Solutions Pvt. Ltd. based in Mumbai, started a discussion on Facebook on “Mass Market Internet” talking about on the options we have for getting the millions of potential users on Internet who today either don’t have a medium to access Internet or a promising application to attract their loyalty. I wrote to him about my thoughts and below is the portion of email that I wrote to him:-

Internet Users:
Talking about Internet users, from my perspective there can be two broad category of Internet users.
 
The first ones are those people who make a consicous effort to connect themselves to the Internet and use applications delivered via the web. These are the users who are the only types of Internet users existing in India today. However the second category, which form the majority, will be those users who will be consumers of applications delivered via the web, but they may or may not realize about their connectivity to the web. From my perspective they are still Internet users as they still consume applications via the web. For them its like a service through cellphone, if you have the network you can make a call, if you have the connection you can access the application. The second category of users are the users who are illiterate or lack computer knowledge. But from this vast majority a sizeable number of them do use cellphones. For these users educating them of computers is a lengthy and expensive process, probably more expensive than setting up the Internet access infrastructure in place. For these users, a computer keyboard is more complicated to use rather than the keyboard of a cellphone or the remote control of a TV.
To get the numbers of Internet users in India to a higher point, it is important that the second category of users come online and start consuming applications regardless they know about it or not.

Medium of access:
Internet penetration not only in remote places or villages, but in small and medium towns in India is still a bottle neck. In these places, the dial-up is still the primary medium of access. Also in some of the places, the telephone exchanges have very limited capacity and the lines are prone to noise and interference. In such places, better Internet experience can be achieved through satellite Internet. At least better than dial up.

Access Device:
Television and the cellphones are the devices which have the most penetration in our country and these two are the devices, which are capable of delivering applications via Internet.
 
 
Type of Application:
From my perspective, interactive and entertainment applications will be the primary driving factor for Internet usage. Today, social networking sites are the most visited websites as they let you interact with other users in a variety of way. Even though video hosting is expensive, there are many sites which provide access to entertainment videos as there is a tremendous demand for it.
 
So what would be the type of applications.

Example 1. Consider a house or community which has a satellite television and Internet delivered via satellite (the connection can be a DTH connection). Apart from the standard channels, the user can tune into Netflix Internet TV by just click of a remote.
 
Example 2. Emails has been used via Internet since a long time now, consider a service which lets users send small emails as text messages to cellphone. So I can send an email to <mydadnumber>@provider.com which actually goes to an application on the email server which in turn splits the email (if needed) and sends it as an SMS to the end user, when the end user replies (keeping the subject intact) his reply is converted back in to an email and delivered in to the inbox of the original sender.

At the Apple WWDC 2009, today Apple unveiled a new iPhone with features everyone has been waiting for. Some of the notable features are:-

  • Built-in camera. 3 megapixel, not 3.2 as expected. Autofocus, whitebalance, exposure, tap to focus (big applause). Low light sensitivity better. Automacro as well, as close as 10 cm away.
  • Also captures video. New switch that says still or video. 30 frames per second. autofocus etc.
  • Edit from the iPhone.
  • Can share Internet (if the operator allows).
  • Voice control.
  • Built-in digital compass.
  • Accessibility features.
  • Support for Nike +
  • Hardware encryption (for the IT guys). Makes for instantaneous remote wipe.
  • Improved battery life. Up to 9 hours surfing with wifi, 30 hours of audio, 12 hours of 2G talk time, 5 hours of 3G talk.
  • Fastest, most powerful iPhone yet.
  • The prices are

    • 16 GB $199
    • 32 GB $299
    • 8 GB $99

    The new iPhone is expected to be available from June 19.

    Stay tuned for more updates!

    Microsoft’s new decision engine is now out in the wild and like many others I took the opportunity to try out the most talked about search engine (oh rather decision engine) these days.

    I started off with trying my search in the shopping category as it was the one most talked about. I searched for “iphone”. The first two page results that I got was all about “iphone accessories” rather the “iphone” itself. Well usually I don’t I go looking for something beyond first two pages of a search result if the first two pages doesn’t satisfy what I am looking for and I think that’s usually the case with most of us. But then I thought what if Microsoft somehow already knew that I already have an iphone, after it is their “knows it all” engine. Freaky!!!. So I changed my search, instead of “iphone”, I tried, “itouch”, got just the accessories. How about “ipod touch” or “ipod touch 16 GB”. Alas never got the results I was looking for!

    After 15 mins of trying to find “iphone” or “ipod touch” I gave up and started looking at the cash back offers on the iphone accessories and guess what they weren’t cheap. I had bought a iphone screen guard and body cover with arm band from a local store for 7$, but Bing cash back results just for the arm band was 18$. Obviously you had a 2-3% cash back as promised by Bing. You see they don’t lie to you. They just charge you more and then just give you back a tiny portion of the extra amount they snatched from you.

    Alright, I decided that from now on I would still prefer going to the individual websites or stick with Google for my online shopping needs and gave up on the much hyped shopping category. I moved on to the regular techie search, that I always do on Google. The results from Bing as compared to Google was not that great. The results were just from some well known API documentation web pages, but that is something a developer never searches for. Those API links are usually in his bookmarks. What he/she searches for is answers to the problems they face.

    However, apart from dislikes, there were actually a few things that I liked about Bing. The first one is the flashy and cool user interface and the second one was their result presentation for images and videos. The news segment was pretty much updated. A search on the Air France disaster showed me the latest news article was posted 53 mins ago while on Google news the latest news article was posted 9 hours ago.

    The left hand dynamic categorization is pretty cool and classifies the search result. Say for a keyword on “Air France”, the generated categories were, News, Reservations, Flights, Jobs, Schedule etc.

    Well from what I have seen so far, I won’t completely rule out Bing as my search option at the moment and would prefer to give it some more time analyze the user’s search behavioral patterns and improve its results. However one thing is for sure, Google is definitely here to stay for long.

    Google has always been my favorite when it comes to searching content on the web. My programming career would have grinded to a halt by now without Google and I am sure that is a story that you will hear from every Internet savvy species around you. That’s the reason why they evening call searching the content on Internet as “Googling the Web”. Well but now the time has come when, the users need more than a search engine and that’s the reason why I am so excited about “Bing”.

    bing.com is Microsoft’s another attempt to increase its share in the “Internet Search” market. Oh, but wait, Microsoft doesn’t like to call “Bing” a search engine. They rather call it as a “Decision Engine”. I am sure they will soon patent this term as well. As per a press release on Microsoft’s web site, this new engine is primarily focused on user experience. 

    In this video, Stefan Weitz, a director on the Microsoft Search team, discusses how Bing was developed around users’ needs, focusing on four key areas: speed, relevance, previews and multi-media.

     

    As I see it, Microsoft looks to have put in a great deal of thought and hard work together in this attempt of leading the search race. My immediate catch for the moment is a nice and sweet name, “bing.com”. Personally I would prefer to go to a search engine whose URL is nice and small. Like google.com or bing.com and not search.yahoo.com or search.live.com. The shorter the name, more easier it is to remember for a non techie user. Sure thats one thing Microsoft has taken in to account for this time.

    From it’s first look, bing.com looks more or less like a e-shopper centric to me. Will it make my life easier in searching snippets of code? That’s something that we will see when bing.com goes live.

    iPhone vs Windows Mobile

    Posted: February 5, 2009 in iPhone, IT, Windows, Windows Mobile

    Oh well just another iphone vs windows mobile post. I am sure you will find hundreds of posts like this in the Internet, still it doesn’t harm to add one more blog to that list. Ok so I had this HTC P3350 a Windows Mobile phone which I recently replaced with iphone. I won’t advocate one cell phone better over the other, however there are some notable differences between the two devices:

     

    1. User Interfaces: Without any doubt iPhone has the best user interface, a USP that makes most of the selling points for Apple. My HTC device on the other hand had a standard windows mobile look and feel, however I added the HTC Diamond theme on my P3350 to make is look more cool and attractive.
    2. Storage: A primary area where my HTC lagged way behind iPhone. P3350 comes with a flash hard drive of 128 MB and a storage card provision expandable upto 4 GB. iPhone on other hand has a 16 GB of storage (Phew !), the other variant has a 8 GB of storage.
    3. Camera: Both the devices has 2 Megapixel camera, however the photo clarity from iPhone is much better than that of HTC. You would need a good light condition to have a clearer picture from HTC. Both the devices lack flash, however I don’t see much need of a flash when you don’t want to substitute your camera with your cellphone.
    4. Response time: The most irritating part of the Windows mobile was the application response time. Depending on the applications you use and the last time you had done a soft reset on your cell phone, the Windows mobile based HTC phone had a bad performance. The device startup itself was slower and many time heavy applications like media hub used to crash. 
    5. Syncing: Both the devices performs really well when it comes to PIM syncing with your laptop. A combination of any one of the device with Vista makes it more perfect as all your contacts are synced with Vista contacts (without needing to have Outlook).
    6. Setting Up Exchange: Personally for me, setting up exchange has been a pain for me with iPhone. Though iPhone promises to be MS Exchange ready, I had a hard time setting it up for myself. Windows mobile with Active Sync on the other hand gave me all the pleasure of having email on the go with direct push. However both the devices support the direct push feature of exchange. iPhone supports auto discover feature for Exchange server, but unfortunately for me it didn’t work quite well.
    7. Other emails: Setting emails like Gmail and Yahoo on your Windows mobile devices needs you to have some knowledge about the respective server, but iPhone has an advantage over here. iPhone comes with pre-configured server settings for Gmail, Yahoo and AOL and getting started with your personal mails on iPhone, is extremely easy. Both the devices allows you to add other POP3 and IMAP4 servers.
    8. World Clock: Windows mobile lets you have two time zones configured on your device, so if you are like me, staying in US with family in India, you can see the time at a quick glance. However iPhone lets you maintain multiple world clocks, you check add multiple cities and check their times at a single glance, a feature you would need if you have clients all over the world.
    9. Internet Apps: No doubt, iPhone is not a standalone device. This device is for you if you are Internet savvy. It provides direct access to almost all of the Google & Yahoo based Internet applications like YouTube,  Stock markets, Weather etc. Apps like Google Maps and Weather are not there in Windows mobile by default but can be easily installed.
    10.   Playing Media: Windows mobile didn’t impress me much we it comes to playing media. The picture quality for video wasn’t that great and you need to have your headsets on to use the audio booster feature. Overall audio quality is however pretty good. iPhone on the other hand has inbuilt iPOD in it. Well after that, I think would be unfair to carry on this comparison. iPhone is undoubtedly the best when it comes to media files. The only missing part is the radio in iPhone, however that is something I can live with, especially after I have 16 GB at my disposal, I can be my own RJ.
    11.   Network: Both the devices are good when it comes to network. They support quad band, EDGE, GPRS & Wi-Fi. iPhone however didn’t impress me with bluetooth. I would just get it working as a bluetooth client but not as a bluetooth server, which means I was able to send a file from iPhone but I wasn’t able to receive it.
    12.   Browser: I had always preferred IE over Safari, however when it comes to mobile devices, Safari leaves IE way behind. Websites which doesn’t support mobile devices looks great on Safari in iPhone, however IE becomes slows when rendering them and badly distorts the websites. The best feature, I liked about Safari is that, after the page gets loaded on the mobile device, it zooms out to give you a complete view of the page and after that you can easily zoom in to specific sections of the page using expand action of fingers while touching the screen. It allows you to open multiple websites in different windows and easily switch between them, a feature which IE badly lacks on Windows Mobile. 

     

    Well there are pretty good reasons why to go in for iPhone, however for me the primary reason was to have a single device for iPOD, phone and stay in touch with the world when I am on the move. iPhone is worth the money.

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