Dec 29, 2011

Does solar power eat up land?

One of the popular misconceptions about solar power is that it eats up lots of land..rows of solar power panels eating up valuable land are a common sight in pictures in the media. It is a misleading picture. In a country like India where land is mostly fertile farm land, and population pressure, this is a critical issue.

In reality, solar compares well with coal based power plants in terms of land use. The coal burners need lots of space to store coal, provide water for cooling, waste storage and so on..Plus several square km of land around the plant become practically un-livable because of pollution and other factors.

Here is a quick comparison..

The NTPC run Badarpur thermal power plant occupies about 1,200 acres - and produces 700MW of power, which may increase to 1,000 MW. This is not counting the environmental impact, cooling water channels and their land use, land wasted in coal mines and their own storage area, railway sidings and wasted land on that front, and so many other negative factors

Sempra energy in Arizona, US, has already commissioned 42MW out of the planned 150MW solar plant, barely 6 months after start of the project, the time it takes for an Indian bureaucrat to move a file from Table A to Table B, and the land area acquired, 900 acres, can be used for up to 700MW! The entire project is going to be finished in 2 years - the time it takes to get environment clearance for a thermal project!

I am pretty sure they used the available land quite liberally unlike in India where you would count every inch because it is so expensive and rare. Who knows, we may even find ways to grow crops in the space in between the panels.

As solar cell efficiencies increase, they can replace panels one by one with higher yielding ones, over time..something impossible to do with coal unless you tear down an entire plant.

And not a single cent of land is wasted to mine, store, transport coal.

Or carry the sludge, bring water and so on...

Dec 25, 2011

Updates Google Android vs ROW

Look like Google and the equipment makers like Samsung, HTC, Motorola have more to cheer over the Christmas holidays....all of them are making great progress in the so-called patent wars.

  1. Apple's thermo-nuclear warhead turned out to be more of a dud Diwali cracker.. unless there is more WMDs in Apple's kitty..given their intention of destroying Android and that too quickly, that appears unlikely. A trivial feature that HTC can easily remove is the only 'violation' - NO IMPORT BAN, NO INJUNCTION, NO NOTHING..
  2. Apple's attempt to claim anything that is rectangular and has a screen as its own 'invention' is also facing scrutiny in Germany with the judge likely to throw out the claims.. No ban on Galaxy tab 10" of course..
  3. Microsoft that has managed to 'persuade' many Android device makers into coughing up more for some vague patents than it does for its entire Windows Phone OS, (BTW, this is, in view, M$ acknowledging openly that their OS is not worth that much, something the marketplace seems to agree, given the tepid sales of Nokia's Windows phone offerings) is likely to hit a brick wall too, with most patents barring trivial ones getting thrown out. 
  4. And last but not least, Oracle is facing even tougher time, with more decisions going against it in the US. USPTO is striking out many claims, including MAJOR ones, leaving only less important ones to fight over.

For those interested in competition in the marketplace and open software, even if not free, this is welcome news indeed.

Dec 7, 2011

Oracle's anti-Android lawsuit in serious trouble?

I have been following Oracle's (and others, for that matter) lawsuits against Android and Android device makers closely. I am not a lawyer but then the internet and even well known mainstream media is full of uninformed speculation by quick-on-the-draw journalists and analysts so there is no harm if I add to the mountain of useless opinions..

Furthermore, many good lawyers do not understand software programming, APIs and so forth, and do seem to see that as a disqualification at all, so not being a lawyer should not disqualify a techie from talking about such things anyway. For example, when Linus Torvalds came to the defense of Android recently, some lawyers and bloggers blasted him for not knowing enough about law. How many of these lawyers understand enough about Java APIs and programming principles to make sensible remarks? Let alone understand them as deeply and thoroughly as Linus probably does?

With that long foreword, here we go to the main topic..

Oracle is miffed that Google successfully managed to do what it (Sun) failed pathetically with Java for mobile devices.  Make it mainstream, make it easy to use and make it popular.

So it has sued Google to stop the Android juggernaut on its tracks and claim ridiculous sums as damages. In order to bolster such claims, it produced 'expert testimony'. Anyone that has worked in software marketing or knows enough about the industry knows how 'valuable' these experts are and how easy or difficult it is to get them to write something that suits the person paying for it. I remember an old cartoon in Times of India - the simpleton character that routinely appears in these cartoons is told curtly by his boss - "Mr. Godbole, when I need your opinion, I will give it to you!"

Judge Alsup, it appears has not been tickled by any humorous interpretations of the expert opinion on damages, but has been more scathing. He has accepted (tentatively, subject to challenge, like most verdicts below Supreme Court level anyway are) 5 out of 8 points made by Google and has stricken 'substantial portions' of the so-called expert opinion on damages produced by Oracle.

IMHO, the most damaging part of the tentative order is this:
  1. Oracle is forced to split claims between copied code and 'copied' API package names and structure. Google says the API in of itself is not copyrightable. After all it is a specification. The court agrees that it should be split because if the bigger one (API copying claim) is held not copyrightable, then all that remains is 12 code files, which Google claims are minor and a mistake by some Russian programmers outsourced to do the job. Since Dr. Cockburn did not do this, out goes his entire report if Google does not infringe by using the API specs. It does appear to me (read all qualifications and disqualifications stated earlier) that API specs are simply names and unless one copies code, it is not copying. 
  2. Oracle was asked to split damages by claim (which are parts of a patent) and has failed to do so - it treats entire patent as one piece. Now the court has beaten Oracle in its game - by saying if ONE OF THE CLAIMS is held non-infringed, the ENTIRE PATENT CLAIM IS OUT OF THE DOOR (indirectly and effectively to be precise, because the order says the entire damage for the patent will be assigned to that non-infringing claim) ! That will be the instruction to jury. Obviously you can't have the cake and eat it too!

It will be interesting to watch how this pans out.

In the meantime, it would make a lot of sense for Oracle to realise the value Google is adding to the Java community and its popularity, even if it has forked and modified some of the specs along the way. It would make sense for Oracle to drop this silly lawsuit and discuss with Google how both can work together to make Java better, bigger and more popular. Perhaps Oracle can incorporate the changes and improvements Google has made part of the mainstream Java specs.

Since Oracle has a bigger and more strategic competition problem with Microsoft, there is no point going after Google and Android.

You can download the entire report here, thanks to Groklaw.

Dec 6, 2011

Xoom 2 - Doomed too?

Back in March, I wrote about how Motorola and Samsung are shooting themselves in their foot by overpricing their tablets when compared with the feature rich IPAD.

As it turned out, both have not done well and Xoom has been a big failure.

But now comes Xoom 2 and one would have hoped Motorola, now controlled by Google, would have learnt their lessons.

But big companies, it appears, take much longer to learn simple stuff, focussed as they are on mastering complex technologies and supply chains.

Now Engadget reports that Xoom 2 will cost US$620 for a 16GB version. Some 'features'

  • No expansion slot for micro-SD
  • Still dual core, not quad-core as in Asus Transformer Prime
  • No ICS, still sticking to Android 3.2 which is ridiculous considering Google now owns Motorla!

And you pay $620 for it when Asus is selling far better stuff for less, not to speak of the Ipad 2. And we have not even mentioned Kindle Fire until now which goes for less than $200.

So Xoom 2 is doomed, big time.

And it is not even a 'technology demonstrator' or 'loss leader' as the marketing geeks would try to explain..