Brace Yourselves, the IoT is coming.

The Internet of Things

Imagine waking up to your favorite alarm tunes being played, one for each day of the week . The number of miles you jog every morning is updated to a cloud service, which monitors your health and fitness. As you get ready for a shower, the smart water heater has already been triggered by the sensors in the alarm clock, which correctly estimates the time required using the data accumulated over a period of time. The smart oven has prepared your breakfast by the time you are dressed. The car has been put into ignition mode after the garage door is triggered by your smartphone. When you drive, real time data obtained using other ‘smart’ cars, lets you know the best possible route to your destination, helping you avoid traffic and other stoppages. Don’t bother locking your house, as your smartphone has done it, not before turning off the lights and asking the thermostat to lower the temperature for efficient energy usage. No, this is not part of the script from one of those futuristic Hollywood movies that are churned out at regular intervals. If things work out well, by 2020 this could be our way of life.

When Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things(IoT) in 1999, he might have very well judged the impact of his proposition, in the foreseeable future. What had actually started as a bunch of sensors communicating and exchanging data has now evolved into this potential juggernaut that recommends an overhaul of our lifestyles. Technology surely does evolve at a rapid pace. The 21st century is a testament to that fact. But when technology evolves faster than the pace at which we can cope, it presents a unique problem. The IoT is one such disruptive technology. Disruptive, since it will possibly encourage a dramatic shift in consumer tastes with the promise of a smarter and technology driven lifestyle.

A technical perspective

Without delving too much into the technical jargon, it would suffice to say that IoT comprises of a huge set of sensors embedded into a wide range of devices. Over a period of time, the IoT has evolved into a much complex and messy system, interconnecting a variety of domains, protocols and communication systems. Imagine fitting every single electronic device in your vicinity with a bunch of sensors and assigning an IP address to each of them. The sensors exchange data over a network with a standard protocol, making use of a wireless ‘mesh’ network. In simpler terms, a ‘mesh’ network is a network topology where every node(read device) is connected to every other node. Data is exchanged between the nodes in real time, thereby turning the rather dumb devices into ‘smart’ ones. The philosophy of the IoT is to essentially connect every single device on the planet across a standard set of protocols, to make the isolated electronic devices smarter for an efficient lifestyle.

It is estimated that there will be 26 billion devices in use by the year 2030, a threefold increase in number considering the current 7 billion devices which are up and running. It essentially means that every individual will own at least 3.3 devices, all of which are of course part of the IoT.

Big Players warm up to the IoT

Less than two decades ago, the IoT was confined to paper presentations and the practical implementations seemed far fetched and unlikely. But the emergence of better semiconductor technology combined with massive infrastructural progress has given a necessary boost to the IoT community. Most importantly, the multinational corporations have been party to such an idea and their R&D investment and expertise has definitely helped. When Google acquired Nest Labs, a home automation company, in early 2014 for a massive 3.2 billion, it was further proof that IoT was gaining prominence among the biggies. Very recently, Apple launched Homekit, a framework for controlling home devices by automation. It is an addition to its newly released iOS 8, taking it a step ahead in terms of practical implementation.

For bigwigs such as Google and Apple, IoT is a jackpot. Google largely earns from its advertising service and now with the possibility of sensors being ubiquitous, every smart house is an information goldmine. A recent report suggested how targeted ads could appear on your refrigerator screen, prompting you to choose the local store to buy items whose supplies are running low. For Apple, it is part of a long cherished dream to make its devices at the center of an IoT universe. Back in 2001, it was reported that Steve Jobs wanted Apple devices to be at the heart of every home automation system. With the new features in iOS 8, it is a step towards achieving that goal.

Problems Galore

Although IoT has made significant progress over the past decade, it would be silly to assume it is well developed. The primary concern that bugs every security analyst is the little or almost no security in an IoT environment as most of the devices will be low key home appliances. Indeed lack of progress in security and privacy mechanisms is a hindrance to IoT’s evolution. Some of the devices like heart rate monitors and health monitoring devices might deal with acutely private data, which raises significant queries over its storage and protection.

Another inevitable problem associated with IoT is the heterogeneity in device manufacturers. It is quite obvious that each manufacturer will prescribe to his preferred mode of protocols. For instance, there are many wireless technologies in the market, most of them fairly new. Z-wave and Zigbee technologies have been around for a few years, but they are not yet compatible with each other in terms of communication. A new entrant, Bluetooth Smart boasts of better features than the above mentioned technologies, but is again isolated with very little compatibility. There is an urgent need to level the playing field by standardizing the wireless technology to be used.

An abstract view.

An abstract view.

With sensors invading every possible space available, the amount of data generated per day will be massive. Structuring and utilizing the data for use will require both infrastructural and capital investments. For a startup wanting to cater to the needs of IoT enthusiasts, it is bad news.

Another issue that might be instrumental in IoT adoption is the impact on environment caused by a massive overhaul of infrastructure. When millions of new devices flood the market, the non-degradable junk leftover by the old devices will be hard to manage. A non-smart device might be valid for several years but smart devices need constant upgrades which render them obsolete after a period of time. The costs incurred periodically might put off potential customers, who might classify them as an unnecessary expenditure.

A brighter future

Though IoT might receive its share of criticism for privacy and security violations, it is still a very good technology to bank upon. Yes, right now it is literally half-baked and messy, but then every emerging technology is such during its development. Technology has always found a way to refine itself over a period of time and IoT will possibly follow suit. The promise the IoT holds for better and efficient living is just too good to ignore.


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What’s in a Meme?

Everybody hates each other on the Internet. We would’ve had countless debates over issues such as Middle Eastern politics, the Syria chemical weapons crisis and whether Justin Bieber is the Beatles of our generation (No!). But even with so much discord, there is One Ring that rules the Internet – Memes.

Meanwhile, in Chemical Engineering

            The origin of the word ‘meme’ is rather interesting. The concept was actually created by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ to describe how human culture evolves in a way a gene does. While it didn’t make much a huge impact then, it plays a more vital role right now. In our present world, memes are so popular and so pervasive in modern society that they make huge, huge news everywhere. In fact, the study of how our culture evolves is called memetics.

The question is - what really defines a meme? Based on what we understand from Dawkins’ definition, it’s pretty clear that ideas that form a part of our culture become memes. However, our universal hatred of Sonia-ji isn’t really that memetic per se. However, when we see ‘Manmohan Singham’ on YouTube, we suddenly get the urge to spread the laughter and the universal loathing on Facebook or Twitter. Interestingly, memes were rather popular in the early days of 4chan, but did not gain widespread acceptance like what we see now. In fact, we’ve begun to take notice of memes only after we stumble upon them on Facebook, YouTube, Reddit et al. In fact, there are sites dedicated to cataloguing memes such as KnowYourMeme, OhInternet and even more to showcase funny pictures such as 9GAG and Memebase. The interesting part about this is that all these websites we see now are part of the Web 2.0 generation. So we see that memes and Web 2.0 symbiotically helped each other grow in popularity.

Why do people love memes so much? Simply because they’re so damn funny! The most crucial aspect of a meme’s survival is how much it makes people laugh and how much they can relate to it. We have Rage Comics which portray the insanity of life and how much it makes us rage. We have characters like Scumbag Steve, Good Guy Greg, Socially Awkward Penguin and Success Kid to whom we can relate. We also have classic memes like ‘Winter is Coming’ which remind us of our favourite movies and TV shows. Ultimately we have viral videos and songs such as ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘The Fox’ which are crazy and hilarious.

Memes play such a huge role in our human consciousness that ads of late use memes to advertise their products. Memes also in a way help people communicate various ideas in a highly unconventional way. Memes have also been a catalyst against censorship and economic disparity causing SOPA to be repealed and the growth of the Occupy Wall street movement and proliferating knowledge about NSA’s PRISM. Memes entertain us and forms a very crucial part of society. In conclusion, one can confidently say that memes make the modern world what it is today.

To our fellow NITans:

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Sci Fi-Genius and Stupidity

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. This is was what one of the greatest minds in the field of Science told the world and not without reason.

The site in which you are reading this, the call I got to work for it, the pool of information I delved into, everything was predicted. The invention of the internet, the ability to sit at home in pajamas and yet, shout out to the world what you want to, conduct your business with more communication and less commute, he told the world about such a future way back in 1976. Arthur C Clarke, one of the greatest authors of science fiction, predicted globalization of world with the help of the internet. What’s more surprising than this is the ‘newspad’. A device akin to today’s ipad that lets you read the news anywhere you want by displaying it on a small screen that unlocks by a digital code!

Jules Verne, the favorite author of most sci-fi fans predicted something as big and beautiful as Lunar modules. He took the readers From the Earth to the Moon and introduced space travel.

Let’s look at the inventions the world probably would not want to see. The Iron Man suit, or more generally jet packs; I totally agree its super cool to just fly away but just imagine if you meet with an accident, crashed into the 20th storey of a skyscraper. I don’t think I have to explain the rest of the scene that would follow!

These are the ones that did come true, great minds predicted some insanely crazy inventions in the field of Science and Technology and the world is a better place today with those inventions. Then there are some that we would adorn our super heroes with, see and enjoy.

The only difference between genius and stupidity is that the former has a limit. The same brilliance that said these words gave the world relativity. What’s stupid to you need not be the same to me and what is stupid today could be genius tomorrow!

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Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?

For starters, this Edward is not a sparkling vampire.

If you haven’t already heard, Edward Snowden is a former NSA(National Security Agency) interception of US and European telephone metadata and the PRISM and Tempora Internet surveillance programs.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

You must’ve seen this guy’s picture atleast once on the news, a young white male with auburn hair sporting glasses, and you might also have wondered what all the buzz was about, but might have heard something in pig latin like the above sentence.

So let us clear things up: Edward Snowden is the guy who leaked out the information that governments in the US and Europe were collecting private information of their people as well as those of other countries by accessing every possible nook and corner of all secure data on the internet.

This basically means the ‘big boss’ knows everything from your browsing history to your personal messages, passwords and your deepest secrets. These data rightfully the private property of the people, are accessed by NSA and CIA in the name of ‘finding security threats’ and ‘national defense’.

Snowden, a former employee of a company that worked of NSA, has leaked to the press about the American and British mass surveillance done using top secret programs such as PRISM. Snowden said the leaks were an effort “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” A man on the run, he is a wanted criminal for the U.S. government, and is considered a traitor by half the American population and the entire Obama Administration who will stop at nothing to get him.

And for his selfless efforts, Snowden’s true fear was that the public wouldn’t care about the revelations, already having submitted to the fact that internet privacy is no longer their right, even though constitutionally it is so.
His fears are not baseless considering how 44% of Americans consider Snowden a traitor, and the international community is keeping mum about supporting Snowden.

Nevertheless many people all over the world,including technocrats like Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple, and the famous whistle blowers like Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, have shown outright support for Snowden, hailing him a hero. At HongKong where he was initially hiding out, the people had taken to the streets appealing to their government to protect their hero from U.S. extradition. Why Assange, reportedly, has even funded, Snowden’s stay in HongKong and has appealed to Ecuador to provide exile to Snowden.

At times of public deceit like these, telling the truth becomes utterly important. But will the people remain willfully ignorant, and unwilling to acknowledge their own rights? Or do they believe that this idealist on a manhunt is a hero?
Well ‘the people’ are conflicted!!

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The Russian Terminal

An alternate version of The Terminal is being played out in Moscow, starring Edward Snowden. As the former American intelligence man remains cooped up in the terminal of the Sheremetyevo Airport, the situation bears stark similarities to the plight of Mr.Navorski played by Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

Edward Snowden

Despite repeated pleas from the Americans, Russia have refused to extradite the man who is responsible for bringing out the mass internet surveillance of private accounts carried out by the NSA. Russia do not have an extradition treaty with the USA, but the USA has transferred many hundreds of Russians involved with high profile criminal cases in the past. Russia, however, has made it clear that they had no plans to detain him or hand him over to the US. Mikhail Fyodorov, head of the Russian President’s human rights council said that, “The man who exposes secrets of the special services, such as total digital surveillance, which pose a threat to society, really desrves political asylum in one country or another.”

US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, made it clear that he is not going to be “wheeling and dealing” for the 29 year old’s extradition.

The USA cancelled Snowden’s passport, thus he can neither catch a plane out of the airport not move out of the transit terminal. He cannot move beyond the tranzit zone, putting him in the same position as Mr.Navorski. He has applied for asylum in Ecuador, which could take months to process. If his request is rejected, Snowden might find himself permanently in Russia, as pointed out by WikiLeaks. Hope it’s comfortable there, Mr. Snowden.

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