70 years of Freedom

Past tuesday that is on 15th August 2017 India celebrated its 70th Independence Day. Though there has been debate on whether this was 71st or 70th year so just to make it clear that it was 70 indeed.

Independence Day is a day of glory and pride for us Indians. The day is celebrated with lot zeal and enthusiasm all across the country and Independence Day celebrations officially take place at the Red Fort, Delhi.

Why is I-Day so important to us?

The Constituent Assembly came into effect at 11pm on August 14, 1947. India gained its freedom and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of the country. He gave his famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech which motivated lot of Indians.

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”– Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (Tryst With Destiny)

The freedom started with India’s colonization which started with the arrival of the British East India Company which landed in India to the country in the 1600s. They came to trade with India but soon began to exercise military and administrative control and by 1757, they took everything under them. On the eve of Independence Day, the President addresses the nation and further the Prime Minister unfurls India’s flag the very next day and holds a speech at the Red Fort in Old Delhi. On this special day, there are many cultural programs which are held at various schools and organizations.

On this day, people fly kites, which plays a vital role. Kite symbolizes the feeling of freedom which people expresses on this special day. Tekkex wishes everyone a very Happy Independence Day! Jai Hind, Jai Bharat. One India, Happy India.

Facebook launches YouTube competitor called Watch

In an apparent bid to take on Google-owned YouTube, Facebook has rolled out ‘Watch’ — a redesigned video platform for creators and publishers.

The social media giant last year launched ‘Video’ tab in the US which offered a predictable place to find videos on Facebook.

“Now we want to make it even easier to catch up with shows you love. We’re introducing ‘Watch’, a new platform for shows on Facebook. ‘Watch’ will be available on mobile, on desktop and laptop and in our TV apps,” Daniel Danker, Director of Product at Facebook wrote in a blog post.

Shows are made up of episodes — live or recorded — and follow a theme or storyline.

“To help you keep up with the shows you follow, Watch has a ‘Watchlist’ so you never miss out on the latest episodes,” she added.

The shows available include “Nas Daily”, “Gabby Bernstein” and “Kitchen Little”.

“Nas Daily” publishes a daily show where he makes videos together with his fans from around the world.

Gabby Bernstein, a New York Times bestselling author, uses a combination of recorded and live episodes to connect with her fans and answer questions in real time.

Tastemade’s “Kitchen Little” is a funny show about kids who watch a how-to video of a recipe, then instruct professional chefs on how to make it.

Facebook has also signed a deal with Major League Baseball to broadcast one live game per week.

“To help inspire creators and seed the ecosystem, we’ve also funded some shows that are examples of community-oriented and episodic video series,” Facebook said.

“We’ll be introducing ‘Watch’ to a limited group of people in the US and plan to bring the experience to more people soon,” it added.

Petcube Bites camera

If you have pets at home, your life cannot but revolve around them. You are distraught if you have to leave your pet(s) alone at home. You are convinced that they will be famished if they are not fed every 14 minutes and that they will then treat all your household items as fodder. Worry no more, for the Petcube Bites pet camera is here.

The Bites pet-cam is built with a full high-definition video camera, complete with wide-angle view capture, digital zoom, night vision, and cloud-storage options. But the biggest blessing is that it doubles up as a food-dispenser. Bites can store up to two pounds of treat for your dog or cat. It can dispense each treat by ‘flinging’ them in different directions and ranges, extending up to six feet.

The device is controlled entirely by an app on your iOS/Android device. Not only can you watch live video footage of your pet rampaging around in the house, but you can also speak to her/him using the mic, and hear them respond. The app allows you to stream the live footage on social media, should you want the world to know how cute your pet is. Treat flings can be scheduled, and treats can be re-ordered from stores using the app. The app will automatically notify you when the treat storage is running low. At $249, the Petcube Bites is almost a necessary investment, given its benefits. It’s also wall-mountable—so, hopefully, your pet won’t be able to pull the machine apart and down all the treats at one go. That would defeat the purpose of getting this gadget, right?

—A two-pound treat storage container

—Tosses treats at varying distances, upto six feet

—A full-HD video camera, which streams onto a mobile app

—Two-way mic, so your pet can hear you, and you can hear them

Levitating Cloud Lamp

Cloud watching has been a favoured hobby for the idle-minded to ponder life, or use inspiration in nature as an excuse to take a nap.

The familiar picture — the placid afternoon sun warming the lush grass on an easily-scaled hill, as we lie there on our backs personifying clouds — is all too unfamiliar.

In the wild outdoors are devilish mosquitoes, a sun that is anything but placid, and a distinct lack of grassy hills. Heck, Wordsworth even wrote a poem out of it, where he imagined himself wandering as lonely as a cloud, or so.

Well, fret no more, bedroom Wordsworths, because for a mere $4,620, the Floating Cloud 2.0 is yours to own.

The Floating Cloud is a levitating lamp held 2.75 inches afloat using a combination of rare earth magnets, electromagnets and location sensors.

It is composed of hypoallergenic polyester fibre, is entirely wireless, and is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. This hypnotising lamp is the latest product of the collaboration between Richard Clarkson Studio’s cloud-based designs and Crealev’s inventive technology.

It might appear to be a mere accessory in the living room, but the Floating Cloud contains LEDs that respond and react to sound.

Though the lamp doesn’t double-up as a speaker, its equalizer mode makes the LEDs respond and flash to the beat of external sound such as loud noises, music or human voices.

What’s more, if you’ve have ever fancied feeling the fluffy cotton in the sky, but felt they’ve been just a little out of reach, this Cloud is here to save the day. The magnets allow the cloud to rotate fully and manoeuvre slightly up and down when pressed, perpetuating realism and allowing for those cloudy days to leave your dispositions and light up your desks.

Who hasn’t wanted to own something this innovative? Sure, it isn’t very useful… but it floats, people. Let its price not cloud your judgement.

—Magnetic-levitation technology to enable the cloud to float

—Location sensors allow the cloud to be shifted around while floating

—Sound-reactive coloured LED’s which ‘pulse’ in tune with music or ambient sound

—Completely remote-controlled

Facebook developing augmented reality glasses

A patent application filed earlier this week has revealed that Facebook is working on developing augmented reality (AR) glasses that could blend digital objects with the physical world.

According to a report in Quartz on Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously shown photos of similar glasses, saying that they would be the future of AR, but he did not reveal that the company was developing such a product.

The Facebook CEO has been of the opinion that AR will be the next big consumer tech platform after smartphones.

“Think about how many of the things you use [that] don’t actually need to be physical. You want to play a board game? You snap your fingers, and here’s the board game,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

Facebook-owned Oculus is developing this technology, but it is not expected to be really viable until 2022.

According to the reports, the patent application details a pair of glasses with transparent displays for lenses, through which light would flow, distributing the light and refracting it into a user’s eyes.

“The waveguide display may be included in an eye-wear comprising a frame and a display assembly that presents media to a user’s eyes,” the patent application reportedly mentioned.

Reliance Jio 4G feature phone

Jiophone will be available from August 15 for trial and for pre-book from August 24.

Reliance Industries launched a low-cost phone with 4G-enabled features in a bid to woo tens of millions of low-income users to its telecom service.

The handset, named JioPhone, will “effectively cost zero” as buyers will be able to get the device for a one-time refundable security deposit of 1,500 rupees.

Jiophone will be available from August 15 for trial and for pre-book from August 24.

Here are some of its features:

Alphanumeric keypad

4-way navigation

2.4 QVGA display

512 MB RAM

4 GB internal storage

2MP rear camera

2000mAh battery

Free voice calling

Reliance Jio will provide unlimited data on the phone for Rs. 153 per month.

This is in addition to the features of any other regular phone such as FM radio torch light, headphone jack, SD card slot and inbuilt ringtones.

Great Firewall

China is tightening control over foreign companies’ internet use in a move, some worry, might disrupt their operations or jeopardize trade secrets as part of a crackdown on technology that allows web surfers to evade Beijing’s online censorship.

In a letter to corporate customers seen by AP, the biggest Chinese internet service provider says virtual private networks, which create encrypted links between computers, and can be used to access sites blocked by Beijing’s web filters, will be permitted only to connect to a company’s headquarters abroad. The letter from state-owned China Telecom Ltd. says VPN users are barred from linking to other sites outside China, a change that might block access to news, social media or business services that are obscured by its “Great Firewall.”

The letter repeats an announcement from January that only VPNs approved by Chinese authorities are allowed. That has prompted fears of possible loss of trade secrets or information about customers or employees among companies that question the reliability of Chinese encryption services and whether authorities might read messages.

Regulators announced a crackdown in January to stamp out use of VPNs to circumvent web censorship.

Authorities have tried to reassure companies they won’t be affected, but if the rules in the China Telecom letter are enforced, they could hamper activity ranging from gathering information for business deals to employees working on business trips.

The crackdown reflects President Xi Jinping’s vision of “internet sovereignty,” or Beijing’s absolute right to control what people can do and see online.

Control over information is especially sensitive ahead of a party congress late this year at which Xi is due to be appointed to a second five-year term as leader.

The ruling Communist Party encourages web use for business and education but rejects the notion of a borderless internet and the free flow of information. It controls internet traffic across China’s borders and tries to keep its public from seeing thousands of websites abroad including Google and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as news outlets and human rights groups.

This week, the Beijing municipal internet regulator announced it ordered website operators including Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. to remove material that was “distorting the history of China and the Party” and “promoting abnormal values.”

Also this week, a letter issued by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Beijing to guests that circulated on social media says the hotel can no longer provide VPN service “due to legal issues” as of last Friday.

In June, the Hong Kong—based operator of a popular service, Green VPN, announced Chinese regulators had ordered it to close.

Beijing has repeatedly pressured foreign companies to hand over technology, encryption know-how and other trade secrets in exchange for access to its huge and growing market.

Companies cite internet controls as among the biggest obstacles to doing business in China.

In a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China last year, 79% of companies that responded said web filters hurt them by blocking access to information and business tools.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in April he would temporarily set aside disputes with Beijing over market barriers and currency while the two sides cooperated over North Korea’s nuclear program. But Trump has expressed frustration with lack of progress on that and has resumed criticizing China’s trade surplus with the United States.

It was unclear how many companies received China Telecom’s letter. The American and European Chambers of Commerce in Beijing said their members had not reported receiving it.

The letter, which bears no date, says VPNs are for “internal office use only” and only can connect to a company’s headquarters abroad, not to any other websites. That would block users from seeing business news or other information sources that are shielded by the filters.

Companies are required to provide the identities of every employee who uses a VPN, according to the letter.

Lester Ross, a lawyer in Beijing for the firm WilmerHale, said he had not heard of the China Telecom letter. But he said the conditions in it described to him by a reporter would be disruptive if enforced.

Without VPNs to bypass web filters, “then it is just impossible to do business under the constraints that apply officially,” said Ross. “You’re either making it unenforceable or they are damaging business to an extraordinary extent.”

A Western diplomat who asked not to be identified further due to the sensitivity of the issue said companies have told his government they worry the controls might lead to weaker data security and trade secrets being leaked to Chinese competitors. The diplomat said some are hesitant to invest more in China due to that.

China Telecom and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which announced the January crackdown, did not respond to requests for information about the letter.

Authorities have never disclosed whether they read communications sent over Chinese VPN providers.

“Despite the fact that people get used to the system, protection of confidentiality is always a concern,” said Ross. “They’ve never guaranteed privacy of communications.”

Beijing has announced restrictions on VPN use over the past decade but did little to enforce them, possibly to avoid disrupting business or access to information for scientists and academics.

The VPN crackdown coincides with a Cybersecurity Law that took effect on June 1 and tightens control over data. It limits use of foreign security technology and requires companies to store information about Chinese citizens within this country.

On Tuesday, users of Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service, which normally operates freely in China, were no longer able to send images without using a VPN. That coincided with official efforts to suppress mention of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate who died last week and whom social media users have commemorated by exchanging images of him.

Already, companies increasingly limit VPN access to employees such as media managers “with a critical business need” to see a banned website, according to Jake Parker, vice president of China operations for the U.S.—China Business Council.

Companies can avoid the need for a VPN by leasing a circuit from China Telecom or other state—owned providers that connects directly to their headquarters abroad. Prices start at more than $1,000 per month.

The information ministry tried to reassure commercial users in a statement reported last week in a Shanghai newspaper, The Paper.

“Foreign trade enterprises and multinational companies that need a cross—border line for their own office use can lease one from an authorized telecoms enterprise,” said the statement. It said the January notice “will not affect normal operations.”

Saraswati supercluster

Recently, a group of scientists from IUCAA (Pune), IISER (Pune), NIT Jamshedpur and Newman College (Thodapuzha) announced that they have discovered a very large “supercluster” of galaxies. They have named it Saraswati. Here is a brief explainer on the discovery and its background.

What are galaxy clusters? How big are they?

Galaxies are like the building blocks of the universe, they contain a huge number of stars, something like 100 billion at a count. Galaxy groups can have three to 20 galaxies, the richest systems are called clusters (like the Virgo cluster) which can have several hundred galaxies.

Superclusters are clusters of clusters. They can have as few as two clusters, and superclusters with two to four clusters are common. Saraswati has 42.

Within superclusters, clusters are connected by filaments and sheets of dark matter with galaxies embedded in them.

It is supposed that the galaxies are born in the filaments and then migrate towards the intersection of the filaments where they are assimilated into clusters.

What are superclusters?

These are the largest coherent structures seen in the universe. Firstly there are clusters of galaxies together with associated gas and dark matter. Large groups of such clusters, linked by filaments, separated by voids together form the superclusters. Though initially a supercluster was used to describe groups of two-four clusters, now it is understood that much larger superclusters, comprising clusters that number an order of magnitude higher, exist. The first such large supercluster to be discovered was the Shapley supercluster.

How does the Saraswati supercluster compare with the Milky Way?

The newly discovered Saraswati supercluster is 600 million light years across. The Milky Way is 150,000 light years across.

Where does the supercluster Saraswati lie in the sky?

The supercluster Saraswati lies in the Stripe 82 of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It is about 4000 million light years away from us. It is in the constellation of Pisces.

What is “Stripe 82 region of SDSS”?

SDSS stands for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This is an ambitious plan to make a digital 3D map of the universe. Started in 2000, it has, over eight years, mapped more than a quarter of the sky. It has mapped nearly 930,000 galaxies. The SDSS has found nearly 50 million galaxies so far.

In its third phase, SDSS-III, which started in 2008 and ended in 2014, gave out sets of data that were released in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It produced a map of the North galactic cap which stretched to 7500 square degrees and of three stripes in the South Galactic Cap which added to 740 square degrees. The central stripe is known as Stripe 82.

What is the significance of this discovery? Is there a puzzle posed by the discovery of Saraswati?

Spotting a supercluster which is 4000 million light years away means that you are looking at light that has come in from four billion years ago. This is because a light year is the distance travelled by light in one year. Since the universe is believed to be 13.8 billion years old, this means we are looking at light from when the universe was about 10 billion years old, just about 70% of its present age.

This poses a puzzle. According to present theories, it is difficult for such a huge galaxy to have formed so early in the universe’s lifetime.

When was the term Galaxy cluster first used, in what context?

In 1926, Harlow Shapley and Adelaide Ames were the first to coin the term “cluster” to describe a collection of galaxies. They used this to describe the Coma-Virgo region. The term “Virgo cluster” was first used by Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason in 1931.

Is there any special way of discovering a supercluster? For instance, a star has a definite boundary, but how do you discern the boundaries of a supercluster?

It is very hard to outline the boundaries of a supercluster. It is done by studying maps such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in an exceedingly detailed manner. In the context of Saraswati supercluster, the astronomers could delineate 43 clusters of galaxies connected by a network of filaments.

Is Saraswati the first supercluster that Indians have discovered? Which was the first?

Professor Somak Raychaudhury, who is presently director of Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, had discovered a supercluster as part of his PhD thesis work at University of Cambridge. It was named “Shapley Supercluster,” after the American astronomer Shapley who first coined the term cluster. Shapley’s work in measuring the extent of galaxies is remarkable and a part of extending the Copernican programme – establishing that the earth is not the centre of the universe.

Closest images yet of Jupiter’s iconic ‘Great Red Spot’

Measuring in at 16,350 kilometers in width, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.




IISER Kolkata develops fire-retardant, rust-resistant material

Now, paper or other materials coated with a hydrophobic (water hating) hybrid molecular material synthesised by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata can behave like a lotus leaf and keep the surface clean and water-proof.

Besides increasing the mechanical strength of the coated paper 1.5 times, the molecular material can inhibit bacterial growth and even render the coated material such as paper or wood fire-proof. The results of the study were published in the journal ACS Omega.

The organic-inorganic hybrid material was synthesised by combining polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS) and diphenylalanine. The POSS molecule by itself has unique properties such as high thermal stability and fire retarding ability. While both POSS and diphenylalanine are naturally water repelling, the hydrophobic nature gets enhanced when they are combined.

“The contact angle of paper, which was 62 degree and therefore hydrophilic before coating, increased to 113 degree after coating and became hydrophobic,” says Krishnendu Maji from the Department of Chemical Sciences, IISER, Kokata and the first author of the paper.

To demonstrate the effect of the hybrid material’s hydrophobic nature, the two-member team led by Prof. Debasish Haldar from the Department of Chemical Sciences, IISER, Kolkata, folded an ordinary paper and a hybrid-coated paper and drenched the two pieces in water. While the paper without any coating could not be unfolded, the coated paper could be unfolded and regain its original shape.

Corrosion resistance

Testing the hydrophobic nature of the hybrid material and its ability to prevent corrosion, the researchers coated iron nails with the hybrid molecular material and exposed it to water. While the nails that were not coated rusted, those with the coating did not. Coating one half of the nail with the hybrid material, the team found the uncoated portion of the nail rusted in about 12 hours when treated with water; the coated portion remained rust-free. “The coated nails did not get rusted when treated with water for up to one month,” Mr. Maji says.

The coated nails were able to resist corrosion even when treated with an aqueous solution of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium bromide and even hydrochloric acid.

The hybrid material is colourless and does not react with metal. The coated silver artefacts were able to resist the formation of black colour (silver sulphide) on its surface when treated with hydrogen sulphide for 10 minutes. “This hybrid material can protect artefacts from environmental pollution and corrosion,” says Prof Haldar, the corresponding author of the paper.

The coated paper was found to inhibit bacterial growth. While the researchers observed E. coli growing on the surface of paper that was not coated, the hybrid-coated paper was able to inhibit E. coli growth for 10 days. “We tested the anti-bacterial property for up to 30 days and found the hybrid-coated paper was able to resist E. coli growth,” Mr. Maji says

Fire-retardant property

Finally, the fire-retardant property of matchsticks coated with the hybrid material was tested. While matchstick with no coating burnt completely, those coated with only POSS to more time to reach the end of the matchstick. But matchsticks coated with the hybrid material were able to extinguish the flame as soon as fire reached the coated portion. “The peptide not only retards the flame but also extinguishes the fire,” they write.

“Plenty of accidents take place when people throw lighted matchsticks. By coating a portion of matchsticks with the hybrid material, such accidents can be prevented,” Mr. Maji says.