Tablet of the Future. A dream of Dr Sugata Mitra

Dr Sugata Mitra wrote an interesting piece on tablet of the future:

What if every child were to get a tablet computer at age 6? And what if the tablet is such that it grows up with the child and is still useful at age 100? What sort of a tablet would we need? Read on what Dr Sugata thought in his blog…

Its called ‘The Prime’
Abu got his Prime on his sixth birthday. It was in a sleek and shiny, wine coloured box next to his pillow when he woke up. Abu thought he should hug his mother, but considering her mood at six in the morning, he decided not to. Instead, he opened the box.
A soft and very organic silicone clamshell slipped out of the box. The prime nestled inside it. Abu opened the paper thin cover, like the cover of a new book. A tiny light blinked red, yellow and then blue on the top right corner of the very thin, half a millimetre, bezel around dark screen.
‘I am your Prime, Abu’, said the Prime and Abu nearly dropped it although the five inch screen was a perfect fit for his small hand. ‘Do you want to give me a name?’, said the Prime.
‘Boomba’, said Abu, now quite enjoying himself. His Prime giggled and said, ‘OK, Abu’
In the next fifteen minutes, Boomba took a picture of Abu’s face, his fingerprint, had him recite a poem to get his voice pattern, had him stand on itself to measure his weight. The black screen was now lit up with a pale blue light and a lovely abstract, fractal background. Abu found out that he could turn it off by saying ‘Get dark!’ and turn it on by picking it up, staring at it, or by saying ‘Boomba!’
Boomba found a WiFi signal, the date, time, its location, the ambient temperature and humidity from the Cloud and its sensors. Then it ‘dressed itself’ as it put it. Its quad core processor took less than ten seconds to do that. Now Boomba had a face, somewhat like that of a large mobile phone. Abu plugged its tiny wireless charger into a power socket, even though he was not supposed to touch any power sockets. Boomba told Abu it would charge upto 25 feet away from the socket, so he could put it next to his bed.
The Prime was expensive, but Boomba’s mother got it for free. The price of the Prime and unlimited lifelong 20 Mbps wireless broadband were paid for by the government, for every child, from a 1% tax on cigarettes, alcohol and cosmetics.
Abu carried his Prime everywhere. In school he found out that you could join Primes together to make bigger screens. In their Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs), Abu and three of his friends would take two Primes out of their silicone sleeves and put two Primes side by side until they clicked together. Then they would put two more below these two to make a ten inch screen. The bezels were so thin, they could barely make out the edges dividing the screens. Once, the entire group put all their Primes together to make a 60 inch screen and watched a TED talk. The speaker was nearly life size!
The tiny camera on the Prime could be slipped out of the Prime and put back facing the front or back of the tablet. So, Abu would have the camera face him when he was Skyping his friends or mediators. But he would turn the camera the other way when he wanted to take pictures or videos.
In Norway, a 10 year old had tied his Prime to his head with the camera pointed outwards. Abu was online with him over Skype. Then he got on a bicycle and Abu guided him to ride around his village and show him everything. It was different from India, Abu decided, but not that different. That evening he asked Boomba to tell him about the history of Norway and India. So different, and yet, so same.
Abu was too young to realise that his Prime would turn the camera and microphone on every 5 seconds for a quarter of a second so that it could make patterns from the pictures and sounds to figure out what Abu’s life was like. Once when Abu was sneezing, Boomba asked him to put his finger of the thermal sensor and told his mother that he was about to get a fever. Boomba would later also tell Abu’s parents that his height and weight were increasing normally and that his hand-eye coordination was fine. Boomba also reported that Abu’s hearing was really good and that his reading comprehension was a level above what it should be for his age.
Abu’s sister Julie was 17 and her Prime, called Amy, had been with her for the last 11 years. Amy was a bit battered from use but Julie had got the screen, camera and battery changed several times, so it really was like a new Prime. Amy knew Julie more than anyone else in the world. It knew her friends, her interests, her abilities, her looks, her moods, her relationships and her sorrows. Julie could not imagine a life without her Amy.
Sometimes, Amy would join with Boomba over the WiFi and exchange notes, or they would look for global patterns of child behaviour with millions of other Primes on the Cloud.
In school, the children would research topics in groups of four with their Primes joined together into 10 inch screens. Groups would talk to other groups, sometimes in other places in the world and discuss what they had found. During examinations, the Primes would help their owners work out the best answers and also check the childrens cognitive, creative and imaginative abilities.
Boomba had, in the meanwhile, taught Abu to play the guitar and sing. They often played a tune together and Abu’s mother thought that was really good.
Sometimes, at night, Boomba would call an eMediator from the Granny Cloud to read out fairy tales to Abu until he fell asleep. Then it would turn the lights out and keep an eye on the room door until morning. When Abu walked to the bus stop to go to school, Boomba rattled happily in his pocket. Once, when Abu tripped on the pavement and fell, Boomba had screamed out of his pocket, ‘This child needs your help, please, this child needs your help’.
Boomba grew with Abu, changing his stories, his games, his music, his research habits. It monitored Abu’s learning, his healthcare parameters, his learning and thinking styles, his intelligences. Boomba suggested solutions when it detected problems – it used the best resources from the Cloud to do so. It even changed its own voice to match his baritone. When, at 13 a thin moustache began to grow on Abu’s upper lip, Boomba showed him what it looked like and what he might look like at 40!
Then they laughed a lot, together.

I like the bit at the end, when he wrote:
Well, thats it, dear reader, about the tablet to grow up with. Except for the last bit. When, after a happy and productive life, Abu, now 93, fell into a quiet coma and died, Boomba did not make a sound. It waited for a while, as Abu’s fingers grew cold….then it deleted its drives on the Cloud….and switched off.

A humbling experience

Over the weekend I was in Ipoh and Cameron highland. The journey to Ipoh was surprisingly tight. The normally two and a half hour trip took us another extra hour due to heavy traffic. It was not a long weekend but it is the school holiday period and the Saturday was a public holiday. Those who normally work on a Saturday got their day off and many took to the highway to travel. As usual my bad planning meant I have to take a few detours. Thinking I can top up the fuel tank at the rest areas, I just started off with the tank half full. Thinking I can fill up in Sungai Buloh or Rawang, I just drove past Jalan Duta Shell station. By the time we reached Sungai Buloh overhead rest stop, the place was jammed. The queue for petrol was long. Thinking Rawang should be OK, I just move on. Thinking, thinking, thinking.. It was plainly presumptious, Rawang was even worse, we cannot even got near the Petronas station and was turned away The RELA people who furiously waved us off. OK, lets try the old route 1, there are plenty of petrol stations along the way to Serendah, Rasa or KKB. It was better in route 1. Less traffic and many empty petrol stations. Empty petrol stations. Empty petrol stations – no fuel. Ha..ha. Pity the stations operators, at times like this when demand was high, there was no supply. They should be able to make a killing at times like this. Anyway, we managed to find a fully stocked BHP near Rasa. By then it was already 11.00am. I made another error of judgement after that, thinking the PLUS highway should be cleared by then, I switched back to the highway after Rasa. Obviously my thinking was not that good that day. The traffic only cleared after Sungkai. Strange, after Sungkai the highway dovetailed to two-lane instead of three and the jam cleared!. Anyway we reached the wedding when most of the people had left. Even the cendol guy was already packing to leave. Never mind the ice cream and cendol, Congratulation to my niece, Mastura.
As we had planned to spend the weekend in Cameron Highland we quickly headed to the hill station using the Simpang Pulai way. It was a smooth journey until Kampong Raja. Then the crawl began. It took us half and hour of antly crawl to reach Kea farm. To make matter worse, the hotel had change the name and it took us some time to find out the actual location. I cannot believe in this days of age, on line booking operators cannot expedite the change as soon as possible. The switched had been made almost one and a half year ago!

Since I had to travel outstation on Sunday, I took the bus back to KL. The rest of the family stayed back in CH. It was such a refreshing change – travelling by coach. Great view, comfortable seat, smooth ride. Heck, who cares about the jam. The ride on the LRT back to Sri Rampai, jolted me back to reality. The train, as usual on Sunday afternoon was quite packed. I was standing with my back pack in the last coach of the four-coach train. Then there was this lady who suddenly stood up and said “Uncle, please sit down, take my seat”. For a few moments I was too dumbfounded to reply. Ouch..ouch. Uncle cannot stand on the train any more! Thank you young lady. You are such a fine lady, who ever you are. Thank you for reminding me of my age and putting me in my place.

Can we dispensed with long winded protocol laden honorific ceremonial salutations at functions?

Syed Nadzri’s article “Time to dispense with protocol at functions” in NST on 19 May 2015 really struck a chord with many of us. And I have heard many colleagues and friends grumbling about this. I am sure you have come across functions where you have to endure a good 10 minutes of opening salutations such as Yang Berbahagia Tun, Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri, Yang Berbahagia Puan Sri, Datuk Seri, Datu-datuk, Datin-datin and the list goes on and on until the reader is breathless and the listeners start to whisper to each other, fiddling with their programme books, staring at the ceiling, or even stifling a yawn or two. If you are an emcee, it is even worse because not only you have to make sure the Tan Sri, Datuk Seri, Datin Seri, Datuk or whatever that were on the list is around, you must also get the order correct. Syed Nadri said, the book Malaysian Protocol by Datuk Abdullah Ali, listed down the order of precedence right from the Yang Di Pertuan Agong to all the way down to the ministerial level – all 53 levels!. Worse still, at state level functions, the salutations provided by the host state take precedence and as an emcee you must know it or else that is probably the last of your emceeing job or at government level, you’ll getting the show cause letter or your boss would be reprimanded by the big bosses for not following protocol. It is a real dilemma. Many people moaned about it but so far nobody dares to defy the protocol, more so us government servants. I reckon it is a reflection of our Malay custom that has been woven into our social fabric, where respect to the positioned and elders are of prime importance. I have attended a lot of functions overseas, none so far matches our intricacies and length in addressing the opening salutations.
The Chief Minister of Sarawak recently tried to cut it down when he ordered he should be referred as CM (short for chief minister) without mentioning his full official titles during official events. I wonder if other state chiefs would follow. But you still run the risk of being told off if you get it wrong or miss out mentioning any dignitary in your speech. I believe it is necessary to address the important guest at events but to address all of them complete with their titles and to repeat that every opening paragraph is quite tiresome.
On that note, the reknown ulama, Datuk Abu Hassan Din noted on TV9 recently that Muslim are not obligated to answer a salam given by a speaker if the salam is given after the salutation. As you know, Muslims are obligated to answer a salam and giving the salam should come first. It is very interesting, I noticed that many a time, a speaker would only say the “Assalamualaikum” after addressing the long list of dignitaries present at the event. He said, the speaker should immediately open the speech with “assalamualaikum”, then only address the dignitaries with their ceremonial honorifics. He chided some people who open the speech with salutation and add a lot Arabic salutation with praises to Allah and Rasullullah, excerpt from the Quran and the doa and only finally say the all important “assalamualaikum”. In this case, he said, muslims are not obligated to answer with waalaikumussalam.

Government red tape at its best.

Over the weekend, we were tasked to go to Rompin as a part of the plan to meet the people to explain MoE’s programmes. Rompin is a rural backwater town in Pahang bordering Johor and Negeri Sembilan. The place is the gateway to one of the world most beautiful island, Tioman. It is also famous for its abundance of kingd size prawns, not so much of the lobster type but river prawns.I had the opportunity to taste them that very night in open air by the seaside bbq.. Have not done such thing since my schooling days in Port Dickson beach. Wonderful experience. We took the route from KL to Kuala Pilah, Serting, Felda Keratong, Muadzam Shah and to Rompin – a four-hour journey with two toilet breaks.
The event was the usual meet the students, teachers, parents session. Nothing spectacular really.
The journey back I decided to take the alternative route of Mersing,Kluang and on to the PLUS highway. After another prawnful lunch (pardon the pun), we took off to Mersing around 2.30pm hoping to reach the PLUS highway by 4.00pm. After Mersing, it started to rain and it was pretty heavy by the time we reached Kahang. Most of us were fast asleep when it happenned. After negotiating a rather sharp corner, there was this junction and the lorry in front slowed down to turn right, all the cars in front of us screeched to a halt. We managed to stop just in time but in that split second there was a loud bang at the back. Somebody has banged us in the back. It was raining heavily, we had no umbrella but I knew I was not that bad, because we were not even thrown forward by the impact. We moved aside and used of the plastic bags to cover our head to check on the damages. The lady in the Alza who hit us was still the car, she was frantically calling somebody over the phone. Her car was very badly damaged. At the back was the real culprit, an old Jabatan Pertanian Pajero. The Pajero should not have been on the road at all. It was rusty, creaky and the aircond did not work. The driver was busy wiping his windscreen when it hit the Alza. The front head light was torn off and the car looked like it was going to fall apart. The worst was the Alza, it got hit on both ends, front and back. The front left side was totally crushed immobilising the car. Likewise the rear left portion was ripped off.

The poor Alza front portion.

The poor Alza front portion.

The culprit was this BER Pajero.

The culprit was this BER Pajero.


Fortunately our X Trail was not that badly damaged except for torn rear fender and bent exhaust tailpipe. But then the hassle really begin after that. We had to wait for a couple of hours for the traffic policeman to come. Sargeant Iswadi was efficient and businesslike.By then it was almost seven and we were told to go to the Kluang traffic police station to file a report and now hear this…being a government vehicle, we were told by one Inspector Safian that the car had to be impounded! He had to wait for JKR to come and assess the damage. Since it was already past office ours, JKR need a request memo from the police to its HQ in Johor Baharu and in turn the JB HQ would send the memo to JKR Kluang with instruction to do the job. How is that for efficiency huh.. We had to put up in a hotel in Kluang for the night. We had to inform our HQ to pick us up in the morning and the Police and JKR cannot even guarantee us whether they can the job done by today. Can’t they allow us to let JKR in KL to do the job. No sir you can’t, it has to be done within the jurisdiction of the police district where the incident happened. Can’t we simply mailed the photos of the damaged portion to JKR to do the assessment. No sir, it has to be done in real world. This is Government red tape at its best. I had this helplessness feeling. It was just a scratch to the car, but we need all the necessary report and assessment by the authority to justify the repair claim or else the audit would e breathing on our neck – exactly the words of the good inspector. As for now I must wait for another car to pick us up. Wonderful.

We might as well send our footballers to Bhutan.

Bhutan is well known for being one of the happiest nation in the world but not for its footballing prowess. But now Bhutan plays better football than Malaysia. According to the latest FIFA ranking, Bhutan is placed above Malaysia’s 164th! The latest ranking not only placed Malaysia among the lowest in the Asian countries but also lowest among the senior ASEAN nations. I cannot imagine Malaysia which regularly beat the Philipines with double figures scores in the 80s and 70s is now ranked below them. The same goes for Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam. Apart from Thailand, these countries were constantly beaten by us in the past. I wonder how low can we go. I shudder to compare us with the African nations where the countries torn by wars and draughts with hardly any so called football fields fared a lot better than us. Look at Burkina Faso, Mali, Congo, Ethiopia, Chad, etc.

In the meantime, the New Straits Times reported that many of our footballers are being paid more than RM50,000.00 a month! Nor Sharul Idlan had his contract with the ATM cut short because the Gladiators cannot pay him the RM80K a month as per the contract and he was quickly snapped up by Terengganu which is more than willing to pay that amount. The so called Malaysian Man City, The JDT, really up the ante in terms of paying footballers in this country. They pay Shafiq Rahim RM75K, Figeroa RM175K, Safee Sali RM40K and a host of other household names in Malaysian football, all in the excess of RM40K a month. It was also reported that the FA of Perlis last year had trouble to pay their footballers. They had to go without pay for more than three months. I don’t suppose Perlis players got paid with the amount their JDT counterparts are getting. I heard it was only RM3-5K a month. I wonder how much Bhutan pays their footballers.

Azman Ujang, the former Bernama Chief also wrote in the Sun that if you look at the team sheet of any of the Malaysian Super League or Premier League teams, you hardly see any chinese names anymore. Whatever happen to the likes of Soh Chin Aun, Wong Kam Fook, Wong Choon Wah, Tang Siew Seng, Lim Teong Kim, James Wong? If I remember correctly Perak had Chan Wing Hoong a few years ago and that was the last of the few. Even Penang, Sarawak, Malacca, and KL, the states that normally have a number of chinese players do not have them anymore. Where have all they gone ? Azman blamed the school system. In the old days, talents came from the schools and the national schools football fields were the fertile grooming ground for multi ethnic talents. According to Azman, these days, chinese parents preferred to send their charges to chinese schools where basketball courts easily outnumbered football fields. Hence, the boys had little chance to play football and less and less chinese boys get selected to play at a higher level. While we still have the likes of Chanturu, Gunalan, and Kunanlan we do not see any more Chan Wing Hoong, Yap Wai Loon, Chin Hong Aik, and Chow Chee Keong. I wonder whether the point put forward by Azman is valid, as Singapore, which has no issue with the schooling system, is facing the same problem. They had trouble finding players to fill the boots of Lee Man Hon, Steven Tan and the great Quah Kim Song. Maybe we all should go to Bhutan, not only they are happy, their football standards are better.

On turning 55

Last month I turned 55. Suddenly it dawned upon me I should have retired if it was 10 years ago. The Friday before that Monday would have been my clock out day.Rightly or wrongly I have to wait for another four years plus before I hang my professional chalk and blackboard. Looking at the average age of Prophet Muhammad’s ummah, I have another seven or eight years to go before I die. These are the hard cold facts I have to face. Even if I pray day and night for the next seven or eight years, I feel I still could not balance out the sins that I have done for the past 40 years or so. I am really praying for the grace of Allah to save me. Allah is the most Merciful.
Anyway, our birthday dinner (me and the wife incidentally almost shared the same birthday, hers is on the 14th mine on the 16th) was really unique. By twist of fate, my daughter’s friend from Canada was on a visit on that day and she managed to join us. She was on crutches after crashing her rented bike in Thailand. It was really amazing this young woman can travel half way around the globe in crutches, all alone.



The late JJ said we did not realised that we aged that far until we see our friends who grew up with us and we almost did not recognised them anymore. Greying or thinning hair, freckles turning into liver spots, bulging tummy, wrinkling hands and fading memory. Well, Alhamdulillah, Allah blessed me with wonderful family, relatively great health, secure job, super duper wife, comfortable home, considerable debts,..etc … what more can I ask. Hopefully I can still write on my next birthday.

1Bestarinet: re-re-visited

On Sept 13, 2011 I wrote about government’s plan to wire up all the schools in the country to the internet. The plan that has been in the doldrums since the sputtering Smart School project was more or less forgotten. Fast forward four years, the 1BestariNet contract was concluded last June and it was extended to December 2014 on interim basis. The Auditor General made a study of the project and it was tabled in parliament. We had a few sleepless nights preparing our answers to the findings of the Audit.
The main bone of contention is the user experience in accessing the internet. Schools expect the system to enable them to access the net from anywhere in the school compound at anytime. On the ground, users are complaining that they are not getting the connectivity that they thought they are supposed to get. The lines are either down, erratic, or too slow especially to the schools that are connected with Very Small Aperture Techonology (VSAT). The schools are supposed to get 4G connectivity with minimum 2Mbps, except for VSAT schools.
We must remember connectivity and accesibility is as good as the money you are willing to pay. Meaning, everything is tied to the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that you subscribed. You want a fast and efficient service you must pay for it. The Government can only pay as much especially when the number of users involved are humongous. Something like 10,000 schools, 450,000 teachers, 5 milion students, and 4.5 million parents are the potential users. As it is the Ministry is paying to the tunes of millions ringgit to pay for the connectivity, despite getting the cheapest rate available. So, the best solution is to manage the the bandwidth usage in an orderly manner so that everybody in the schools had to chance to access the internet for teaching learning purposes. The onus is on the school managers to schedule the access to the internet so that all users have equal opportunity. It is akin to traffic rushing home during peak hours where five rows of cars all trying to squeeze into a-two lane route. All would be jammed up. If a traffic policemen is available to regulate the entry into the two-lane route in an orderly manner, traffic would be smooth and everyone would be able to get home, albeit in a smaller number at one time. Of course we had the option of building a bigger highway with more lanes which definitely costs us more money. Likewise, we had the option of buying bigger bandwidth for faster speed and pay through our nose. That aside there is the issue of size of the application being accessed. You may be able to get internet connection but as you key in the address of your choice site you had to wait for ages for it to load. That maybe due to the size of the application is big and not properly optimized.

Goodbye my friend.

Saturday morning brought another shock. The phone was set to silent for the Friday afternoon meeting,I went to the mosque soon after and forgot to switch back to normal mode when I went to bed that night. When I woke up for the Fajr prayer and had a peek at the phone, there were numerous missed calls and messages – all pertaining to the passing of my officer. Just last week I met him to discuss our visit to Sabah to check on school ICT maintenance.
He was a sprightly guy with a ramrod demeanor. A no nonsense officer feared by many especially non performing contractors. I really appreciated his services as we need man like this to straighten out wayward school heads, school activity centres’ officers and he understood technical specification like the back of his hands. I can still remember him explaining things in his Sarawakian accent. With his passing, I lost a technical officer steep in the knowledge of ICT in schools. We had our arguments, all professionally done, him with his Sarawakian accent and me with my fake Sarawakian twang!
The sight of his son tugging the deceased foot underneath the blanket that covered the body, with tears streaming as if trying to revive him, was really heart wrenching. I managed to peek at his face. Rigor mortis has yet to set in. He looked so peaceful as if he was asleep. Goodbye Tajuddin, it was good to know you. May Allah bless you and put you amongst the solihin.

Casablanca, the town with the floating mosque

Casablanca, an Atlantic Ocean port City made famous by the movie. Even the taxi driver had a CD ready with exceprts from the movie to be played in their vehicle. The main attraction of Casablanca is the King Hassan Mosque. The frpnt portion of the mosque projected into the sea givng the impression that it is floating on the water.

It was a wet and blustery afternoon when we reached Casablanca. The mosque is very imposing but I was so disappointed that we have to pay 120 dirham to enter the mosque outside the five prayer times. It was about an hour to Asar when we reached there. I had to pray outside near the ablution area. I am not willing to pay 120 dirham to pray inside the mosque. I found it preposterous that we have to pay to pray. from windows phone-dec14 822

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The Moroccan musings (Part 10)

Somehow our journey back from Guelmim to Rabat was a wet one. The nine-hour coach journey was interspersed with rain spells along the way. Due to the unfavourable weather we had to abandon our plan to stop at Casablanca. Somehow the journey back was a lot quieter and a few stops as compared to the incoming journey the previous two days. It was still back breaking all the same. One observation that I make, the rural areas of Morocco still retain the old style of fencing their properties with high solid walls with huge ornate gates. The walls are normally painted brick red, a colour pervasive throughout the buildings of Morocco, especially Marakesh. Even the Governor of Guelmim residence is surrounded by brick red high walls with guard post at the entrance. I reckon this hark back to the fiefdom days of yore. As we nears Marakesh, Casablanca and Rabat, the old fort style enclosure is slowly being replaced by normal chainlink fence or some other transparent fence.
By the time we reached Rabat it was pouring and we had to move straight back to the hotel to deposit our luggage, despite earlier instructions that we were supposed to stop for dinner with the Ambassador. We had to take a taxi to the restaurant where the dinner held. We must thank the Ambassador for taking the trouble to entertain us. The team from the Energy group who did not have to travel to Guelmim or Tan Tan were already there when we arrived. It was past normal dinner time. Still we were grateful. At least I had the chance to share tales of our journey with the professors from the Energy group.
The Education Group proposed that further collaboration with Morocco on two fronts, i.e collaboration between schools and collaboration on teacher training. We have to finalise the actual plan within 90 days. I hope I can mobilise our Bestari showcase schools to start engaging with their Moroccan counterparts immediately. Be ready SMK Sungai Pusu, SM Abd Rahman Talib, and SK Bukit Jelutong. Technology wise, I think we are quite ahead of them. I reckon we can get some sort of collaboration of environmental projects. At least some form of virtual connection must be established immediately.