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February 2004

Hanging out with the Cynergy dream team

- by Alan

The dream team with the dream machine (from left: Bastiaan, Akash, Sukhamuni)

“As everybody knows, Cynergy began in 1995,” says Akash. Typical techy-talk, I'm thinking: assuming that everybody knows what he knows. Actually, Akash doesn't really conform to the image of the computer nerd. He looks fairly clean, has been known to change his clothes and doesn't hunch over his desktop devouring peanut-butter sandwiches. He's even been sighted on a badminton court.

Akash worked with Steve and others on creating the Auroville CD-ROM which was Cynergy's first project. He then worked in Germany for two years, developing software and doing website design, before returning to Auroville and taking over the running of the unit. Now, high above CSR, he's building a dream team of young Aurovilian techies – comprising, at the moment, Bastiaan, Sukhamuni and himself – who are about to astonish the world.

“Basically at Cynergy, as the name suggests (somebody should tell him it's misspelled) we're doing a combination of everything,” continues Akash. “At the moment I'm mainly designing websites for people outside Auroville – that's the only way we can keep this place running – but Bas and I are also creating software and doing website design for units in Auroville. For example, we are in the middle of designing a major programme for AuroRE, the renewable energy unit, downstairs, and I'll be doing a design for various modules of the Matrimandir heliostat.”

Sukhamuni, sitting beside Akash at the improvised interview table, is getting restless – he's been away from his computer for five minutes and is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I ask him where he fits in. Long pause as he works out what he can tell me. “Tell him about Linux,” prompts Akash. “Right. Well, the nice thing about Linux, which is an operating system upon which you can run all your applications is that, unlike Windows™, it is free. It was developed by a team of programmers who got together to do something different. They made the basic code available, so now thousands of people understand how it is put together and are actively working on it, searching for bugs and ways to improve its functioning.”

But is it as good as Windows? And can I run all my Windows applications upon it? “It is a very robust system,” explains Akash, “and for most programmes which you run on Windows there is a Linux equivalent. You can't run more complex programmes like Photoshop, but for them you can install WINE – or Windows Emulator – which allows you to run any programme which can be run on Windows. That way you don't waste programmes which you've already purchased when you switch to Linux.”

How long does it take to learn Linux? Akash waves an airy hand. “For a basic word-processing programme it shouldn't take you longer than...” He eyes me closely. Clearly he's dealing with a dummy. “...thirty minutes.” So how many people in Auroville have switched so far? Akash and Sukhamuni steal a quick glance at each other. “AuroRE has switched and so has the High School. It's just a matter of time before more follow,” says Akash. “To ease the transition, Cynergy plans to set up a Linux installation and service centre.”

What else are they working on? “Right now,” says Akash, “we're doing interesting experiments with free energy and trying to build an n-machine.” Pardon? Akash looks at his watch. This is taking longer than the 17 minutes he'd generously allocated me. He speaks quicker. “It's about designing a machine which produces more energy than you put in.” “Doesn't that violate one of the basic laws of physics?” I ask. Bad move. Akash launches into an involved explanation of how it's basically all about magnetic fields collapsing and recreating themselves while, in the process, generating electricity. “We're trying to create a very efficient motor using powerful rare earth magnets. You can't obtain them in India but apparently they can be found in hard disks. So far we've ripped about 30 apart and now have got enough magnets to begin serious experimentation.” He gestures to a remote corner of the workshop. “We've already got a small rotor running.” I take a closer look. Unfortunately the eternal energy machine is not running that afternoon...

Akash is looking at his watch again. Desperately I shoehorn in one more question. “All this working with computers. Does it change the way you think, behave?” “Definitely,” says Akash. “As a programmer you tend to analyse things much more objectively in terms of efficiency. Not ‘What do I feel like doing?' but ‘What's the easiest thing to do?' And this applies to everything. For example, when I get up in the morning I analyse the most energy-efficient way of combining preparing my breakfast with going to the bathroom.” Does that mean he actually prepares his breakfast in the bathroom? Perhaps he even sleeps there also? Now THAT would be efficiency.

“It's a whole way of looking,” he continues. “For example, when I have a problem I break it up into several smaller units. Then I ask of each one, ‘Is it this or is it that?' and, based on the answer, I move on to the next stage. It's a way of trying to get to the guts of a problem. Useful, but it spills over into my whole life...Perhaps too much.”

Abruptly he and Sukhamuni get up. Clearly they've been programmed to terminate the interview at 4.57 p.m. “Well, that's it then. Be seeing you.”

They're out the door in 12 seconds flat. Dust, brushed by the sun, swirls in their slipstream. Oh, brave new world.

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