Tuesday, May 31, 2005

hectic weekend

This weekend was nuts.

Sindya signed me up for a 3 day class taught by the Teachers Training Foundation in Bangalore - it's an orientation meant for volunteers that are going to take part in the Reading For Real program next year.

Sindya and I have signed up for a few months next year; we'll be storytelling some books to young children who don't have a strong grasp of english, and encouraging them to read.

The training was awesome (though I bunked Friday because of work). I met a bunch of cool people. We learnt about pre/during/post reading activities aimed at holding the children's interest in the story and making sure they grasped it. We got a demo from an amazing storyteller - she had a room full of adults completely mesmerized by her rendition of a story meant for 6 year olds!

On Saturday night, I signed up to do an all-night bicycle ride. We met up at M.G. Road at 10pm. The organizers piled us into a van and took us to a house south of bangalore, off Kanakpura road, where they had a bunch of cycles. The cycles weren't that great at all - no gears, not the perfect size (too small for me), and a little rickety. They didn't provide helmets either. I was a little disappointed, given that we had paid Rs. 700 for the outing. Anyways, we started with an 8-9 km ride on the highway (it was about 11:45 by the time we started so not too much traffic) after which we took a detour into some small village roads. The roads were super muddy from the heavy rain that we've been having, and generally bumpy because they're inner roads. Needless to say, my backside was in severe pain by the end of the ride. We finished the appx 40km ride at about 5:15am. I had to walk the last 1-2 km of the ride because (a) my butt was sore, (b) the last 9km was uphill, (c) my back tire was pretty flat so it was superhard to ride.

Anyways, I reached home at 7am, took a shower and passed out. At 9:30am I had to pull myself out of bed and spend the entire day (10-5) in the TTF class again.

I ended up getting two movies from vikas - Les triplettes de Belleville (which I'd seen before) and The House of Flying Daggers, which I wanted to see. I finally passed out at 10pm.

It's somehow Tuesday already and I'm down with a terrible cough and cold. I'm guessing it's partly to do with a hectic weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2005


For the second time in a little over a month, our office flooded. Well, not really our whole office. Let me explain.

It doesn't rain that much in Bangalore. It must've rained about 30-40 minutes today. But it rained pretty darn hard. Actually, it even hailed a little. We were standing inside and just joking about how much it would suck if it started to leak (since the roof leaked about a month ago) when someone was like "oh crap! let's go check the server room!"

So we rush over to the rooms where the various pieces of huge electrical equipment are and, sure enough, one of the balconies has overflowed and water has now gone into the main electrical room (where there are electrical wires running on the ground). Some people rushed to start bailing out the room with buckets but then came to their senses. We started bailing the balcony so that no more water would overflow into the electrical room. We couldn't just shut it off because all the servers would have an unclean shutdown. So the sysadmins started doing a server-room shutdown.

In the meantime, another of the balconies was starting to flood, and threatening to flood the office. In addition, the awnings in that balcony were sagging from the weight of water that had collected on them. So we alternated between pushing water off the awnings (to save it from collapsing from its weight) and bailing water out of the balcony (to prevent the office from flooding). Fun times.

It's stopped raining now but I'm guessing it will rain some more tonight. I decided to leave my car in the basement (although I don't really trust that building too much) and take a taxi home in case the roads were bad. A few fallen trees and fender-benders, but nothing major - at least on my route home. I can't imagine what some of the busier streets (Airport Road, Hosur Road) are like. The power is out at home - my building has generator backup (like many apartment complexes here) so I'm still blogging away.

Last time this happened, we had a holiday the next day (actually it ended up being a half day because the servers were brought back up). Wonder if I get to stay in tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Enterprise Software

This is worth a read. Excerpt:
    “Enterprise Software” is a polite way of saying shitty legacy systems and overly complex requirements.

I'm sure that resonates with many. The article is hilarious.


A while ago, Neil Gershenfeld gave a talk at amazon about technologies coming down the pipeline. He talked about being able to download blueprints to a home 'printer' and have it 'print out' a working bicycle.

Why is that revolutionary? Well first, there's the obvious cutting of shipment costs. More importantly, by totally changing the cost structure of goods delivery, it removes a lot of traditional Economies of Scale, thus lowering the barrier-to-entry for a new 'producer' (designer might be a better word) in the market. The producer is now free to experiment and customize since the cost of a 'failed' product is only the time lost in the effort.

Thinking about things like that makes one rethink where exactly a company like amazon fits into the market. Though we're not quite there yet (no instantly downloadable bicycles), lulu.com is a company that allows people to upload books in digital format. You can then sell your book (as a physical book, not a download) on sites like amazon. Pretty darn cool, if you ask me. Now that publishers are removed from the equation, the barrier-to-entry for an author is significantly lowered. The up-front costs to them are minimal, and the cost of selling zero copies of your book is just the time you spent writing the book; not the cost of hundreds of unsold printed-and-bound physical books.

Most people aren't ready to read books in digital format (I know I hate reading long articles on my laptop), which has also limited how Long the Tail is for books (the first limiting factor being the barrier-to-entry for authors described above). Lulu has just lengthened the tail for books by changing their cost-structure. Additionally, by allowing self-published books to be sold on amazon, lulu.com is addressing the issue that customers face as they wade through the Long Tail: "how to sort through the junk and find the Good Stuff?" Through its personalization and recommendation features, Amazon has made a name for itself in helping people find and discover items. Lulu is smart to leverage that.

(tip from tpwire)
update a little more reading revealed that amazon hasa acquired booksurge, a similar company.

Government in business.

India has a socialist legacy. Post independence, we walked the 'middle path' (moderate socialism, or something) for many years. We had privately owned businesses but they were heavily regulated. The government enjoyed monoploy in many core industries.

Today, there are still many examples of government owned businesses; 'state emporiums' (handicrafts, etc. characteristics of each state), aircraft manufacturers, coffee shops... the list is long and varied.

It always surprises visiting Americans to hear of this.

Well I just read that the United States Army makes first-person shooter games. To quote from the article:

    “The technology is what we use for actual training,” says Major Chris Chambers, who directed the E3 presentation for the Army. “We brought it to E3 because it’s also really cool.”
    < snip >
    But Chambers says he is at the expo for the same reason as the other exhibitors: to showcase the game.
    “We intend to be a major player in this industry for a long time,” he says. (emphasis mine)

Now that is messed up.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why gmail?

Maybe this is common knowledge, but it just occurred to me why gmail is such a brilliant idea. Google's pagerank estimates the importance of pages based on links between pages. If I think a page is important, I'll probably link to it. But what if I don't have a website to link from?

When I'm browsing the web, I'm constantly emailing people links that I think they'd find interesting. Sometimes if I'm not feeling lazy, I'll even send some blurb that explains why they should click on the link.

Until recently, Google was completely missing out on this simple and highly reliable way of guaging the importance of pages. Now that google sees my email, they can still apply 'pagerank', but some of the pages in question happen to be emails that people are sending to each other.

Frikkin brilliant. And I thought it was only about the ad revenue.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I love flickr and delicious - both sites that let you organize 'stuff' (photos, links respectively) using tags (arbitrary space separated words that you can assign to things).

Clay Shirky recently posted an excellent essay entitled Ontology is Overrated in which he talks about a bunch of cool stuff and then goes on to say why tags are so damn useful.

But here's an excerpt from early in the document (where he's talking about categorization) that caught my eye:

    Ontological classification works well in some places, of course. You need a card catalog if you are managing a physical library. You need a hierarchy to manage a file system. So what you want to know, when thinking about how to organize anything, is whether that kind of classification is a good strategy. (emphasis mine).

I'd like to question that asusmption actually... Do you really need a hierarchy to manage a file system? I've spent the last few days going through my OS textbook and doing a bunch of reading/searching about file system design. I think that's an assumption that's ripe to be questioned.

I know that some people have already tried building in 'tag-like' notions into a filesystem. In fact, the defacto filesystem in OSX, HFS+, now (as of Tiger) has support to add arbitrary key/value attributes to files. I haven't downloaded Tiger but, from what I remember from reading reviews, this feature is currently used in only a few places like for ACLs and maybe some Spotlight metadata.

Getting back to the point; why does a file system need heirarchy in order to be manageable? One survey/research paper I read (will post link when I find it again) essentially says "there's too much software out there that assumes that the file sysem is heirarchical so I'm not going to even talk about building something that doesn't have any heirarchy." That may actually be the correct, practical viewpoint to take. But real innovation comes from questioning the 'practical viewpoints' of our day, right?

If a URL is an inode and the title of an html page is a filename, then your filesystem and flickr are not too different. That said, URLs are not as opaque as inodes. If I see a URL with mozilla.org in it, that gives me some clue about the contents even though the exact semantics I associate with it may be varied.

If you know of some work in this area, please enlighten me. In the mean time, I'll be sure to use my not-so-copious amounts of free time to try to read more on the subject.

update: Thanks, Huat, for the pointer. As always, I feel like an idiot for being so clueless about what's out there. :)
update: Interesting; with WinFS, msft is trying to do with the PC, something similar to what the semantic web is trying to do to the internet - give well defined structure and semantics to data. It's hard to get it to work on the web because of how many diverse applications there are, and how loosely structured the data (HTML) fundamentally is. On the PC, though, msft-written software probably makes up a majority of the software you run (not me; I have a mac like any self-respecting yuppie). More importantly, much of the content you create on your PC is created using msft applications. Two questions come up in my mind: (1) how easy is to work with content not created using msft applications; (2) how useful/intuitive is strong typing (vs. tagging) to the end user.
more: I came across this discussion of Longhorn which includes a mini rant at the end about heirarchical file systems.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


The Bangalore Marathon took place today and I ran a 7K 'celebration run'. My time was too pathetic to even mention. My aim was to not stop running but I set my sights too low; I'm totally bummed that I didn't push myself harder. I finished the run with a lot of energy left, which means I probably could've run a lot faster.

Anyways, it was a fun morning; we ran with bright yellow Dream a Dream shirts and then went to Koshy's with some friends. Lunch took an hour and a half to get served and wasn't even that good. Note to self: no more Koshy's. After beer and a big meal though, I'm ready to pass out.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


A friend of mine has been giving me headaches by constantly talking about podcasting and how cool it is. So last night I finally decided to see what the buzz is about and downloaded a podcast client for the mac.

I tried the free 'Lite' version first. The full version has a 30 day trial, but I haven't tried it yet. The Lite version allows you to specify feeds, and download them to a local folder. For any audio files downloaded, you can automatically drop them into iTunes and delete them from the download folder.

This morning, I have two news feeds (one from KOMO news in Seattle and one from Northwest Public Radio), and a jazz feed (don't have the link with me right now) on my iPod.

It was pretty cool to listen to random news on the way to work (instead of the Hindi-Pop and talk shows that are usually on the radio here). Will post more experiences shortly.

Given that the aforementioned friend still hasn't actually downloaded a podcast client, maybe I can talk his head off about podcasting instead.

Monday, May 09, 2005

how not to get pigeonholed, and other good stuff...

... from fastcompany:

from Escape Your Pigeonhole
    Vargas highlighted the research skills she gained, rather than the law, and landed a market-research job
    <snip >
    "I typically make a commitment to a project for 18 to 24 months and offer upfront to groom one of my staff to replace me," Olding says.
    <snip >
    get pigeonholed as a person who leads new ventures

from Change or Die
    "A relatively small percentage of the population consumes the vast majority of the health-care budget for diseases that are very well known and by and large behavioral."
    <snip >
    Unless you work on it, brain fitness often begins declining at around age 30 for men, a bit later for women. "People mistake being active for continuous learning," Merzenich says. "The machinery is only activated by learning. People think they're leading an interesting life when they haven't learned anything in 20 or 30 years. My suggestion is learn Spanish or the oboe."
    <snip >
    What happens if you don't work at mental rejuvenation? Merzenich says that people who live to 85 have a 50-50 chance of being senile. While the issue for heart patients is "change or die," the issue for everyone is "change or lose your mind." Mastering the ability to change isn't just a crucial strategy for business. It's a necessity for health. And it's possibly the one thing that's most worth learning.

The article talks about how large changes are sometimes so much easier than small, incremental changes. Reminds me of the economic reforms India undertook in the early 90s - it only happened because we were only left with three weeks worth of foreign currency reserves. Since the sweeping changes that took place then, the economic reforms have been a lot slower to come.
Beth over at Creating Passionate Users writes about this article as well.

humor me

... and answer this quick poll by adding a comment.

    Roughly what percentage of the conversations you have on the web are with people you know, vs. with random digerati?

Obviously, most of your conversations about personal issues are going to be with people you know. But I'm talking about conversations about generally non-personal things; movies, current affairs, technology, politics, etc.

There are conversations going on in the blogosphere (through posts, comments, and trackbacks) and in communities like slashdot. Call these 'public' conversations. There is definitely a group of people who are actively engaged in those.

I know that many of my non-personal, electronic conversations are with people I know in the real-world. Call these 'private' conversations. Until before the blogosphere hit its tipping point, most conversations were like this - 'private' in nature and enabled by email, IM, or the likes.

(This conversation that I'm engaging you in is technically 'public' though I'm guessing that my readership right now is mostly people I know)

So you tell me: how important are 'public' conversations to you? Do you find yourself still reverting back to private conversations most of the time? Why? For non-personal stuff, why not open up your conversations to anyone who cares to participate?

Friday, May 06, 2005


Are you sick of that word yet? (remixing). sorry. I had to join the bandwagon and comment.

I read this article by joel a while ago that talked about the unix vs windows mentality of building software.

In unix, you build small tools that can be combined together very flexibly (but are typically hard for end-users to use). In windows you build apps that solve a particular use case (but cannot typically be resused/remixed). Unix tools were built by programmers, for programmers, while windows applications were written for end-users.

Companies traditionally have focussed on trying to build end-user applications. They want to completely address every user's problems and dumb you down to a particular workflow. And while that's a nice thought, it totally ignores their most important users; the ones that find great new ways of taking the best parts of what's out there and putting it together. Not all your users will be able to do that; but as soon as one of them does, someone (maybe not you; maybe them, maybe someone else) will find a way to make it easy enough for everyone to use.

Business folk often talk about core competency but when it comes to building software products, they forget about leveraging the core competencies of others in addition to their own, and instead try to be everything to everyone.

As technology creeps into people's daily toolkit, vernacular, and lifestyle; more of us are comfortable thinking like programmers; we're comfortable combining tools together to create 'applications' that are customized to our lifestyle. And that's part of what is enabling the new band of internet innovaters to start building small, great tools.

You've probably heard all of this before. Re-reading the above paragraphs, it feels like I'm replaying a monologue that has been played many times before. But the problem is that there's only a small group of people shouting the same things amongst themselves. Companies are still sitting around scheming up new ways of trying to be everything to their users instead of finding a core competency, kicking ass in that area, and leveraging the brilliant work of others.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

fun at work

From an old article about having fun at Pixar:

  • At Pixar, the mirth can't be half-assed. "The people who work here know when someone is trying to manipulate them," says Stanton. "For example, someone organized a tug-of-war game at one of our company lunches, but I didn't play. I don't like people telling me when it's time to have fun."

  • That's so true; I've experienced the feeling of 'being told to have fun' several times. So how do you organize stuff for people at work without making them feel like that?

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005


    So a funny thing happened to me the other day.

    I met two people through a friend. After a few minutes of chit-chat, one of them said "wow. how come your water bottle is so shiny?" The other chimed in: "I was just thinking the same thing."

    I looked down to see that they were pointing at my Nalgene.

    "Funny you ask; I just had a friend bring me a new one from the US becuase I lost my old one when I went kayaking a few weeks ago", I replied somewhat sheepishly.

    I felt that I had to defend the fact that I had an unscratched Nalgene. That I had to say "no I'm not just another yuppie that bought a nalgene to drink water in the office, i take this thing to rugged places!"

    I was thinking about it the other day... anyone in their right mind would've seen a shiny water bottle and assumed it was new. No conversation required there. But the question really was a question about my lifestyle.

    Maybe these guys go and beat up their new Nalgene water bottles so they can look cool and rugged? I don't know. But it definitely reminded me of being a kid when I would buy new shoes and go run in the dirt a bit so they wouldn't look so damn white. Though must admit that the thought did cross my mind when I recently bought a pair of tennis shoes. But then I decided that it was a stupid idea.

    Sunday, May 01, 2005


    So I just finished creating a website with rails. As far as websites go, it really doesn't do that much at all. It's a cross between being slightly overkill for its purpose, yet being too simplistic for harnessing the power of rails.

    That said, it was interesting to try to create and deploy a website. I tried to do some 'best practices' things like using subversion for my source control (textdrive provides svn as part of the package), creating a local website on my mac and testing there before doing any deployments, etc. Even though I often changed stuff on the live site, I made all the changes locally and checked them into svn right away. :)

    I absolutely hate coming home from work and coding. But
    1. I committed to creating a site by the end of the month
    2. Ruby/Rails was fun to work with

    I'm glad I did it because I feel a little more confident about being able to get something up and running from scratch. It's kind of lame that I wasn't comfortable with that, given that I work for a dot-com. But I'm so used to using all the tools and frameworks that we've developed internally, that I hadn't really played with what's out there.

    Anyway, aside from bugfixes, I'm done with after-work-coding for a while at least.