Thursday, September 30, 2010

Alumni network for NITT through Twitter

Came across some interesting twitter chatter relating to having #nittmeet - to have an active alumni network for my alma mater National Institute of Technology, Trichy

This is definitely an excellent idea. Twitter is an awesome communication medium to organically build an amorphous, geographically-spread, community of alumni from any institution.

NITT was started in 1964. That means there must be at least 45 batches of Engineers (and slightly lesser numbers of MBAs, PhDs, post-graduate degree holders, ....) who have passed out from NITT ( & erstwhile RECT ). One the one end of this alumni spectrum are the 'kids' who have just passed out of NITT, and who are to the most part gung-ho about - and aware of - Twitter. On the the other end of the spectrum are people whose most important worries these days are about their grand-kids, and are not likely to bother too much about Twitter.

I passed out from NITT in 1994, and thanks to two yahoo group mailing lists, am in communication with (a) most of the people from my batch, and (b) most of the NITT graduates who are settled in the US. Having another channel of communication and connection, which spreads across batches and locations is definitely a useful thing, in my view. There are some topics that is of interest to everyone in the alumni - irrespective of which batch they are from, and where they are located. Having such a channel would also foster communication among the alumni and strengthen the community.

And yada yada yada :-) OK, in conclusion, I see immense benefits of a communication channel through twitter for NITT alumni. Such a channel could work only if it is very simple, and easy for most to adopt, and with the minimum of rules.

Given all the features Twitter provides, the most easiest way to do this would be through a hash-tag. (The other feature of Twitter that could be used is the User-list functionality, but that is not scalable and can be ignored.)

Here is how I see it working:
  • The NITT alumni who are on Twitter currently start using a common hash-tag for NITT related communication on a regular basis. The hash-tag currently being used is #nittmeet. I would suggest using #nittrichy instead - simply because this is more appropriate for a long-term on-going thing. So current alumni on Twitter will start sending tweets with the hash-tag #nittrichy for any communication that pertains to NIT Trichy (eg: info about the recently conducted TEDxTrichy event.)
  • People can follow the conversation by searching for the #nittrichy hash-tag on Twitter. Link
  • Spread the word about this usage to others in the alumni - through mailing lists, at alumni meetups, etc.
  • Use an additional hash-tag or a modified hash-tag for a specific event. Eg: If, say, alumni of NITT 2009 batch want to 'meetup' over twitter one weekend for a couple of hours, that event can have a slightly different hash-tag. eg: #nitt2009meetup. Or communication around the next TEDxTrichy event could have both #nittrichy and #TEDxTrichy hash-tags.
Those are some of my initial thoughts about how this will work. What do you think?
- Do you think there is benefit in having an alumni network for NITT through Twitter?
- What are your suggestions to make such a network become alive and thrive?
- What do you expect to get from such an alumni channel?
- Any other thoughts and suggestions?

Do answer (some or all of) these questions and more in the comments, and also on twitter with #nittrichy hash-tag. Looking forward to hear from you - the NITT alumni from years I wasn't even born, and from you - the fresh alumni from NITT who still consider Sapphire / Pearl / Topaz / Agate as home rather than as hostels in an erstwhile college. :-)

Let's make this happen!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Breaking Bad: Compelling TV with brilliant story-telling

Just finished watching the second season of AMC's Breaking Bad and now am eagerly waiting for the release of third season on DVD; it won't be out before March 2011, going by the dates for release on DVD for the first two seasons. That's a long wait!

The first two seasons have been phenomenal; very absorbing right through with no slacking of excitement in the slightest at any moment. It has been so captivating that I have frequently found it hard to resist temptation to continue and watch the next episode after finishing one.

Each episode usually begins with a sense of fore-boding with a preview of whats to come later in the episode or season, and takes the viewers through a edge of the seat thrill-a-minute ride for 45 minutes or so, and leaves the viewers begging for more at the end.

What surprises me most is that I am firmly rooting for the main characters Walter White (Bryan Cranston in a superb performance) & Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) despite the heinous crimes they willingly or unwillingly commit. Given the story line (a chemistry teacher - and one of his pupils - turn into Meth producers & dealers, killing a few people directly along the way), it is very easy to not like the main characters. However, the story firmly focuses on their struggles, and their ingenuity - especially Walter's application of his immense practical knowledge of Chemistry - in coming out of every tough situation with flying colors, or at least with only minor setbacks.

The show totally ignores or avoids showing any negative aspects of what the main characters do - with hardly any scenes of the sufferings and travails of their end users - the drug addicts. Even the seriousness of Jesse Pinkman's drug habit (which leads to his girl-friend's death) gets lost in the excitement of the other story lines.

All said and done, this is a show worth watching - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Put it on your Netflix queue; or even better - buy the DVD.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A few resources for beginners in Ruby & Ruby on Rails

Met up with Marty Haught of Boulder Ruby fame yesterday at a Coffee shop in Longmont (the city in which both of us live); my objective for the meeting was to pick his brains on how to go from being a beginner and work towards becoming proficient in Ruby & Ruby on Rails. Got quite a bit of useful advice, and list of resources for self-learning from Marty in this regard.

I am listing the resources that Marty mentioned, a few that Ben Atkin had recommended a earlier, and a couple of resources I found on my own, with the hope that it might be useful for others as well. Here it goes:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Powerful answer to "Does Microfinance work?"

A few well-formed words can have an amazing impact! I saw the below tweet from a friend earlier today, and that set off a chain of thought, answering some unanswered questions from long ago, and resulted in a concrete action making a small impact for a few people.

I am involved with micro-lending through Kiva for a couple of years now, and have been a believer in the concept of Micro-finance. Since starting to lend on Kiva, I have come across a few articles on the internet which question the benefits of Microfinance. While not going into the details of these articles, suffice it to say they did succeed in sowing a seed of doubt in my mind about the value of the loans I make. I have continued to revolve the initial money I put into Kiva within the same network by lending it to other entrepreneurs. A touch of skepticism - and even resignation - has accompanied these actions.

The comparison between Microfinance and Mortgage loans in the tweet dispelled whatever undistinguished doubts I had about Microfinance, and made me very clear about why I lend on Kiva :
I am fortunate on numerous counts in my life; I live a privileged life compared to the majority of the people in the world. Kiva - & Microfinance - is a way to provide an opportunity to a few people who wouldn't have got that opportunity otherwise.
Following the above epiphany, as soon as I got some time to spare, I logged on to Kiva, and added a few more loans to my portfolio.

One 'short-coming' of Kiva is that it does not have Microfinance partner organizations in India; so all my loans on Kiva are to people in many countries across the world excluding India. Recently got to know of a Kiva-clone - United Prosperity - that addresses this gap in Kiva's offering. I have lent to a couple of entrepreneurs on United Prosperity as well.

I invite my friends to follow my example and make a difference for 'underprivileged micro-entrepreneurs' by lending on Kiva and/or United Prosperity. Thanks for reading this, and thanks for following up on my request!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The 2000 mile road trip

So I am finally well-settled in Longmont, CO - with Internet Connectivity the last piece to fall in place on Saturday - and am getting around to document the 2000 mile road trip adventure!

First the basic details:
Vehicle : The Sturdy Road Warrior in the picture - 16 Foot Budget Truck, with a tow carrier for my Volkswagen Passat.
Distance traveled : 2032 miles (From renting the truck in Jersey City, NJ to returning the truck in Longmont, CO
Start date/time of the journey : Monday 28th June 10:00 PM EST
End date/time of the journey : Thursday 1st July 8:00 PM MST
Rest stop # 1 : 1.5 hour sleep on Tuesday Morning at Reynoldsville Rest Stop
Rest stop # 2 : Overnight Stay on Tuesday night as a guest of my friend Umasankar in Aurora, IL
Rest stop # 3 : Overnight stay on Wednesday night as a guest of my friend & Umasankar's brother - Bhaskar - in Topeka, Kansas
End Point : Reaching my friend Amar's place in Longmont, CO

Some random tidbits from the roadtrip:
  • At the end of the trip, it seemed like a piece of cake. However, it was a nerve-wracking experience right from the get-go, and I was afraid something could go wrong at any minute during the trip.
  • The only jarring note came when I went to return the truck - one of the wheels on the trailer had fallen off! It must have occurred during the last segment of my journey - the 200 mile drive from Colorado Welcome Center in Burlington, CO to Longmont, CO; I am guessing this because I had stopped at the welcome center, and had not noticed anything unusual. In any case, I have been truly lucky in that there were no incidents along the way, and everything went smoothly.
  • The best thing about the road-trip turned out to be the awesome home-made food my friends treated me to, and ensure that I didn't have to go looking for food along the way. Given that I was hauling a car with a truck, I was apprehensive about going off the highway, and try my luck at finding a good restaurant with adequate parking space for my truck. Thanks to my friends generosity which included packing food for me for the next segment of the drive, it so happened that I had to eat out at a restaurant only once during the three days trip!
  • Found out that the Truckers stop at rest areas over night, and occupy all the spots in the Truck parking zone, and even use up the shoulder leading up to and out of the rest area. Thought I would get to park in one of these spots and sleep peacefully, but no chance of that. Finally, would up sleeping fitfully for an hour or so in the Car parking zone at one rest area.
  • Tolls on the Highways turned out to be a annoyance during the trip. Had a shocker when I checked in at Delaware Water Gap Toll Booth when the toll inspector told me it would be $13 for my truck+tow, while the toll for cars there was $0.75; I am guessing, he considered my truck to be a commercial vehicle, and added the extra toll for the tow vehicle. Expressways around Chicago put up a different kind of challenge in that the entrances to the freeway were not manned, thereby allowing only vehicles with M-Pass (automated payment cards). I lost at least an hour on Wednesday morning trying to find one manned freeway entrance.
  • Given the trouble with tollways, I looked up alternative routes where possible. The I-76 / I-71 / US Route 30 (Lincoln Highway) in Ohio & Indiana helped me bypass the Ohio Turnpike / I-80 all the way through to Chicago. These alternate routes turned out to be very comfortable drives with hardly any stops, and little traffic. And these routes were offered better scenery than the Interstate, what with little towns popping up every once in a while, and the road invariably becoming the main street in that town.
  • There is a World's Largest Truck Stop in Iowa; was glad to see it as it had ample parking space for buses and trucks.
  • There is a place called Lebanon in Kansas; this place is considered to be the geographical center of continental United States. The Wikipedia entry for this place has this gem : "In 1918, the Coast and Geodetic Survey found this "center" by balancing on a point a cardboard cutout shaped like the U.S" I started out with the intention to visit this place on the last day, but dropped the idea after I lost around half an hour trying to get to the nearest gas station before I run out of gas.
  • Route 24 in Kansas was a wonderful local alternative to the monotonous I-70. One of the highlights of the trip was Cawker City, KS which claimed (at the welcome sign outside town) that it was Home to the World's Largest Ball of Twine. Guess what? As I drove town, was pleasantly surprised to see they do have it displayed right next to the road!
At the end of the journey, I am appreciative of how fortunate I am to have been on this road trip and come out of it without any problems, and thankful of all my friends who made sure everything went well with this trip! And I realize I enjoy these kinds of cross country road trips - the third such trip I have done in US in the past 10 years. I should plan next such road trip in an other country/continent.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

DuckDuckDeal - Today: Boulder; Tomorrow: The World

One of the companies that made a presentation - and stood apart from others - at yesterday's Boulder New Tech Meetup was DuckDuckDeal. It is a company which provides consumers with the ability - through a smartphone (currently only on iPhone) app or the DuckDuckDeal web page - to receive exclusive offers from local merchants instantly.

Unlike the various coupon/deal sites already available, the key distinguishing feature here is that the merchants have the ability to post an ad-hoc offer with a limited time. This feature allows business establishments to figure out by trial and error which offers elicit best response, and thereby alter their offerings.

DuckDuckDeal has a huge potential for growth as it provides a simple mechanism for businesses of all sizes - especially in the service and food & beverage industry - to fine-tune their businesses with minimal expense. The company is currently operational only in Boulder, and are perfecting the business model before they expand to other areas.

I think DuckDuckDeal has the potential to be the next big thing. Google created an enormous money making machine with the search ads business; DuckDuckDeal could do a similar thing with focused promotions!

Monday, March 15, 2010

One feature every iPhone/Smartphone app should have. Twitbird has it

I spend a significant amount of time reading on my iPhone just before going to sleep at night, or on a lazy weekend afternoon. The iPhone's ability to switch from Portrait to Landscape - while very useful in other circumstances - is a pain while prone on the bed, forcing me to keep my neck at an unnatural angle to read the text.

I am not the only one who has this peculiar problem; I remember Robert Scoble had tweeted about the same problem at the time iPhone was introduced in 2007.

Having been conditioned to get used to this uncomfortable state of affairs by the various iPhone native functionality and iPhone apps that I have used in the last couple of years, I was pleasantly surprised to see NibiruTech's twitter iPhone app TwitBird have a very simple feature to lock the screen in Portrait or Landscape. When I move the iPhone from Portrait to Landscape, a small button appears in the middle of the screen for a few seconds; pressing on that button locks or unlocks the screen in that display mode.

Genius! Yet very simple! My neck says "Thank you very much, Twitbird!" Now if only everything on iPhone - the native functionality and apps - have this functionality.

Here are a few screen-shots with the feature: First one is the locked mode; the second one is the unlocked mode.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A primer on FOTC

The world can be divided into two parts - first is the fortunate ones who love Flight of the Concords (FOTC), and the second is the not-so-fortunate ones who are blissfully unaware of FOTC's existence. This post is for the second set of people. You are welcome, folks ;-)

Met this guy in the pic today at a play in NYC, and remembered having seen him in a FOTC video, and that led to the blog post.

If you have absolutely no clue about who/what FOTC is/are - or if you just want to relive the pleasures of watching FOTC, click through the following links to YouTube and enjoy the videos! (Also, most of these videos have the lyrics in the info section - adds to the fun!)
Flight of the Conchords rules!

Secret to a flat tummy

Digged around the internet a bit to learn about belly fat and how to lose it, and the biggest learning point for me was "Just because my father had a huge paunch for as long as I can remember, it does not mean I should have one too" :-)

A couple of useful articles - one on WebMD site, one on Mayo Clinic site give me confidence about being able to lose my small yet noticeable pot belly - something I have taken for granted as an impossible task all my life!

The theory behind the growth of belly fat in men is very simple: Excess fat taken in via food and not burnt up gets stored in the belly area. That is it; as simple as that. The way to lose it is simple as well: As men work on losing weight, the first place the fat disappears is in the tummy area! Can't ask for a better mechanism ;-)

From a personal perspective, I see I can aim to completely flatten my tummy in 2-3 months time with the kind of exercise and diet control plans I have already taken on.

I have been working on a regular and consistent fitness schedule for the last two months - strength training using iPhone apps (for 100pushups, 200situps and 200squats) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and running/cardio training on Tuesday, Wednesday and one of the Weekend days. The intensity of the workout determines the amount of calories burnt, and consequently the amount of weight lost. Now that my goal is to increase my running speed and cut down on my 5K time, the intensity of my workouts is increasing.

The other big part of this effort is portion control - something I can blame my parents for not teaching me when I was younger ;-) I am taking on making a conscious effort to limit the amount of food I eat, mostly based on a rule of thumb estimate.

In this context, I was laughing at recognizing myself in funnyoneliners' recent tweet:
I really need to hit the treadmill tonight after eating so poorly today and yesterday and the last 25 years.
Bye bye little pot belly; you will be missed!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Job as Social Networks Manager for President Obama - wouldn't that be cool!

On Friday evening, Mashable.com tweeted about an awesome job opportunity - The role of Official Social Networks Manager for the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America - someone who would manage @BarackObama twitter account, among other things. Check out the full job description on President Obama's website.

This is one job description that really inspired me, and made me realize I am not aiming high in my career aspirations so far, and have been getting along with maintaining the status quo so far. After an evening spent grappling with all the reasons why I shouldn't apply ("There will be thousands of applicants for this job", "I don't have all the necessary qualifications", "I am not the right guy for this job", "There is no point in trying", blah blah blah), I convinced myself that it is better to apply and not get it than not apply at all. Prepared a brand new resume and applied for the job by Saturday noon!

Of course, there will be hundreds of thousands of applicants rushing in their resumes for this highly prestigious job; and am sure there will be many - in thousands - who will be a better match for the requirements than I am. However, if by some fortuitous circumstances, I do get called for the interview, there will be nothing like it :-)

The job has amazing potential to make a difference - not just for the US but for the entire world. After-all, the internet is not just for the US, but has a significant penetration world-wide. ;-)

So far President Obama's team has had amazing success in reaching out to people at the grassroots level through various means, including the Social Media Networks - Facebook, Twitter & MySpace. As far as I know, the social media tools are being used only as a public announcement system, and not for interactivity purposes. Of course, when every entry on President Obama's Facebook page generates feedback in tens of thousands - most of which are likely to be 'noise' - it is really difficult to separate 'signal' and possibly act on it. However, if the team working with the President is capable of putting in place at least some interactivity in a manageable manner on the social media tools, that would totally transform how a current President relates to the general pubic. And would change the face of governing beyond recognition!

A month ago, there was an interesting story on Mashable.com about Newark Mayor Cory Booker responding to a tweet, and shoveling for a NJ resident. The President of the US of course cannot possibly be expected to get involved at such intimate level, given the scope and magnitude of his domain & responsibilities. Nevertheless, I wonder how amazing it would be if the Social Media Networks enable some sort of a interactive capability between the President & the Public!

A related development yesterday was of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs signing up on Twitter and tweeting for the first time. He has been welcomed with both praise and insults. The world can only get better as more and more people take to Twitter (and other Social Media Networks)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Short term running goal : 5K in 25 min by Mar 7

OK, I have run/walked two marathons and 4-5 half marathons in the last two+ years. Time to amp up the effort and become more of a runner.

I haven't done any work so far focusing on increasing my running speed; being conservative about the effort and content with the "Finishing is more important" mentality. And with that attitude, I have successfully finished races by adopting the running + walking method. Goals accomplished. However, I am finding it no longer fulfilling to go through the same routine.

After some consideration about what goal would be realistic as well as inspiring, I have chosen to take on improving my 5K pace. I have signed up for the Coogan’s Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K race organized by NYRR in Washington Heights on Mar 7th to accomplish this goal.

My best time in a 5K so far has been around 32 minutes- that is at a 10.32 min/mile pace. Running a 5K in 25 minutes (around 8 min/mile pace) would be a huge improvement. With emphasis on speed training techniques (interval workouts/track repeats, tempo runs & Hill Training) on a regular basis, I should be able to cut down on my 5K time.

Planning the next one month of training around this goal. Rough outline is as follows:
  • Interval workout / Track repeats on Tuesdays: 2 or 3 400m bursts on the running tracks at Lincoln Park; include Hill Training on alternate weeks.
  • Tempo Runs on Thursdays: 1 or 2 mile runs at a "comfortably hard" pace.
  • Long Runs on Saturdays/Sundays: 3 to 5 mile runs at a steady & easy pace.
  • Upper body workouts (100pushups, 200situps & 200squats) + biking on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays.
Budgeting from 45 minutes to an hour everyday on this effort.

Even if I don't meet the goal of running a 5K in 25 min on Mar 7th, this exercise will benefit me in terms of making me familiar with speed training techniques, and prepare myself physically for the required effort in running faster in the future.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Exploring "Commitment"

In the context of signing up for the Legacy Discovery Weekend Course, I got to learn a whole new meaning of "committing to something". As one of the men put it, what was being asked of me was 'to commit to doing the course and say eff it to everything that might come up in the way of me fulfilling on this commitment.' Made me wonder about my commitment to the various commitments I have already taken on either with full awareness or assume with not much examining. There are very few things I am really committed to in my life at this point. While I am involved with / taken on / dabble with many things and projects, there are only a handful I can say I am 'committed to' in the sense mentioned above.

As it turned out, my commitment to do the Legacy Discovery Course was put to an immediate test as the dates for the course (Apr 30 - May 2) conflicted with the NJ Marathon (May 2) that I had registered earlier for. Giving some thought about which one I should choose, I realized my commitment to run the marathon wasn't really there, and hence I decided to drop it in favor of the weekend course.

A corollary wisdom I subscribe to is 'Take on more commitments to expand one's life'. More often than not, this has turned into taking on too many things without really intending to see them through to completion.

I am fortunate to be in a perfect spot in my life at this moment where I have a chance to explore my priorities, examine my various commitments, and give up those that really don't mean much to me. And take on new commitments that would fire me up with excitement and passion! A new job/career, a move to a new place very soon & exploring a whole new world of dating and relationships - it couldn't get any better!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Movies ranked #1 the most weeks & Avatar

The movie Avatar has been the number 1 movie in US for the past six weeks, and is expected to be at the top for a couple of weeks more at least. Rather surprisingly, it is no where near the top of the list of movies that has been number 1 for most weeks. In fact, if it holds out for two more weeks, it will only tie for the 10th place.

The list of top ten movies that held the number one ranking for the most weeks has some very surprising entries. There is no surprise about the first two though - with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial being the number one on the list with 16 weeks, and Titanic being the second one with 15 weeks. In addition to the movie's might, the timing of the other releases is key as well for a movie's length of run at the top. It would be very difficult for any movie to beat E.T. The Extra Terrestrial's record.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A peek into the life of a NY Tech Entrepreneur

I had come across David Lifson's name a while ago when Fred Wilson had re-tweeted one of his tweets. David being based in Bayonne NJ caught my eye, and I had added him on my Twitter Following list.

Last week, David tweeted "If you want to pick my brain, sign up for office hours: http://tumblr.com/xns5q1mrx" I took up this opportunity to meet up with a Tech Entrepreneur in NYC, and signed up for a meeting with David. And on Friday afternoon, I was at Postling's new shared-office near Union Square face-to-face with the CEO of the company.

We had an interesting 45 minutes conversation covering various topics related to his life as an entrepreneur, the progress and prospects of Postling & tech scene in NY.

26 year old Lifson is on his second entrepreneurial venture with Postling. His first venture - Waffl - whose intent is to create an online community around Bed & Breakfast Inns - started out as a small project funded by a friend, and has been online for the past year or so. The difficulty of enrolling Innkeepers - quite likely to be reluctant tech users - to use a new system to manage their operations - has turned out to be a bottleneck for Waffl's growth.

Dave started Postling with Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik - two of the founders of Etsy.com - in the middle of 2009. The idea for Etsy - a website which provides the general public a way to sell and buy handmade goods - grew out of frustrations with Ebay experienced by a group of hand-craftsmen; the founders of Etsy were helping with redesigning a bulletin-board site for the group when they noticed the increasing complaints and decided to create a new online community limited only to people dealing with handmade goods.

With its objective to make it easier and less time-consuming for small businesses to publish to the Social web, Postling has been making good progress on getting paying customers in the recent months. The challenge though would be to tie up with intermediaries - like Yellow pages - to cross sell Postling's services to the Intermediary's customers. Postling is yet to sign up for significant external funding which will be very essential to fund operations, and fuel growth of the company. So far the founders are making do with personal investments, taking minimum or no salary & loans from friends and family.

I got some good pointers from Dave about starting on my own and to know more about the tech scene in NY. There is a monthly gathering called hackersfounders which would be a very good networking opportunity. There is also a site called startuply.com which lists jobs in start-ups all around the country, and could be a great way to start an a entrepreneurial career when I don't have an biz idea of my own.

The biggest take-away for me from the conversation with Dave though is a shift in my views towards income. Previously I used to base my expectation on annual income on "how much I made last year or the years before" and get myself all worked up about "how much someone is supposed to be making". Listening to how Dave and his team have been managing to keep their company going by taking minimal or no salary at all, I am looking at how much money I need to live, to come up with an expected income figure. That perspective encourages me to get a better handle on my expenses, and gives a sense of freedom around money.

To end this note, I want to thank Dave Lifson for the opportunity to meet up with him with the Signup for office hours concept, and for his time and valuable insights during our conversation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gotta remind myself constantly: "I am a Solutions-Oriented-Man, and not a Muddled-by-Problems-Wuss!"

Earlier today on my way back from the City on the PATH train, an elderly woman accosted me and started speaking in Spanish. Couldn't make much out of her conversation other than "New Jersey, New Jersey". There were only 3 other people in the train-car; I turned to them and asked if they could speak Spanish, and none of them could. Tried to help the old lady by showing her the train map when the train had stopped at Hoboken station. That seemed to quiet her down for a while, and I got back to my book.

A while later, the woman was again very agitated, and I and a Chinese woman tried to help her again, to no avail. The old woman finally got out at the Grove St. Station.

Thinking about it a little later, the answer to how I could have helped her stuck me almost immediately - all I had to do was to take her to the other train-cars and see if there were any Spanish-speakers there; within one or two train-cars, we would have found someone and the old-lady's problems would have solved. Too bad the solution came too late for her benefit.

Looking back in time, I can come up with many instances where I did not come up with a workable solution at the time of need, and was left ruing later for the opportunity missed. Even now, looking at many issues I am dealing with, there are quite a few examples that show my muddled-thinking nature, rather than problem-solving nature.

It boils down to the context I hold about my problem solving capabilities. I gotta stop being embroiled and fascinated by a problem all the time, and focus on solving the problems. And stop worrying about it if it is not a big deal.

Also, it helps to seek support from friends in dealing with any problem - brings a new perspective and makes it much more manageable, and likely to be solved rather than become 'the thing'.

Here is an action I am taking on:
Put up a few notices all over my place to remind myself constantly "I am a Solutions-Oriented-Man, and not a Muddled-by-Problems-Wuss!". And also share this with my friends so that they can remind me this when I am not being a Solutions-oriented-man.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pushing the envelope

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends had the following as his status:
doesn't get why 'pushing the envelope' means risk-taking. Envelopes are, like, really easy to push.
That was a very interesting observation! I had no idea what the answer was, and more importantly had never so far bothered to check. A quick google-search provided the answer: The phrase has mathematical roots, and the envelope here is the mathematical envelope.

Wonder how many more phrases and idioms I use regularly, and haven't thought about the origins.

LucidNYC January event - As interesting and entertaining as I expected it to be!

Last January, on Gaurav Mishra's invitation, I attended the Lucid NYC January 2009 event. It was an informal presentation set-up, with four people from different fields presenting about their work to predominantly young crowd. The event was in a loft-like empty space in mid-town Manhattan; The entry fees of $10 (I think) was collected at the door, and there were snacks and drinks, and a tips jar to go with it. The presentations were very interesting - the one talk that still stands out for me was from a last minute presenter talking about the curiosities of Video game pricing. In addition to learning new stuff, the event also allowed for meeting some great people.

At that time, the impression I got was "This is a great event organization; and New Yorkers should benefit from it before Lucid grows too big and too impersonal". For many reasons, I haven't been able to go to any event since then.

Yesterday, I was at the Lucid NYC Jan 2010 event, and it lived up to my expectations!

The event itself had a much more organized feel to it than the last one I attended. The tickets for the event were pre-sold on EventBrite. There was live jazz music to begin with. The presentations were short - around 15 minutes - and interesting, with a bit of quirkiness thrown in. Each of the presenters had some new stuff to offer:
  • Leo Bonnani of Sourcemap.org talked about mapping and displaying in a visual manner the sources for various components of various items- example a Laptop, or restaurant menu item, etc. We could be seeing more of this everywhere soon.
  • Ji Lee of Google talked about 'high-jacking' of concepts - with examples from his work including The Bubble Project. I particularly liked the New Museum ad campaign example and its ads in Subway stations.
  • Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men gave an introduction to the work they have done so far, and some ideas about what they want to be doing next. I should watch the movie The Yes Men Fix the World soon. By the way, The Yes Men are looking for investments to expand their operations; if you are interested in making a contribution, write to them on their web-site.
All together, I spent a little over two hours on a weekday evening for this event; it is a great way to learn new things and meet new people! So the next time I attend a Lucid NYC event will not be in 2011 - as my past history would predict. And I reiterate with emphasis "New Yorkers should participate and benefit from it before Lucid grows too big and too impersonal"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Beauty of Test Cricket

One thing that had me hooked for the past four days was the amazing Test Match played out in Sydney by Australia and Pakistan - after dominating the game for the best part of the match, Pakistan ended up losing it on the fourth day. The character of the Cricket game and my tastes (more or less reflecting the general public's tastes) have changed significantly over the last few decades.

I have been a Cricket fan for the past 25 years - starting to follow the game a couple of years after Cricket captured the nation's imagination after India's World Cup Triumph in 1983. The initial fascination was all about One Day Internationals. At that time Test Cricket was the boring cousin of the dazzling and exciting One Day Internationals. [For total newbies to Cricket - viz Americanos! - check out the wikipedia articles for the three main forms of International Cricket - Twenty20, One Day International and Test Cricket]. One Day Internationals were thrill-a-minute, ended in one day, and when played to completion (without interruption by the weather) had a result. Test Cricket was a drab affair drawn out over five days and most of the matches in the 80s and early 90s ended up as stalemates.

The best Cricketing memories I have from the 80s and 90s are all from One Day Internationals -
Brushing my memory for any such fond memories of One Day Cricket from the 2000s, I am drawing a blank. Same goes for the latest favorite boy - Twenty20 Cricket - as well.

Rather surprisingly, the moments that come up as favorites from the Cricket game in the 2000s, all belong to Test Cricket:
  • The first and most important one of course being the great escape architected by VVS (Very Very Special!) Laxman and Rahul Dravid against the rampaging Australians at Kolkota 2001. I fell in love with Test Cricket after this match!
  • Sehwag blasting 284 runs in one day against the Sri Lankans in Mumbai
  • Many of the India - Australia test matches played in Australia this decade which were either closely fought or won by Indians.
  • England winning two ashes series against the Aussies
  • Pakistan's recent test series against New Zealand and Australia.
Test Cricket changed itself from being boring and stalemate-oriented to being exciting and result-oriented over the last decade and a half. And large part of the thanks for this development has to go to the Australian Cricket team who played Test Cricket at a whole new level and forced every other country to improve as well. Test Cricket, with its five day long canvas, allows for the contest to ebb and flow, and move in different directions - much more than the shorter format games. The long game also is an ultimate test of skills and gumption for the players. When this is capped by an urge to win and produce results - like Australia did in late 1990s and 2000s under the Captaincy of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, and which has been followed by other countries with differing level of success - the Test Cricket only got better and better.

It is a paradoxical thing that 5-day long Test Cricket is becoming more popular among the aficionados, while the length would make any newbie shun the game without much thought. The shorter version of the games - while being suitable for packaging to an audience conditioned by the limited time-bound nature of NFL/MLB games - doesn't really embody the nature and passion of the game that a Test match inspires among its devotees.

Nevertheless, I am glad that more and more test matches are standing up and screaming to be put in the special archives these days.

Long live Cricket! Long live Test Cricket!