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.