Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Getting into a Mysore State of Mind

tl;dr : My wife & I will be based in Mysore, India over the next couple of years till both of us can move back to the US. 

I realized in early June that there was a serious miscalculation in our plans of settling in the US; that it would take 2-3 years more before my wife is allowed to come to the US thanks to some ridiculous immigration policies. Wasn't too happy about it; my very first reaction on learning this was "Eff this. I don't need all this trouble; I am going to India!". 

Explored quite a few options over the last few months to deal with this situation; the main ones being:
  • Petitioning to influence the US Congress to change the laws: Nothing much came of it as I wasn't able to gather significant number of signatures for the petition such that it could cause some shift. Also, I gave up on this option after realizing that the issue is really trivial when compared to the other competing issues.
  • Moving to Canada, particularly to Vancouver, for a couple of years: While I was very excited about this option, it became unviable as it turned out that the whole process to get a work visa in Canada would take at least 6 months.
In the end, me moving to India temporarily has emerged as the best option for us. And now that I am getting ready to fly to India this Saturday, I am realizing this option is turning out be a very good thing for us! 

Firstly, I will continue to work as a freelancer for my US based clients while I am in India. Financially, it's a win-win as I will be earning in USD, and spending in INR. :-)

Secondly, since I can work from anywhere, we have the freedom to be based anywhere in India. And we have chosen to be in Mysore, for a variety of reasons, some of the main ones being: (1). It will allow us to be at a distance from both our families in Bangalore. (2). We won't be too far (just a couple of hours away) from our families in Bangalore. (3). Mysore scores over Bangalore by having less traffic & less pollution, and (4). Mysore has a good software industry presence. There are handful of ruby programmers based in Mysore as well! It is quite possible there will be a Mysore Ruby User group soon ;-) "Mysore is a kind of a place which goes to sleep at 9pm". Yup, that is the kind of place I want to be in. 

Thirdly, I will be maintaining a presence in Colorado despite being based in India. I will have a home here as I am continuing to rent my place here in Longmont, and have plans to visit Colorado frequently (once or twice a year) to meet with my clients, and be in touch the Ruby community here. Right now, I have plans to be back in the US in Apr-May of next year, around the time of RailsConf in Portland. Will decide in a few months how long that trip will be for, and about the dates for my next trip to US.

I have also applied for a re-entry permit from USCIS; this will allow me to be outside US for up to 2 years without losing my Green-card status here in the US. 

Very excited about this brand new chapter in our life, about starting our married life for real soon, and about being in India over the next couple of years!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wikimapia FTW

My 22 mile run from Bangalore to Doddaballapur yesterday had quite a bit of planning going for it.

Initially, I was planning to follow the regular route that we usually take while traveling by bus or motorbike.

Below is the Google Map of the driving directions between Mathikere and Doddaballapur:

View Larger Map

However, one trip on my motorbike along the road a few weeks back convinced me to rule out this route. The heavy traffic along this highway plus the shabby state of the footpath next to the roads (where it existed), and the additional adventure of literally blazing a trail in back country roads made it an easy decision. 

So dug into Google maps a bit more, and came up with the following alternate route:


View Larger Map

However, the problem now was that Google maps did not have names for many of the places/villages along the way, and with the meagre amount of roadsigns in India, it would have been virtually impossible for me to find my way correctly along this route I had decided. Without the name of the next village I had to go to, I ran the risk of being diverted off the route very quickly. 

On one of our road-trips (on motorbike) from Doddaballapur to Bangalore a few days ago, my wife and I tried to follow this route, and were off the intended route within 2 miles of leaving Doddaballapur. Nevertheless, that trip turned out to be very useful as we were able to get the names of a couple of villages on the route closer to my home in Bangalore. 

After that I spent quite a bit of time on the web to find detailed maps of Bangalore Rural District & Doddaballapur Taluk; didn't get anything for a couple of days. Finally, while searching for the map for Shivakote (one of the villages whose name I had identified on our road trip a few days back), I stumbled into wikimapia.org.

Wikimapia turned to be awesomely useful! With a tag-line of "Let's describe the whole world", it is an open-content collaborative mapping project aimed to mark all geographical objects in the world and provide a useful description for them - according to Wikipedia. Thanks to Wikimapia, I learned of the names of all the villages along my chosen route to run, and found lot more useful info about landmarks along the way.
For those interested, the places/villages along the route were Dodda ByalakereShivakote, Linganahalli, Koluvarayanahalli, Seethakempanahalli, Kakolu, Byrapura, Haniyooru, & Gowdahalli. Thanks to the many individuals who marked these places on wikimapia!

Very impressed with the ability wikimapia provides everybody to mark places on the map; I mapped a couple of places in and around our house.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Terrific gift for anyone with kids in India - Membership at Just Books Clc

I gifted an annual membership "Avid Reader with Magazine Plan" at Just Books Clc to both my sister & brother this week. At Rs. 4,000 ( ~ USD 80 ) for an annual plan allowing for borrowing 4 books & 2 magazines at a time, it is a terrific deal.

I had noticed one of their shops while traveling by bus in Bangalore on my last visit. Their motto - RENT * READ * RETURN - had caught my eye, and made me look up on the internet to find out more about the company.

Found out Just Books Clc has a very good & informative web-site, as well as branches all over Bangalore, including ones conveniently located to both my sister's family and my brother's family. The membership plans too were very attractively priced to sustain my interest further.

Visits to the branches were very pleasant; at both the branches I visited, the staff were very courteous and helpful. Awesome to see the company nurturing a culture of love for reading by emphasizing on employee culture first.

My nieces & nephews (age range 5-9) were thrilled to be at a library with so many books, including ones about their favorite TV show - Chhota Bheem.

I attribute a large part of my success in life to my love of reading; If there is one thing I could give to every kid in my circle, it would be the gift of "love of books".

One thing I love about the United States is the presence of huge public libraries in each and every town. India does not have such libraries which provide easy access to books to the general public. In this context, I think it is fabulous that there are startups like Just Books Clc filling a huge void.

Bangalore based Just Books Clc has branches in a handful of cities in India (Ernakulam, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mangalore, Mumbai, Mysore & Pune), and plan to grow across the nation. Hope that they succeed in their goal and make books accessible to more and more people.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Stepping up on all fronts in 2012 after a very satisfying 2011

I haven't really done a detailed Year-end personal review in the past. I do want to make it a habit to do one going forward, as it seems to be a good idea especially as the direction I am taking in my life seems to be more or less settled now.

I was looking up on the internet for some resources to help me in this exercise & came across blogposts with some good advice on how to do a year-end / annual personal review by Chris Guillebeau & Sid Savara. While not following their method & suggestions to the letter, I am going about this process with my own way, picking some of the good things I liked from the above blogposts.

2011 was a very eventful year, one which gives me a lot of reasons to be happy about my life in general, and about the accomplishments during the year. 2012 will be a year of consolidation, building on the wins of 2011.

Here is how the key areas of my life turned out over 2011, and what I want to accomplish in each of these areas during 2012:

Family & Relationships:
The biggest personal happening of 2011 was - of course - that I got engaged to Meera Devaraju in May & we got married in October. Conclusion at the end of 3 months of married life: Deciding to get married was the best thing I did in 2011 :-)

Hoping that the immigration process goes through smoothly, and Meera will join me in US as early as May-June of next year. That would be the real start to our married life - us living together by ourselves for the first time :-)

2013 will most likely see us becoming parents; so 2012 will be the year for preparing ourselves for the joys and travails of parenthood.

Career:
2011 was my first full year as a freelance ruby & rails programmer. I am enjoying being a freelancer; I like the freedom it gives to organize my life to my liking, and the satisfaction I get while working on stuff I like to solve real problems for clients.

On the negative side, my annual income last year was about half of what I was earning at a full time job a couple of years earlier; and I haven't been able to handle well the stress arising from a career with uncertain income.

That being said, I am very happy with what I am learning as a freelancer, and will continue in the same vein in 2012. Especially as it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration if I say I am happy about my work life for the first time in my career!

Came across the following very useful resources to shape my freelance career in the future:
2. Interviews with a few Rails Freelancers at http://railsfreelancer.org/

Community Building & Public Persona:
I found a niche for myself during 2011 with organizing Code Retreats. Starting with the one in Boulder in Feb 2011, I was part of the team organizing several code retreats in CO as well as one in Bangalore during 2011. I also set up http://www.coloradocoderetreat.com/ to facilitate organizing regular events in the future.

I was very happy to speak about building community through organizing Code Retreats and Bugmashes at RubyConf 2011. While I plan to continue organizing events in 2012, I will work towards giving a more technical talk at a couple of conferences late in the year.

I was thrilled that I got to speak at Ignite Boulder 16, and was very happy with how my talk about Cricket turned out and the reception it got from the audience. Can't think of any other topic that I would like to speak about at an Ignite at this moment, but I would definitely be on the lookout for an opportunity to speak at an Ignite event in Boulder/Fort Collins/Denver.

In 2011, I had the opportunity to be part of the organizing teams at last year's Rocky Mountain Ruby Conference in Boulder as well as RubyConf 2011 in New Orleans. In 2012, I will be actively involved with the organization of RailsConf2012 in Austin in April, and RubyConf2012 in Oct-Nov.

Health & Fitness:
While I was reasonably healthy during the year, it was more or less a very sedentary lifestyle with little physical exercise. I did participate in a few 5K races during the summer, but overall I would have preferred to have had more exercise.

I am taking on the goal to run my third marathon in the fall of 2012, with the Denver Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on Sep 22nd being the most likely event I would choose to run.

I was avoiding taking on the challenge of running a marathon as I wanted to focus on short distance running to improve my speed, but somehow that goal wasn't inspiring enough to get me out of bed early to train week after week for many months. I did try my hand at Cycling & Swimming - with the goal of finishing a Triathlon - but haven't been successful in making it a regular habit.

Running a marathon - which I have done in Philadelphia in 2008 and New York in 2009 - seems to be the one fitness goal that can keep me motivated enough to train over a long stretch of time. So a marathon in fall of 2012 it is.

Travel
2011 was big on travel with three trips to India. Very happy about getting to spend a lot of time with my family in Bangalore.

I also got to visit another country - the fabulous Bhutan - in 2011. I urge my Indian friends to visit Bhutan before they lose their Indian citizenship (those in US who are likely to do so) and have to pay $200 per day as a non-Indian to visit Bhutan.

Planning to travel relatively less during 2012. Couple of travel plans I am considering this year:
1. A road trip with Meera in the US
2. An Ecotourism vacation in one of the Central American countries ( Costa Rica / Nicaragua / Honduras )

Other goals for 2012
1. Learn Javascript
2. Read 1 technical book per month
3. Organize at least 6 technical events in CO ( code retreats, Rails bugmashes, rbxday, etc.)
4. Run prakashmurthy.com site on my own code rather than host it on blogger.com
5. Write at least 2 blogposts per month.

All in all, I am planning to have a ball in 2012!