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Revamped isbn.net.in

New & revamped isbn.net.in

New & revamped isbn.net.in

 

Because of constant badgering from loyal isbn.net.in users (Navdeep, Chinmay, Hari, Sandip, Vidyaraj, Kartik, Vivek, Arjun, Leo, Ravi and others), I finally had to dedicate a weekend to fixing up isbn.net.in. However, instead of just fixing up the old code base, I rewrote it to use Compojure instead of the deprecated Noir library, and along the way, I re-did some of the code design to make it more flexible for editing and debugging.

I can’t believe people still use the site 3 years after I wrote the first version and put it up, especially with so many comparison shopping sites for India announced in these 3 years which are more functional and cover more categories. But, hey, can’t argue with those users :)

Caveats: It’s still a work-in-progress, the JSON API, etc. are still not present in this version and more ecommerce stores have to be added, will work on those going forward. And I can use the help if anybody has time, it’s open-sourced at https://github.com/swaroopch/isbnnetinclj2.

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Met Lakshmi Rebecca of “Chai With Lakshmi” fame

Ten months ago, Lakshmi Rebecca emailed me about her online talk show Chai with Lakshmi. I acknowledged her email and gave my standard reply of how this is a personal blog and I don’t do product reviews of any kind. At the same time, I forwarded the website to my wife who started reading the stories and videos and slowly hooked me in as well.

Now, my wife and myself are fans of Lakshmi.

Dinner with Lakshmi Rebecca

We were lucky that Lakshmi took time out to have dinner with us

Lakshmi, the person, is inspiring. Her writeup on 5 Things that Shaped my Life is a contrast to her real-life persona. You would have never guessed that this person has been through many difficulties, including divorce, this is the kind of event that I’ve personally seen people become shattered and lose touch with life. But Lakshmi is a fighter and she wants to be very much in touch with life. More about Lakshmi in her latest diary entry When Dreams have no Boundaries.

Lakshmi’s online show is inspiring. Right from a mechanic who is an Indian international cycling racer to the Indian taxi-driver who is a MotoGP racer to the glamorous Indian Golfer Miss Nicollet to Paralympians to Lake Warriors to  5 issues plaguing Indian couples to the quarter-life crisis to home-grown vegetables. These are stories of real people and real advice. Compare this to the mindless TV channels that I have gotten away from.

Lakshmi’s latest campaign called Inclusive India is inspiring. From how a family is contributing back to their native village Mittur in Kolar, Karnataka to how a radiologist is diagnosing thousands of rural patients per month via telemedicine to how two doctors have created 120 playgrounds in government schools for children to play to a man who is out to bridge the digital divide by helping rural weavers create patterns on the computer to a sports-management professional who teaches character building through sports for youngsters in prisons to introducing art to children.  These are the stories that we should be hearing about, stories of hope and a positive difference. These are the people I aspire to be like. My wife and I humbly made a small contribution of Rs. 2500 through their Wishberry crowdfunding campaign. We want to hear more such positive stories.

Thank you Lakshmi. May your tribe increase!

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[Tech] Why is “Database Layer as a REST API” not common?

We have “database APIs” such as abstraction layers over multiple SQL databases and ORMs. But why not take it to the next step and make it a REST API like any other network call that we can make?

Database as a REST API

Database as a REST API

Advantages would be:

Did we just sort-of reinvent Datomic?

Of course, this is not a new idea at all, take restSQL as an example – my question is why is this not talked about more often?

Do most frameworks support this? If not, why not? If so, why don’t most frameworks don’t talk about such a use case in their documentation? If I use Django, I’ll start writing the models and use South to create migrations, and that’s that. If I have to reuse those model, from say, Java, then you’re on your own. The point is that, by default, Django (or Rails) doesn’t encourage you to do such a thing. If you go for a lighter framework such as Flask, then this becomes easier because the ORM is anyway not part of the framework.

Is this concept felt needed only in a polyglot case (multiple database systems, multiple programming languages)?

P.S. Also read Stevey’s Google Platforms rant.

Update on [2013-04-28 Sun]: Also see the very useful tech talk Designing a Beautiful REST+JSON API.

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[Travel] Hiking around Lake Chabot

Last Sunday, we hiked the 10-mile (15-16 km) Lake Chabot Loop with friends. It was amazing fun because of some new people we met, a beautiful lake and trail and it had been a long time since I had walked so much! (My legs informed me about that the next day ;-)

Start of the hike

Start of the hike

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[Travel] Monterey Bay

Last Saturday, we were hanging out with A R Karthick who was gracious to take us exploring the Monterey Bay – the three highlights for the day were:

Mystery Spot was interesting and the strange phenomenon there could only be explained by some kind of magnetic force, we would literally stand at an angle in the centre of the mystery spot, and the host was very comic and entertaining, so the visit felt worth it.

Ocean View Boulevard is one of the most beautiful places to drive around and we actually saw a couple of weddings in the open lawns on that road which gives an idea of how scenic that place was.

17-Mile Drive was a nice drive along the coastline. The fun part for me was when Karthick decided to teach me how to drive in the USA and I was so nervous of all the rules (solid line vs. dotted line, whoa!), but he taught well and I got the hang of it, although, maintaining an average of 60 miles per hour on the highway is daunting as I’m not used to those speeds.

A R Karthick

A R Karthick

Leaning in Mystery Spot

Leaning in Mystery Spot

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San Francisco

My wife and I are visiting San Francisco (I am here for the launch of Automatic) and in this past month, I have been experiencing San Francisco and the culture here. Obviously, this is all anecdotal but, hey, that’s what experiences are about.

The first thing that I’ve noticed is that people generally smile here and are cordial which is quite striking and I would probably attribute that to something about parenting here, because I’ve never seen American kids cry, and I mean never. In India, if you smile at a stranger, it’s because you know them, not because you’re walking by.

The second thing is that even if they are cordial, they have some kind of “force field” around them, it’s a “Don’t enter my personal space” thing. No wonder Americans thought of force fields in cartoons and movies. And I’m not the first person to talk about this, a good friend of mine Anu who has moved from USA to India to run a for-profit social enterprise (which I had earlier freelanced for) talks about What being Indian means to her:

It’s about love.  In all senses of the word.  It’s about having this big love for your family, your friends, the world, everything.  It’s exemplified in Bollywood- the enormity of emotion.  In the West, we have a very limited view on love, mainly referring to the romantic kind.  Maybe that’s because we are a much younger civilization and haven’t quite figured out how to express the nuances of this amazing force. But in India, that sort of love is directed towards everything and everyone.  I was hanging out with some new friends I made in Mumbai yesterday, and it was amazing- they treated me as if they’ve known me forever and brought me into their friend circle, making me feel so welcome. And it was genuine- absolutely and completely genuine.  This isn’t new, as the same thing happened when I first came to India in college, where new friends took me in and treated me as their own, again, no questions asked, no strings attached, just..because.  I haven’t been able to be in touch as much as I want, but it’s one of those feelings that you know they’re not judging you, and that bond you have is still strong.  Family in India is the same way.  They take you in with open arms (friends of yours included) and treat you like their own son or daughter.  It’s incredible… So I think to me, being Indian means being capable of exuding that love, and reflecting it back on the world unconditionally.

Interestingly, we met some friends of friends (including a typical white American male) who intend to eventually move from America to Asia because of the individualistic culture in America.

On the other hand, the city of San Francisco is a wonderful place to visit:

Silicon Valley

View from Potrero Hill, San Francisco

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Automatic launched this week

Automatic_RGB_Vertical_Logo.d73eccede466

The startup that I’ve been part of for more than a year has launched this week : Automatic – Your Smart Driving Assistant. It’s a hardware device + mobile app + cloud combination that helps you save money by helping you drive in a more fuel-efficient way, monitor your car engine’s health, automatic call to local authorities/911 in case of a car crash, and will automatically remember where you parked your car (note that the product is currently USA-only).

Watch the video:

Now, go and pre-order it now at www.automatic.com.

So how did I get involved? A couple of years back when I was considering freelancing full-time, Thejo Kote got in touch with me and I got started with NextDrop for which he was one of the co-founders. After some time, I was looking for something more long-term, so I pinged Thejo and he welcomed me to join his new startup.

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From Lessons on Leading by Jessica Steel :

Leaders recognize that we should feel 60% mastery and 40% stretch in our jobs at any given time. We draw our confidence from the 60% we know we’re nailing, and we grow from the challenge of the 40% that is new and uncomfortable for us. Leaders focus on this equation for all of their employees. And, for themselves. Confident, challenged and happy employees tend to stick around.

This struck a chord with me on one of the most under-focused roles of managers, because, of course, it’s hard to make it happen, but at the same time, this is what employees appreciate the most, besides salary raises (and sometimes in lieu of salary as well).

P.S. I also liked the “A leader’s job is to absorb anxiety and instill confidence among employees” part in the above linked article.

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Recently the Obama re-election campaign employed similar population-wide behavioral analytics to micro-target voters to ensure his re-election. There is no reason why we in India must not look to technology to devise ingenious methods for near real time data collection and population-wide analytics of social performance. This will not only help micro-target and localise welfare Interventions by local Governments (as opposed to centralised schemes) but it will also shift the focus away from agenda-driven politicking based on lagging indicators and towards a debate on actionable interventions that can make a difference here and now.

I love this idea in this article in Niti Central on how we can leverage technology for social welfare.

The bit about Obama’s re-election campaign is best read about in this article called The nerds go marching in, although I still haven’t been able to find specifics about the tools that they built.

P.S. Also see Wikipedia article on Microtargeting.

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Back to Org Mode

A HBR article titled Smartphones, Silly Users perfectly describes why I have moved my personal information management system away from apps that sync across desktop and mobile:

  1. “We don’t remember anything anymore.”
    • “We’re increasingly outsourcing our personal memory banks to Google and other search engines, effectively wiping our own brains of easily accessible information.” a.k.a. the Google effect
  2. “We waste time preserving optionality.”
    • “We’re refusing to finalize our plans until critical moments. The ability to make reservations, check opening hours, look up driving directions, and review ratings on our mobile devices means that we’re increasingly iterating our schedules and keeping our options open until the very last moment before that meeting, lunch, or coffee catchup is set to begin.”
  3. “We get stuck in the infinite notification loop.”
    • “As we endlessly loop between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other app notifications, our attention fragments, and it becomes difficult to focus on larger, more important tasks.”

Till this month, I was obsessed with syncing everything across my desktop and mobile. The problem was that I became obsessed with the mobile phone unnecessarily and once you’re using the phone, Point no. 3 kicks in – the infinite notification loop swallows a lot of time and attention.

Once I shifted my system to laptop-only, I don’t have all my tasks and calendar at hand, I’m forced to remember things (see point 1 above), and strangely, I’m more likely to remember things to pick up from the grocery store now than I was likely to remember to check my mobile phone app for things to buy when I was near a grocery store!

The most important thing is that notes and todos are in the same place, for example, if I’m on a call, I can take notes and then I can keep referring back to those notes while creating todos and working on tasks. The tasks come out of notes, they’re not separate! It really helps to have one system that can handle and encourage the normal flow instead of being forced to use separate notes and tasks apps.

Today, I’m all OrgMode. Again.

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