It was Day 2 of my trip (Dec 23 Sun). My plan was to go in the DHL
balloon so that I can get a good view of Singapore. When I reached the
MRT station, I suddenly got interested in randomly walking around.
I really wanted to see the place.

Singapore Day 02 006 Singapore Day 02 007 Singapore Day 02 005 Singapore Day 02 012 Singapore Day 02 015 Singapore Day 02 008

After more than an hour of walking around in the hot sun, I came
across a really huge building. I got curious and tried to figure out
the name – it was the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.
It’s a library?! I just had to get in there, for the AC as well as to
explore the books collection. I thought it was a good idea since it
would be relaxing. After all, the point of a vacation is to do things
you wouldn’t do in daily life, as well as to have a relaxing or
invigorating fun time. At least, that’s my definition of a vacation.

I went in, saw many rows of shelves. I clearly avoided the row which
had some books with some strange titles like “Java & XML”,
I wonder what that’s all about. I picked up a few books from the other
rows and went and sat down at the benches. Lots of people were
studying, with music on, writing down notes in their laptops and
utilizing the free wifi.

I started reading a book titled something like “The Practice of
Philosophy – A Handbook for Beginners”. Unfortunately, within ten
minutes, I was sleepy. Either it was the exhaustion and lack of sleep
the previous night, or it was the subject. I went and sat on the
couches and started to doze off. I was encouraged by the fact that
there was some other Indian dude also sleeping.

After a while, I realized I was snoring, and there were other new
people around trying to read, so I went and washed my face. Then,
I went down to Level 1 to give a phone call to Abishek Nair (my
gracious host for the trip). He was laughing that I came all the way
to Singapore to sit in a library and read some books! He told me to
come over to his company VHQ Post (an advertising post-production i.e.
visual effects company) in an hour so that he can show me around.

After that, I stood near the wide glass and I look left and see the
DHL balloon right there! It was funny since I wasn’t actively looking
for it.

Singapore Day 02 016 Singapore Day 02 017 Singapore Day 02 018 Singapore Day 02 019

I went back inside the library, the books were still there. This time
I started reading a book more closer to my tastes – “The Runner’s
Handbook” by Bob Glover, and I went prepared with my iPod. Music
always gets me going. I started playing “Sutrum Vizhi” and started
reading. I started with the nutrition/fuel section because that’s
where most of my problems are. Then started taking down some notes:

  • Hitting “the wall” refers to that point when you run short of
    glycogen. This is an experience that every runner should try

    • once. After you’re survived it, you will respect the need to
      prepare better for your next marathon.
  • Learn the values of long training runs, tapering, eating plenty of
    carbos, and not starting too fast. Ignoring these factors all
    contribute to hitting “the wall.”
  • Most often associated with marathons. After an hour and a half or
    so of running, you begin to run low on glycogen. For most runners
    that will be 10-13 miles into a run. The average well-trained
    runner may store enough glycogen to last 15-20 miles, depending
    upon such as factors as pace, body weight, fitness level, and how
    well they loaded up on carbs going into the race.
  • When you run low on glycogen, your body attempts to conserve what
    remains by burning more fat for energy. But since fat is 15% less
    efficient than carbs as an energy source, you are unable to hold
    your pace and have to slow dramatically (even though fat releases
    9 cal/gm compared to 4 cal/gm for carbs and protein)
  • Long training runs develop mechanisms for your body to utilize fat
    more efficiently throughout your race, thus “sparing” some glycogen
    for use later. Workouts at marathon pace and faster will also train
    your muscles to utilize carbs more efficiently at these paces.
    In addition, starting your race at a conservative pace will
    help conserve glycogen for later in the run. Tapering for
    a marathon combined with carb-loading is the key to surviving
    “the wall.”
  • Back-of-the-pack runners benefit most from carb-loading.
    • Dr. Costill notes: The difference between elite and average
      marathoners is that even if both started out with the same
      amount of glycogen, the elite marathoner would spare it by
      burning a higher ratio of fat. Although more oxygen is required
      to burn fat, the highly developed oxygen transport system of the
      elite runner allows this. Furthermore, he moves more
      economically, which means that he uses less oxygen to accomplish
      the same task. The average runner, on the other hand, depletes
      his glycogen supply sooner and doesn’t have as efficient an
      oxygen transport system to burn fat. That’s why hitting the wall
      is so devastating and why carbohydrate loading is more important
      for the average runner than for the elite runner.
  • For shorter runs (< 90 min), glycogen stores don’t get depleted
    much and hence carb intake isn’t as critical.

The best part is that I realized that this problem is not unique to
me! It’s a documented scientific problem experienced by enough runners
to have a section dedicated to it in a runners’ book. Now I know what
the problem is! Next, I need to actually figure out how to train to
tackle this which the book didn’t explain satisfactorily.

I had lost track of time because of the awesome reader-friendly
environment and suddenly realized I was late. I then headed out to
meet Abishek. I got to see all the whizbang gizmos they use to create
all the special effects that you may or may not notice in the
advertisements you see. These guys have amazing talent and patience to
do the things they do. But that’s a story for another day.

I never really could imagine what Utopia could be like, but having
stayed in Singapore for more than a week, I can say I don’t need to
imagine it, it’s already here.

To be frank, it’s spooky, it’s eerie. I think it’s something taken
straight from ‘Demolition Man’ script and something’s going to happen
now. But it’s for real, and I can’t stop wondering WHY!? Why and how
can things work so smoothly here?

Actually, a better description is the last scene in Ajnabee movie
where Bobby Deol exposes Akshay Kumar’s password (in big bold
letters): “EVERYTHING IS PLANNED.”

For example, let’s just consider the online component to Singapore
which is jarring for the sheer depth of information available.

Want to visit Singapore? Sure, just head out to their Itinerary
Planner
,
tell them how long you want to visit and who you’re coming with, and
they’ll tell you what you can explore each day! Uniquely Singapore,
indeed.

On the same note, everything has a website here:

Phew.

Oh, and the simplest best way to get around is to consult the Street
Directory
and it’ll tell you the best
way to reach from anywhere to anywhere (including the exact building
number) via the bus, metro, walk or driving directions.

That brings me to the topic of the well-planned metro which they call
MRT (Mass Rapid Transport), you just need to check out the MRT
map
to figure
out how to get to any place and since every train has a frequency of
6-8 min, you can always get there fast.

You can travel by bus as well and you’ll reach there fast too. In
fact, the roads are so good that there will be a Formula 1 race in
Singapore on the public streets. This is going to be the first ever F1
race in the night
!

What I still do not understand is how such cleanliness, discipline
(especially traffic) and order is maintained when there are no cops
around! (I have seen them only once so far in the past 9 days).

I guess it has got something to do with this
fact
:

Singapore legislation requires every able-bodied male Singaporean
citizen and second-generation permanent resident to undertake
National Service for a minimum of 2 years upon reaching 18 years of
age or completion of his studies (whichever comes first), with
exemption on medical or other grounds. After serving the two years,
every male is considered operationally ready, and is liable for
reservist national service to the age of 40 (50 for commissioned
officers). More than 350,000 men serve as operationally-ready
servicemen assigned to reservist combat units, and another 72,500
men form the full-time national service and regular corps.

That is amazing. In case of any kind of emergency, every Singaporean
man can face the problem and solve it then and there instead of
wasting time waiting for “a cop”. Probably also explains why they are
all so fit!

All this for just an island which is 42×28 km in size. It is one of
the 20 smallest countries in the world and at the same time they are
the second most densely populated country in the
world
.

And they’re still charging
ahead
.

The past month, I have been experiencing what I can only describe as
a burnout). When
I think about it, I have been juggling too many things, but they
were not extraordinary tasks, so I wonder why I felt ‘stressed’.

Things have been so hectic that I even missed foss.in this year (I
have attended every year since 2003) but good to know that it went so
well
.

The good thing was that the vacation was right around the corner which
kept me going. Even an hour before leaving from home for the flight,
I was struggling to complete chores.

I am now in Singapore, staying with my friends, and exploring the
place since the last 5 days.

Singapore is a really amazing city to live in. Everything is
streamlined
. Even the fish in the Underwater World at Sentosa Island
are RFID-tagged!

IIRC, I once saw a board that said there’s a 1000 SGD (singapore
dollars) fine if you are found sitting on the stairs of the
underground metro. I need to get one of those T-shirts that says
‘Singapore is a fine city’. Heh.

P.S. If you’re in Singapore too and want to meet up, give me
a holler.

Update: Looks like Ben Rockwood is going through a strikingly similar phase.

Yesterday, I attended Day 2 of the Web Innovation 2007
conference
.

The irony to note is that the conference website is so NOT Web 2.0.
For example, where are the slides that people can download? These guys
can learn a thing or two from the foss.in website and conference.
Again, for a web innovation conference, why is there no wifi? How are
you supposed to access the websites?

On the other hand, this conference has been surprising to me in the
sense that it actually turned out to be interesting. I think the
quality of people who have come to speak here is high and that’s
probably because these people are high up in the decision-making chain
and they have come to talk about what they do best – websites and
business.

Of course, the other half of the speakers are doing just boring sales
pitches but that didn’t deter the audience from asking tough questions
and seeking their value from it. They even directly questioned how
their company lives up to what was described in the presentation.

Web Innovation 2007 1

Continuing Day 1’s trend, here are the transcribed notes:

  • Jayabalan (CTO, Netmagic) on “Building scalable and resilient
    infrastructure for web applications”

    • Users, Connectivity, IT infrastructure, Application
      infrastructure
    • Challenges – Growth (number of concurrent users), Hardware
      failure, Software bugs, Security threats
    • Management and maintenance, Connectivity/routing issues, Secure
      connectivity, Cost
    • Failures can’t be avoided
    • Features and functionality alone not sufficient, Performance
      also required
    • Difficult to get people with end-to-end knowledge
    • Recommended setup – Storage, SANSw, Web + App + DB, Switching,
      Accelerator, Firewall
    • Develop for future – scalability in all layers
    • Performance optimizing techniques – Compression, TCP
      multiplexing, TCP optimization, TCP buffering, Caching, CDN,
      Load balancing, URL/content/cookie switching, Content
      modification, SSL offloading, Surge protection
    • Please outsource parts of these infrastructure to experts who
      have good infrastructure and service
    • Netmagic caters to all of the above (can it get more blatant
      than this?)
    • jb at netmagicsolutions.com
    • Replies to audience that Yes, Providers in India do have such
      infrastructure now. Power and Connectivity are major issues that
      you can’t scale in-house, so outsource it.
  • Rohit Varma (Founder and CEO, Techtribe) on “Delivering Value
    through Social Networks”

    • (Unfortunately, missed this session in the business track
      because the session in the other tech track was long)
    • Get into the press, only way, do not depend on viral marketing

(more…)

Yesterday, I attended Day 1 of the Web Innovation
2007
conference.

The first half of the day was quite useful, but the latter half turned
out to be pure marketing pitches by the sponsors.

WebInnovation 2007 Conference

First and foremost, I think the title of the conference is a misnomer.
Although it says “Web Innovation 2007: The Nextgen Web Technology
Revolution: 2.0 & Beyond”, it should have been “Web 2.0 : How can
India catch up” – the discussions were really about the ‘current’
situation of things rather than ‘innovation’ or ‘future’. By
‘current’ I mean, the internet products and services market in the
western world and how India can catch up.

The No.1 and possibly only gripe that most speakers mentioned which is
a barrier for internet and Web 2.0 to become omnipresent is that
broadband connectivity is pitiful in India.

I agree to this as far as locality reach, reliability, and pricing is
concerned. However, let’s compare it to mobile phones which is the
second-most discussed topic, on how it is booming and all that. Why
did mobile phones take off and not broadband? I think it’s because
mobile phones had a killer application – communication. That too,
communication any time, anywhere.

Similarly, let’s take the case of computers in many shops and
distributors – accounting solutions whether it is by the local
software shop or well-known ones like Tally, they bought computers
just so that they can use these software. Just like Lotus 1-2-3 for
Apple Mac I in the history of computers.

Unless we have killer applications that people in India want to use,
why would anyone want to buy a computer or a broadband connection?

And if there are killer applications, won’t there be demand for
broadband connections, and won’t supply follow? Just like the mobile
telephony market today?

Maybe I’m completely off on this one, but I still don’t yet see killer
applications on the web today for the common man in India, let alone
Web 2.0-style applications. Forget common man, how about the
educational aspects of things, if there are products and services that
can be beneficial to school and college students, that alone is a big
deal. As B V Naidu (one of the advisors in the Karnataka IT committee)
said, 54% of the Indian population is below 20 years!

Naidu also mentioned that there are 7 million new phones being bought
every month, you won’t find such a high number anywhere else in the
world. Yet, there are a meagre 1.6 million mobile internet users.
Again, what are the killer applications for them? At least, I never
felt the need for internet on my mobile phone. (As an aside, getting
it working for the first time is a pain which is another major
factor).

(more…)

Today, I caught the 4.45 am transportation to get to
ONV for the first ever Bangalore
Ultra Marathon
where people can get to
run or walk 26 or 52 or 78 or 104 km. A true endurance event.

Bangalore Ultra Marathon 01
Bangalore Ultra Marathon 02

I participated in the 26K run. I can’t even imagine how so many of
those guys and gals ran 52+ km.

The first 19 km of my run was good. My knees felt good during the
pounding of the feet although my shoe soles suffered and literally
came apart. After that, it was a nightmare.

Bangalore Ultra Marathon 10
Bangalore Ultra Marathon 07

I got severe backache. Probably because my rotund belly has added
layers over the past couple of months because of lack of exercise.
I really struggled for the remaining 7 km. The killer was the last
3 km.

Bangalore Ultra Marathon 06

I somehow managed to complete in 3 hr 52 min. A timing that I’m not
proud of, but under the circumstances, I don’t think I could’ve done
better.

In the end, I must say kudos to the Ultra
Team
for one of the
best organized events I’ve ever participated in! They have looked into
every little detail always putting the runner first in all their
decisions and especially for choosing such a picturesque location for
the run. The grassland field that we entered in the start of the run
was a true sight to behold just as the sun was coming out.

My aim next time is to do a half marathon without me throwing up in
the end, which has become a custom these days.

As I twittered
a while ago: “Sometimes I wonder why I even run. Then again, I wonder
why I’m even alive.”

Update: Sabine has lots of photos in these two albums.

Update 2: Congratulations to Niara for winning 2nd position in the Women’s 26K Open category with a timing of 2:38 hours!


“I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself,
and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow
as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new
sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your
lungs.” – Jesse Owens

There has been a lot of press mentions lately about the BSNL
Bangalore International
Marathon
which is going
to happen tomorrow. I will not be running it because it is not
intended for people who love running.

Why do I say that?

  1. The Bangalore Ultra Marathon was
    announced eleven months ago that it will be held on December 16, 2007.
    The BSNL Bangalore International Marathon was announced by the
    Karnataka Athletic
    Association

    just about one month two weeks ago that it will also be held
    on Dec 16, 2007. They knew very well that the Ultra is happening
    on the same
    day
    !
    I don’t know what is the inside story, but I think it’s pure
    one-upmanship, they got ticked off that the preparations and
    publicity for the Ultra seemed to be going well.

  2. The organizers of the BSNL Bangalore International Marathon do not
    take running seriously. If they did, they would not organize
    a training camp for just ten
    days
    .
    Do they really think they can convert a new person interested in
    running to eventually run 42 km in just ten days?! If you consult
    advice by professional runners, you will find out that it takes 18
    weeks
    to train for a marathon according to the charts whether
    you’re
    a beginner or
    an advanced
    runner. Talk to any runner on how long they took to prepare for
    their first marathon and you’ll know the difference. In fact, if
    you want to know what kind of preparation hardcore runners do, see
    this marathon day
    checklist
    .

  3. They are not allowing women to run the full
    marathon
    !
    When asked for the reason, they say that they don’t expect many
    women to run it so they decided not to allow it. I have many things
    to say about that but let me stick to facts – there are many women
    runners

    out there, it’s just that the Karnataka Athletic Association does
    not seem to be encouraging about it. Do they know there are women
    runners in India such as Priya who ran 100 miles (160 km) in the
    Himalayas
    ?

As a running enthusiast, these are enough reasons for me to not take
the BSNL Bangalore International Marathon seriously. Instead, I’m
running the Bangalore Ultra Marathon tomorrow.

In fact, there were discussions in the open-for-all RunnersForLife
mailing list regarding postponing the Ultra because of this clash, but
the race director Madhu strictly said
no
.
As an aside, if I’m not wrong, Madhu is a volunteer organizing this
and is not even part of the Ultra organizers company! Compare this
with how the other marathons are being organized.

Even CrossOver who organized the previous marathons held in Bangalore
have postponed it at least four
times

this year! It’s appalling that these organizers don’t take these
events seriously.

Contrast that with the participants in the Ultra marathon who met on
Friday night for
carb-loading
and had a ball of a time meeting other fellow
runners
.

I
attended that pasta party and met a lot of enthusiastic people. One of
them was a guy called
Andrew.
What’s special about him? He’s a 68-year old guy, and the Ultra
tomorrow is going to be his 592nd marathon! That’s right, that’s three
digits. He’s been running since 1976. In fact, he’s flown down from
New York just to run the Ultra. He’s also participated in the
Himalayan run that I mentioned earlier. Now, that’s true passion for
a sport!

As for myself, I have not at all trained properly in the last two
months but I’m hoping that the old routine of running 16 km every
weekend morning will kick back in tomorrow and I’ll hopefully run
well.

Bangalore Ultra 2007

Disclosure: I’m NOT part of the RFL club, just an avid runner. I may
join the RFL runs in future, but I’m certainly not biased towards
them. However, I am biased towards running and runners.

Note: I no longer work with IonLab since Nov 12 of 2009.

The other day, mom was telling me why she has completely switched from
the traditional neighbourhood HOPCOMS (Horticultural Produce
Cooperative Marketing Societies) outlet to the
fresh@ store to buy the
vegetables. I got curious and asked to explain. She mentioned several
points:

  1. HOPCOMS doesn’t allow the customer to choose the vegetables/fruits,
    they can’t pick the good ones. fresh@ allows it and this ensures
    quality.
  2. A minimum quantity of 250gm is imposed at HOPCOMS, but no such
    thing at fresh@.
  3. fresh@ is open from 7am-11pm compared to HOPCOMS which is open for
    8 hours and is closed during the afternoon.
  4. fresh@ provides all kinds of items, like milk, curds, rice compared
    to going to HOPCOMS, neighbourhood shop i.e. different places for
    these items.
  5. fresh@ provides separate covers for each item whereas HOPCOMS
    requires customers to carry their own bags.
  6. fresh@ stores perishable food in the freezer whereas HOPCOMS keeps
    it in the open.
  7. fresh@ has a much better ambience and a more friendly environment
    (don’t underestimate this)
  8. They have many offers and a points systems – this is not important
    according to mom, but if you’re anyway going to buy from fresh@,
    people are going to use it.
  9. Amazing thing is that the cost is not the differentiator!
  10. The important thing is that mom never intends to go back to the
    old way. If fresh@ goes poof one day, it is going to have
    a negative effect. This shows that fresh@ is really making
    a difference.

This brings me to the 2.0 part… consider how fresh@ takes a leap
forward in bettering the customer’s life. Compare that to the latest
mumbo jumbo
startups

out there. Are they really adding value?

I think the first thing a wannabe-entrepreneur should consider is
whether it is a must-have or a nice-to-have utility that they are
creating.

I mean how many more photo sharing sites or video sharing sites do you
really need? And how many more social networking sites?

(Well, on the other hand, if you can sell your me-too social
networking site for Rs. 39.3
crore
,
sure why not?)

But seriously, how many people really know all the India-specific
social bookmarking
sites

out there? Ever heard of xoomly.com? Well, neither did I until just
now. And I’m probably never going back again.

I don’t mean to pick on only ‘social’ websites, but I feel many other
hardware and software startups out there are solutions looking for
a problem
. (On a lighter note, a christmas
tree
that lights up when I connect it to
my laptop via USB can be really handy).

As Paul Graham says:

Let me repeat that recipe: finding the problem intolerable and
feeling it must be possible to solve it. Simple as it seems, that’s
the recipe for a lot of startup ideas.

I can say that this is true because of (yes, you know it was coming)
our experience in ion.

In fact, in one of the interviews we have
given, we were asked the question “Why a product like ion?”, and we
replied:

  1. “To scratch an itch.” Vikram didn’t want to spend money on the
    expensive official Apple iPod Charger, and being an electronics
    geek, he designed a circuit himself and started using it to charge
    his iPod.

  2. Then, we discussed about many people who are facing the same
    problem. For example, people who are not aware of the official
    charger (or don’t want to purchase such an expensive one) even leave
    their computer switched on overnight just to charge their iPod!
    That’s a lot of unnecessary wastage of electricity.

  3. There are many unbranded chargers available in the market, but it
    is sold on the condition that it may or may not work, and there is
    no assurance on the quality, or even that your iPod will be safe
    when using these chargers.

The charger that Vikram built was a perfect fit to solve all these
problems, with reliability, and within a reasonable cost. We got
together to take it to market.

The bad news is that ion ran out of stock sooner than we expected
after the recent Economic Times
article
and we apologize for the
several customers who wrote in to us asking when it’ll be available.
We’re working on it and will update you all as soon as possible.

One customer said he desperately needed it before Christmas
because he’s going for a long vacation and he wants to be
able to use his iPod during the trip.

It feels good to know that we are solving a real problem.
It’s not life-changing but it does meet Paul Graham’s criteria.