From Philip K. Dick’s 1978 article “How to Build a Universe That
Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days
Later”
(emphasis mine):

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation
of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control
the people who must use the words. George Orwell made this clear in
his novel 1984. But another way to control the minds of people is to
control their perceptions. If you can get them to see the world as
you do, they will think as you do. Comprehension follows perception.

How do you get them to see the reality you see? After all, it is
only one reality out of many. Images are a basic constituent:
pictures. This is why the power of TV to influence young minds is
so staggeringly vast. Words and pictures are synchronized.
The
possibility of total control of the viewer exists, especially the
young viewer. TV viewing is a kind of sleep- learning. An EEG of
a person watching TV shows that after about half an hour the brain
decides that nothing is happening, and it goes into a hypnoidal
twilight state, emitting alpha waves. This is because there is such
little eye motion.

In addition, much of the information is graphic and therefore passes
into the right hemisphere of the brain, rather than being processed
by the left, where the conscious personality is located. Recent
experiments indicate that much of what we see on the TV screen is
received on a subliminal basis. We only imagine that we consciously
see what is there.

The bulk of the messages elude our attention; literally, after
a few hours of TV watching, we do not know what we have seen. Our
memories are spurious, like our memories of dreams; the blanks are
filled in retrospectively. And falsified. We have participated
unknowingly in the creation of a spurious reality
, and then we have
obligingly fed it to ourselves. We have colluded in our own doom.

(via email from
Anirudh)


When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s
a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when
you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks
are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far
more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the
bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in
business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.

— Steve Jobs quoted in Wired (February 1996)

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

One year ago, on this day, we launched ion, the ipod
charger
. The launch was just one blog
post
.
That’s it. Within two hours, Atul Chitnis bought the first ion in our
online store. We celebrated.

But hold on, let’s rewind the story a bit.

As people might have heard in our recent running
talk
, it all
started when Vikram,
Niara and myself started training
together for the 2006 Bangalore
Marathon
.

During one of our runs, Vikram told us that he had created his own
charger circuit and came up with this wacky idea of manufacturing and
selling them
. I never took it seriously
but Niara did. She convinced Vikram to take the idea forward. Nearly
six months later, the idea had taken wings.

The prototype looked nothing like something we could sell.

Picture 253
Picture 252

Later, I was planning to attend the first
proto.in
. Vikram and Niara
joined in and we went together. I was totally floored by the energy of
the people there and the fire in the eyes of these startup guys.
I told those two that they should talk to this guy called Arif
Vakil
of “Vakil Housing” fame and how he was
looking to fund interesting ideas. Immediately, Vikram swung into
action, approached Vakil and started explaining the idea.
Surprisingly, he showed interest!

Luckily, Vikram had brought his prototype and went to fetch it from
his bag. Then Vikram started searching for his iPod when Arif said
“Let’s try with my iPod”. Wow. That moment. Imagine if your VC is
a would-be customer and the product solves a problem that he himself
faces. Nothing like it.

We connected Arif’s iPod to the charger and the charger to a power
socket. The blue LED came on. The iPod was showing the charging
symbol. We all had smiles on our faces. Arif was impressed and went on
to even ask us where we live and so on. That means he really was
interested.

After that incident, it was time to head back. Vikram was on an
all-time high. That was when we were all convinced that we were on to
something. And throughout the bus journey from Chennai to Bangalore,
those two convinced me to join ion. I wasn’t so sure. Yeah, it was
a Saturdays-only part-time thing. Yeah, Vikram and me had discussed
about such things endlessly. But still, I wasn’t sure.

I thought about it the next day and thought “Why not?” I don’t lose
much if it bombs and it was a good excuse for us three to keep meeting
up.

For various reasons, we didn’t approach Vakil for funding and put in
the initial investment ourselves. And we went from shopping for
running shoes to shopping for resistors and capacitors and modifying
Drupal code.

Picture 053

Then there was the countless decision-making sessions like coming up
with poster ideas and then the stories about how we decided the logo
for ion
, how we
landed in trouble with the
cops
, and
finally the launch of ion.

We sent an email to friends asking them to forward to their company
internal groups and anybody who would be interested. We also gave
posters to put up on their company notice boards. That was pretty much
our ‘marketing strategy’. The idea was that we marketed it as an iPod
charger and our target audience was the techie crowd.

We marketed it as an iPod charger even though it will work with
anything that can be charged with USB right from mobile phones to
battery chargers. We use the term iPod charger because that’s what
people have most demand for. The second part about targeting techies
was because they will be the ones who will look to finding a solution
that is cheaper than the official charger which costs 2000 rupees but
still is reliable. Ours was one-fifth that price.

The most humbling experience for me was trying to sell ion outside the
Aerosmith concert. That was such a good example of a wrong person (me)
in the right place doing the job not suited for him. But yet Niara and
me did it for ion.

Then came the amazing customer
feedback
and our highest
point – getting featured in a half-page article in Economic
Times
:

ion in economic times

And yes, Arif congratulated
us
.

But you want to know what’s the craziest part? We made just 200
pieces of ion
. Yes, that’s it. 200 ions. Crazy. And see how far it
went.

After that ET article happened, we ran out of stock. That was six
months ago
. Many people have asked me why we’re not selling more
ions. So I thought I’ll tell the hidden part of the story today – We
never intended ion to live longer than those 200 pieces. It was just
a business experiment for us, nothing more. Why? To learn what it
takes to convert an idea to a reliable quality product and take it to
market.

We never called ourselves a startup back then. That has happened only
in hindsight. In fact, I was in it because I thought I could help
since I had some experience in maintaining my own websites and maybe
I can learn a thing or two in running an ecommerce store.

After we managed to the finish selling the batch of 200 pieces and
made decent profit, Vikram moved to USA, Niara moved on to other
things in life and so did I.

But the response hasn’t stopped. Even last Thursday (Apr 17), we got
emails from four different people in a single day asking when we’ll be
back in stock. Crazy, I tell you.

I have had so many personal failures and failed projects in the past
few years that it seemed stupid to kill a successful project of ours.
So Vikram and myself have been working on reviving ion. We hope to be
back with a batch of second generation ions in the next month.

The experiment continues.

Day 2 of Barcamp Bangalore No. 6 (Apr 20 Sun) started off on
a pleasant note because I just had to stop and admire the greenery of
the IIMB campus.

BarcampBangalore6 28

Had an impromptu discussion on development on Nokia Phones with
Ashwin and another person who worked
in Nokia. Surprised to hear that it costs so much!

Then, attended a session on “Pattern Labs” who are trying to create
a better knowledge base for GAP, a conglomerate of NGOs for
sustainable development. What they’re trying to achieve was quite
admirable and definitely needed, but for the life of me, I just
couldn’t understand what they’re trying to do in this Pattern Labs and
what kind of software they’re trying to develop.

This was followed by a 5-10 min discussion on Web 2.0 for K-12
education, it was interesting to note that there were few success
stories where kids used a wiki to collaboratively write a poem using
the “diamond pattern” they teach in school and were benefited by this
approach.

Then Rajiv Poddar initiated
a discussion on the legal status of VoIP in India and why there should
be a correction. Basically, VoIP calls cannot reach a PSTN/PLMN i.e.
landline or mobile phones in India. Why? Because it will hurt VSNL’s
revenues. An equally relevant issue is that VSNL is the only gateway
in India trying to control all traffic for no real reason. But why is
VoIP important? Because it makes phone calls damn inexpensive and
there are many innovations that can be done around it – right from
system integration to enabling live voice discussions for a website,
all at a low cost.

BarcampBangalore6 30
BarcampBangalore6 32

Rajiv equated this situation to the telephony space – the government
was afraid that BSNL won’t make money, but once the space was opened,
everyone now knows the story of the rapid growth of telephony and
communication in India, after all India is the fastest growing market.
It did more good than harm.

Previously I had known that there are some legal issues with VoIP but
had never ventured to learn about it until I happened to walk into
this session. A group called Voice of
VoIP
was created on the
spot to take the discussion forward and see if something can be done
about it.

Then I went into a session on Scoping, Closures and Objects in
Javascript. The speaker Venkatesh Choppella was a professor at IIIT,
Trivandrum and held a Ph.D in computer languages. I was mighty
impressed that there are such lecturers out there! Interestingly, he
teaches JavaScript as the first language for some of his classes at
his university. I learned a bit about JavaScript and language theory.

BarcampBangalore6 33
BarcampBangalore6 34

Then, Vinayak Hegde had an interesting session on High performance
websites. Again, the crowd had a lively discussion on tips and tricks
right from something called “CSS sprites” to using YSlow, Minify,
Expires Headers, ETags, and so on.

BarcampBangalore6 35
BarcampBangalore6 36

And in between all this, I met many people. In fact, when we were
mingling, few of us decided to go to the Coffee Day outlet in the next
building to get something cold. It was such a sultry weather. And
there we found, Shourya and another college student (Jayanth?) playing
guitars and singing Def Leppard songs!

There were some amazingly funny and insightful discussions going on as
well, many of which I can’t write here, but I’ll especially remember
Kushal Das’ stories. I never thought someone had the guts to pull off
giving an Intel 865 motherboard to his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day!
And they even have fights over GCC. Wow,
that’s like a geek’s dream, right? Anyway, I wish him all the best,
hope they’re together for a long time and more.

BarcampBangalore6 38
BarcampBangalore6 40
BarcampBangalore6 41
BarcampBangalore6 42

The day ended with a feedback session on the good, bad and ugly of
Barcamp. Most people had suggestions and cribs but they said they got
used to it once they understood the idea of how Barcamps work – it’s
meant to be not organized and scheduled properly. Things should
happen on-the-fly. And again, people asked for video archives of the
sessions because they missed many due to the parallel tracks. Simple
answer – get a video camera and record. If 4-5 people can volunteer,
the problem is solved. The real problem is not enough people willing
to do these things. Barcamp works only when everyone pitches in,
whether you are initiating a session, volunteering or at least putting
your name on the wiki.

BarcampBangalore6 47
BarcampBangalore6 50

There were more discussions, but in the end people agreed that the
current format is great and nothing needs to be changed for number 7.

Bottom line: Adjust maadi. Don’t make it a “conference”!

adjust maadi @ barcamp bangalore 6

There are only a few things that can get me high – running, passionate
techie discussions, meeting new people, and interesting and insightful
conversations. I had a good dose of all of these in two days, so BCB6
was simply well-spent time for me. And it looks like many other
campers
feel the same
way as well.

P.S. If you want to be updated on when’s the next barcamp, just follow
the mailing
list
and the
website.

For the uninitiated, Barcamp is an “unconference” which means its
a place where people meet, but all the usual rules of a conference do
not apply (hence the ‘un’). The best part about any conference is
usually the hallway crowds where people say hi and end up engaging in
some of the most passionate discussions. Imagine if a conference had
only hallway discussions as an agenda – You want to discuss something?
Great, go write the topic on a post-it and stick it on the wall in the
available time slots. That’s what Barcamp is.

BarcampBangalore6 18

Barcamp actually started
off
as a response to
the FOOcamp i.e. Friends of O’Reilly Camp to which only the crème de
la crème were invited and others had to stay out. So people like
Tantek and Messina got together and decided to make a new “for the
people, by the people” format which was the exact opposite of FOOcamp.
And since programming has had “foo” and “bar” as standard variable
names in examples, they called it “barcamp”. That’s right, it’s got
nothing to do with alcohol. Now, Barcamps have become a worldwide
phenomenon
.

BarcampBangalore6 19
BarcampBangalore6 20

Day 1 of Barcamp Bangalore #6 (Apr
19 Sat) started with an introduction session where everyone stands up
and explains what sessions they’ll be initiating at which room or
“dari” and at what time. This itself was an indicator of how the next
2 days were going to be.

BarcampBangalore6 03
BarcampBangalore6 05

Since we techies are traditionally not used to getting up early on
time, the sessions started half an hour late. In any case, the whole
crowd started mingling.

The first actual session I attended was
Kaashif demonstrating self-defence.
Seriously. He explained that he has had unsavoury experiences at
places like Marathahalli at night and its important to know how to
defend yourself, not that you should go looking for trouble. He
explained things well right from what are your opponents weak points
regardless of their size to the three basic steps – do the defend
action, do the ‘shout/cry’ that happens when you hit with force, and
then run.

For step 3, people had to come to our running
discussion
. That
went better than I would have expected.

The rest of the day was of two parts for me – fleeting in and out of
discussions and meeting people.

One thing about Barcamp is the no-holds-barred discussions. Diplomacy
has no place here, let’s talk what you are really thinking. For
example, there are many startups showcasing their products and taking
feedback. One such startup that I witnessed was LifeInLines. The
crowd, sorry to say this, literally murdered them. They were like
“This is just twitter minus rss plus privacy controls. Is there
anything else?” and the guys had a hard time convincing them of the
value in their website. It reminded me of the recent discussion on
Aren’t There Real Problems To
Solve?

Any way, I think this is the perfect reason why startups should
showcase at Barcamp – you’re not going to get more brutal and more
honest feedback than here.

BarcampBangalore6 16

Then I met a lot of interesting people. For example, Anand
Bora
who has an interesting
passion called “mathematical art”. Wow, I didn’t even know such stuff
existed. While we were talking, he scribbled something on a box and
showed me, it was my name ‘Swaroop’. Then he turned the box around, it
still read ‘Swaroop’! Wow again. Apparently, they’re called ambigrams
and he’s done many of
these
. We had a long
discussion about life and thoughts and where we’ll be in
5 years. And a few hours before that, I didn’t even know him.

Then bumped into people like Vid Ayer, Arun
and a guy from Cisco, and they asked me about my ‘startup’
experiences. This topic was a story by itself, so I’ll write about it
separately. What was interesting, was putting faces to names. I’ve
seen the name ‘Vid Ayer’ on mailing lists and blogs, but now I get to
actually meet the person. This trend continued in the twitter meetup
as well.

BarcampBangalore6 25
BarcampBangalore6 27

I think the ‘dari’ idea was awesome – just a bunch of carpets where
people can sit and gather around. The discussions varied from “The
Great Dating Session” to “Lessons from Kamasutra, not that kind” to
writing Mozilla applications. Heck, even the sessions varied from
raising awareness of the girl child issue to asynchronous i/o.

BarcampBangalore6 22

The only problem is that sometimes there were no topics of interest to
me and sometimes there were 3 things happening in parallel and
I wanted to attend all of them. But, yeah, that’s a problem that can’t
be solved.

geeked out @ barcamp bangalore 6

The whole day was fun. I couldn’t wait to get back to Day 2.

One fine day, I was running by myself. It was a few weeks before
Barcamp Bangalore 5. I got an idea that I should talk about
a non-techie topic at Barcamp since I’ve been giving tech talks for
the past few years and I wanted a change of pace. I brainstormed many
ideas on the reason for the talk, what to say and how to explain, etc.
all during that one run.

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend BCB5. But I stored the notes in a safe
place. And when BCB6 was announced, I wanted to be sure to talk this
time around.

A few weeks back, Ramjee called me and
asked whether we can talk about running. I smiled and thought to
myself “Great minds think alike”. Or at least “Runners think alike”.

So I made a ppt and we landed at
Barcamp on Saturday morning. We had
never discussed the presentation. And we were going to give a session
on it. Truly unconference style.

Note: The slides below have been modified to make it useful for a web
audience. It has a lot more text now.

Barcamp crowds are very inquisitive and so we didn’t actually go past
half the slides, which is actually a good thing. Instead, we discussed
a wide range of things about running right from finding good places to
run to trouble with dogs.

In spite of the delays causing us to start at 12:45 (which means
almost lunch time) the discussion went on till 1:45 and 90% of the
30-40 odd crowd were present till the end. When we went to grab what
was left of lunch, lot of people asked us questions including how to
avoid knee pain (tip: it’s the shoes). Since questions are always
a good sign, I think it was a successful discussion.

We both still consider ourselves amateurs at running but at the end of
the day its an activity we like and Barcamp is a perfect platform to
talk about our passions.

Oh, and if you’re still not a believer, I’ll end with a quote:

Games require skill. Running requires endurance, character, pride,
physical strength, and mental toughness. Running is a test, not
a game. A test of faith, belief, will, and trust in ones self. So
hardcore that it needs a category all to itself to define the pain.
When game players criticize, it’s because they aren’t willing to
understand, not because they’re stronger. Running is more than
a sport; it’s a lifestyle. If you have to ask us why we run, you’ll
never understand, so just accept.

— Jessica Propst

Update: SlideShare decided to make it a Barcamp spotlight
presentation:

whyyoushouldrun_slideshare_spotlight

The online slides has had 1274 views and 116 downloads as of this
writing (2008-05-04 Sun 10:04 PM).

How do traditional web development frameworks cope with RIAs?

By RIAs, I am referring to the Flex/Silverlight model (Ajax has
a hybrid model in my view, so I’m not discussing that here since
I don’t want to muddle up the question).

Coming back to topic, I see that the traditional web development
frameworks are inside-out and RIA development as outside-in
:

Traditional web dev frameworks RIA frameworks
Flow: controller ⇒ model ⇒ view (pages) view ⇒ controller ⇒ model

Everything built into the framework. View is generated via
templates.

View is designed separately and it’s what runs first. Backend
is a bunch of web services.

Question: How is this resolved practically?

For example, how do people using Django or Ruby on Rails actually
write, say, Flex frontends for their websites
?

Do they ditch their templates/rhtml? Do they design the RIA first and
then the web service, or the other way around? … etc.

I couldn’t figure out the answer and since there are people out there
doing it, I’m hoping the
“hoosgot”
i.e. lazy web gods will answer.

As Jeff Atwood said recently in his entry on Choosing Your Own
Adventure
:

I’ve spent the last six months staring at this page trying to figure
out what to do. With some trepidation, I’m now turning to page 10.
Thursday will be my last day at Vertigo. I will sorely miss the
camaraderie and the many close personal friends I’ve made at
Vertigo. Vertigo remains a fantastic place to work.

Sometimes choosing your own adventure means closing one door to
open another. And I have to close the door on Vertigo, however
reluctantly, to fully and wholeheartedly explore the alternatives.

It would be unfair to Vertigo and to myself to do anything less. I’m
not sure what exactly lies on page 10. I won’t lie to you. It’s
scary to trade the security of a safe, salaried job for the
unknowns. But the way I look at it, if it’s not a little scary,
then it’s not the right choice. Failure is always an option.

Just s/Vertigo/Adobe/g and that’s my situation.

It was not an easy decision to make. Especially considering the people
I work with. In fact, I squarely blame my Flex teammates
Sreenivas,
Sameer,
Raghu,
Harish, Harpreet,
Kaashif,
Anirudh,
Sujit,
Annam, Ram, Jyoti and so many
others for making this such a difficult decision.

There are two incidents that have stuck in my mind for the past few
days. One is the recent internal tech summit we had at Noida where
Adobeans got to showcase each others’ technologies and ideas. Second,
the (internal) showcase applications that our team created using our
data visualization platform. I was simply blown away. The enthusiasm,
the energy and the ideas was so addictive.

It seems strange that I should leave all this behind. It seems
stranger that I have no clue where I’ll be six months from now. But
yeah, I have some ideas.

As Ray Bradbury said:

If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d
never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be
cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or,
“I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore …” Well,
that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off
the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.