Ever since I read about how Arif Vakil uses a “My World Mindmap” to organize his life, I started using mind maps. It is such an utterly simple concept but yet I still find it fascinating.

If you don’t know what a mind map is, think of it as writing a single topic idea on a piece of paper, then drawing out a tree with new ideas as branches. You can draw as many branches and sub-branches as you like. That’s it.

There are two purposes for which I use mind maps:

1. Brainstorming

Nothing gets my brain thinking and crazily jotting down thoughts like a mind map can. This happens because it is not a linear format and encourages branching out in different directions. At the same time, you can group related ideas together which means you don’t have to detail each idea, the phrases should have quite obvious meanings from the branching hierarchy.

2. Attention Economy

“Pay attention to what has your attention” is another gem that I learned from Arif.

I have forced myself to spend an hour every week and update a mind map that lists my actions in the past week. If my intentions on how I would like to spend my ideal week does not match my actual actions, then, the problem becomes quite obvious. Otherwise, it will be yet another case of “What? A week is already over. Time just flies…” and then months and years fly by (and it has) and you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing all along.

To break this chain, I started being conscious of what I’m doing. At first, I was shocked at the drastic gap between inspiration and execution. But by constant review of this attention mindmap, I’m getting better at todo lists.

XMind

The best mind mapping software that I’ve come across is XMind. It also happens to be open source and cross-platform.

It has a very nice simple and fluid interface, intuitive keyboard shortcuts, nice handy marker icons and most importantly, feels like a coherent software.

Install XMind and try this:

  • Click on the “Central Topic” rectangle. Press F2. Type “Life” and press enter key.
  • Press the Tab key. Press F2. Type “Career” and press enter key.
  • Press the Enter key. Press F2. Type “Finances” and press enter key.
  • Press Shift+Enter keys. Press F2. Type “Family” and press enter key.

That’s it, you’ve now created a mind map and got a feel of the keyboard shortcuts.

But there is more.

  • Click on the ‘Finances’ rectangle.
  • Right click → Markers → Smiley → Boring
  • Click on the ‘Career’ rectangle.
  • Press F3. Add tags like ‘monthly review, skill’.
  • Press F4. Add your notes.
  • Press the Tab key and add subtopics like ‘The Big Goal’.

Sample of My World mind map

Continue filling out this mind map and you would have created your “World mind map”.

P.S. I’ve been thinking about writing more about productivity and lifehacks, so if this post was useful for you and would like to read about more such topics, please let me know.

About six months ago, I had stopped reading all RSS feeds because I wasn’t managing my information input well. Over the past few months I was slowly creeping back into the same RSS habit and I didn’t like it.

The biggest problem for me was seeing that unread count number*. It was intimidating and I quickly started procrastinating reading the articles, which was ironic, because we mostly read RSS feeds to procrastinate from doing real work ;-)

I thought to myself: “There must be a way to list all my favorite blogs and websites, I can add them and forget about it. Whenever I want to get updated, I just visit the page and read all the latest, and then go away again. There is no need to keep memory of how much I read and how much I did not read.”

I started looking at My Yahoo! to list the websites I follow. It allows to add RSS feeds and will show you the latest 5 posts from that RSS feed. But then, MyAlltop came along and solved it more elegantly for me:

  • MyAllTop is easy to scan, i.e., read because of the newspaper-style 3 columns of blocks, compared to My Yahoo!’s big horizontal blocks (maybe there’s a way to get the layout of your liking, but I couldn’t find it).
  • When you mouseover a link in Alltop/MyAlltop, it will show a few paragraphs from the article which makes it easy to discern whether the title is misleading or if the article is really interesting.
  • The Alltop directory is very useful (which reminds me of the origins of Yahoo! – a directory of websites) in finding the best blogs on a particular topic, which is a harder problem than I imagined. I don’t know if Google Reader’s “bundles” had solved this problem, but I definitely find this a good resource.
  • I used to regularly visit india.alltop.com to read the latest news but used to get annoyed by irrelevant-to-me blocks. Now I can just add the ones that I’m interested in to MyAlltop page.

In the end, I’ve switched from Google Reader to my.alltop.com/swaroopch and I’m finding it far more fun to read this way. This is also useful if you ever wondered what blogs I read, it’s all in one page.

If you have any other “How to control your information input” tips, please comment.

* And if you wondered that I must be nuts to get bogged down by the unread count number, let me tell you that I’m not nuts, I’m actually a Inbox Zero freak. I tend to reach inbox zero on email every week regularly. If only I could say the same about my todo list…

Update on June 13, 2009: I wanted to try a new idea – to randomly see the list of feeds every time, so I ditched MyAllTop and wrote a small html file that uses Google AJAX Feeds API to display the feeds list. Let’s see how this experiment goes.

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

Vikram has written an interesting post on whether the name of a brand matters which got me thinking.

I don’t think it’s that simple. I believe that Company name doesn’t matter. Product name matters.

This is because the product’s name is not just a name, it conveys the image that pops into the person’s head when they hear the name.

For example:

  • Apple Macbook Air. “Apple” doesn’t matter. “Air” means light.
  • Maruti Swift. “Maruti” doesn’t matter. “Swift” means fast and light.
  • “Lifehacker” matters. “Gizmodo” matters. “Gawker” doesn’t matter.
  • “Engadget” matters. “Gadling” matters. “Weblogs, Inc.” doesn’t matter.
  • Paypal. Pay your pal.
  • AllTop. All topics.

It can be argued that this is the result of the company promoting the company name more than the brand name, but then again:

  • Twitter vs. Yammer. For whatever reason, I intuitively like the former rather than the latter’s name.
  • MobileCrunch vs JKOnTheRun. Same reason.

If it doesn’t convey the right image, it can be a problem:

  • If a name evokes mixed meanings, then it has a bad branding. For example, Eclipse wants to be many things to many people, and not just a Java IDE. But, as Steve Yegge says, it is difficult to change that perception now.
  • If it’s a hard name, it will negatively affect uptake. For example, ebay has kijiji but now wants to change the name to something simpler.
  • Having a name facilitates emotions. I just find it hard to relate to the Nokia phone naming scheme such as N70 or N93, whereas I like names like Xperia, Dream, Storm, etc.
  • I just think a good brand name is like a marketing message.

Even if the name contributes just 10% to the “cool” factor of a brand, I think it is worth glossing over, as long as it doesn’t become a bikeshed debate.

It’s funny that this internal debate is now continuing in public.

What do you think?

I had grown up among engineers, and I could remember the engineers of the twenties very well indeed: their open, shining intellects, their free and gentle humor, their agility and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from one engineering field to another, and, for that matter, from technology to social concerns and art. Then, too, they personified good manners and delicacy of taste; well-bred speech that flowed evenly and was free of uncultured words; one of them might play a musical instrument, another dabble in painting; and their faces always bore a spiritual imprint.

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his book “The Gulag Archipelago”

Though the Lok Sabha elections are just a month away, more than 50 per cent of voters in Bangalore still do not have Electoral Photo Identity Cards (EPIC).

Ramakrishna blamed lackadaisical attitude of citizens, especially software professionals, for low EPIC coverage.
“People working in IT and BT firms show indifference towards EPIC. Even though our officials go to their doorstep on weekends, they do not respond. They say that EPIC is of no use of them,” he pointed out.

However, there has been a good response from those living in slums, the official added.

Deccan Herald on March 20, 2009

If you want to find out what jobs are available in startups in India, then there are myriad resources to check:

Are there other resources that should be on this list? Please let me know in the comments.

There are other questions I’m wondering as well:

  • Which are the popular places followed by the startuppers who are looking to hire interns, freshers and experienced people?
  • For passionate students/freshers who want to work in startups, where do they start? Should they just apply via these sites or should they first do in-person networking at OpenCoffeeClub, Startup Saturday and similar meeting grounds first?

Update: Another tip is finding which startups got funding recently.

I had a great time at BCB8. Even though I had ranted previously on the tech focus this time, the planners made it clear that all topics are welcome and Barcampers kept the same familiar atmosphere going.

To be honest, I don’t go to Barcamp for the sessions per se, it is mainly for the people and this is one of the most relaxed ways to catch up with friends and make new ones. I met a lot of people and had very good conversations.

Discussion on Mobile apps for India
Django intro by Lakshman

My own session on webdev frameworks and their relation to newer technologies such as cloud databases had a rocky start because there were lot of first-time Barcampers and were expecting a talk-style session. Luckily, I was saved by 3-4 guys in the audience who got it and we had a lively discussion. The takeaway is that, yes, there are interesting possibilities when we natively integrate our webdev frameworks and cloud databases (via modifying the ORMs) and cloud computing facilities. A few people were interested in my suggestion to carry the conversation forward in some sort of mailing list. So please join the “evolving-webdev” mailing list if you are interested in exploring these technologies.

My session on webdev & changing tech

The other interesting session I attended was on philosophies of yoga by Shashikant Joshi. As expected, he gave a very different take on yoga than what we normally hear. He started off by explaining the meaning of the word ‘yog’ as “state of mind” and what our ancient scriptures say on how to attain bliss and remove sorrow. It was hard for me to not be reminded of GTD philosophy, especially the “mind like water” concept. I felt guilty that there is so much already written by our ancestors that we ignore and wait for people to rediscover it and preach it.

I missed Shree Kumar’s calligraphy session because it was at the same time. Oh well.

Besides that, there was a whole lot of hallway conversations.

Gopal was teaching people how to solve a Rubik’s cube. He has it nailed down to a few algorithms, I can’t even fathom how he had the patience to derive those algorithms. We timed him solving it. The first time he took 1 min 57 seconds to solve it. The second time he took 1 min 36 seconds. Phew.

Gopal explaining his steps to others
Rubik's cube solved by Gopal

Then in another freewheeling conversation, we were talking about Zeno’s paradox and all sorts of stuff like that.

All in all, two non-stop days of fun reiterated why Barcamp remains one of my favorite events.

Thanks to all the planners (@ashwin, @daaku, @dkris, @fagunbhavsar, @hnprashanth, @viralsachde and others) who made it happen, and to Yahoo! for sponsoring the venue.

You can read more about what happened via the #bcb8 tag.

Warning: The following is a rant. Please feel free to skip if not interested.

What I was trying to do: I had only Ubuntu Linux installed on my laptop, no dual-boot with Windows. The DVD drive stopped working, so I contacted Dell support. They asked me to upgrade the drivers, I said I couldn’t because I wasn’t on Windows. And I couldn’t install Windows because, duh, the DVD drive is not working. Finally, it turned out that the drive had to be replaced, and within 24 hours, a Dell repair guy came to my home, swapped the drive for a new one and everything was working.

I was so happy with the Dell support, and the way they looked forward to saying yes. They solved a hardware problem within 24 hours of sending an email. Wow. That is unexpected because for most big companies, good customer service is an accident.

After this incident, I decided to install Vista so that I could do the BIOS or driver updates or any other similar situation that might arise in future.

Big mistake.

Situation One. Windows Update.

I popped in the Vista reinstallation CD given by Dell, it was installed in half an hour. I opened Windows update, showed some 71 security updates that has to be installed. Phew. It took a few hours to install. Waited for it to reboot. CRASH.

It asked me if I wanted to try normal booting or go to safe mode. I click on safe mode. CRASH.

I was puzzled, I thought this was a freak accident. So I redid the whole cycle and same result.

The irony is that I hadn’t installed a single third-party software, that is, if you don’t count the Dell WiFi drivers. All I did was run Windows update and it totally trashed the system.

The third time I reinstalled Vista, and then clicked on Disable Windows Updates. At this point, I didn’t care about Vista wanting to secure itself. I’d rather have a working ‘unsecure’ OS, rather than a OS that is secure and dead. In any case, I had bought a license to Norton Internet Security 2009 and put the responsibility of security to Norton.

Situation Two. External Hard Disk.

I connected my external hard disk so that I could copy back all my files, code and music back to the laptop. This disk is corrupted. Would you like to format? Whaaa??

I connected the external hard disk to the desktop running good old Windows XP. It worked flawlessly.

Another fail.

So I had to make the external hard disk connected to the desktop as a shared folder and access it on my laptop over the wireless network.

Situation Three. DVD drive.

The last two reinstalls, I installed the various drivers, etc. via the DVDs provided by Dell.

This third time, I suddenly realized, Vista doesn’t recognize the DVD drive any more.

FAIL.

Salvation. Ubuntu.

Worst of all, it seems Vista was working well for the past 8 months purely because it was a factory install. There is no stable reproducible method of reinstalling and running a Vista system.

Rebooted, popped in the Ubuntu CD, installation done. Everything is working. Including the DVD drive, the external hard disk, and I didn’t have to click on multiple ‘Next’ dialogs each for 5-6 different driver installations.

This was a good reminder for me on why Linux distros, especially Ubuntu, rock.

Side note. Lock-in.

I used to have a Mac PowerBook a long time ago. One of the reasons I wasn’t keen on continuing to use it was that most of the software was Apple-only and it felt like a lock-in.

I thought I was clever in switching to a normal laptop with a dual-boot of Windows and Linux. Yeah, freedom, baby.

BUT.

Dell provides support only for Vista, not even Windows XP! I’ve become so frustrated with Vista, but I have absolutely no other option. I mean, sure, I could use a different OS, but then all the cool features like fingerprint recognition hardware, the webcams, etc. most likely won’t work. If this isn’t a lock-in, I don’t know what is.

Of course, things have changed now with Dell selling Linux laptops. And also Macs now run on Intel CPUs, which means that we can run Windows and Linux on Mac hardware. My next laptop would certainly be one of these options.

But, then again, I might end up with just a Android-based netbook, coding on Mozilla Bespin, storing files in the cloud, and hooking it up to a big display whenever I am doing serious work (like Jace does with his MSI Wind).

In either case, I will look forward to not having Vista.

Update : The day after I wrote this, Vista has a new way of messing with me – it now shows the DVD drive, but now refuses to show the D drive where I’ve stored all my files. Sigh.

Prof. Sadagopan has an interesting take on how the mobile phone is evolving and how he views its relationship with the PC:

In the GSMA World Congress in Barcelona during Feb 16-19, 2009, Acer (the laptop manufacturer) launched four (mobile) handsets under the brand name “Tempo”

Last week Nokia talked of linux-based Laptops to be introduced in the market soon.

What will be interesting is the fulfillment of my “dream wish” – seamlessly integrated PC and Smart Phone. Let me elaborate.

I find my mobile phone substitute half my PC functionality, but only half. Half the time I use my PC for writing; but even during my writing, I need to check Wikipedia, IIIT web-site, my blog site … so I need communication function. If only the PC and Smart phone can act seamlessly, it will be great. I pick up my long mails on PC without I having to connect. I can Skype or call using my PC; I click the pictures with my mobile phone camera, but I need not have to “synch”‘; I need the screen of my PC to view my pictures. Similar is my need for “seamless” synch – addresses, phone numbers, appointments. Also I need not worry about Internet connection in hotel rooms (and the rip off the hotels do) as my PC will instantly connect

It is the same with phones a decade back; we all loved our reliable “black” phone; will work even in UP with terrible power supply (as the phone draws power from telephone exchange); it could hold for 2 hour call even. Of course, we all had our “cordless” that let me pick up the phone in my bedroom or walk around the lawn with the phone in my hand; the two phones were “identical” for me; the same number, but allowed me to choose the function in the context; why cant PC and Smart Phone do the same? Let the PC be my reliable “base set” and the mobile phone my “cordless”. No need for add-ons.

I’ve been trying to articulate how my usage and behavior has changed these days because of a new phone, however I wasn’t able to put it in the right words; thankfully, Prof. Sadagopan puts it across succinctly.

Let me give you an example. If there are articles I want to save and read later whenever I have time, I add it quickly to Instapaper using their bookmarklet and then their application on my phone automatically syncs via the Internet. It’s simple, works fast, and is a no-brainer.

This may not seem like a big deal, but this has actually helped me in an emergency situation in my last trek. I had saved the phone numbers of the nearest hotels via Instapaper. Without that, we would have not known what to do with an injured friend, stuck in the middle of a forest at night with 3 torches for 11 people, with no houses closer than 3-4 km, and not easy to see where we are going which means anybody else could get injured easily as well. Phew, what a situation to be in, and yet this “half-PC” mobile phone helped the situation. We were able to get a jeep guy to come immediately and he told us the location to come to which was less than 1 km away, the friend was taken to the hospital, stitched up in the head and a cast on his fractured hand. Thankfully, the whole situation went smooth.

Of course, you can argue that I could’ve just saved the numbers manually. The point is that I saved the page only because it was a one-click operation. There is no way I would have anticipated that I would need the phone numbers of these hotels because we planned to stay in tents in the hill and we never planned to visit the hotels. It’s like why would you save the hotel numbers in Malaysia if you only intended to stay in Singapore. But yet, if it was simple and fast, you might just do it.

There are more uses for this “half-PC”, for example there is a wide range of things it could do when you’re on travel like instantly telling you phrases in a foreign language, helping you to catalogue details of the trip such as what are the flight or bus timings, etc. and even helps you figure out where you are by showing your location on the map (again, this feature has been surprisingly useful to me in the recent past).

All this is possible because the phones are so advanced these days, and most common phones 2-3 years from now (cough Android cough) will all have the same facilities, not just the high-end ones.

And this brings me back to Prof. Sadagopan’s wish, which I simulate by syncing data from the computer to a central website and back to the iPhone. For example, my tasks are on Remember The Milk and their uber-awesome phone application stores it on my phone, my contacts are synced from the address book to the phone, my appointments are on Google Calendar, and so on. These days, I don’t even read the oh-so-negative newspapers, I just read the stuff I’m interested in on Google Reader on the phone while I’m having breakfast. The mobile interface for GReader is so easy to use that it’s addictive. As for the icing on the cake, I’m still using the WiFi network, so I don’t have to worry about the currently exorbitant GPRS tariff when I’m at home or office.

Notice that all the data is shared equally, but the functionality is split. I do mostly lookups, reading and minor editing on the phone, but do the major manipulation / heavy work on the PC. That’s why the term “half-PC” makes sense.

I never used to pay attention to the “phone is the screen of the future” mantra, but now I’m beginning to believe it.