At Barcamp Bangalore 10 on Saturday, I talked about GTD, Pomodoro and Productivity:

NOTE: If you have trouble viewing the web version, there is also a PDF version of my slides.

I was nervous when preparing for this talk because it is not a concrete topic, it’s something abstract and perhaps even illusive for many people, so when I started off my session, I asked people to set aside their cynicism for half an hour, I then established some source credibility, explained my view of how I look at productivity, success and happiness, and how GTD and Pomodoro tie into all this. The presentation above is quite self-explanatory, so I’ll not repeat that again, except for the demo-on-whiteboard part where I did a live session about how to do Pomodoro.


(photo by @the100rabh)

The session went surprisingly well, and most people grokked what I was explaining, which I’m still very surprised about. I guess part of it is because (1) the audience was so interactive and asked questions and (2) most people in the audience have already tried experimenting with todo lists and GTD, so it is a problem they were already facing, so they assimilated what I was saying very quickly.


(photo by @anenth)

The best part about Barcamp is that I got to talk about a personal obsession of mine and I would have otherwise probably never gotten a chance to discuss such a topic in-person with other people who are interested in this topic.

Some of the feedback on my session:

It was even more fun to hear from people when days after the conference, they were actually trying out the Pomodoro technique:

There were many other good sessions in Barcamp that I liked, I especially loved the sessions about the Namma Cycle project and about ShreeKumar’s adventures and how to survive while doing a yatra across the country, talking the locals, etc.

And I really do hope that the Namma Cycle project takes off – Murali who effused passion when talking about it has shown a lot of progress already – got sponsorship, got government buy-in, and is starting off at Bangalore University and has big dreams about turning Bangalore into a cycling city. That seems to be already under way, with the new cycle stand near M G Road.

Overall, even my non-techie wife thoroughly enjoyed the day and was inspired by the people she met at Barcamp. And that really says it all for me on how much I enjoyed going to Barcamp again.

Special thanks to SAP Labs India for hosting the Barcamp in their beautiful campus and the great lunch as well. And not to forget, all the organizers of BCB10, kudos to you guys for making it happen!

P.S. Regarding the Quantified Self phenomenon, I highly recommend reading the New York Times article by Gary Wolf on The Data Driven Life.

Update: Just remembered a related old article of mine – Creativity and Organization is Impact”.

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.

I quickly (read as “hastily”) put together this short presentation for a discussion session at the upcoming Barcamp. The question is “With the advent of cloud computing, cloud databases, RIAs, APIs, etc., are web developers and their frameworks evolving and keeping up with the times?”

If you are interested in this discussion, please click the “I Want to Attend” button on this session’s page at the BarCamp Bangalore website.

If there is not sufficient interest, I will drop this session because there seem to be 88 sessions registered already, I have no idea how so many sessions are going to fit into just 2 days.

For more background material on this topic, see my Website Making Howto wiki page.

The weekend before last, BarCamp Bangalore 7 was held. The session that I was most looking forward to was the ‘cycling to work’ session initiated by Pradeep B V (of MapUnity fame). What made the session interesting was that people were asked to cycle to IIMB and showcase their bicycles in an outdoor session, and encourage others to take up cycling.

The idea by Pradeep to have it in the open area outside the cafeteria just after lunch was a brilliant marketing ploy, because people would just walk out of the cafeteria and then they would see all the cycles and then out of curiosity, they would come closer and end up chatting with the cyclists. It was nice to see people hopping on and going for rides just to check out the cycles.

The stars of the show were undoubtedly Vikram and Varun because of their cycling clothes and their advanced bikes which have features such as special shoes that lock into the pedals as well as ability to unhook the wheels for easy transportation.

We had a lot of fun talking to people and answering many questions from curious Barcampers and turned out to be a successful session. Among the curious people, there was also a reporter from the Bangalore Mirror. It turns out that we ended up in an article in their Sunday edition yesterday:

Photo of the Cycling To Work page in Bangalore Mirror on 21st September, 2008 Sunday

BANGALORE MIRROR, SEPTEMBER 21, 2008, Page 9 : Rising fuel costs, never-ending traffic jams, have made travelling quite a problem in Bangalore. So it came as no surprise that young techies, who cycle to work, created a stir at Barcamp 7 in IIM last Saturday – Renuka Phadnis

The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore was full of activity last weekend. The auditorium was the venue for an interactive session of Headstart, a group that supports entrepreneurship in the technology sector. In the corridors and break-out spaces of the management school, there were parallel discussion sessions going on of Barcamp 7. But the one group that attracted the most attention here was the one that pedals their way to work. Varun, Vikram and Swaroop, the three directors of Ion Lab, cycle to their workplace.

And when they are stuck in any of Bangalore’s infamous traffic jams, the trio simply lift the bikes and walk out of the jam. Vikram used to cycle to his office in Bosch earlier and is still cycling to his new workplace. He cycles up to 50 km a day and has even pedaled to Mysore. The cycle he uses is a ‘Giant’ that has as an accessory shoes that swivel into the pedals of the cycle.

Varun has been cycling in Bangalore for six months after he got hooked on to it in the US.”A lot of people complain about the traffic but I like it,” he says. Once in a jam, he lifted the cycle and a guy in a car told him, “Dude, I am here stuck in this traffic and you are getting away?” He likes the fact that cycling keeps him fit too.

When you ask Swaroop if he does not find cycling a challenge in Bangalore, he says,
-“Cycling isn’t, but driving a car is!” He says it is a lot safer and easier in the city. He has been cycling from Jayanagar to Domlur for the past two years.

… (see the picture for the full article)

Factual errors aside, it is a good article and really encourages non-cyclist skeptics to consider cycling. The other upshot is that the red bicycle you see on the top of the page is mine, so if I ever want to sell it, I just have to say “As featured in the Bangalore Mirror”, heh. And also, this is the first time ‘Ion Lab’ has been mentioned in the press.

Let’s reiterate over the benefits of cycling to work:

  1. You do not need a separate time to exercise, because you’re cycling to work. You save one hour everyday.
  2. Save on fuel costs, and in turn make the world less reliant on oil fuels.
  3. Reach your workplace faster. It’s a myth that cycling is hard and slow and you’ll be late. On an average, I used to motorbike to my (ex-) Yahoo! office in Domlur in 45 minutes, but used to take 30 minutes on cycle.
  4. Don’t get stuck in traffic jams. Just lift your cycle and push it along on the sidewalk. (Please do not cycle on the sidewalk, you’ll be annoying pedestrians)
  5. A good exercise before you reach your workplace will really pump up the endorphins and put you in a positive mood to get lot of work done throughout the day.
  6. And you’ll be a lot healthier!

Convinced yet?

(more…)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).