Friday, August 27, 2010

Indian VPS from E2ENetworks

I've been hard at work getting the Jaaga.in website up and running. We migrated over from the oldwikidot site to the new one running Drupal on my MediaTemple account. For the most part its been a fairly painless process. Now that we're up tho we're finding that its extremely slow, and after surfing around the interweb for awhile it appears that its a fairly common complaint of low traffic cms based sites on MediaTemple.

My friend Tarun Dua runs a hosting company here in India E2ENetworks offering VPS servers. He's been promoting local hosting to Indian startups as a way of reducing latency / improving response times for companies targeting an Indian audience. I moved the Jaaga website over to an inexpensive plan on E2ENetworks and the response time on simple page requests reduced by more than half. So now I'm a believer.

Friday, May 07, 2010

china electronics

A few weeks ago I visited a bunch of electronics trade shows in Hong Kong and China.


I was sort of expecting something like an Asian Comdex where manufacturers would show off their latest gadgets. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of new stuff there. In conversation people said that Computex in Taiwan showcased more innovation. The fairs I went to were 'sourceing' fairs aimed at connecting manufacturers with regional distributors who could move large volumes of product. As such there was very little technical staff, and the products on display were much more oriented around volume distribution rather than newness.

Poking around I had a few casual observations:
- generic ebooks were readily available, but expensive at about $120 for a small kindle sized device that had wifi but no Edge. The sales people didn't seem to be pushing them very much.
- netbooks were also on display, but the unit costs when ordering in bulk was basically the same as just buying them from Costco retail. So, I'm going to order a few more netbooks from Costco before returning to India on this trip.
- projectors i would expect to pay $400+ for at Fry's were going for $150
- lots of pico-projectors on the market

The biggest surprise for me was the almost universal ignorance about Android. I imagined that Android running on cheap Chinese phones would be India's answer to the $850 iPhone. Almost no one I spoke to at any of the sourcing fairs had heard of it though. Apparently MTK dominates this space. I had never heard of them...

After the fair a friend sent me this link to an Android tablet that was at the show for $100.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Cafe Thoughts

I'm trying to write more on the Jaaga blog. For now I'm going to cross post here as well.

***

I spent sometime in Auroville last week and got my farm-on at Solitude Farm. Periodically, I need to do this to remember that sustainability and how we live and what we eat is important and shouldn’t get lost in the practical details of how we’re going to deal with water proofing.

Several people volunteering there were associated with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) projects around the world. CSA is great because it creates a tighter bond between food growers and food eaters. I’d really like to explore how the Jaaga cafe could facilitated this connection to local farmers as well. It could be a simple matter of doing research and sourcing our veggies from local farms we really like. We could also be a CSA drop off point, or have an organic food coop. …

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jaaga Media Center

We've received a small grant to set up a media & education center at Jaaga. Check out the description of the media center below and let us know your thoughts in the comments. We're looking for people who can help us develop and implement this vision. Let us know if thats you !! email: info@jaaga.in

Mission:
The Jaaga Media Center helps local people use (consume and produce) digital media to become better informed and more effective in supporting themselves and affecting positive change in the world.
Definition:
Online Media includes Video, Audio, Blogs, Twitter, Social Media, online advocacy, web design and all other mediums for online communication.
Goals:
- develop and initiate the media based education program at Jaaga
- develop useful and interesting media content
- educate people on media production and distribution
- promote the use of media in social service
- support the community media movement in India
- help students create rich online
Programs
- workshops
- online channels
- media lab
Workshops
- targeted at students conversant in english and familiar with computers & the internet.
- students work in small teams on tasks given by their advisors
- regular meetups at Jaaga where students share what they have found, show their own work, and discuss.
- projects include creating their own videos, finding / analyzing videos from the web and doing projects for ngo clients
- all projects go towards developing the users online profile.
Online Channels:
Online media channels consist of originally produced content, and curated material found on the web. We select topics for these channels to tie in with the courses being taught in the education program. We promote these channels actively and measure success by the number of viewers we get for these videos and the amount of user engagement we generate. Additionally we maintain a video blog on activities and events surrounding jaaga adding one new video for it every other week.
Screenings:
Constantly screen videos at Jaaga. These include:
- originally produced work
- internet videos
- documentaries
- other material of interest for its educational or entertainment value.
Media Lab:
The media lab is an area in Jaaga which has gear which can be used by the community to create their videos. It includes:
- 5 terabyte file server with media uploaded by participants or downloaded from the web.
- 2 video editing stations (laptops)
- 2 low cost (canon FS200 style) cameras
- 2 mics & headsets
Website
- our course catalog
- the media channels we are involved with
- profiles for our staff & students
People
- Director (full time), who can oversee and facilitate the development and operation of the Media Center
- Workshop instructors / facilitators (part time)
- Mentors (part time) who can work with students in different areas (video, web design, dj/vjing, english writing, ...)
- Instructional Designer (part time)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reimagining Learning

I'm developing ideas for a proposal to the dmlcompetition on 21st century learning labs. http://dmlcompetition.net/learning_labs.php is very much in progress, but I thought I'd share ...


Summary:
We propose to create learning environment which integrates the strengths of the Internet - limitless information, and strategic access to experts, with the strengths of a local teaching staff - personal interaction, encouragement, social pressure, ...

Concept:
small staff of facilitators (not subject matter experts).
online subject matter experts focus on digital technologies which can be done online and where there is a clear path to online income opportunities to individuals who demonstrate mastery.
leverage internet video, wikis, message boards, search, etc.
agile development (work in pairs)
online portfolio development
contribute to the internet
public awards for people who achieve milestones / accomplishments

Target Students:
English speaking with some computer exposure.

Desired Outcome for Students:
responsible citizens of the Internet cognizant of the 'netiquette' surrounding online human interactions
respectable online profile of accomplishments
demonstrated ability to earn money online
significant real world friendships with peers and mentors

Methodology:
projects at increasing levels of complexity which contribute to the internet.
merit badge system for achievement at different levels
local award ceremony to recognize attainment of new badges
online subject matter expert mentors work with teams to develop milestones and answer technical questions
local facilitators push students to keep to the milestones and help with personal issues.
students primarily work in small teams.

Subjects:
VIDEO
AUDIO
WEBSITES
DESIGN
WRITING
ADVOCACY / ONLINE MARKETING
PROGRAMMING
FINANCE
PLANNING
E-LEARNING

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Social Entrepreneurship

I originally wrote this article for ManagmentNext.com. Since its not available online tho, I am reposting it here.




Thru a combination of hard work, good fortune and a curious predisposition towards a very low cost standard of living I have been blessed with a significant amount of freedom relatively early in my life.

Extreme freedom is more complex than most people realize and begs the question. “What do I really want”. After traveling and some soul searching I came to the high level conclusion, that I’d like a happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyle, and would like to use my skills, time, energy and money to make happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyles more readily available.

Looking inward at the gifts I carry, perhaps the most important is an almost religious personal identification with the internet. I believe education, security thru government recourse, money and meaningful membership in the international community are widely available via the internet to those with the access and understanding of how to engage it properly.

My particular mission is to make that statement more real and less rhetorical.

When I dream about a realistic perfect future it looks like some combination of the Solitude farm at Auroville, the dreams of Paolo Soleri and his experiments at Arcosanti, the Silicon Valley and Dharavi.

Put another way, I would like to see us move :

  • away from large scale commercial agriculture towards more local consumption of organically grown food.
  • away from the mega-cities towards a much larger number of smaller, higher density urban centers
  • away from a ‘teacher as information repository’ model of education with memorization as the primary metric of student understanding towards a model where information is freely available on the internet, teachers are guides and coaches, and success is measured by a portfolio of meaningful projects.
  • Towards an internet representative of the global population with thoughtful online public discourse between all the worlds peoples.

I’ll quickly describe the work of a number of projects & organizations I have been involved with with these goals in mind:

AirJaldi.org – Empowering Communities Through Wireless Networks

Based in Himachal Pradesh, Air Jaldi develops, deploys and demonstrates technology based on affordable equipment and open-source software tools suitable to the needs and conditions of rural areas. They have deployed a large mesh network connecting over 80 villages, and have set up a network academy for training people in the art of low cost wireless networking.

The Digital Study Hall (DSH)

DSH seeks to improve education for the poor children in India. They digitally record live classes by the best grassroots teachers and distribute them on DVDs to rural and slum schools. Education experts and teachers use the system to explore pedagogical approaches involving local teachers actively "mediating" the video lessons.

Curriki.org

Curriki is an online environment created to support the development and free distribution of world-class educational materials to anyone who needs them. The name is a play on the combination of 'curriculum' and 'wiki' which is the technology they're using to make education universally accessible.

VideoVolunteers.org

VideoVolunteer’s vision is to create a global social media network of by and for marginalized and poor communities around the world. They work with local NGOs to donate filmmaking equipment and train local teams in video production about issues of local interest. These videos are then shown via projector to the local communities and are followed up by a discussion about the issues raised and in many cases a call to action.

iAccelerator.org

This is a technology startup incubation program I am running in conjunction with CIIE at IIM Ahmedabad. While we hope to earn money by taking a small equity stake in the companies we work with, we have a higher objective of stimulating the local (Indian) economy by establishing profitable high-tech businesses.

I heartily advocate this strategy of taking the time to come up with a clear picture of what to do and why, and then engaging with people doing interesting projects in these areas while looking for where to devote one’s full energies. Understanding and aligning with deeply personal goals has helped keep me focused and energized in my work, and exploring these different organizations has introduced to me to a wide range of great people, new environments, and ideas.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The New Shul

I'm a fan of Fred Wilson's blog AVC. His latest post mentions a synagogue he and his family are a part of in New York The New Shul.

"Our style of religious observance is eclectic and defies easy categorization. In some ways, our services (Kabbalat Shabbat, for example) are more on the traditional wing of the liberal spectrum -- lots of Hebrew, lots of singing. In other ways, some of our ritual events (such as our Sukkot Rain Dance) are more experimental, utilizing new approaches and modes. In terms of our liturgical language, we are egalitarian. We are also creative, intellectual, and independent. One of our defining characteristics is our "come as you are" attitude. Everyone is welcome, irrespective of their background or beliefs."

I dig it.

Atheists generally refute the claim that morality is in someway connected to a belief in 'God'.

The modern refrain on such topics tends to be, "I'm spiritual, but not religious". Which is exactly the opposite of what Fred Wilson says, "I'm not much for religion to be honest. It's something I participate in but not something I believe in."

On the New Shul blog there's a post by a girl coming up on her Bat Mitsvah.
"Part of the tradition at The New Shul, when becoming a Bat/Bar Mitzvah, is to give back to the community by doing a community service project." She goes onto describe a book donation project she wants to do for hers.

Its not clear to me whether this is a tradition they made up, or whether this is an ancient Jewish tradition, or a modern interpretation of something very old.

Honestly, I don't believe much in the impact of planetary gravitational fields on our day to day lives. At burningman someone told me that Saturn had about the same gravitational affect on me as he (this other person) did. I do like the notion of clocks with longer rotations than minutes, seconds or hours. And I like the idea of associating certain events (traditions, festivals, etc) that should be practiced regularly, but maybe not every day, with the motion of these larger bodies.

So, there's a time for focusing on creativity, a time for generosity, a time for respecting the old, and caring for the new...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pick Teams, Place Bets

I posted this first on iAccelerator.org

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry via Marc Hedlund

That has been a favorite quote of mine since I read it on Marc’s blog a couple of years ago. I’ve known Marc since his days with Popular Power. When he and my college friend Jason Knight founded WeSabe I came in as a small angel investor.

Marc has also been a guest speaker at the YCombinator weekly meetings, and as I’m preparing for the teams coming in to the iAccelerator, I called him this morning to ask for some advice on how he has dealt with startups, and his recommendations for me.

Some VC running a venture training program at Stanford said that most of what he does is pick teams and place bets. They add value by making connections, and getting involved a bit. But, they’re very explicitly not trying to run the companies. Marc told me this when I asked how to train teams to run board meetings. Marc’s main point was that the information founders share with investors at a board meeting should be the same information they already collect just to run their company. “What do we really need to know about our business to know if we’re succeeding or failing”

Much of Marc’s advice felt like this. When I asked whether he recommended having teams give tech talks he said that he had tried it a couple of times at different startups with varying results. The first time an engineer suggested it and the culture embraced it. Another time he mandated it, and the team rejected it. Asked whether I should train people in a specific development methodology such as Agile, he recommended that instead I bring people in to talk about their experience with different development practices and help teams evolve one that fits them. On whether there were standard tools all teams should use he mentioned that at WeSabe they use CampFire extensively for company collaboration, but they’ve tried BaseCamp a few times and hadn’t really got traction with it until recently.

Ultimately, Marc’s advice comes down to ‘listen’ understand whats actually happening, collect and present information. Advocate rather than mandate the changes you want to see.

Sometimes I describe my vision for the iAccelerator as a ‘Startup Factory’ where all the companies coming thru abide by ’standard’ processes and use common tools. I imagine multi-colored story cards marching accross Kanban boards behind each of our teams. And that we’re all using Salesforce, Basecamp, Trac, Git / SVN, etc. which allows teams to track their own progress, and us as external stakeholders to quickly and uniformly monitor the different companies we’re engaged with. The combination of all these things gives us a consistent brand of what it means to be an iAccelerator team.

And honestly, I feel there maybe times when this is appropriate. But, Marc and the VC seem to argue heavily in the direction of picking really great people and then giving them the latitude to express their brilliance in the ways which are comfortable for them.

From this quote on the YCombinator ‘about‘ page, it seems Paul Graham takes this position too.

We try to interfere as little as possible in the startups we fund. We don’t want board seats, rights to participate in future rounds, vetoes over strategic decisions, or any of the other powers investors sometimes require. We offer lots of advice, but we can’t force anyone to take it. We realize that independence is one of the reasons people want to start startups in the first place. And frankly, it’s also one of the reasons startups succeed. Investors who try to control the companies they fund often end up destroying them.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

LA Community Space Redux

I'm collaborating with Archana down in Bangalore about the idea of creating a large temporary structure as community exhibition space for the artists there. She asked me to write about my experiences with community spaces in Los Angeles.




In 2003 I became interested in helping the independent film community in Los Angeles take advantage of internet distribution to introduce their work to the world at Large. At Burningman I had seen a large school bus with 'The Los Angeles Filmmakers Coop' spray painted across its side in full Graffiti style. Tao Ruspoli, the owner of the bus, had been operating a mobile film studio and training center out of the bus in Venice Beach, but was eager to move into a larger fixed space.

After some search we rented a beautiful old powerhouse in Venice beach which was just one large 1500 sq ft. space with 20 ft ceilings. We needed a way to separate the space into studios where people could work on their projects, while leaving the space open for exhibitions, parties, performances, trainings, etc. Since we had a short term lease on the space we could not make fixed changes to the space. The solution we found was to build a second story out of warehouse shelving called pallet racks. This way we installed 6 elevated studio areas and one chill-out section while leaving the ground floor open for more public gatherings.

We operated the space for 6 months and a vital community of artists, performers and filmmakers came to spend alot of time there. While individuals had personal areas to work from there was no visual or sound barriers separating the different sections of the space. So, everyone got sucked into any drama happening anywhere. Looking back on it, we all felt like it was a wonderful space for socializing and connecting with people, but not particularly conducive to work.




Determined to fix the shortcomings of the Lafco space in 2004 I rented a large loft in The Brewery, a large colony of artist lofts in downtown Los Angeles. Here I built a large 3 story structure out of pallet racks which provided 20 private areas with internet and power which people could work from. I deemphasized the role of events in this space, and restricted the units to people actively working on projects. Unfortunately, it seemed that people who were functional enough to meet my criteria, had no interest in moving their work onto a large jungle gym.

After some time I recognized that the experiment wasn't working, so rather than waste the opportunity, I opened it up to the more fringe artist community and allowed people to live there as well. The remaining months were fun, but predictably chaotic, and in the fall of 2004 I shut the place down and moved to India.



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Conversations with Scott Beibin

I've got like 20 tabs open after hanging out with Scott for a couple hours. He's running Evil Twin Booking Agency for a bunch of super interesting people in the modern progressive radical activist scene.

I was telling him about my idea for Radical Change 2012. He pointed me to the reality sandwich website and told me to watch for evolver

He told me a bit about each of the artists he represents. Mitchell Joachim designed these awesome stackable cars and has a bunch of cool designs for green buildings

We talked about a bunch of festivals that got me excited about that scene again.
Gadget Off is a hacker festival with some connection to the 2600 zine community.

Creative Capital finances a variety of art projects and performances.

The Last Hope another hacker conference.

Rothbury Festival in Michigan.

Bonaroo in Tenessee.

Lightning in a bottle festival in Santa Barbara. This came up in a bunch of conversations. These people appear to be awesome -Do Lab. I saw them rehearsing for a dance performance this weekend. It looked amazing and fun.

Solar Saucer solar powered dj boothe.

On a completely different note, Scott does marketing for a variety of 'green' companies and was talking about how great these Icel battery guys were.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

TED

Its 7am and I'm early for events today. Every morning so far there have been a variety of unpublished breakfasts on a wide variety of topics that you were supposed to RSVP for.

Lunch operates the same way. There's one 'community lunch' and then a number of sponsored public lunches, and other unpublished ones. It gives me the sense that within TED there remain layers of exclusivity.

I'm cool with it, and happy to be invited to the party at all.

The vertical lunches and breakfasts serve a nice purpose getting people interested in specific areas together for extended social interaction.

I love the diversity of the presentations at TED. Having a mix of live music, dance performances, technology demonstrations and permaculture presentations brings together a wide range of people and encourages cross disciplinary thinking. The breakfast and lunches provide a more focused counter point to that.

The organizers put effort into facilitating connections between participants. Before the confernce they send a bunch of emails encouraging people to fill out their profiles. They suggest people you might want to interact with at the event, and provide a book with pictures of all the attendees and their profiles as part of the bag of schwag they hand out during registration. As much as connecting me with specific people, reading thru the profiles helped convince me of the power of the community and to take the interactions seriously.

Its definitely been a great conference, and there's alot to learn from it in how to conduct events.

I'm looking forward to TED India Nov 5-7 in Mysore.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

DIY Church

I just spent a day with my mom up in Paso Robles. My mom has been a dedicated Christian for 30+ years. On a very practical level she spends at least an hour a day in prayer and often much more. Sometimes she'll get the guitar out and sing praise and worship songs by herself.

My personal belief is that God is neither Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. But that each tradition has something to offer. I grew up going to church with my mom, so I learned to sing and pray with the Christians. All else being the same I might even call myself a Christian. But most of my conversations with Christians get disagreeable when we start talking about Jesus as the only way to know God, the nature of sin, and hell, and a bunch of other stuff. In the end I figure the Christian moniker doesn't win me friends with Christians or non-Christians, so I don't use it.

Hanging out with my mom is always good though, because I have so much respect for her spiritual path that I can't just write off the entire Christian community.

In Goa talking to a fellow who had been traveling the better part of the last decade. He described his experience interacting with Missionaries in different communities around the world. He said that they try to fit in, but then they start talking about the devil and stuff whenever they can, and everyone gets weirded out and wonders why they can't just be normal.

I remember this aspect of children's church when I was a kid. The youth pastor used to tell us how if we didn't tell our friends about Jesus they would go to hell, and when they were burning in hell they would know that we could have saved them if we had had the courage to tell them about Jesus in school. It's like using fear and guilt to train people to be unnatural, to not pay attention to the situation but to plow through and give a pitch even if ones whole body was screaming not to.

My mom used to run a church with her second husband. He was a preacher and she pretty much did everything else. My whole life she has been totally dedicated to ministry. And while it hasn't all been fun, I've definitely seen miracles play out in her life that make me believe in some magic that goes beyond physics and statistics.

I love the praise and worship part of church. If we could just sing for an hour or two I would give gladly, hug everyone warmly, come with anticipation and leave feeling high. Occasionally I still go to church, get elevated during worship and then become depressed when the pastor starts talking about how Mary had to have a virgin birth because if she had had sex then Jesus would have been born in sin like the rest of us.

My mom gets antsy in church too. Sometimes she finds these super out-there movements within the church that feel totally tapped into the spirit. I went to a couple of services with her where there was no sermon just people spontaneously singing, and praying in tounges. I think there's a whole 'spirit' movement for people like this. But, its hard to scale a 'spirit' movement if being in the spirit means having a very personal direct experience of god.

My mom is excited about home churches right now. I sense its something of a movement, possibly a reaction away from the mega churches that grew up in the last decade. From my point of view much of the evil perpetrated on the world during the Bush administration drew power by communicating very effectively with the established Christian leadership network.

Talking with progressive friends with no particular spiritual views other than a uniform dismay at much of the rhetoric that comes from the Christian Right, we bemoan the fact that we don't have any similar community gathering. Wherever you go across this whole country, the expectation is that you can show up as a total stranger at the local church and people will shake your hand, smile and welcome you into their community. How precious is that ? Its almost worth nodding along with the pastor while he talks about whatever, just to feel the human warmth of sitting next to other people.

Home churches seem like a DIY way of getting this. Without the ambition that comes from striving for more members or a larger building there is the simple joy of hanging out with other people searching for God's presence. It requires a personal faith in ones direct connection though. Regular church has an expert who can channel Gods word. It's easier to hear a man speak than to put in the time in prayer, worship and studying that genuine direct connection requires. But with the home church, maybe there's no man, there's just a group of people who like to hang out together while they pray, worship, study and seek god.

Friday, January 30, 2009

iAccelerator.org

Its pretty much official. Together with people at the IIM Ahmedabad incubation center (CIIE) I'll be running this years iAccelerator program. I'm stoked ! Last year we all had a great time and learned alot. This year we're going to blow it out :) To make it even better my friend Satish Dharmaraj is helping me out with the program as both an advisor and co-investor.

Program is May thru to September. Check out the website for more info.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

goa restaurant suggestions

I had some amazing food in Goa while I was there.
Thought I'd write down some of my favorites.

jam connection
This is just next to the Anjuna side of the Anjuna Baga shortcut. At first I thought it was a dance studio, but was stoked to find it a very relaxed very good restaurant.

German Bakery - I spent Christmas eve at a party here. Its a super large place that makes me appreciate the spaciousness of goa. You can get a table with maybe 200 sq. ft.

KU - Someone from my yoga class recommended this restaurnt. Its a pretty amazing place up in Asvem with giant sorta japanese zen architecture and nice views of the area.

Bean Me Up - In Vagator, this place has nice ambient music, good juices, and healthy food.

Tahasa - I had a wonderful evening here before leaving. Its on the cliffs in lower Vagator just south of 9 bar. We had wonderful food and enjoyed the general atmosphere.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SantaBush.com



I really like these videos by brave new films. I feel he gets the internet video medium more than anyone else I've seen to make short, funny, to the point videos that have the potential to really spread.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

India Travel Scene

This came out of an email to a friend
considering coming out to India.

---

im in goa right now
digging the yoga scene here (Brahmani, Dunes
also doing some volunteer work with
videovolunteers.org

ive spent most of the last 4 years in pune
the osho ashram / resort is there
is a good albeit somewhat expensive scene
lots of meditation, swimming and dancing.

i haven't spent so much time in the north yet
but alittle bit in Dharmasala and Leh, Ladakh.
Everyone I met in Leh was either into trekking
or meditation. All the time I've spent in Dharmasala
has been with airjaldi so I dont have as good
a feel for the traveller scene there, tho it seems
to be pretty active with yoga, meditation, hiking
stuff as well.

Everyone I met in Varanasi is studying classical
Indian instraments, vedic astrology, kriya yoga, etc.
i dig that vibe, and its the most overtly spiritual of
the places in India I have spent time.

The traveler scene in Calcutta is oriented around
hardcore service. Hardcore service in Calcutta is
working with Mother Theresa's mission to take care
of the truly destitute. Sutter st. is down town and
has a good traveler scene. In the evening sipping
tea with random strangers, I find that people who
spend their days cleaning shit and feeding the very
weak and needy have a special glow about them.

Another place I really enjoy spending time is
Krishna McKenzie's Solitude Farm in Auroville,
Auroville has alot going on, and working at Solitude
is very grounding.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Blog Demo

Showing off blogger at the internet advocacy workshop in goa

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

TechStart.in

We're starting a series of technology clubs to help create a supportive environment
for people to develop their technical skills and connect with other people people in
the community in a meaningful way.

The basic idea is to find people with practical industry experience
willing to spend some time each month creating or identifying useful exercises
people interested in their field could do to develop their skills and posting them
on a blog or mailing list. Additionally they spend time each week facilitating a
discussion of the participants on a mailing list.

The intension is not to compete with existing online resources for technical
training and support, but to provide some more human support and mentorship
for people on the path. Mentors can and should encourage participants to
engage in the existing online communities surrounding their technologies.
Their guidance as to what communities to engage, and how to engage could
still be invaluable.

In this way, over time people can develop significant skills in fields where they
don't have formal training while they continue their studies or working full time.

We all crib about the quality of technical education, but with the Internet we
have the opportunity to do something about it. We can help eager young and
the motivated who want to get into high-tech but are over whelmed at
the amount of information available on the internet, or get blocked because
of elementary problems.

It shouldn't take much time, for mentors just a couple hours
a month to research the monthly activities and post links to learning resources
participants should look into, and then a couple hours each week responding
to questions and facilitating discussion on the mailing list. For participants,
activities should take 5 - 10 hours of effort each month, plus some additional
time sharing with the community thru the blog and the mailing lists.

If there's a field you are passionate about and feel more people should get into,
please think about setting up a small club for it on the techstart wiki. If you see
a club where people are exploring a technology you've been curious, by all means
join the community.

The initial clubs we have are in blogging, advanced java and open source technology.
Amit is also mentoring a group to write some automatic deployment scripts in php.

Find out more on the wiki - http://techstart.in

Bloggers Club

I'm launching The Bloggers Club as part of the techstart.in initiative I announced this weekend at BarcampPune5.

The idea here is to create a forum where people who write on the Internet can get and give constructive feedback on the writing that we do. I care far more about the quality of my writing now than I ever did in school when I had professionals reviewing it for me but the product was landfill from the beginning.

I figure this can be pretty organic. Who ever is interested can submit writing they would like feedback on, and whoever wants can feedback. Like everything else on the internet the utility will be purely a function of the community that develops and the voluntary effort we put into it.

So, If you like the English language, would like to improve your own writing and are willing help other people with their writing please join our club and encourage other like minded souls to do so as well.

The Google group: The Bloggers Club

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Freedom

By one definition, freedom is the space / ability to do what you want.

Orca Starbuck explained Aldus Huxley to me saying that he recommended that people do what they want. Apparently people are generally too removed from themselves for this to be practical, so he recommended that if you thought you might want something, go ahead and act on it.

It sounds like crazy talk, but in the absence of constraints, doing what you want seems like a better methodology than either of the alternatives 'doing what you don't want' or 'not doing what you want'. In my experience Huxley's warning proves true, and just understanding what I want turns out to be a challenge.

One reason for this is that 'wanting' isn't as dimensional one dimensional as your parents like to think when they ask questions like 'don't you want good grades?'. Sure I want good grades. That plus I'd like to be the Paul Graham of India by running a successful hightech incubator, plus I'd really like to come up with an answer to how we're supposed to live on the planet. This list goes on.

But, right now I want to respond to the people trying to chat with me in gmail, and later I'm thinking I want to watch HellBoy 2. I don't particularly want to work on a budget for upstart. Powering over the lower desires in favor of the higher goals may be a sign of discipline and an effective personality. It also seems like a recipe for being miserable.

In college I remember my friends studying literature grappling with reading lists which were humanly impossible to get thru in the alotted time. Many were well trained and spent all waking hours doing coursework, thereby developing a profound hatred of literature which lasted many years after their last force fed masterpiece.

The question for me is whether I can strategically create mental spaces which are more inclined to 'want' to do the hard work - budgets, marketing plans, presentations, code ... necessary to bring the dreams into being. I have by no means nailed this, but a few things seem apparent. Good health, adequate sleep, adequate preparation, passionate colleagues, quickly achievable objectives and consistency all seem to contribute towards a mental space in which I 'want' to do 'hard' work in the moment.

While I'm thinking about how to manage time and priorities effectively I thought I'd plug my cousin Dana Rayburn's blog on adult ADD.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dinner at the 'O'

The 0 Hotel in Koregaon Park




I had dinner with Satish Dharmaraj the other night at the O Hotel in Koregaon Park. I've been wanting to check that place out since it opened, I was suitably impressed - especially the rooftop restaurant.

Satish and I worked together at Sun. He was the server lead after Pavni and I took off to work on a labs project called 'Persona' where we were trying to create a cute low cost personal web server that would effectively replace the answering machine.

About the Same time Pavni and I did Kendara, Satish left with some heavy hitters and joined onebox.com. And, just before Kendara sold to Excite@Home Onebox sold to Phone.com for $700 million. His comment on our 9 digit price tag was 'why did you sell for so less?'. Those were strange and wonderful times :)

Coincidently at Onebox he worked with Adarbad Master the founder and CTO of Mixercast.com which I helped set up and worked with for a year and a half here in Pune. Meanwhile Satish did Zimbra.com which Yahoo acquired last year.

We met for Pizza on my last trip in California and he was into the YCombinator for India idea. So, now we're discussing the best way to pull it off.Dinner with Satish

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Video Volunteers, Goa, etc

Its time for a general update.

I've started talking with people up at IIMA again about being a part of the next iAccelerator, so I'm slowing down alittle on upstart.in until that conversation plays out.

In the meantime VideoVolunteers.org moved from Ahmedabad down to Goa and I've been volunteering with them a bit to help with their online strategy, and to teach video and online marketing workshops. I wrote the last couple of posts on their blog


Hanging out in Goa is a big perk. My high school friend Kyra is there for awhile after spending the last year traveling around the Middle East and Asia.


She just finished a month long yoga teachers training, so she was able to clue me into the yoga scene down there which is pretty hardcore. So, I spent last week doing Ashtanga with Ken at the Dunes, doing ecstatic dance with this 5 rythms teacher from LA, and generally being healthy and productive.

Dec 6 & 7, I'm organizing an online marketing workshop at the media center we are setting up in Baga.

Come on by.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Startup Village

I initially thought I would live in Calcutta when I first came to India. A guy a friend met on elance met me at the airport and booked me into a hotel with paan stains in the halls (which I thought was dried blood) and a whole coven of crows picking thru a massive pile of garbage outside. It was a hard landing, but when I found Sutter street and the Blue Sky cafe things turned around.

In my initial hardcore backbacker tour I experimented with how cheap could survive. In calcutta I got a room in a hotel for 100 rps / night and found several food places where I could get a meal of subji and roti for under 15 rps. Including internet time I figured I could live on $100 / month which validated the $200 my friend was paying developers over here which seemed absurdly low.

Downtown Calcutta was great, the people I met there were smart and passionate - "Calcutta is the heart of India" they would say. I still believe if you multiply the two functions of educated work force and low cost of living they may have their minimum in Calcutta.

But I got sick. To be fair it wasn't entirely Calcutta's fault. Traveling by Tuk Tuk thru Bangkok probably got me started. But after a few weeks with a chronic cough that would rack my lungs for several hours before I could sleep, I decided that no amount of professional ambition merited destroying my health.

I added 'nice lifestyle' to the equation and found my way to Pune which when seen from the tree canopied lanes of Koregoan Park seemed to have the best life style - high tech professional opportunity - low cost of living. Its undeniably an awesome place to live - especially for the urban jet set that can take advantage of the 5 designer bars offering 400 rps martini's that have sprung up less than 1 km from my apartment in the last few years.

But, it maybe alittle too Manhattan now for the average Indian bootstrapping startup.
A 2 bhk is now in the 25 - 30k range, and worse than just the price is simply that they are hard to find.

With the dream of getting upstart.in underway, and some other conversations I'm having about 2bhk training I'm looking around again for where those curves come together but with one more parameter - capacity. As I picture my ideal scenario its a massively over built housing society on the edge of town a few km past Koregoan Park where rent is cheap and there is 20% vacancies in a society of 300 units.

Some very new construction fits this description like Sun City and Margapata with rents around 8k, I'm guessing we can find something slightly older at 8k. Assuming we shared a cook I estimate for a startup working from home would cost
rent 8k
food 8k
electricity 1k
internet 1k
misc. 2k
~ 20k / month or 1 lakh ($2000) for a startup of 4 guys to operate for 5 months.
How hard would it be for even a very junior team of 4 guys to pull in 20k / mo just bottom feeding on rentacoder ? The exciting thing about this for me isn't that its possible to pull off once, its that if there's a model here that works, if a team of 4 junior engineers earning $500 a month is easy, then I maintain there are an almost infinite number of 4 man teams available, and the 2 bhks to house them, in one medium large housing society on outskirts.

The possible drawback to making this move for me is the lack of culture and more importantly Il Fungo Magico green salads that exist further down Nagar Rd. But, if we can make a movement, and coordinate a decent number of cool startup kids all moving together, we can quickly create a new tech center, with a high density of interesting people to support each other and at least one cook who really knows how to make a good salad.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Web Services Track

I've been playing with setting up Drupal for a website to manage the cyborg boyscouts - techstart.in

This was one idea for a series of exercises which would help students develop their online profile and familiarize themselves with web services.

Goal:
Create familiarity of the different web services freely available. By using web services regularly we can come to understand what the current trends are and what makes a web service useful, easy to use, nice to look at and popular. By systematically using the different publicly available web services we will also develop a rich internet profile.

Initial Assignment:
- create an account on otherinbox.com
- create an account on blogger.com
- upload a profile photo to blogger and write a short profile description
- create an account on Google Analytics:
- add the javascript to your blog template html
- create an account on twitter.com

Ongoing:
- every month we'll all look at a new web service. specific instuctions for what to do with the service will be provided, and we'll have a mailing list / forum which we can use to talk about the service.
- when signing up with a new web service give them your otherinbox email id.
- when evaluating a new service at least twitter about it with your initial reaction, and if you like it or find it interesting write a longer blog entry about it.
- for each web service, on the profile page link back to your blog
- when possible and attractive add a badge of the web service to your blog sidebar.

YouTube:
- favorite 15 videos
- comment on 2 videos
- subscribe to 2 channels
- create a playlist

Social Networking:
- Create accounts on the major social networks Facebook, Orkut, MySpace, Ryze.
- Upload a profile photo into each service
- Fill out at least 3 profile questions on each service
- Add 5 friends on each service
- Upload 5 pictures on one service

MicroBlogging twitter & friendfeed:
- find 30 people to follow, make sure this includes at least 10 people you know, and 10 people who are famous / popular
- twitter twice a week on either what you are doing, some website that looks cool, or some current event
- set up the twitter to sms connection and twitter once from your mobile phone
- create an account on FriendFeed
- add all the services you use to it.
- follow 10 people on FriendFeed

LinkedIn:
- Create your profile on LinkedIn + photo
- Enter work history on LinkedIn
- Recommend 2 people on LinkedIn
- Get 1 recommendation on LinkedIn

UpComing.com:
- create an account
- select 5 events you're 'interested' in
- upload 2 events that are happening in your city that aren't yet listed

Blogging:
- think of what you feel the most serious issue facing the world or your community is and write a short blog entry about it ~300 words. Include links to 3 websites which deal with this issue. Embed a photo which conveys some part of what you are saying.
- add a links to 5 of your favorite sites to the permanent side bar of your blog

Mailing Lists:
- create a mailing list on Google Groups called 'friends-of-myname' make it announce only
- add all your friends to it
- at the next big holiday send a mail to everyone wishing them a happy Diwali, letting them know how you're doing, and inviting them to look at your blog.

more to come ...

Cyborg BoyScout Workout Handbook

In order to fully assimilate the fleshy beings into the global super organism proper neural pathways must be deeply established.

With insufficient neural trenching recruits forget their duties and start reading email or xkcd - this is often referred to as ADD.

Repeated time bound exercises providing quick 'wins' while challenging subjects helps establish proper ...

I give up. In more normal talk -

There has been a bit of talk about this in programming circles. Pragmatic Dave coined the term Code Kata. Steve Yegge has his own suggested exercises, and Coding Horror also recommends 'Teach Yourself Programming in 10 Years'

What I'm looking for are simple exercises that could be given to students interested in programming every week or every month which would over time help to establish in them good programming practices.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The BoyScouts of CyberSpace




I like the way the boyscouts provides an extracurricular structure to train its members in skills outside the scope of the traditional schooling system and encourages leadership and community involvement at the same time.

The main mechanisms they use are:
Merit Badges
Service Projects
Rank Advancement
Boy Scout Advancement

Merit Badges typically have both a knowledge assessment component
and an activity component.
ie.
Explain to your counselor the following:
a. The major parts of a computer system
b. How the types of files used to store text, sound, pictures, and
video are stored in a computer's memor

Do THREE of the following:
a. Use a database manager to create a troop roster that includes the name, rank, patrol, and telephone number of each Scout. Show your counselor that you can sort the register by each of the following categories: rank, patrol, and alphabetically by name.
b. Use a spreadsheet program to develop a food budget for a patrol weekend campout.

From my memory of being a boy scout I remember our scout meetings primarily orienting around studying or doing activities necessary for the merit badges. The merit badge requirements were always relatively small, but several were required for a given merit badge. Then we'd study for the test and felt some sense of accomplishment when we had done each of the activities, passed the test and received our badge at awards ceremony.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Startup Season

HeadStart.in Bangalore Jan 9 & 10. Submissions by Oct 30
Proto.in Bangalore, December sometime
TiECon Delhi Oct 22 - 24
Innovations Pune Jan 10 & 11. Submissions technically closed but form is still working, so submit soon.

These are the major startup showcases I'm aware of. Any others ?
Interesting that of these 4 events. 2 are in Bangalore, Innovations Pune,and TieCon is in Delhi. Mumbai, Hyderabad & Chennai all lack a major event at the moment, tho Proto cycles thru Chennai regularly.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Web Services for Startups

I asked the pune startups mailing list what web services they use.
Here are some of the responses.

business planning and board management
PlanHQ

Project / Task Management
BaseCamp
HiveMinder

Web Conferenceing / Screensharing
DimDim
GotoMeeting

Bug Tracking / Issue Mgmt
Atlassian hosted Jira
Assembla
RedMine
LightHouse Apps

BackUps
DropBox
BackBlaze

Hosted Version Control
myversioncontrol.com

Mailing List Management
PHPList - mailing list manager

Misc.
Google Analytics
Google Alerts
Google Docs
Yammer


I'm alittle suprised not to see any entries for CRM. Do real people use it ?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FairSoftware.net

FairSoftware.net
I am fascinated by this company.

Handling money is one of the biggest problems with small businesses of any kind. As an angel investor getting some of that money to flow back to you is like making water run uphill.

People have this notion that legal contracts behave like code since they look like code with lots of conditional statements and obscure jargon. Unfortunately they don't execute like code. Its actually very difficult to get them on the control path at all. It takes going to court and hiring lawyers who sorta execute the code in front of a judge who gives some binary outcome.

But that binary outcome doesn't really hit the control flow either. You have to take that to someone else, likely more lawyers and more judges who will munge on the data and give you more bits. This can go on for a long time to everyone's detriment but the lawyers.

The overhead involved with mangaging collections and distributions of revenue is one of the reasons why there's a certain minimum size for many business endeavors.

FairSoftware.net seems to move in the right direction. Its a web service where the founders, investors and any other stakeholders fill out forms agreeing on revenue distribution percentages. They generate all the legal documents, but more importantly, they set up a payment processing gateway (thru paypal) which automatically distributes all incoming payments made to the group to each of the stakeholders according to the percentages defined.

This could enable a whole ecosystem of micro tech investments. Some additional features that would make it even more useful for tech angels :
- escrow service that could hold ip assets of the collective
- equity mangagement that could handle the concept of an acquisition
- more complex algorithms for defining payout schemes that could account for things like vesting, cliffs, and bonuses tied to revenue objectives

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chat Culture

Google revolutionized the chat business - or at least the chat social network. With Yahoo and AIM I consciously added everyone to my chat list. Google skipped that step and put everyone I've ever communicated with in there. Generally its a good thing, but it gives people access to me who I haven't spent enough time with to share the same vision of how online communication works.

I find that when people have something important to say, they often start with extra hi.. how are you.. style smalltalk. Unfortunately this is the exact chat signature of people who simply want to pass time chatting.

There's no insult in just walking away from the computer, or not being at a computer at all. The green dot doesn't mean anything other than that it is possible to attempt to chat at this moment. The 'real world' takes precedent. I'm not going to ignore someone in real life.

I don't use chat as a way of getting to know people in the same small talk kind of way I would if I randomly met someone at a conference or a party. Unless we're really close either come to the point quickly in chat or send me email.

There's a certain protocol many people use in chat where there's lots of back and forth pings and acks before any real talking happens. Sometimes it feels like spoofing SMTP for its predictability. For me a simple 'hey' is good enough to determine presence, and then we can immediately talk about whatever.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ideas and Partners

Yesterday I had a great conversation with an old friend Jason Knight. We worked together at Kendara and recently he was the founder and CEO of Wesabe.com . I told him about my plans for upStart.in as an incubator modeled loosely around the YCombinator concepts.

He was super supportive and as our conversation developed he talked at some length about some of the opportunities he sees in software for the retail segment based on his experience helping his wife run a chain of woman's clothing stores called Sway. While he has some vision for how a business in this direction could unfold, how it would develop a sales channel, who potential partners could be, and what the product might look like, this isn't a business he is interested in running. Jane and Jason recently had a second son and between family and helping with Sway his plate is full. Still, if I was incubating a company in this space he might be able to provide investment and advice.

This is indicative of many successful founders I've met who have more ideas than time. It kills them not to be able to express the creativity they feel, and often these are exactly the people you would want involved in a startup were you to do something in their field of interest. It could be a good niche for me to fill with upStart - matchmaking between successful time constrained entrepreneurs on the west coast and teams of eager young entrepreneurs in India excited about the same ideas.

While there's enough magnetic potential between these two populations to make the effort worth while, there are some serious risks. The primary one deals with the concept of entrepreneurship. Jason is clear that he doesn't want to run a company. He has lots of opinions: how the software should look, how the business model would look, what partners to go after..., but these are just opinions, an entrepreneur needs to validate them and ultimately come up with opinions of her own.

So, that seems to be the trick. We know we want to do something in a specific area. We have some vision for how it might look. But really, we need to find entrepreneurs who have similar vision and are willing to dedicate themselves to it. This is the difference between upStart and oDesk. Identifying these kinds of teams and structuring these deals will be a large part of the work I do with upStart.

I guess this isn't so unique. Paul Graham recently posted a long list of ideas he would like to fund.

Soon after I sold Kendara I went to Jon Feiber at MDV with the idea of starting an incubator. His point was that if he was interested in a space X he wouldn't start a company, he would go find an expert in the field of X and back him to start a company.