The Ohio Linux Fest

Today I attended the Ohio Linux fest 2013. It was at the Greater Columbus convention center. One key reason which drove me there was that today’s keynote speaker was Mark Spencer, the founder of Asterisk the open source PBX. Asterisk happens to be the PBX that we’re using at the back end of DialBlood. He was a much younger guy that i expected. His talk was very insightful. The way he was able to setup a sustainable commercial business (Digium – his telephony company) at the same time nurturing & growing a powerful open source project was interesting. The challenges he faced/facing were also somewhat unique:

  • People using his own product to compete with him – the disappointing side effect of open sourcing.
  • Large scale Chinese imitations (of telephony hardware)

After his presentation I went and talked to him personally, told him about what we are attempting to do with DialBlood. He was interested & asked me to mail him our details. He also suggested that Asterisk12 has features like RESTFUL web interaction that we might find handy. I also got an autograph from him.  🙂

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I also attended sessions related to Ubuntu community as well as Raspberry Pi, all really interesting. There was also an exhibition where many Linux based products were demoed. One of the stalls which was put up by a company called Systems 76 impressed me. The had high end Linux machines running games like the latest version of DOTA in maximum graphical configuration. Linux gaming has apparently come a long way since I last checked!

 

Got some goodies as well. 🙂

P.S: This is the first post I’m making from the Android WordPress app on my new phone. Please ignore typos..

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The Boston Trip

Myself & Siddharth went to Boston last weekend (Aug 17th-19th). For a trip that started off in a mess, it ended really well. 🙂
Alfred, the other LabX intern joined us from Chicago. The stay and travel was all coordinated by Sampreeti, the director of LabX and a PhD. student at MIT.

Initial mess – We had some hiccups in our way to Boston. The flight was at 8.30 am. I usually wake up past 9am. I figured it would be a wise idea to stay awake the whole night so that I’ll be up on time & I can make up for the lost sleep on the flight – neat plan, bad execution. I thought I’d do the packing towards the later end of night so that I’ll have something to engage in. I was awake till 4.30 am and then accidentally fell asleep. My phone also got accidentally switched off. I missed a lot of calls. Siddharth came over & woke me up by 7.10am. I quickly packed up & we got in the car. Time 7.45am. Thats when I ask Sid if I need passport for domestic airlines. Apparently yes! I didn’t have it. I ran back home, emptied both of my suitcases and started rampaging through all my documents. At 8am, all hopes were lost. We were discussing where the nearest Indian embassy was – for me to apply for a new passport. Thats when my passport pops up at some obscure hidden part of a suitcase. Joy! We made a run for the airport. Reached – 8.15am. 15 mins for the flight to take off. Actual reporting time being 45 mins before the flight, we didn’t have any hope. But surprisingly, we sped past the baggage check in & security check & boarded the flight with 10 mins to take off. Yay!

Wait. It wasn’t over. We put on our seat belts & got ready for take off. Then came an announcement – the pilot just noticed that the flight’s (Southwest airlines) engine is dripping oil. We were evicted from the aircraft and made to wait for 40 mins. Ours was a connecting flight via Baltimore. Thankfully we had a waiting time of 2 hours at Baltimore and Southwest had a spare aircraft at the airport. So finally Bon Voyage!!

From Boston airport, we headed directly to Sampreeti’s MIT hostel – where we were to stay for the next two days. Her room was on the 19th floor of one of MIT’s oldest hostel(1930s).  One side of the drawing room was mostly a big window pane with an amazing view of Charles river and the MIT campus. We were joined by Sampreeti’s friends Daniel Wiese & Stephenie Scott from MIT & Chris Gary from UMass.  We all headed out for lunch to a popular hangout nearby. Afterwards, Stephenie and Chris showed us around the MIT & Harvard campuses. Harvard was just around half an hour walk from MIT campus. We also had frozen yogurt at the famous Harvard square. Sweet.

We headed to Sampriti’s lab next. Got introduced to her labmates – a culturally diverse international team (a Spaniard, a Japanese etc.). We then went for dinner to an Indian restaurant with them. While waiting for the cabs, a group of students playing scavenger hunt came and asked us to dance with them as part of a task they got – was hilarious. Afterwards, we decided to walk our way back to Sampreeti’s dorm. It was more than an hour long walk & our legs were hurting badly by the end, but we all enjoyed every moment of the journey. Boston is really beautiful at night. The skylines are a sight to behold, esp. from the Harvard bridge over Charles river.  At some point during our walk back, we lost Sid! His phone also apparently died at the same time. We searched around for half an hour and then figured he’d find his way back somehow. Thankfully, Sid had an amazing direction sense. He got a Boston map, figured things out and got back safely.

The next day myself, Siddhath & Alfred toured Boston on our own. We went to Prudential Tower & did some window shopping at the malls nearby. We went to Skywalk Observatory on the 50th floor of the tower. It gives an amazing view of the entire Boston. We were provided with small phone like devices which would give an audio description of each scene – a personalized guided tour that we can pause & repeat as per our comfort. Afterwards we went for the duck tour, a guided tour through the streets and waters of Boston. The ‘ducks’ are amphicars that can be rode both in land and water. The hilarious narration of the conductor ‘Major Tom Foolery’ was one of the key highlights of the tour. We spend time enjoying street performances and strolling the Boston Commons for the rest of the day. We had home cooked dinner at Sampreeti’s place at night.

The boston trip was a really enjoyable and memorable one. I’m really thankful to team LabX for spending the time & effort for organizing such an trip and giving us such a wonderful experience.

Technical meetups in Ohio

The tech community in Ohio is very active and diverse. Thanks to Meetup.com, I’ve been able to discover quite a lot of interesting meetings in the neighborhood.

STARTUP Columbus “Startup Saturdays” – Monthly Meetup – July 27th

Conducted on the last Saturday of every month. I’ve written an entire post about this here. Nice experience.

Columbus CodeJam – July 31st

A casual meetup of people interested in coding. Got to meet a .Net developer, a ruby developer etc among other programmers. Chit chat over pizzas & coke . Also made a good friend – Yemane Abebe, an electrical undergrad from OSU. He was interested in learning web development. We met up in later days to do some website development.

Angular JS meetup – Aug 7th

Hosted by Command Alkon. Got to meet people who actively use Angular JS for production level development. Though the discussion was very technical, they were newbie friendly and gave many pointers to start out with Angular. Also Pizzas, beer n coke.
Like we have WAMP, there is a whole JS based stack  – MEAN stack. Some of the resources I came to know from the meetup:

  • Angular Seed – a skeletal application for starting off with Angular.
  • Yeoman – a collection of tools to help you in scaffolding apps, manage packages, build & test them etc. Helps you quickly create apps using AngularJS,  HTML5 Boilerplate, jQuery, Modernizr, Twitter Bootstrap etc.
  • Lineman – similar to Yeoman, but comes with various settings preconfigured.
  • Batarang –  debugging tool for AngularJS
  • Egghead.io – detailed video tutorial series on AngularJS. Also http://www.davemo.com/
  • Sample contact app – maintained by one of the developers from the meetup

 Python DoJo – Aug 9th

This was an interesting meetup as well. It is conducted every friday at 6PM (planning to be a regular). I met Kenneth Wee, co-founder at ZoopShop. Also many interesting python coders. They were keen to help me jump-start my Python adoption. Provided me with references, tutorials, books and in fact a laptop to try things out during the meetup. Had a really awesome time. There was an after-meetup party as well but I couldn’t stay for it as it was getting late and the place was a bit far off. Key resources I came to know:

  • IPython Notebook – A standalone python server that provides a complete coding environment with features to even share our work, plot advanced graphics etc.
  • ReadTheDocs – easy documentation for everything.
  • OverAPI – collection of cheat-sheets for lots of languages.
  • PyVideo – video archive of python related talks
  • Project Euler – an interesting set of mathematical & programming questions. Makes a great compliment to IPython Notebook for learning python. Presently in the process of trying it out.
  • VirtualENV –  A tool to isolate various Python environments & avoid thus avoid version conflict for packages.
  • PEP8 –  styling guide

The Ohio State Fair

On Sunday, I went to the Ohio State Fair. Started in 1850, it’s one of Ohio’s oldest and biggest fairs. There was a huge crowd today. There were many food stalls and a lot of rides for children. There were also huge sales and expos. Farm animals and poultry were the major attraction. Also, there were a lot of concerts and performances going on. It was a really nice way to experience the American culture at close quarters.

First weekend at Ohio

My first weekend here at US was really awesome. Met a lot of cool people.

On Friday, Rohan & Amit (with whom I live) took me to dinner along with them. We went to a nice restaurant called ‘Papaya’. Three of their friends also joined us (all from Maharashtra, Pune).  The food was good. Later that night, we met at Sreekanth’s (a postdoctoral scholar from pune) home. We played a board game called ‘The Settlers of Catan‘. Its a real fun game. It’s sort of like Age of Empires on a board. It’s very lengthy – we finished by 4.30 am in the morning (around 5 hours). It was a really memorable experience.

On Saturday,a few of Amit’s friends had come over from Boston. They were going out and invited me to join them. We had lunch from an italian hotel (Noodles & Company). Then we went to Old Man’s Caves at Hocking Hills. It involved a lot of trekking. It was real fun. Also, one important aspect of the journey was the hour long drive through the highway. The roads here are superb. The cars here have auto transmission  & a feature called ‘Cruise control‘. It basically means that the driver can take his legs off the accelerator/brake. The car automatically maintains the speed set by the driver. Also, the roads are so good that everyone drives touching the speedlimit (75 mph or 120 kmph) or sometimes more (its legal to be over the limit by 5 or 10 mph depending on the roads) . The villages along the highway are very beautiful and picturesque. Contrary to my earlier assumption, US is not all about cities and high rise buildings. There are a lot of vast farmlands and grass terrains, even more than what I’ve ever seen back in India. We later had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Manaas. I had a really wonderful time with them.

On Sunday, Neeraj (M.S student living next doors) invited me to go to Cuyahoga National Park with his friends. There were many beautiful trails to walk around (& for biking). There were some interesting caves and crevices. We were advised not to go inside the caves since the bats inside were having some disease this season. We walked around the places, climbing over the rocks and passing through crevices. Then we headed to Brandywine falls which was a sight to behold. I also met Varun Nandakumar who had Mallu origins (though was brough up in Banglore & Pune). We talked in malayalam. 🙂 We wound up the trip with a dinner from Bob Evans. The whole trip was a memorable experience.

Third Hand Bike Co-Op

I takes me half an hour to walk to office. Myself, Sid and Aniruddha (living in our apartment, doing Ph.D in chemistry, aka Amit) decided to buy bikes (bicycles are called bikes here).

We went searching for bikes on Monday. Here people use Google Maps extensively to find their way around. The shop we were looking for closed by 6PM. We decided to go on again on Wednesday. We reached back by 4.45PM. We travel mostly in Sid’s car – an awesome Mustang. We went to a shop – ‘Once Ridden Bikes’ in search of refurbished bikes. Most bikes in good shapes costed above 150$ – too much for me to spend for 2 months use.Then we headed to one more shop – it too had considerably costly bikes (yea, even old ones). All bikes here have gears. There was mainly 2 classes – mountain bikes and road bikes. Road bikes have thinner tires and are usually costlier.

Finally we went to a place called Third Hand Bike Co-Op. This place had a lot of peculiarities. It opens only twice a week – wednesdays and thursdays. That too from 6PM to 9PM only. They sell bikes in all price range (starting from 10$) but obviously not all in good condition. The interesting part is that they have a repair workshop. Here biking enthusiasts interested in tweaking with their bike parts can come and work on their bikes. They have lots of stands to mound bikes and all kinds of equipment required to work on bikes – from spanners of all size to instruments for tire alignment. The best part – they have volunteers who come in and help amateurs fix their bike. They go around instructing people and telling people how to go about tweaking things. I was really surprised to see people offering their time and service to unknown people for free. A culture that needs to be appreciated.

I chose a nice bike with a price tag of $50. A very jovial, amicable and knowledgeable person by the name – Tom helped me fix it. I initially noticed only a wobbly seat – dissembled it and put in some washers and bolts to keep it in place. Later I noticed that the bike had apparently sustained a pretty bad accident and the front tire rim was badly mangled. We though of fixing it and later abandoned the plan considering it’s not worth the effort. I got another (used) rim for $10. I never knew the spokes of a bike had this much significance. I came to know that tuning the spokes is sort of an art in itself. We figured out the misaligned part by mounting the rim on the alignment instrument & rotating it. Then we identified spokes to be tightened and loosened – some needs to be turned half a turn whereas some a quarter. Then we changed the tube and tire from the old rim to the new one. Fixed it on the bike. Tightened the brakes. Oiled the chains.I didnt notice the time fly by – after around 3 hours of tweaking I had a sparkling new bike in front of me. I thanked Tom a lot before leaving. Amit also got one. We both got ourselves mountain bikes. Sid couldn’t find one – he wanted a road bike. He ordered one from Amazon the next day – a pretty good one.

Sid left in his car. Myself and Amit rode back home on our bikes. It was a nice ride. The sideways here are designed with bikers in mind. There are inclined places in between where we can board the sideway or get off from it. It doesn’t get dark even around 8.30 -9 here presently (~ like 4.30pm back in Kerala). ThirdHandBikes was quite an experience.

TEC Institute – First day

It’s Saturday morning here. I’ve completed(successfully) my first week of my internship. I intend to write my experiences over a series of short posts. I work with the TEC (Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization) Institute at FCOB (Fisher College of Business).
Day1: I was asked to head down to Mason Hall at 11.30AM on Monday (15th July). I had not yet familiarized myself with OSU campus and was advised to start by 10.30 itself tor each there on time. I was getting ready when the airport authorities called saying that they’ve found my missing luggage and they’ll come around 10.45 AM. I was worried since I didn’t want to be late on my first day. But one thing I came to know later on is that people here make no compromises on punctuality and credibility. Baggage reached on time, I made a run for it and somehow managed to reach room 256, Madison Hall by 11.27AM. #phew

Dr.Michel Camp, Executive Director, TEC Institute and Erica Waite, Program Director, TEC Institute were in the room. I went in (heart beats pumping). They were very friendly – we had a very interesting discussion. I figured that the people here have a hard time figuring out how to pronounce my first name (Rahul) and mostly give up on my second name even before trying (Raveendranath). We talked about my profile, academic background, interest in entrepreneurship, the general technology & entrepreneurial landscape of Kerala (which is of course being defined by Startup Village)  &  of India. They made me sign an agreement similar to an NDA and one which entitles TEC ownership of any ideas I may conceive during my tenure here. Then they explained the idea behind and functioning of TEC.

They are TEC Institute and TEC Academy. TEC Academy has various academic courses related to entrepreneurship – syllabus mostly designed by Dr.Camp himself. TEC Institute is where I work – it’s sort of a consulting service that provide expert analytic services (market survey, competitive analysis etc) for startups in various stages. Also, Dr. Camp is very resourceful and his networking assistance is also an added highlight. So TEC works on a lot of proprietary and confidential data which is why I had to sign the NDA. Erica also explained to me that I’ll be working on multiple projects over my internship. Since I had an IT background, they also asked me whether I’d me interested in working on a project on symantic web and ontologies – which I was very glad to do. I was handed me over a lot of resources to read through for my first assignment (an IT one) – to figure out usability improvements for a custom made project management solution for TEC.

One of the interesting questions Dr.Camp asked me was regarding my future plans in case I chose to pursue entrepreneurship – whether I’ll be interested in entrepreneurship opportunities in the US or back in India. I expressed my interest in exploring the opportunities back in India. I said that I feel there are large gaps in the socio-economic conditions of India (wrt western countries) – gaps which can be filled to an extend by leveraging  technology properly; and that I feel I have a personal obligation to give back to my country & community – contribute to its economic development as much as I can. The fact that my high school education(Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya) and college education(CET) was mostly funded by the government could be a reason I guess.

Afterwards, Erica showed me around the office and assigned a workspace & desktop for working. There were two other analysts working with TEC this summer – Karthik and Ajlouni, Burouj (from Jordan). I interacted with them. The rest of the first day was spend going through the documents I was given. I left the office at around 6PM. I’ve some photos of the office.