Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Automating irrigation

Recently while I was in Jaffna it was extremely warm and humid. I asked my uncle, when was the last time it rained, he nodded and said he cannot recall. He then told me that a few years back there was a prediction saying that in 20 years time Jaffna will be a desert. He feared at this rate it might happen for real. I've no idea how accurate this prediction is or who made this prediction, but it gave me one more reason to believe that the Yarl IT Hub's newest project - Irrigation automation using open hardware makes a lot of practical sense.

In a region like Jaffna, where although water is a scarce resource agriculture either at commercial scale or as home garden is plentiful, the need for an affordable automated irrigation system is a must. YIT's DIA project tries to solve this problem.

Using open hardware the hand picked team of talented youngsters will build a localized blue print of mobile controlled DIA project. What they will be producing will be made in to a "Do it your self" open source project. Which basically means, a kid living in Jaffna will be able to buy the relevant affordable open source hardware either online or at shops, follow the instructions given online and set up the mobile controlled automated DIA irrigation project in his or her own home garden.

In Tamil they say "ஒரு கல்லில ரெண்டு மாங்காய்", direct translation means "Two mangoes with one throw". This project also has twin agenda, while solving the problem of irrigation we want to make open hardware accessible to the youngsters. So at least a few of them will take a few more steps and start experimenting with open hardware. Then hopefully, they will do greater things with it in future!

The team is working with a target to get an end to end prototype working by early June and then to have a complete blue print ready in three months time. Looking forward to an exciting time ahead.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kids these days

'Kids these days' is a pretty popular phrase used by each generation on its next. To be precise each generation used to complain about the next. Now that I am old, seems like I have also picked this up. But in my case I am not complaining, but instead intrigued by the possibilities they present. While we tell others and more than others, we tell ourselves to think different. I am quite fascinated at times how kids think differently without anyone telling them to do so. 

In one case, I asked little Thenmozhi to show me a picture taken earlier on her father's phone. She picked the android phone clicked camera icon on short cut. I was about to repeat and tell her that I don't want her to take a new picture but instead want to see one of her earlier ones.  Before I could say it she clicked on the small picture icon on the left hand corner of camera view and started browsing the old pictures. I realized I have a very constrained and stereotyped world view. For me if I wanted to take a picture I need to go to camera app. If I wanted to browse earlier pics I wanted to either use file browser application or go to photos application. I have trained myself to see a one to one mapping between a function to be performed and an application. There by not seeing the most efficient access method.

The second case was little Dharshika, she so small that she can barely speak still. Someone has given her a toy phone with buttons on it. For a while it was her main toy. But recently she has started to reject it. Reason, she has observed that one of my aunt's have a phone on which she swipes. She has figured out swipe was cooler than keys ( How long did research in motion take to figure it! ) Not stopping at it after a while she walked up to the TV and took a good long swipe at the screen and the adults were not too pleased. I am not sure whether if they already have tvs where you can swipe and is free of all buttons.  But for me it was intriguing,  because on some of these, I have almost resigned to the fact that these stuff are already at optimal designed.

When I thought beyond the debate whether the questions they pose are right or wrong, it opened up an unadulterated perspective on technology.

I felt that those who are building products would have to wake up to a different reality.  It is going to be a different generation.  Growing up with devices and has a different intuitive thinking. To be a winner you will have to convince them.

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. 
In the expert’s mind there are few" ~ Zen Monk Shunryu Suzuki

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Understanding the larger picture

I used to play a fair amount of Chess while being at school. I was an average player, but I did love the game. So most of my after school hours were spent pondering over the squared board and hammering the chess clock using the captured piece. We didn't have a coach, so it was all our paradise.  So one fine day one of our distinguish old boy's came to spend the evening with us and put up a nice little competition.  He set up a position on a board ( I don't recall the position he set up. But for those who are new to chess, it will look something like this)

Image from http://chess-king.com/
He gave us a task. Was pretty simple, we were given three minutes to look at the board. After which he would break the position. We need to go to our own chess boards and re-create the same position. The competition was to evaluate how many pieces each one of us managed to recall and set up at the right square.

With a bit of swollen headed arrogance, I wondered that it was a pointless task and went about simply memorizing the position. So rank by rank I tried to store in memory the shapes of the structure. For example, unmoved rook, white king side castled. Kings gambit like pawn structure for white, etc... Then when three minutes ended I went and tried to set up the position. I was left bitterly confused. Managed to set up only about 50% of the pieces. That too mostly the pawns.

On the contrary there was this other player who managed to set up the whole structure. I was about to conclude that he had better memory power and was good at memorizing. Then when the old boy asked him to explain how he managed to remember and set up the exact position. He explained that, if its white to move there was a two moves forced mate. The mate was to sacrifice the queen and mate with knight and rook. Largely its a two pawn up position for white. For the rest its black squared bishop against white knight.

For me it was one of those "Eureka" moment's in life. Initially as soon  I realized the blunder I had made, it made me sweat, felt half ashamed that "how come that this kind of a thinking didn't even cross my mind". Seriously I had been arrogantly fighting with granular details, without even realizing that this was not the approach to solve the problem. What I was fighting against was not even the real problem. It made me cringe and realize I was the absolute "frog in the well" . Growing up, this incident gets replayed in my mind often. It always reminds me irrespective whether if its in IT, Software engineering, Business analysis, organizing, planning, life etc,,when you  want to solve a problem understand the larger picture. When larger picture is clear, rest of the petty issues and details will fade in to insignificance. Its only after you understand the bigger picture you are really starting to solve the real problem. Till then keep fighting the petty issues like counting the pawns :D

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Yarl Geek Challenge - Season 2

Last year's Yarl Geek Challenge was a resounding success and even before the dusts had settled a lot of super hyped competitors, judges, mentors and organizers started discussing about the next season. One of the most pertinent points discussed was how this could be extended to reach the grass root level.

After much contemplation the team Yarl IT Hub team this time has announced the competition at two levels.



1. Yarl Geek Challenge - Senior

The competition will be similar in format to last years one but with a few minor changes to the rounds. The introductory round will be on the 5th of October and the competitive rounds will be from the 17th to 20th. We had picked a week end where if you  take a days (18th) official leave from work, you could get a 5 day 'vacation', be in Jaffna, forget about all the daily chaos, get in to a zen state and immerse yourself in an environment where IT ideas clash!

For those who are new to Geek Challenge, its a reality show styled competition where teams compete in 4 rounds and at the end of each day face a panel of expert judges who decide on elimination/s! All eliminated teams will be given another shot by competing in the 'opportunity round'. If you are planning to compete keep an eye on the announcements on our facebook page. Its all set to pick up from where we left last season and continue to set higher standards.

2. Yarl Geek Challenge - Junior

To reach out to the younger geeks at schools, we had opened up a new category, where school students are expected to form teams and develop a mobile application and send in their entries. A panel of judges shall evaluate the sent applications and call up the top 10 teams for demonstrations, which will happen in parallel to the Yarl Geek Challenge Senior round 2 on Friday the 18th of October 2013.

To get more details and to participate at YGC junior please read http://www.yarlithub.org/yarl/yarl-geek-challenge-junior/

So yet again as we gear in for an exciting time ahead, we are on the look out for volunteers who could help us out on various aspects of this competition.

How can I participate?

Competitor : Form a team and as per your age category send in the application. Then start preparing to compete. We guarantee that you will walk away with a tremendous amount of knowledge and memorable experience.

Judges: The panel of judges are the sole decision makers in the challenge. They evaluate the teams against pre defined criteria, give feedback to the teams and most importantly call the shots in eliminations. If you are a Senior Academic or a Senior IT professional, we would love to have you on the judging panel of the competition and share your expertise and guide the participants during the competition.

Mentor: Each team in the senior competition will be assigned a mento. The mentor will guide the team starting from the 5th of October. During the competitive rounds the mentor will be with the teams and help the teams prepare for the rounds. If you are an IT practitioner or an Academic who would be able to mentor a team through the requirement, design, user experience and business strategy rounds. You should be on board with us. We assure you would walk away from the competition with a lot of self satisfaction and a great network of IT professionals and students!

Organizer: A competition of this magnitude needs a lot of ancillary activities, from stuff like creating graphics for YGC content, media coordination, announcing, writing, linking up potential sponsors, etc. Yarl IT Hub is a not for profit initiative by the community for the IT community. So please do join us - you could make a lot of difference!

If you could contribute in any way, please do get in touch with us by filling in the following form  at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1AjWw8VyZqr-ubm4w2x-FvHi65ZGTwlRPMXg1WU0GkZ0/viewform or leave a comment here or on our facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/264218806991707/...So we could contact you!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More of monkey business

Who said people queue up only for apple before the stores open? :D


Speaking about monkeys, at last I watched Vishvaroopam and couldn't get over this passing comment made with brilliant timing, comparing and contrasting monkeys and men. I am not posting the comment here because I will be accused of posting something which is borderline vulgar and insulting my own kind, but in case if you didn't catch it, slow down and read the subtitles during the part where the old lady curses Kamal and his gang visiting the village after its bombed! Kamal the legend :D

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Portrait to pets

I have this unwavering belief that a lot of skills can be learnt by reading books. Sometimes ( others accuse that it is always the case) I used to push this a bit too much. The latest thing I wanted to learn was portrait photography. So I again seeked the only way I knew to learn, found a book and from last Thursday had been immersed in it. But the issue turned out, it was a bit like learning to swim without getting in to the water.

I couldn't find a guinea pig to be my model. So the only beings whom I could control were these two unsuspecting innocent kittens. So ended up saying bye to portrait photography till I manage to con someone to be the model and now started to claim that I wanted to learn pet photography!

We look away!

We look alike!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

The magic of puttu

amma's puttu
If you are connected to Jaffna in someway and if you are not addicted to puttu, I am sorry, but I have to tell you that something is wrong with you! For most of the people from there, technically puttu is the staple food. When questioned most people tell me that staple food is rice, but when people from Jaffna tell me that answer I would argue that calling rice as the staple food is technically flawed in their context. They eat it for breakfast and dinner at least 5 times a week and then not calling it the staple food is a cardinal sin.

I always thought that my amma made the best puttu in the world and then kind of realized that most of the other guys also thought that their own mother's made the best puttu, seemingly its a common recurring syndrome found in a lot of people.

For those who do not know what pittu is,

Usually its made out of rice flour, either white or red rice flour can be used. Its not unusual for you  to come across variants of this made with kurakkan flour too.  Creation of puttu is a systematic process where water is added in to the flour, little by  little until the right texture is achieved.  After which the prepared flour is placed layer after layer separated by grated coconut in a cylinder, either made out of bamboo or stainless steel, and then steamed.

Puttu can be consumed with some seemingly weird but very tasty combinations. My childhood favorite was to eat puttu with banana. Growing up, I started to add a bit of sambar to the puttu and banana mix. I have had friends who would almost throw up at the thought of it, but to judge they should try it - I am serious! It really works well with milk too. The trick is to put it to soak it in milk with a little bit of sugar for a few minutes and then eat.

Other good combinations are eating with fried brinjals, drumstick curry, badji and sambar and even bitter gourd curry.

Puttu is mythical and international: The legend says the god who came down to lend a hand to an old lady to help sort out her quota of sand in return asked for puttu. I have heard many people explain to me that puttu originated from Kerala. Hence I had always known that puttu was popular in some parts of India.  never expected it to be found anywhere outside of the Indian sub continent.

Few days back I was speaking to an Indonesian and when asked what was my favorite food, I replied puttu. Then realized that I need to explain what puttu was and was about to start my explanation, when I was asked "did you say puttu?" I replied yes, and then I was told, we too have puttu! To my surprise I was explained that puttu is common in Indonesia, its the same thing steamed in bambo cylinders but from what I understand that its always the sweetened version available. Its supposedly found even in the way side make shift eating joints in Jakarta. Next time I am there I intend to take a picture! Little bit of googling made me understand its common in the Malay Archipelago.

By writing all of this if I managed to bring the craving in you to go and find puttu. My job is all done!