Brief report on BarCamp Bangalore

Last Friday and Saturday were a complete whirlwind, but absolutely exhilirating. After traveling for just over 30 hours and arriving in Bangalore at 3pm local time (2:30am back in California), I went to my hotel to get some rest before reporting to Yahoo! Bangalore for our first international Hack Day the next morning. Then, after a fun night out with Yahoo! Bangalore hackers, it was up relatively early the next morning and back to the other Yahoo! office in Bangalore (yes, there are two) for BarCamp Bangalore.

php shirtAnd this is where the story ends. . . for now. As Tara mentions at the end of her excellent post about BarCamp Bangalore, I’m trying to write something a little more substantial and lengthy about the Bangalore experience, and if I’m lucky, it will put everything into a larger context that will be useful to someone besides me — but it’s going to take longer than a blog post and involve some research, fact-checking, follow-up interviews, and some wordsmithing.

As I was thinking about the form to drive what I wanted to write, I decided that a blog post just didn’t feel right, then Chris took care of helping me out in my thinking without really knowing it (I’m quoting out of context here, so you should read the rest):

. . . blogs are a great mechanism for communities to talk amongst themselves or for independent voices to gain an audience, but they are not entirely a substitute for a unified perspective that can connect the pieces and reassemble a complete story. The role journalists traditionally played was to tell stories that interwove diverse and contradicting views in the interest of keeping the public informed.

For all of the blogging greatness that surrounds us, sometimes the form simply falls short. While I’m digesting the Bangalore experience for the longer piece, I did want to point out the excellent stream of photos shot by Alex Muse with the faces and names of BarCamp Bangalore attendees. Most of the time, the talk in the media about countries and economies and outsourcing and GDP de-personalizes everyone involved. Scrolling through the faces of BarCamp Bangalore, I see passion, creativity, and the kind of geeky excitement that gets me up every morning. I see partners in making the world a better place through technology. I’m glad Alex took those photos.

(Note: the photo is of Kaustubh Srikanth with his mega-geeky-cool PHP shirt. Kaustubh is a new friend from Bangalore who — along with his girlfriend Tripti and fellow hacker Shreyas Srinivasan — showed Tara, Chris, and me around Bangalore last Sunday. Thanks, guys. You made me feel very welcome in Bangalore and I hope to return the favor soon.)

Yahoo! Bangalore Hack Day: a report

To put it mildly, the Yahoo! Bangalore Hack Day completely rocked. There were so many hacks at the end of the day that we had to run demos in two separate rooms simultaneously. I had an amazing time and was incredibly impressed with the energy and creativity of everyone I met. Some of the most talented hackers I have ever met are at Yahoo! Bangalore. (The free buffet Indian lunch was awesome, too.)

Here are some links to first-person accounts from Bangalore hackers:

The essence of hacking. . . and some Flickr photos by tag: bangalorehackday (with some post-Hack Day pub action)

I’m impressed that the Bangalore team one-upped us back at Yahoo! U.S. — they started their Hack Day promptly at midnight, with thirty-five hackers hunkering down for the long haul. Even more impressive, the core of that late-night group managed to take me out for dinner and beers the night after Hack Day. Their energy after having been up working for days was remarkable in comparison to my mild lethargy from a little jetlag (I arrived the day before Hack Day after 30 hours in transit and 10,000 miles in the air). Consider me impressed with their party skills as well, especially in a city that closes up pretty early.

Before closing this post, I wanted to thank those hackers explicitly. Sumeet, aka the famed “Teemus”, glad you finally got some sleep and it was good seeing you the next day at BarCamp Bangalore. Premshree, thanks for delaying your flight to hang out, and I’m glad you made it to Bombay. Gopal V, thanks for hanging out with us even though you hadn’t slept in days. Pankaj, thanks for keeping me laughing all the night. Hitesh, thanks for coming out after a long day of hacking. Finally, Kapil, glad you enjoyed the chicken. ;-)

You guys are truly awesome hackers.

Apple sucks

Over the weekend, in getting ready for my trip Bangalore (via London, where I sit now with a long layover), I decided to download some episodes of “The Office” from the iTunes video store. I downloaded a few hours worth of video, dutifully paying for the video using the account I’ve used for all my iTunes purchases in the past.

After settling into my seat for the 10 hour flight to London, I booted up my laptop, ready to enjoy the videos I had downloaded and presumably paid for. Imagine my horror when I clicked “play” on the first episode and got this screen:

iTunes authorization screen

Of course, you have to be connected to the Internet to authorize, so I was out of luck for my whole flight.

Apple, you suck. (At the very least, build the authorization step into the download process — aren’t you known for obsessive user focus?)

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

album coverAnyone who has been living in Northern California for the past couple of months knows that it has rained, and rained, and rained. I don’t generally enjoy exchanging pleasantries about the weather, but I found myself doing just that recently, but less as a conversation starter and more of a plea to the gods: When will the rain stop? It has been that bad.

We’ve had a nice rain-free couple of days now and I’m certain that the clouds first broke the moment I dusted off The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (or Village Green Preservation Society for short). The album is that good — when you’re listening to it, it makes you feel like it literally can’t rain. This is an album that defies meteorology.

I’m not going to ruin the pop majesty of the album by weighing it down with rock-critic-speak or dissecting its influences, or what the bands that followed them owe the Kinks (though this album is a must-have for any music geek who enjoys such topics). Village Green Preservation Society is too viscerally enjoyable for that. Instead, if the weather is good, I suggest that you pack a picnic basket and a copy of the album, pick up some good friends, head out into the country, and sing songs like “Animal Farm” and “Picture Book” along with your companions. You might not know the words when you first pile into the car and press “play,” but you will know them by the time you lay out your picnic blanket — I promise.

Update, 04/15/06: Apparently, saying that the Kinks’ record “defies meteorology” in its wonderful sunny-ness has gotten this post into at least one meteorology news feed (as discovered on this page):


Welcome, meteorologists!

Going to Bangalore and London

Next Tuesday, I’m headed to Bangalore to visit the Yahoo! office there for their Hack Day (we had one last December and one in March at the main Yahoo! offices in California). Even better, Yahoo! Bangalore’s Hack Day on Friday is followed by Bangalore BarCamp on Saturday. I signed up to talk about what we’re doing with Hack Day at Yahoo! but I’m more interested in hearing about what the hackers in Bangalore are doing.

I’ve never been to India, so I’m really excited about the trip, even though it will be short (four days). On the way back, I’m stopping in London for three days to visit some of my Yahoo! colleagues. The schedule is looking really busy, but if anyone out there in Bangalore or London wants to get together, send me an email (you can find it on my main blog page).

Some thoughts on the Duke lacrosse situation

Update 12/22/06: The rape charges have been dropped.

Update 05/15/06: Having been in North Carolina since last Wednesday (part of the time on the Duke campus, where I had a really nice visit), I am actually geographically closer to the situation than at any point since it all started. The whole thing is starting to sound really fishy and it’s certainly possible that a rape did not occur. Bad behavior, definitely, but not necessarily rape. I stand by my criticisms of Duke culture below, but the case is starting to seem muddy at the very least. It’s also theoretically possible that we’re seeing the effects of excellent legal and PR work by the attorneys of the accused. Whatever happens, I hope the guilty are punished severely, and that includes the accuser if false allegations were made. For now, I’m going to stand back and watch the proceedings and hope the situation hasn’t gotten so twisted that justice can’t be served either way. In the meantime, Duke continues to do an excellent job of providing information to the community.

Update 05/16/06: OK, folks, I’m not approving any more comments on this thread unless someone says something new and insightful on either side. I left some wretched stuff in the comments, but frankly, I’m not interesting in being in the top 10 search results for any more searches like “duke lacrosse accuser whore.” You’ve made your point.

Original post begins below, unedited from the original

The alleged incident in Durham involving the Duke lacrosse team is troubling (to its credit, Duke has done an excellent job of covering itself). I’ve been debating whether to write about it for days now, but it’s been occupying my thoughts a lot lately as I have reflected on my own Duke experience as a student there from fall 1990 until the end of 1993, when I finished my degree (a semester early). I can’t say whether or not the incident in question happened, but I can say one thing for certain: Duke continues to have a serious problem with arrogance and entitlement, and it’s nothing new, unfortunately. At the very least, anyone associated with Duke should be ashamed at how believable the whole situation is.

This is not just about the lacrosse team (though they have been a problem for years), it’s about the institutions and traditions that Duke holds most dear in its public image, like basketball. When I was at Duke, I remember hearing the celebrated “Cameron Crazies” chant smugly “That’s all right, that’s ok, I’m gonna be your boss one day” on the rare occasions when the Duke basketball team would lose. Even worse, taunting chants of “State school! State school!” would fill Cameron when the opposing team was a public school — and everyone thought this was funny. I thought it verged on sickening, and still do. To me, it insulted people like my dad, who took seven years alternating among working in tobacco fields, going to class, and generally doing whatever it took to pay for his engineering degree at NC State — a state school.

I commend Duke University President Richard Brodhead for taking swift action and clearly communicating his thoughts on the matter to Durham and the Duke community in this letter. President Brodhead is still fairly new to Duke, and no one can expect him to make fundamental changes overnight. The state of affairs at Duke is clearly something that he inherited (his presidency has had its share of crises already).

My Duke card, 1991Before going on, I want to state that I really have nothing to gain personally by criticizing Duke at this point in my life. In lots of ways, though I didn’t come from a wealthy family, I have been the beneficiary of the privilege that an environment like Duke takes for granted. I learned a lot at Duke, graduated with honors, and I’ve had a great career. It seems entirely reasonable that I will be able to send my children to a university like Duke if I chose to do so without enduring the financial pain that my parents bore in sending me there. Life has been good to me.

But let’s be honest: no matter how you slice it, Duke is primarily an institution of privilege. President Brodhead tries to counter this notion somewhat in his letter:

Duke is not, as some have reported, just an institution for the children of wealthy families. This university admits undergraduates without regard to their family’s ability to pay, and we invest more than $50 million a year to enable the 40% of students who receive grant aid to afford a Duke education.

That’s true, but look at some of the raw numbers in a different way:

  • The average full cost of attendance at Duke for 2005-06: $44,005 (Source: Duke Financial Aid)
  • 42% of the entering Class of 2008 received need-based aid (Source: Duke Financial Aid)

I won’t go into all the factors that determine need-based aid, because Duke explains the process pretty well. The thing that strikes me is that when you look at the numbers above, 58% of the entering Class of 2008 were determined not to need aid. In other words, the families of those students could afford to fork out $44K for one year of college. Sure, Duke is not an institution “just” for wealthy families, but for whatever reason, a full 58% of the last incoming class was able to afford the $44K price tag for the first year. This paints a portrait of an astoundingly wealthy student body (or at least a massive gap between rich and poor within Duke).

Of course, wealth is as much an accident of birth as poverty, but it carries more responsibility, or at least some self-awareness. I knew wealthy kids at Duke who were both self-aware and responsible, and those stories of Duke good are being told. In my experience, though, the displays of mindless arrogance when I was there were shocking at times. One incident that I remember clearly is a fellow student from out-of-state asking me if I had gotten into Duke on an affirmative action program for people from North Carolina. Seriously. Another time, I had taken a summer job working on Duke’s Central Campus, painting student apartments and mowing grass. As I was mowing, I saw an acquaintance from a class the prior semester walk by and he motioned to me. I turned off my lawn mower and walked over to him. He asked me what I was doing. I said, “working.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Because I need the money.” He looked seriously puzzled. I had honestly never met people like that until I went to Duke. I could go on and on with stories like the ones above.

When I look at President Brodhead’s letter, the “Campus Culture Initiative” he describes jumps out at me:

The task of the Initiative is to evaluate and suggest improvements in the ways Duke educates students in the values of personal responsibility, consideration for others, and mutual respect in the face of difference and disagreement.

My freshman year (fall of 1990), we had a similar initiative called “Duke’s Vision.” I don’t remember the details or if there was any particular catalyst behind it, but I do remember that I invoked “Duke’s Vision” in a published letter to The Chronicle about some t-shirts that were surprisingly popular on campus. The t-shirts read: “Duke University: We’re not snobs, we’re just better than you.” Were these t-shirts just more zany “fun” from the same folks who brought you the “Cameron Crazies”? I didn’t think so then, and still don’t now. There’s something sinister and just plain nasty about it — why would the already over-privileged feel the need to rub it in? Again, this attitude certainly didn’t reflect everyone at Duke, but it was broad enough that an entrepreneur recognized it as a legitimate business opportunity, and that’s sad.

It’s deeply disturbing that some of the identical behaviors and attitudes I experienced (as one of the privileged!) are being echoed so clearly in events fifteen years later. I think the best thing I can do now is raise children who don’t take privilege for granted, or even worse, use it as a weapon against the less privileged. Whether the allegations against the Duke lacrosse team turn out to be true or not, the fact that it seems so plausible makes me less proud to be associated with Duke.

Free / cheap / open source project managements systems — recommendations?

A colleague asked me if I knew of any “free, cheap, or open source” project management systems that are “as simple as twiki (which is about decentralized sharing and coordinating of documents), but is focused on tracking / sharing events and tasks.” (We use twiki heavily at Yahoo!) He had already found a few possibilities (none of which I was familiar with, except Basecamp):

Anyone have any favorites? Frankly, I’ve always found that when web projects get difficult enough that you’re tempted to whip out something like MS Project, it’s time to simplify — but I’ll admit that though I have run many projects large and small, I have never been able to really wrap my brain around Gannt charts and such for any sustained periods in my career.

Hell is. . . .

In his play No Exit, Sartre famously wrote: “You don’t need red-hot pokers: Hell is — other people! ” (pas besoin de gril: l’enfer, c’est les autres). (Several years ago, I used to keep a copy of No Exit at my desk with my usual stack of software engineering books — it seemed to fit right in with books like Death March.)

I have a new definition of hell: when you’re working at home and someone on your street who apparrently has a LOT of time on his hands procures a drum set.