Community and Beauty

For the past few months, I've been involved in organizing events, meetups and hackathons for geek communities in Chennai, and been mind blown - at the beauty of it all. Some of those beautiful moments:

  1. Chennai Geeks hackathons - I've run hackathon like events at college. Running them, was arduous. Running around for sponsorship, space to host, internet, publicity of the event, and what not. When I help organize the Chennai geeks hackathons, it happens almost magically. RailsFactory or Thoughtworks always welcome us. They set up wifi for us, give us free caffeine and snacks. Companies in the community spring up to sponsor. For our hardware hackathon, Dexter Industries swarmed us with components. Mentors like Surendranath and Nirmal walked in to help. We just went to the venue, and the hackathon happened. Just like that.

2. Devfest Women - This one's close to my heart. It's always been my dream to work towards making more room for women in technology, and when there was a chance to volunteer for the Google Developer Group DevfestW, I offered to help. I talked to Dorai about the event, and he pointed me to the right speakers. I found the others through Chennai geeks. Invited them, they more than gladly came, from Pune, Bangalore, Chennai - just for the pleasure of interacting with more girls of the same flock. The event was beautiful.  

  1. Hosting the Chennai geeks site - This just happened today. We host the Chennai Geeks community website on our personal Webfaction shared hosting instance. It maxed out on memory recently. I asked the lovely Chennai Geeks folks on facebook if someone could help us host such community projects elswehere. With help from Vijay Anand, and Tarun from E2E networks, we had a VPS instance for Chennai geeks - in a matter of minutes. 3 others offered to help. Beauty, again.

Working with and being part of such geek communities has made me new person. Nothing happens for money or fame - there is true openness, and love for the sense of contribution. It's beautiful.

Adios Airtel

September 2009

I had just moved to a new house during my second year of engineering. We had to get a new Broadband connection, and I was given the choice of BSNL and Airtel. I knew BSNL was way cheaper, but the service not so good, so I chose Airtel. I totally believed that I even though we'd pay more it would be worth it.

August-September 2010

I suddenly received bills for over 5000 rupees for 2 months consecutively. I was on a 4mbps upto 8GB and pay as you go after the 8GB, and knowing my usage, couldn't believe it exceeded by so much. When it happened for the second month, I complained, and after multiple calls and a visit to the Airtel office, they were sweet enough to revoke my bill amount, and re-bill it as if I'd been on an unlimited plan. I then moved to an unlimited plan, 2mbps upto 10GB and 256kbps from then on.

October 2012 - Disconnection Request 1

The unlimited plan went quite smooth for the next 2 years. There were minor kinks, but nothing major. Suddenly from like August 2012, my 10GB would finish in 4-5 days. My usage had not increased, but the billing was erratic. More peeving was the Airtel Smart Bytes page that one gets redirected to after the 10GB is over. It takes you to that page, makes you choose something, and doesn't even redirect you back to where you were. That was straw. I gave a disconnection request stating that I was not satisfied with the billing. I decided to move to a 3g data card or a new connection. But people at airtel wouldn't let me go. To bait me, they offered an 80GB unlimited plan worth Rs.1699 at 30% discount for 3 months. Or so I thought.

November 2012 - I get my bill

My new plan was activated on October 26th, and when I got my bill in November, I was shocked to see the discount hadn't been applied. I gave a complaint. I was sweetly promised it would be taken care of. But I received no calls, no resolution. When I checked the complaint status, it stated "resolved". I stayed adamant and did not pay the bill.

Soon, I started receiving calls from Airtel everyday, asking me to pay my bill. When I narrated to them my discount story, they said okay, disconnected, and then a new person called me the next day asking me to pay my bill. I think if I recall the trauma of those daily calls and my repeating the story, I'll cry.

December 2012 - Pseudo Relief

Finally, in december, after 4 complaints, some one calculated the discount, and told me a number I could pay as my bill amount after the 3 month's rebate. I heaved a sigh of relief. Paid the bill.

But guess what? The next bill also did not show the discount. I made another complaint, got another resolution. Every time, the customer care person said, we can only offer 20%. And I had to repeat my story again. Other question was, so you want 30% discount? I say, I don't want you buggers, you offered it.

Christmas was round the corner. One would think it sets a festive mood. But not for me. The cabling for street lights in my area is being converted from overhead to underground, and in the process, Airtel cables all over the place was chopped.

I should add here, that I work from home. Internet at home is what keeps me going. I had so much planned for that one week.

January 2013 - More trouble

From 25th december to Jan 2nd 2013, all my time was consumed in fighting with Airtel engineers. Once every 2 days a guy would pop in, fix something, say it's solved, run away, but the problem was not solved. If I called him again and said it still din't work, he would point to someone else, and thereafter not pick up my calls.

Somebody rectified on 2nd, and it worked from then. In 2 weeks, it was down again. Another week of fighting. Except I had a datacard, topped up 3g on that(more money lost there), and used it, just to keep my calm, and do my work.

And not to forget, come Jan bill, the rebate was still not applied.

Feb 2013 - End

In the beginning of Feb, I gave another complaint about my rebate. I shouted for 18 minutes at one customer care fellow even though he could not do anything about it other than take a complaint. It gave me crooked happiness - shouting at him.

In a few days, someone resolved the complaint again for me(for the 3rd time). In 2 days, I got the actual discount. He told me 1100 was the amount, I only got 890 as the discount, but I don't care.

And 2 days back, my DSL instability is back. Landline's down too.

At this point, all I am is tired. Tired of having fought for this. Going through the trauma of not having stable internet. Killing time over complaints. Losing money over phone calls to engineers, extra 3g topups, and paying for the weeks of bad internet. Tweeting to @Airtel_Presence and waiting over their false "call back" assurances. Losing my values by pointlessly shouting at customer care reps. Days and hours of unproductivity. Even writing this huge post. Because I need to rant. To someone. Somewhere.

I just placed a disconnection request to customer care(?). And this is it. No internet is better than having you, Airtel. Adios.

PS: I can't even post this blog post right away. DSL is down.

Devlog: Of Flask and Chennai Geeks

I wrote my last devlog way back in time - Oh my goodness, in September. So I'm just gonna touch upon all I did over the last 5 months.

BadgeIt

BadgeIt[1] had many updates built into it in October, for the Google Apps

Developer Challenge[2]. We made saving to Drive and opening a project from

drive possible, cleaned up the UI and made it kickass. And well, mid

November, we won the Challenge. Big big day.

In the beginning of Jan, we built a locally running customized version of

BadgeIt for our college alumni meet, that allowed generating and printing

badges live during the registration. Five desks with printers setup, badges

being printed for over 400 people that came that day - sweet victory.

Chennai Geeks website [3]

The last 2 devlogs that Karthik wrote covered Facebook-group-log[4], a cron

job that fetches data from facebook open groups and puts it in our

database, so we can build something useful out of it.

We'd been running the job on the Chennai Geeks group[5], plus, we wanted to

build a website for Chennai Geeks, so we started off combining the 2 ideas

and building the site using flask[6]. I first set up a Sphinx[7] search

server with the data. Then we built other things like a leader board,

popular posts board, post count graphs, and permalinking posts, so you can

view the entire thread without even logging into facebook, letting non

Facebook users in on our awesome conversations.

I wrote about this on the Chennai geeks blog[8]. Similar websites are

coming up for Bangalore Startups, and probably for Chennai OCC as well.

Improve Your Pitch [9]

This is probably the first thing we are building off somebody else's idea,

but it was Dorai's, so doesn't count I guess. The idea is to build a

StackOverflow/Quora like app for people to pitch their ideas and get their

pitch validated by the community, through ratings and comments/suggestions.

This was flask project number 2, we have the basic MVP level stuff now - a

lot more work coming up. The code for this is on bitbucket because it might

turn commercial some day.

Chennai Geeks hackathon

It was awesome fun putting together the first Chennai Geeks hackathon[10]

this weekend. Need to write blog on the hacks that were presented there.

Karthik and I built a small wikipedia gadget that traces the pages you

visit in wikipedia, (see xkcd 214), and builds a tree out of it. Check this

sample tree out[11]. ScriptDevil pointed out such a firefox extension

already exists, but who cares ;) It was fun anyway.

Okay that's a lot of stuff compressed into one devlog. Somebody shoot me if

I don't write these more frequently(Okay, don't glare at me, Yuvi).

Links:

[1] Website: http://makkarlabs.in/badgeit, Code: http://github.com/makkarlabs/badgeit

[2] http://www.google.com/events/gadc2012/winners/

[3] Wesite : http://chennaigeeks.in, Code: http://github.com/makkarlabs/chennaigeeks

[4] http://github.com/makkarlabs/facebook-group-log

[5] http://facebook.com/groups/chennaigeeks

[6] http://flask.pocoo.org

[7] http://sphinxsearch.com

[8] http://chennaigeeks.in/blog/2012/12/chennai-geeks-website/

[9] http://improveyourpitch.com

[10] http://chennaigeeks.in/wiki/index.php?title=Hackathon:_Jan_2013

[11] http://bit.ly/10M5m59

Genesis of innovation at Genesis

I had the pleasure of being at the finals of Genesis, a national level social Business Plan competition run by C-TIDES, the entrepreneurship cell of IIT Madras.

The 137 applications that came from all over India, were filtered rigorously through various stages, and brought down to the top 8 - the finalists. Six of them presented their b-plans yesterday to the eminent panel of judges, and after 4 hours of presentations and questions, we had the top two ideas - Sampurn(e)arth, the winner, from Mumbai, and Project Kayakalp, the runners up, from Delhi.

Sampurn(e)arth - Decentralized waste management solutions

This was a venture started by Debartha Bannerjee, and his friends from college at TISS, during the final year of their Masters in Social Entrepreneurship. Their vision for a cleaner city transformed into the urge to create a clean, eco friendly solution for waste management, and they came up with the idea of Sumpurn(e)arth. It started at TISS, which they converted into a Zero waste campus, by segregating dry and wet wastes - the dry wastes are sent for recycling, and the wet wastes are sent to the biogas plant they set up at the campus, which can be used as fuel in the hostel kitchen. Then in collaboration with Stree Mukthi Sanghatana, an NGO that works for the cause of women waste pickers, they set up business ventures with corporate houses, notably Axis Bank and TCS. Here they work on a Barter system basis, the company gives them the dry waste, the waste is segregated, recycled, and recycled stationary is given in return. Their zero waste campaign also involves recruitment of the waste pickers, thus giving the project social, economical, and environmental credibility. They are now a registered private limited company.

How to expand this vision and create a cleaner India - is the question that steals Debartha's sleep. Let's hope Chennai creeps into his dreams too!


Project Kayakalp - Revive and empower the Kathputli puppeteers

One of the most intriguing and impressive presentations of the day, Project Kayakalp, is an initiative by SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise), Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi. Enthusiasm brims in these students, and this project was born out of their empathy towards the traditional puppeteers from the Kathputli colony, who were moving out to other professions, or living deplorable lives, owing to the seasonal nature and general lack of interest in the traditional art forms amidst modern living. To rejuvenate their lives, and the lovely Rajasthani art form, the students came up with a three fold plan. Revive the art form. Empower the artisans. Educate using puppetry as a medium.

Through intensive training for these puppeteers by professional theatre artists and companies like Katkatha, in terms of script writing, story board writing, and educating them on moral and social subjects, and blending the traditional art form with more contemporary forms of puppetry such as shadow and rod puppetry, they have successfully pulled off seven shows at schools on the subject of bullying, and have 8 more up their sleeve for the next month! The puppeteers income have gone up by 209%, thanks to this venture.

The Kayakalp project hopes to embrace more artisans, from a wider horizon of art forms, culminating in a community owned enterprise that acts as an international arena to these lovely traditional arts. Hats off guys!


Here are peeks into the other finalists' b-plans.

Swasth Bharath - Mobile healing for a healthy India

The motivation behind this project lies in its' initiator, Nitesh Pandey's moving personal experiences - death and sicknesses of near and dear ones. Diseases like Tuberculosis, Anemia, Diabetes. Curable, but neglected. Treated, but with drugs that had side effects. Diagnosed, but too late.

The pain turned to passion to decrease the disease burden of India, by creating awareness, through the omniscient medium of mobile phones. Diagnosis of diseases through simple SMS questionnaires, timed medicine reminders for patients, awareness about frequently prescribed drugs that have side effects are some of the features. For a prescribed drug from a pharmaceutical company, the app also gives you 10 other options of companies that produce the same drug, and the availability of the drug in your locality, so you can choose what suits your pocket. It also suggests Ayurvedic remedies for illnesses.

Consumerization of healthcare, through mobiles, exactly what we victims of the commercialization of healthcare need.


Tuber Care -  A breakthrough cure for tuberculosis?

Locked up in their labs at Sastra University over the past two years, Abhijeet Santhanam and Ramprasad Sethuraman, found a plausible cure for tuberculosis - not a chemical drug, but a biological protein Immunoglobin Y, which is found in high concentrations in egg yolk- an antibody that can flush out the TB causing mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria.

The drug they produced is currently under the FDA approval cycle, and if it succeeds, it could just be the instant cure to TB. An innovation to watch out for.


ShanSa - Master Apparatus for Toxic Bio-waste Execution

ShanSa is a social healthcare sector based venture formed with a lofty aim to transform the toxic bio-medical waste disposal in our country.

Shashanka Shekar, and his friends, from Pune, designed an apparatus, MATE, that uses a combination of Calcium oxide, Water and Fly ash, under highly alkaline, exothermic conditions, to dispose the wastes, with minimal environmental impact, unlike current methods like incineration, or dumping. The after products of the reaction are highly tensile and can further be used as fillers in construction sites.

To make this possible, team Shansa aims to set up their apparatus at major hospitals at Pune. To make the process even more cost effective, the wastes are segregated, and the disposal charges are waste category specific.

A technical innovation, combined with the urge to solve a social healthcare and environmental issue. Awesomeness.


ISIS - Providing deployable skills to Rural youth

ISIS is a finishing school that aims to offer holistic development programs to the rural youth, with focus on the Banking domain, equipping them with domain and IT knowledge, so they can secure their dream jobs, which their graduate education cannot provide for.

ISIS has a tie up with BBSSL, Best of Breed Software Solutions, which provide the technology infrastructure for the training. Over 600 students have benefited from the ISIS program over the past 10 years, and are employed in banks and other jobs in the financial sector all over the world.

The training centers are located close to the villages, so the rural youth, can stay close to home, and finish their training. Also, ISIS has tie ups with nationalized and corporate banks in the rural areas that offer jobs to the ISIS pass outs.

Immense potential in the Indian rural youth. Huge job opportunities in the Banking and financial sectors. ISIS aims to combine both these potential markets and spark change. Laudable venture.


When you see 6 teams, from all over India, eyes filled with passion in their social ventures, it is stupendously refreshing and inspiring. Congrats and wishes to all the teams.

Building web apps fast and easy using RoR - Chennai Geeks Sept' 2012

Today's Chennai Geeks meetup dealt with an introduction to the architecture and basics of app development using the Ruby on Rails web framework, by Magesh.

It was a full fledged tutorial, with Magesh showing a demo of a sample blog application being built, but I thought I'd share some of the gyan that came out of discussions and questions at the session.

Why Ruby?

Ruby is a programming language created by Yukihiro Matsumoto(just call him Mats), with the aim of making programming fun, by combining the best practices of languages like Smalltalk, Ada, Lisp and Perl. The syntax is extremely readable, and you don't have to be a coding ninja to understand Ruby code.

Why Rails?

Rails is a web framework introduced by DHH. Best practices in building web apps involved certain tasks, and the goal of Ruby on Rails was to automate these tasks. RoR uses the Model-View-Controller architecture pattern  to organize application development.

Wanna get started?

Some links to get started with Ruby and Rails, suggested by Magesh:

What makes it easy?
Keeping with the paradigm of Write once, Use everywhere, Rails has the concept of Gems, that are like plugins, and can be added to your app, and used with great ease.
There are gems available to take care of many features you'd want on your app, like auth, social integration; and before you write any code on Rails, you almost always can find a Gem to do it for you. But take care to choose the ones that are up to date and supported by the developer.
Some of the gems Magesh demoed were Devise, for auth, FB Graph, for posting to facebook and Omni Auth, for auth using any of the social networks.

Common Problems

  • There are so many versions of Ruby. Which one do you choose? - The most commonly used version is MRI-Ruby, preferred because all ruby plugins(gems) are supported and maintained for this version. Mac users tend to prefer MacRuby.
  • How do you handle version management, to switch between different versions of Ruby? - This can be done using a version management tool. Commonly used tool is RVM.

Deploying and scaling applications

  • What support does Rails have for building scalable apps? - Rails provides caching mechanisms and you can achieve performance gains by applying page, action, and fragment caching. It also has support for memcached.
  • Deploying Rails? One can choose between, Cloud infrastructure provider + Dev op engineer || Cloud infrastructure provider + a tool like Chef to take of deploying multiple servers || Heroku(that takes care of everything, but is a bit more expensive).
Two and half hours had flown by, and what an interesting session, and a nice framework to learn. One more framework added to my learning wishlist. Thanks Magesh!

Chennai JS + Android Geekup

When HasGeek announced the Chennai Geekup on Javascript and Android at The Startup Centre, Egmore, it pleased me on multiple accounts. A tech event that was not in Bangalore. Covering Javascript which is my current new found love. Run by HasGeek. I signed up.

Thanks to rains, and the usual Indian practice of not being on time, I went 30 minutes late, and Mani had already begun his talk on Javascript Everywhere.

So let me summarize the four thirty minute talks that ensued.

Javascript Everywhere - Mani Doraisamy

The story of Javascript, told by somebody who'd seen it through it's introduction and rise. Javascript was first introduced by Netscape, with the usecase of being Java like, for it's ability to be written once and run anywhere, on the web, and being a scripting language, that was simple, and a mere extension to HTML and CSS, adding the ability to manipulate the DOM, targeting the designers, more than mainstream developers. This explains why Javascript was poorly designed in the first place. He went on to cover some interesting trivia on the negotiation between Sun Microsystems and Netscape to rename LiveScript as JavaScript, the evil Microsoft's not so evil introduction of JScript, and the like. Over the years, starting from GMail that demonstrated the capabilities of the AJAX use case, to server side implementations like Node.js, JS has matured immensely, but the success of the language even in it's toddler stages, lay entirely in the use case it was defined for.

Building Rich JS Applications - Siddhartha Govindaraj

Siddhartha's talk started with a #proudmoment for me and Karthik, because he demoed BadgeIt as an example of the extent to which you go with Javascript to build rich web applications. He then used an app built by Silver Stripe Software, http://toolsforagile.com/, to explain the concepts of MVC Architecture, templating, Web sockets, and unit testing. He spoke about JS frameworks that abstract all these concepts like Backbone.js (MVC) and Socket.io (web sockets), Porthole (iframe messaging) and Jasmine (unit testing). He went on to cover HTML5 technologies like Canvas, SVG, Web audio and video that are being used to build games, visualization applications, stunning examples being, WindMap and D3 Show Reel. The message was, with HTML5, and the immense number of frameworks that ease the job, as well handle old browsers, rich javascript applications can be built easy, right away.

 New Frontiers in the Mobile Platform - Aravind Krishnaswamy

Arvi, the Chennai boy, as he called himself, started with the glory of Alsa Mall and went on to talk on the glory of Android. With stunning charts and visualizations, he spoke of the huge market Android holds, versus the iPhone because of it's pricing. He addressed problems that developers face in developing mobile apps - fragmentation, pricing, size and density. Fragmentation cannot be done away with, and can be partly tackled by narrowing your target devices to the popular ones first. Suggestions for pricing - ads, in app pricing for certain features, which Arvi pointed has taken off recently. Native vs HTML5, what does one build in? Both have their pros and cons, but prefer native for the parts of the app that have high user interaction, and HTML5 where interaction is low. Attention spans in mobile apps is extremely low, and it matters to keep your users engaged. And guess what? The most number of app downloads from the Play store happen Sunday 9pm!

Constructive Design for Android - Isaac John Wesley

Isaac is the designer whose slides you are bound to fall for. Design in Isaac's words, is meant to communicate, and not to decorate. It might be hard for a developer to turn designer, but it's easy to think design. And to enable that, he spoke of the various best practices in design, such as less is more, using focus on the important parts, and color schemes, as mediums of user engagement. Though iPhone was the designer's heaven earlier, and Android was much cursed, with ICS and JellyBean, Google has come out with design patterns for Navigation, Action bars, Multi-pane layouts and the like, that enable building well designed, cross device applications. Pro tips: Mimic those small beautiful things from great apps like Path, keep your screens minimum, and tell a story. Remember, impact matters, not impression.

There goes an awesome Geekup. I wish we had them more often.

Tryst with wordpress

Over the last two days I set up wordpress for makkarlabs.in - my first attempt at wordpress. The idea was to put up the apps we build there, along

with related blogs. Though the home page could have been written in HTML

ourselves, I was for wordpress because adding another app would just mean a

new post. And I found Portfolio Press[1], a nice wordpress theme that comes

with the Portfolio post type[2] plugin, so could achieve exactly what I

wanted.

Of course some more tweaks in the theme and plugin, some PHP and patience

was involved in doing the whole thing. Added Twitter Feed[3] plugin too -

the plugin's great, it just took one line to include it in the sidebar, I

wish it would refresh real time though. Otherwise, I think it looks neat

now.

And I wrote my blog [4] on how we built badgeit :) Productive few days I

say.

[1] http://wptheming.com/2010/07/portfolio-theme/

[2] http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/portfolio-post-type/

[3] http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-twitter-feed/

[4] http://makkarlabs.in/blog/building-badgeit/

Yay Devlogs!

I never thought I'd write my first ever devlog on building something in Javascript, which pretty much remained the most mysterious language in my

head until last month, when Karthik and I started working on BadgeIt[1].

Came a long way from staring at JS/JQuery and wondering what the hell does

that piece of code do, in the past 4 weeks. Feels good.

Had this issue when we tiled the badges that browser scales it up and it

doesn't match the input size in inputs. Solved it by fixing size in CSS

physical units. But over a 100 badges, with high res images like 300 dpi,

it crashed the browser :/ So found this neat library, jspdf[2], and now,

one can print all badges to PDF, fixing paper size and orientation of their

choice. And guess what, thanks to HTML5 FS api, 23.5mb pdf's create and

download in the blink of an eye. Yay!

Went on to add Sign in with Google to keep track of User info. The Google

Javascript client api is in bad need of better docs. Karthik wrote App

Engine Java service to store user info in the datastore, so we can write to

them for sample badges and stuff.

Added social plugins using AddThis[3], and minor UI improvements to the

site. Some more polishing before pushing to prod today. Should write blog

on how this app was built soon.

[0] - http://github.com/makkarlabs/badgeit

[1] - http://github.com/MrRio/jspdf [2] - http://addthis.com

KiSSFlow - Pitch to Product at Chennai Geeks Aug '12

There is a love that exists for the Chennai Geeks community that I always look forward to the monthly meetups. The meetups have moved to RailsFactory since June 2012 which has spiced them up all the more, pun intended.

In the August session, Mani Doraisamy, co-founder of Orangescape, gave a talk on how they built their Cloud based workflow solution, KiSSFlow.

I watched the demo of KiSSFlow first when Mani presented it at the Google IO 2012, and was proud - Chennai at IO. Wow. My wow moment got bigger today, when he said, that it was the first time ever that Google was showcasing a product company in the cloud theme at IO!

The Problem

Emails, Forms, and Documents are part of all workflows. But to keep track of all these could become cumbersome. Also, existing workflow solutions are complex, and built not from the customer's pain point but the company's, hence not user friendly.

The Pitch

KiSSFlow is a SaaS enterprise application that makes creating business workflows in your organizations very simple. With millions of companies Gone Google, it leverages on Google apps and lets you create workflows in a simple 5 step process in the comfort of the familiar Google forms and docs, and a Gmail like interface.

The Decisions

Keeping with the KiSS principle, which is the in thing today, KiSSFlow focuses only on 85% of the use cases, but the features that solve them are kick-ass, not half-assed.

Enterprise workflow solutions today do not empathize with the customer's need, instead, try to sell them a whole lot of incomprehensible concepts that the customer has to adopt to, because they do not want to narrow down their solutions to a specific market. KiSSFlow takes that step, by focusing on Google apps customers, hence simplifying BPM concepts like Role Based Access Control to something as plain as Google groups.

And with focusing on Google Apps came a hoard of free goodies. Getting covered by TechCrunch, a slot at Google IO, and being Google's sole cloud technology partners, because they filled in the gap between Google and enterprises, at the right time.

Underneath

Beneath the simplicity and familiarity of the KiSSFlow interface, runs an intelligent rule engine built using Orangescape's Visual PaaS. It runs above Google App Engine Python and Cloud SQL. Each organization has a separate database on Cloud SQL, to ensure security and administration privileges. The UX design concepts are borrowed from Gmail, and designed using Bootstrap.

Learnings

What does Mani Doraisamy, the Product Manager of KiSSFlow recommend for people trying to develop enterprise apps?

  • Have the UI flow in place first. Go Flow -> Screens -> Code
  • The text on your app is very important. Get creative people like bloggers in your company to write them.
  • Usability testing is key to a successful product. Watch your users try the app remote on Webex, and do so necessarily with your team. Never sit next to the user and hint.
  • Insights from usability testing might often hurt your developer's ego. Learn the knack of convincing them.
  • Learn to say No to certain features to your customers. It won't make you lose your deal.

The pleasure of meeting Dorai and others from the community, Senthil's unmatched hospitality, and Mani's insightful talk, another Chennai Geeks session that was awesome to be at.

Update: Check out the talk slides here - http://kissflow.com/google-apps-workflow-users-groups-roles/.

Yahoo Open Hack 2012 - My two cents

August 11 2012. I walked into Sheraton Bangalore for Yahoo Open Hack, with expectations, and anticipations. Expectations, for an awesome weekend, delicious cheese cake, and free bean bag. Anticipations, on whether I'd really hack, and yeah, if the wifi would work, having had prior experience the last open hack.

The Sheraton hotel and Yahoo hospitality totally swept me off. Immaculate and improvised procedures for registration, coupons for the bean bags along with the badges(so you could step out for a cup of tea without worrying about losing it), IT and tech help desks, gaming zones - Woah!

Idea!

It was time to find this little evading thought that could make our weekend worthwhile. Our team of 4, myself, Karthik, and juniors from college, Abhinandan and Karthik, comfortably couched on the bean bags, where on with our brainstorm. For the next two hours we started working on different ideas, A diary that helps you keep track of social activity, a tracker for books you read, a photo aggregator across different social networks, and stopped.

Because someone else was working on each of them.

Lunch :D

Who cares about the idea? We'd come all the way from Chennai for the free food. So we hog on the evasive menu of Indian tandoori food, sizzling jamuns, pastries, mousse cake, ice cream. Life's purpose had been served.

Idea, again.

Abhinandan saved the day by hitting on a simple, doable, worthwhile idea. Fliptube. A Youtube client that'd let you swipe quickly through your videos, on your laptops or smart phones. Using Yahoo technologies was necessary to qualify for the awards, so we decided to use YUI for the user interface, and YQL to pull data from the Youtube API.

It would take two hours I thought. Of course I was all wrong.

Anticipations

My anticipations came true, almost. Idea formed, we enthusiastically opened our laptops to start off, and booh, wifi did not connect! We had come with all ammunition possible though. Datacards, android tethering, hotspots. Of course the great Karthik did not need any of these as his laptops always magically connect to the wifi in every single conference or hackathon we've been to, even if the router is switched off.

Amazingly, the Yahoo IT team, showed disaster management mettle and ensured every one was connected, wired or wireless by afternoon.

Hack time

We were coding away, sailing through Youtube Javascript APIs, YQL, YUI, Javascript and what not. With us were friends from college, Vanisha, Preethi, Bharath, Nijanthan, and Russel, and we were ganged up, commenting and helping out on each others' ideas.

Night fell. Dinner. Midnight. Food, yet again. Followed by a point of saturation where nothing seems to work. And sleep(at least for some of us).

With dawn, and help from the Yahoo tech team, we had breakthroughs, and by 10 am we had a neat app to show off. App submissions and other procedures done, we continued to work on the smart little details until end of hack time, around 1.30 pm.

Demo

160 hacks. A record number for Yahoo. And it surprised me too. Unlike hackathons were people shy away at the end and decide not to present, this time, an amazing number of people worked through the night, and truly, the energy was inspiring.

Our demo went off well. Time for bar and bar snacks, aka lychee  and apple juice time, followed by results time.

The Climax

Excitement ran high in the Grand Ball room as Anil Patel, the man behind the whole show, walked onto the stage to call out the finalists and declare that India was a free country and one could drink beer on the stage.

Fifty Seven. We clap. Fifty seven. What us? Fifty seven. We are selected!

When we'd recovered from our terribly late reactions to having been selected to the finals, happiness rushing through, we prepared for the final 90 second demo.

Karthik Hariharan did an awesome job at the final demo with lofty talk of holding our own Fliptube open hack and destroying youtube. Claps and woots for the app. All cheered up, extravagant dreams and exaggerated winner talk ensued.

The Twist

The award ceremony had started. After the traditional organizers and sponsors thanks, the judges came on to announce the awards. Three third places, second, first, and a Grand prize, they said.

Our wishes and claps went out to all the winners.

But I got all confused. All the winners got a cheque saying they'd won first prize, and a two day one night trip to a destination of their choice. Anil had announced that the second prize was Ipod nano watch, and the first was the trip. Where had third place come from? Why were they all getting the same cheques? The hackers choice award was supposed to be an iPhone no? There were 4 categories under which the apps were filed. Anil had mentioned category wise awards. Who won in what category? What was the criteria?

And one of the criteria was that the apps used at least one Yahoo technology. And the grand prize winners, Brock, an app built on top of Microsoft's on{x} and Twitter bootstrap, seems to have no trace of a Y! tech. Of course, considering that Yahoo build their own hack trackr system using Bootstrap, it probably qualifies as Y! tech.

I may sound like a disappointed loser trying to blame the system for my incompetency. But no, not disappointed. Of all hackathons and conferences I'd been at, I enjoyed this one the most, and was more than happy to have made it to the finals. But a fair awards process is called for at such a huge event!

Endings

We returned home, a bean bag heavier, and hearts lighter after a weekend of fun, food, code, and excitement. Happy endings :)

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