Tour of Aravallis – Prep and Day 0

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Since I started cycling a little more than a year back, I have always tried to find about various events happening in India and try to attend a couple of events each year. While last year Deccan Cliffhanger was a great experience, this year in March I did The Impossible Race and plan to do India Gate to Gateway of India ride in December, so I was not really planning to do anymore events this year. However my friend Yash told me about Tour of Aravallis and I really liked the route. Climbing famous Mt. Abu on Day 1 was really tempting, but I didn’t register right away. I kept following the event on social media. Their website looked quite professional, soon they announced hotels where participants were going to stay and they all looked really luxurious hotels. Regular updates on social media and on their website gave me an impression of a very professionally managed event.

Nagpur is really a plateau and on our daily rides, it’s really hard for us to even do a 100+ meters elevation. Toughest climb we have nearby are only Category 4, so doing an HC climb was definitely very-very tempting to me and finally I gave in to my inner voice and registered for TOA. I thought it will be a good experience to test my climbing capabilities. I wanted to be ready for the tour so I tried to do repeats of local climbs whenever I could. I fell sick during early days of August for a few days but since TOA started in september, I didn’t worry much. After I got well, I decided to do 300 KM brevet on 14th August to test my recovery and do some endurance training. I have already finished 300 and 400 KMs brevets earlier, so I was comfortable going for it. I started ok but after sometime headwinds made the day really tough for me. I suffered a lot that day and took lots of breaks to rest and recover, but finished well within allotted time of 20 hrs. I took a few days rest after the brevet and then resumed my usual daily riding and as the TOA approached, I felt that I was ready to do my best.

Next challenge for me was how to travel to Ahmedabad with my bike. I first thought of travelling by train but they all were taking a long time and I didn’t want to tire myself before the tour, so I booked flight. I got my bike serviced, unassembled and packed in the box at Ncyclopedia a day before leaving and was all set. Thankfully I have booked my flights with Air India and Jet Airways both of which don’t charge anything extra for over-sized boxes, if you are within weight-limit and box is for a sports equipment. So I landed at Ahmedabad on 31st morning and was a bit apprehensive about bike box fitting in a taxi. I called up an Ola Cab and found out that bike box actually fits in most small cars (hatchbacks) after folding back seats. I deposited my bike box with organisers and went to visit an NGO called Jeevantirth, as I was free till evening. It was nice to get some rest, home-made food and see some of the projects being run by them. In the evening they dropped me at the departure location.

Our luxury bus was already waiting for us there and was ready to take us to Abu Road town, from where the Tour was scheduled to start next morning. Delicious snacks and drinks were offered during the journey of about 4 hours. Our bikes had reached before us and were waiting for us at the Hotel. Mine was still in the box though and I was a bit worried as I had not assembled a bike on my own till then. I wanted to check if it arrived safe through it’s air and road journey. I also wanted to eat and sleep soon so as to get enough rest before the tour starts. I started opening the box myself, but was really struggling to even cut the zip ties which held together bike parts. Thankfully Montra, title sponsor of the TOA, had also sent 2 really good bike technicians to accompany us riders for the full tour. One of them came to my aid and quickly opened and assembled my bike. I was relieved.

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By that time dinner was ready and I went and did some much needed refueling for the days to come. After the dinner I rode my bike inside the hotel area itself, just to check if everything was fine. Thankfully nothing seemed amiss, so I placed my bike in the bike area and went up to catch some sleep.

How the tour unfolded? Watch out for my next post.

A Giant Escape for My Kind

My Kind are guys and gals who have never played any outdoor sport as kids and settled into a profession which meant spending most of their time sitting in an office chair in front of a computer screen.  Also watch TV for hours after office, you get the idea right? Well that was me, and what did it result into – back pain, general weakness, indigestion, being sick often. I was trying to change all this and take better control over my health as I was nearing 40.

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Me and Gaurav taking bike home.

Then this April we bought a bicycle for my son. I decided that I will also use his bike sometimes as it will help me. I rode his bike for 3-4 times around the neighbourhood and then a chance visit to a neighbourhood bike store called Ncyclopedia, made me aware about a cycling group called Saddle Up Guys and I decided to join them for a Sunday ride of 40 KM on my son’s bike. That ride exhausted me like anything, I could never catch up with others. Somehow I reached home, slept whole day and even got sick in evening with mild fever. I was really disappointed. But next morning when I started feeling well, I thought I should not give up easily. I visited Ncylopedia again and Anniruddha gave me some basic cycle gyan about right frame size, types of bikes etc etc. I took some test-rides and as it was getting late, I decided to come back again next day. Next day again I took some test rides and finally decided to buy a hybrid bike called Giant Escape 3. The date was 21st May, so today it has been exact 1 month of riding my Escape.

I started riding 15-20 KMs without any sweat, I also could ride with my son now. I couldn’t ride with the cycling group on weekend of 23 and 24 May as I was not in town, but I joined them for following weekend of 30th and 31st May. I realised that even though I couldn’t keep up with other riders, I didn’t feel much stressed or exhausted. A good bike made a huge difference. I came to know about the upcoming 200 KM Brevet on 14th June. It looked like a huge challenge but really exciting as well. I said to myself probably it will be too soon to make an attempt but I still wanted to do it. Rohit from Ncyclopedia encouraged me to register for it and I did. I decided to not take it very seriously and just enjoy the experience. I thought, if I get tired, I can always quit and make use of support vehicle. There really is no penalty for quitting and I can always try next time, and there are Brevets lined up each month.

Me on ride of 7th June
Me on ride of 7th June

However I still had self-doubts and thought that I will make a final decision after this weekend’s ride. So 6th June came and we went for a speed-ride of about 50 KMs. I started a little late so had to chase the rest of the group. I could only see red blinking lights afar and kept pedalling. In trying to catch up with them I rode with my full might for 25 KM without stopping at all. Though I didn’t catch up with them, that ride probably changed me forever. It was a ride of self-realisation that I could also ride well, if I just ignore temporary fatigue and pain and just keep pedalling. I attained some sort of sync going with my bike, got comfortable with shifting gears and had a lot of fun. In biking it’s probably common to get tired even after first 5-6 KMs of ride, but you don’t need to stop. You can recover by just rolling (coasting on bike without any or minimal pedalling) and after each climb you also have descent which can be used to rest and recover. I realised that’s how you ride, that’s the process. You ride, you rest and recover and go again, but you do all this without getting off from the bike.

So now I was getting confident with long rides and made up my mind to give my best shot in my first Brevet on 14th June, which was only a week away now. I rode only 3 times before Brevet. Once for 20 KM, another for about 45 KM, both were solo rides. I knew I haven’t rode enough but then fellow rider from group, Mohit called and suggested a ride together next day. We rode 85 KM with reasonably good speed and I was happy to get some much needed practise before the Brevet. It was Thursday. We decided to rest and be fully ready for Sunday brevet so didn’t ride at all next 2 days.

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85 KM Ride with Mohit before Brevet

Then came the Sunday, I woke up at 3 AM, got ready and reached the starting point and we left at 4.30 AM sharp for our long 200 KM ride. It was a wonderful experience. It certainly was not easy to ride whole day but at no point of time, it felt impossible as well. So I was back to the finish line in 12.5 hrs, with 1 hour to spare. I was ecstatic. I started cycling only 20 days back and now I was a Randonneur. 

May be I will write another post detailing my Brevet experience, as this post is already getting too long. However fellow riders Nikhil Kulkarni and Dr. Tejinder Singh Rawal have already written great posts sharing their experiences.

I continue to ride regularly. I am now all of a sudden a morning person, feel a lot healthier and happier.I am also following the in-progress Race Across America, the mother of Ultracycling races. Researching about bikes, different types of bike races, following and making friends with lots of passionate bikers. I am in a whole new exciting world and I am loving it.

I still huff and puff during a sprint or a steep climb, but I just remind myself that I am a Randonneur and keep pedalling 🙂

Overhauling IT Education in India

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I feel that level of IT education is really pathetic in our country (except in maybe top 20% colleges like IITs and NITs). It may seem funny coming from a non-graduate like me, but running my own software company for over 10 years gave me enough exposure and interaction with programmers coming out of colleges and also teachers teaching them. I visited colleges often to give seminar, workshops etc.

I have observed that in most technical fields, everybody first wants to join a great company and earn big bucks. Engineers, MCAs want to join Microsoft, Google, TCS, Infosys when they come out of college. Students who are not selected by big companies, try to get job with small software companies and students who don’t get job with any software company end up finally applying for teaching positions with colleges. So basically we have failed programmers teaching programmers of future.

How can we expect this system to work? We need to change the system at many levels. Here are my thoughts in brief:

  1. We need to attract good bright people to become teachers.
  2. We need to partner with Software companies and involve working professionals to teach in colleges part-time or over the weekend.
  3. We need to make competitive coding contests compulsory to attend. Google Code Jam happens once every year. Should be mandatory for every IT engineering and MCA student.
  4. Every student should participate on challenges on websites such as HackerEarth, Codechef, Topcoder etc.
  5. Many courses from Harvard, Stanford etc. are available online and even free in many cases. May be they can be taught as it is to whole class-room with teacher just acting as facilitators.
  6. MCA is a Master’s program, but it’s considered inferior to engineering which is a Graduation program. It needs to be improved with greater stress on industrial training which is part of 6th Sem.
  7. Colleges should open incubation centers and encourage their students to become entrepreneurs. Maybe college can even have a stake in the formed company. Not all such startups will succeed, but even if a few do, govt. will easily make up the investment in other failed companies.
  8. Teachers normally don’t upgrade themselves with the time. They should be regularly asked to take courses and appear for exams themselves to keep improving.
  9. IT Teachers should also be allowed to pursue some programming related profession. Not teaching or private coaching business, but some real programming with some software company or independent programming work. It’s allowed for Architects and Doctors as they are quite practical intensive fields. It should be done for the IT teachers as well.
  10. Students should be made aware about open-source resources such as Github and made to participate in resources like StackOverFlow
  11. New and Emerging programming languages/ frameworks should be included in the curriculum – Ruby on Rails, Python, Node.js & of course Swift

Update: 27th May 2015 – Google has just published it’s own guide if you are looking at a Career in Software for yourself.

If given a chance, I would love to talk to Colleges and even Government in detail and explore how can we work along these lines and overhaul the IT education scenario in the country. Looking forward to hear thoughts from readers of this blog.

Update to iOS8 Over the Air without deleting Photos/Videos

iOS8 is here and everybody is in hurry to update to the latest iOS on their iPhones and iPads. Not sure if it’s something to be excited about or not but we can finally make a phone call from iPad (if iPhone and iPad use same iCloud account and are connected to same wifi).

Anyways so as soon as iOS8 released for public a few hours back, it sent a shockwave among all the enthusiasts as they saw a strange message on update screen asking them to free up about 6 GB (most people use 16 GB model) on their iPhones. Lots of people took to Twitter to express their anger or joke about it.

Most media houses ran a story about this and also offered a simple solution to all such users, which was to connect iPhone to PC/Mac via iTunes and update. This approach only requires about 1 GB free. While that’s a good advise and will come in handy if your family members also use iPhones as once downloaded same update can be applied to any iPhone (same model of-course) by connecting it via iTunes (Be careful about canceling sync when you connect a new iPhone though), I am guessing some people may not have their connecting cable with them or can’t wait to get to their PC and want to update OTA right now.

Well if you are also one of the users who want to update OTA without deleting all those photos and videos, I have a solution for you. Well you still need to delete some stuff so I am not suggesting something super-special here. My suggestion is don’t delete any of your personal stuff, don’t delete photos, videos, anything like that, instead delete most of the apps, all apps if needed to free up those gigs.

Why you ask? Well because:

You will be anyways downloading them again even if you don’t delete them right now. Let me make myself clear, most apps have released updated versions to work well with iOS8 and an update is nothing but a fresh download of complete app so you may better delete and do a fresh download.

There is only one small difference, deleting an app will delete all the app data as well, which won’t come back if you don’t have a copy in iCloud already. But I don’t see any major drama here as many apps don’t really save any useful data on the device and apps which save your personal data, most probably sync it with iCloud so you are not going to lose anything.

So bottom-line is if your iPhone is configured with iCloud and apps synch their documents & data with it, go ahead and just delete all the apps to free up space on your iPhone. Update to iOS8 and download latest versions of all the apps again.

Why I am Inspired by Arvind Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal has created history by becoming CM of Delhi after Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) (Donate Here) performed exceedingly well in state elections. AAP was formed just 10 months before elections and was ignored and dismissed by media and other political parties. It’s really an incredible feet however this post is not about politics at all, this is about an individual and how he has given hope to a lot of people in this country.

Let’s forget politics and ponder what we can learn from Arvind regarding life:

Honesty and Truth can really Win

It’s really refreshing to see honesty and truth win in real life rather than in some feel good novel or movie. Most of us have really given up on truth and have accepted that to succeed in life or business you will need to be unfair at times. We always believed that a fair and honest person can’t really fight with powerful and rich people or company. Arvind proves that you can actually be honest and win.

Looking ordinary is ok

Arvind is an ordinary looking guy, he is not tall or handsome. Even his clothes and dressing sense is pretty ordinary. He is never bothered how he turns out in pictures. Looking ordinary can really be bad for self-esteem and can make you less confident about yourself. But that’s not a case with Arvind, you have to just listen to him talking once and you will understand that confidence and self-esteem are really not the things he lacks at all.

From my personal experience I know how worried I used to be due to how I look and my poor dressing sense and I had to really work a lot to get over that. I am sure many people can now identify with Arvind and feel a lot better about themselves. He has actually made looking ordinary cool these days 🙂

Having a Big Car or Big House is not really a big thing

In Indian society it’s a norm to flout your worldly possessions and a mad rat race on to look powerful and above  everybody else around you. Income levels are rising rapidly in India and people are buying cars like anything. You have to just watch people getting out of those cars, they get out of car like a king and walk like others present around them simply don’t matter. I personally find people walking with such stiff posture really funny.

Arvind uses a pretty ordinary car to move around even after becoming a Chief Minister. I am sure many owners of Wagon R and other small cars will be really happy to see that. I am sure if all of us can really judge people not based on their looks, car or house and instead based on what they do in life and how they conduct themselves, our society will be a lot better.

That’s why I find Arvind Kejriwal inspiring. He can teach so much about life, business, management, entrepreneurship and even startup. Let’s discuss his politics some other time 🙂

Kids & Computer

I gifted a computer to my son on his 9th birthday and tried to guide him on what all he can do with it. After a few months, I made an interesting observation – he obviously loves playing games and he does that often, but he has also developed genuine interest in doing other stuff with computer because he finds it equally exciting as well. This helped me realise that if kids are encouraged and taught to use computers productively, they won’t be really using them only for thing s like gaming, social-networking and other things any parent won’t like them doing.

I thought this can help everybody having young kids or grand-kids at home so I am sharing a few tips from my experience here:

Learning to Type  – The first thing I told my son was that he should know how to properly type using all his fingers from both hands and not just use 2 fingers to type. I told him to visit –  www.typeonline.co.uk and take typing lessons there. It’s a free website and very useful for anybody who wants to learn proper typing sitting at home. So after a month he was able to type properly and you know what kept him interested in doing it – Speed Test. Website offers a speed test to know your typing speed and he loved to regularly test himself and do better everyday. He is doing 25 WPM right now which I think is a pretty good start.

DIY Projects – One day son asked me how he can learn juggling and I searched and showed him a video on Youtube which teaches juggling step-by-step. He tried doing that but lost interest after a few days. But he remembered how to use youtube after that. One day when I came home from office, he was making paper aeroplanes and other origami stuff watching their videos on Youtube. There are DIY (Do It Yourself) videos for practically everything on web and you can learn anything watching them. Recently I am trying to get him interested in a very good website dedicated to Kids DIY and it is called www.diy.org.

This site is a community for children where they can learn to make various things like cardboard birdhouses, soda bottle safety glasses, duct tape wallets and toothbrush robots that scurry across a desk like alien life-forms. All these projects allow children to earn virtual badges, which will appear on the site. Kid’s account is also linked with parent’s account so that you can monitor your kid’s activities on the website.

Learn Programming –  What I love about programming is that even kids can learn and do it effectively, that’s why we keep reading about so many 10-13 yr old programming wiz kids and now there are various websites which teach programming in very effective manner. My son learned HTML, CSS and basic website development on www.codecademy.com which is a free website and teaches you programming like a game. You have to progress through various stages and while doing so you earn points and badges to show off on your profile. Contrary to what many of you think, programming can actually be quite fun. Check out video on www.code.org to see why rock stars and athletes are learning to program these days. Check out this, this, this & this for more resources on teaching kids to program.

I hope you find these suggestions useful and practical with kids in your homes. Let me know what do you think in comments.

Google Moonshots

Immortality

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Photo by Jason Tester on Flickr under CC

Who won’t like to live forever? Although it looks impossible today, you have to take notice, when a company like Google starts pursuing something. Google has just formed an independent Biotech company called California Life Company (Calico for short), headed by Apple Inc and Genentech Chairman Art Levinson, to develop technologies to tackle health issues related to aging.

“While this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people,” says Google CEO Larry Page.

Driverless Cars

Google has been working on self-driving cars for 5 years now and their 3rd car model called GX3200 has been approved for commercial use in USA. Fully electric GX3200 can seat 4 passengers and can travel 750 miles on a single charge. It also has its own wifi for passengers. Global Taxi Company Uber, which just launched in Bangalore and Delhi, has already committed to purchase 2500 cars from Google.

Balloon Powered Internet for everyone

Official website for Project Loon says – “Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”

Google Glass

Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that is being developed by Google with a mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format and can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands. Google Glass was made available to developers earlier this year and will be launched for general public next year.

List of moonshots Google is currently working on also includes Google Fibre, which is a 1000 Mbps Internet infrastructure and flying wind turbines to tap into airborne wind energy.

If you want to check out more similar Moonshot projects you can visit www.solveforx.com and give your inputs and discuss existing projects. You can also recommend a moonshot project of your own there.