A Revolution in Education

Learning comes naturally to all of us, but, when we hear the word ‘School’, many of us don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling. Schools tend to emphasize blind memorizing as opposed to learning the subject and gaining insightful knowledge that can be used to further fuel our learning and understanding of the world around us. Recently I took a course offered by Stanford University through the online education site Course Era which offers courses from many prestigious universities like Stanford and Georgia Tech. The course I took was Human Computer Interaction (HCI) taught by Associate Professor Scott Kemler. After completing the course, I have to say that it was easily one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. The schedule is very rigid and the course work tends to be fairly heavy, but nothing is beyond doable with little effort. And I realized how much I liked school.

The best thing about the learning experience at Course Era is the collaborative nature of the platform. We are all used to sharing our pictures and status updates on social media, but when it comes to learning stuff, having a vibrant community really helps. For instance, many of the assignments for the HCI course involved developing abstract ideas and creating prototypes to test the solution. I will be honest and tell you that in a normal traditional school I would have simply copied it from a more talented friend, but in the online classroom, the forums are filled with people exploring and creating incredible amount of work so much that they are guaranteed to inspire you to create your own, which is what it did for me. The assignments are peer graded so they kept me in my toes and the constant feedback served as a great motivator when I slacked off or produced mediocre work.

There are things beyond the course material that you are likely to learn here too. For instance, Scott, the professor, casually mentioned in one of his short videos that the CEO of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, was a TA for similar design course. How awesome is that ? I could not believe that I was learning from same the guy who taught the CEO of a ground breaking massively successful startup. The forum threads has people from all over the world supporting each other, providing valuable feedback and best of all, participating in true learning. And, all this awesomeness is free.

Here is Course Era’s founder Daphne Koller, laying out her vision for the site and how she expects it to change our world for the better.

Isn’t it incredible that we get to attend classes and learn from schools like Stanford and John Hopkins, in the comfort of our homes, along with people from around the world, at any time we prefer and for free ? I work for a company that specializes in for-profit online universities and I understand the complexities of bringing quality education to diverse and geographically dispersed group of students. Companies like Course Era and EdX (similar venture by MIT and Harvard), with their free and world-class education, can completely change the dynamics of our educational system, whether the classes are online or at a brick and motor school. Hopefully, this will lead us to a future where quality learning, is a not privilege for the few, but a basic right and a delightful journey for every one.

Currently Course Era offers more than a hundred courses. Check them out here.

[Post: 314 of 365]
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Celebrating the Annversary with This American Life

Today was one of those good days when I got to do something I enjoy. This American Life, as anyone reading this blog for a while would know, is a great favorite radio show of mine and today they did a special show in New York and broadcast it live across the country in few select theaters. It was one of those events where you know it is going to be great and then when you attend it you realize that it even better than you had hoped for. The host Ira Glass was brilliant as usual, but it was a bit odd to see him perform on stage since I am so used to only listening to his voice on the podcast. The show also featured  the two Davids – story tellers David Sedaris and David Rakoff. Rakoff spoke about how his cancer treatment had rendered his left arm useless and how it restricted his dance moves and then went on to do a brief but poignant choreography. Sedaris walked out dressed as a sad joker and narrated a story about that awful time he had trying to order coffee at a Best Western Hotel. There was musical performance by OK GO, which involved everyone in the audience, including us the theater to take out our cell phones and play along, which I thought was a pretty amazing way to engage the audience. All in all, it was a great evening and I was a bit comforted that so many other people also turned up to watch along with me. Oh, there was also this funny short video by comedian Mike Birbiglia featuring Public Radio host, Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

I was notified today by my friend M that today marks the one year anniversary of this blog. Last year, on May 10th I decided, almost on a whim, that I would blog everyday for a year. It was a decision that has become a pretty significant part of my daily life at this point. Even after doing this for a year, it is weird for me that I don’t have a set routine for this; everyday I am just winging it. To be clear, this is probably the most inefficient and failure prone way of going about blogging or building any habit for that matter. It is clumsy and often gets relegated as an after thought especially if I have a particularly eventful day. But in the end, somehow this is what I have come to practice and oddly enough it has become a habit now, may be not the best one, but still. The result of this unstructured, and to be honest, unfocused way of operating is actually very convenient, in that there is literally no planning involved. I don’t get concerned with what to write about or how long the post was going to be until actually sitting to down to do it. Of course, the convenience dissipates as soon as the blank page on the laptop screen stares at me as the vertical cursor impatiently blinks, waiting for me to type letters and words in a worryingly delightful exercise of forming good sentences.  I say delightful because that is what I feel when I finish typing. I say worrying because it does not happen that easily and the whole process is rather unpleasant.

Speaking of unpleasant things, if you are good at math, you may have spotted already that the count for the number of posts and the number of days missed do not add up to a year. 365 minus 271 posts plus 78 days missed leaves 16 posts unaccounted for. I could have missed the counts for a few posts or forgotten to add a few missed days – both of which I am attributing to my extra-ordinarily uninspiring math teacher at school. In any case, this means the effective days missed now tally up to 94, which is 94 more than what I intended when I began the blog. It also means I have 94 more posts to do which I, as always, intend to do without a break.

As always, I am grateful for all the support I am receiving from you guys, so please keep them coming. I’ll see you guess tomorrow.

[Post: 272 of 365] [Days Missed: 94]
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How to Change a Flat Tire in the Dark

Say you are walking out to your car at 9:17 pm to get some groceries only to find the front passenger side tire completely flat. Your car, which you and only you consider to be far superior to all other automobiles, a super-mobile, if you will, now looks like it lost its footing at a ditch, which sits at the parking lot slumped forward with a right-side tilt. You need to get groceries and more importantly, you need to drive to work tomorrow morning. What do you do? You man up, and fix it.

What you need:
Spare tire, the Jack and the tire iron. In most modern cars, the tire iron does double duty as the wrench for the wheel lugs (fancy name for the large bolts that secure the wheel to the plate) and the handle for the jack. You will find all three of them in your trunk.

The barely noticeable black metal objects are the Jack and the double action tire iron.

Assemble your tools near the flat tire. Let it know what’s about to happen.

Spare tire, Tire iron and the Jack

Make sure your car gear is set to “Park” and is actually parked on flat ground. Don’t jack up the car yet, since you can use the car’s weight to loosen the tire lugs. When the car is jacked up, the wheel can move a bit, which makes turning the tight lugs a tricky affair. Using the wrench side of the tire iron, loosen the deflated tire’s lugs. For the first turn or two, you may have to step on the iron to unscrew the lugs. They are, as the saying goes, tough nuts.

This step will make you a bit tired

Once they are loose enough that you can turn them without much effort, its time to jack up the car. With your hand, feel the underside of your car just behind the mud flap of the tire. What we are trying to find is the metal frame which can support the jack. Mounting your jack to any place other than the main frame of the car can cause serious damage to that part. It should be easy to find the frame, so once you locate it, slide in the jack right under it and start raising the jack using the dual-purpose iron.

All Jacked Up

Now, we are ready to remove the tire and put on the spare. Since you had already loosened up the lugs, they should be easy to come off. Once all the lugs are taken out, stow them safely and then remove the flat tire from the plate by sliding it off the grooves. Without the air, the tire won’t be that heavy, but be careful to not hurt your back.

Tire Off. Half way through our ordeal

Now grab the nearby spare tire (You did keep it nearby right?). Mount the wheel by lining up the lug grooves with the holes on the wheel and slide the wheel in. Personally, this was the toughest part about changing tires in dark. There was no light on this side of the car, and it was impossible to see the bolt grooves so I had to go by the sound and feel of the metal groves against the wheel. It took me about 15 minutes to line up the five grooves with the holes on the wheel.

Spare tire, although crucial, is not pretty

Still have those lugs? Now is the time to screw them in. Here is a pro tip – Don’t tighten the screws individually. Instead, place all the lugs in their respective grooves first and then tighten them by alternating between opposite lugs. You tighten the top one first and then switch to the bottom one – the one that is directionally opposite to the top one. Then you do the left most one and the right most (opposite) one. Keep alternating between the lugs this way and you will end up with a wheel that is perfectly lined up against the plate, and you will feel no wobble while driving.
Since the car is jacked up, the wheel will move around a bit. So you won’t be able to tighten the lugs completely. Screw them as tight as you can and then unjack (is that an actual word?) the car.

Spare tire completely installed.
Ready to Roll.

Now that all four wheels are back on the ground, get back to tightening (this is a kid friendly blog, so I am not using the word ‘screwing’) the lugs as tight as you can. Again, don’t get too excited and hurt yourself. Once they are all tight, you are done. Stow the Jack and tire iron back where they belong and secure the old tire in the vacant place previously occupied by the spare tire.

You are now ready to roll. Remember that the spare tire is intentionally smaller than the standard tires and it is not safe for regular driving. With the spare tire it is ok to drive around a bit, just enough to get your car to a workshop, but fix your regular tire and put it back to work at the earliest.

Now go get that grocery.

[Post: 252 of 365] [Days Missed: 69]
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Picking Your Life’s Mission

Myshkin Ingawale has a simple but remarkable target – He is going to eradicate Anemia related deaths world-wide by 2020.

That is a bold and, some might say, far-fetched goal. Myshkin is not a billionaire philanthropist who is rallying his billionaire philanthropist friends to solve a global health issue. He is an engineer by trade and co-founder of Biosense Technologies, a company that focuses on creating medical devices. He and his cohorts have designed and built a portable blood testing device that does not require needles or pricking of the skin. It was built with resource-strapped social workers throughout third world nations in mind and as a result it is inexpensive, easy to use and it simply works. Given the continued rise of world poverty levels more and more people are getting excluded from having access to even basic health care. This little device could prove to be a boon to all the impoverished villages and tinsel towns that need every help they can get.
Here is the great TED video where Myshkin gives a heart warming narration of how a visit to a remote village called Parol near Mumbai and learning how a first-world solved problem like diagnosing Anemia was causing so many deaths changed what he wanted to do with his life.

One feels proud to be part of the Indian generation that is, more than ever in history, taking an active and significant role in innovating in multiple fronts and improving the world. One also feels obliged to do his part in contributing, however small, towards that remarkable goal.
As a side note, I am fairly confident that one day a religion based on TED videos will arise and make Wikipedia the holy site.

[Post: 249 of 365] [Days Missed: 69]
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Post Number 200 – Double Century!

That’s right. TWO HUNDRED’th Post. The Double Hundred. The big double O, with a two in front of them.

The level of excitement I’m feeling is a just a bit more than the excitement I felt when I turned in a hundred and fifty posts. It’s twice the joy of writing one hundred posts. It is a lot like the happiness one feels after writing fifty posts but, four times over. In other words, imagine the sense of pride and gratification that occupies one’s heart after writing twenty five blog posts; now imagine it eight times – or four times and then double that if you prefer that way – that is what I am feeling now. It is the satisfaction of writing 10 delightful posts and then doing it twenty more times.

Simply put, it is the feeling of a daunting and, yet, an inspiring accomplishment that washes over one after writing two hundred individual posts.

It’s awesome is what I am trying to say here.

As always, all the support is much appreciated. Keep them coming. Also, send your friends this way as well.

We have got a way to go, but with me, you and everyone else, there is every reason to believe we would make it.

And once again, Thanks.

How To Assemble A Computer And Take Pictures

After the external build of my desktop computer, today the time arrived for completing the build by assembling all the hardware into the computer case and installing the OS.

All clean and empty ready to be filled with hardware. Notice all the mesh? its for air flow.

This case has bunch of brackets for HDD and optical drives I won’t be needing, but comes in handy for future expansion.

First to go in- Hitachi SATA 500 GB 3.5 inch  hard disk drive. This case is pretty awesome since there is no need for screws to attach the hard disk. Just add the plastic sliders and insert the bracket and you are done.

Screw in the power supply unit.

The big cheese! Motherboard, with CPU cooler and RAM go in as a single unit. Had a bit of hard time with putting in all the metal standoffs to support the board but everything else went pretty smoothly.

Make sure to line up the out-ports with the sockets.

Now the easiest part. Untangling the wires, connecting them to correct sockets and hoping the static from my hands don’t fry the ports!

The other side is even messier!

All connected up and everything looks nice and dandy. Word of advise to fellow builders – make sure to use the manuals provided with the mother board and CPU case. Trial and error is not a strategy for this step.

Arrange the wires with some tie-downs and it almost looks professional.

Nice graphic. Actually its pretty good looking 🙂

And here is our final setup. Its strange that all the work done for the past hour or so is hidden completely away. The case looks exactly as before I assembled the hardware inside it. Time to fire it up.

Moment of truth – connect to power and push the button. Red light, that’s good.

Fans are running and the blue LED is lit up. It’s looking good.

Ahh, the familiar BIOS error. Its the same error we saw when we did the external build. Fortunately I have a hard disk connected so its time to do some BIOS setup and OS installation.

I have to say, of all the OS I have installed on any machine, installing Ubuntu was the easiest and most hassle free. 20 minutes later, we have OS.

10 minutes later, there is a computer in the living room! Brilliant.

[Post: 198 of 365] [Days Missed: 62]
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How To Build A Computer And Take Pictures

‘Let’s build a computer’

My friend S said this to me just a few weeks ago during the final days of Dec 2011. We were watching back to back episodes of ‘The Big Bang Theory‘ on TBS and while lounging in our mutual friend K’s apartment in New Jersey he nonchalantly said that we should build a computer. It’s not so much that he said it, but he said with that voice, the one that seems like it’s the most sensible thing in the world. It’s the same voice God used when speaking to Moses and more recently to Tebow. Its the voice that often flicks a switch in one’s head that one never knew existed. There is no defense against that voice!.

As soon as he said it, I said ‘Yeah, Let’s build a computer!‘. The exclamation point at the end signifies the level of excitement I registered with my own voice at that moment. After coming back to Arizona the material procurement began. There is a bit of research involved but with help from couple of my office colleagues, it wasn’t as troublesome as I thought. Here is the external build (meaning, connecting the units outside the CPU case) I did to check if everything is working.

Spec: Intel i5 3.3 GHz, Hyper Cooler, 700W power, 2×4 GB RAM,500 GB SATA HDD, MSI P67 Board

They look much prettier out of box. The processor is under the smaller fan.

MSI P67 Board. NewEgg website says this board is a winner of customer choice award, but I didn’t get to vote. Note: Make sure you don’t have static on you. Static discharge will fry your board easily.

And this tiny little thing is where the magic happens. Looks far too small for a 3.3 GHz processor with built in GPU.

Fits nice and snug. Seriously, don’t try to push it down. Just settle it over the socket and clamp it.

Time to attach the CPU cooler. Now it may seem like I miscalculated how big the CPU fan actually was before ordering it. I want to assure you that its true. It’s freakishly massive for a device that sits on top of a tiny processor.

The best thing about this CPU fan unit is that the package included everything from hex-screw heads to heat paste which is not commonly included with many coolers. Installation was a bit tricky since the cooler was awkwardly heavy for the board. And the printed circuit meant that there were sharp soldering points at the underside of the board which made holding the board mildly painful.

Pop in the brilliant blue RAM modules. You can see that the first RAM socket is unreachable because of the bulky fan.

The video card (not pictured in the materials pic shown above) came in late – it’s a funny story, for another day – and it’s the last part to go in. This one is 1GB PCI-Express- Express meaning its faster than the PCI-normal type. FYI, there is no PCI-normal type, they are called just PCI.

Moment of truth. Time to connect the power supply and switch it on. This motherboard comes with a sweet little power button which many other boards ignore. Let’s see, blue LED is ON and both fans are spinning joyously. We’re in business. Just one more thing to confirm.

Awesome!! Just to be sure, yeah, its an error message and it is totally expected. The BIOS is complaining that stuff have not been initialized properly yet. We don’t have an OS yet and that’s only because we don’t have a Hard Disk connected!! I’ll set them up once these guys are safely setup inside a CPU case.

Next up, disconnecting these units, attaching them inside the CPU case and then connecting them back. Then the Hard disk will go in and then the new OS. Just for fun I am planning to go with Linux. I know there are multiple flavors of Linux out there. I am looking at Ubuntu now, but does any one have suggestions/advise for total Linux newbie?

[Post: 195 of 365] [Days Missed: 62]
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