brokentooth: V for Vangibath

Original Story: "V for Vangibath", brokentooth. I thought I would share with you a hilarious story about a Tamil graduate student with University of Arizona (I think) who was shadowed by the FBI in Madras and back in the states. BTW what are the FBI (or CIA I imagine) doing in Madras? Thanks to Desipundit for the story.

V's at the supermarket one Sunday morning, doing some grocery shopping (actually, I think at the time, he was on all fours, groping around at the back of a freezer for a can of plain yogurt – since eating strawberry curd rice isn't very appealing – and generally being rather cutely desi about the whole thing). Whilst he goes about his un-fruitful yogurt pursuit with steely resolve, his phone rings. He picks it up, and a grim voice on the other end says Hi, I'm calling from the FBI.

I should mention, I think, that our confused friend V has just started his job search process. Even so, his immediate thought process is rather hilarious:

This is odd, V thinks. I don't remember applying to the FBI for a job.

My skills expired 21 days ago – now what?

The last 3 weeks were a great litmus test for my hacker mentality. I only recently left my day job where I was very productive and an expert in a certain area (a personal opinion) for another remarkably different position. Suddenly, the skills that I acquired and honed in my last position are no longer the skills that I need to stay afloat in my next position. I have a very direct strategy when dealing with such issues. I like to get my hands dirty and spend time learning, experiment and solicit feedback at the initial stage. The feedback could come from anyone or from anywhere, it is always welcome.

This works well – in dealing with Linux for example, where I have familiarity but not expertise at this time. Thanks to key feedback and guidance – I was able to turn the corner pretty to get simple intermediate-level tasks done. However, developing on the LAMP stack appears to be a little harder skill to acquire and might take a little longer. To summarise some lessons from the past week:

  • Stay focused on your goal and yet be patient.
  • Understanding the tools of the trade is very important.
  • Solicit guidance and feedback wherever possible.
  • Rely on your knowledge of how things work – but don't be prejudiced in your approach.
  • Feel free to experiment.

Related articles:

Fuzzy Programming

Original Article: "Coding Tool is a Text Adventure" – Wired Technology News, Mar 15th, 2006.

Software developers are going to get a kick out of this new virtual programming tool:

Now, thanks to a new software-collaboration tool, you and your intrepid party of fellow hackers can navigate your labyrinth of code and slay its dastardly bugs, all in a dungeonlike world similar to an old-school text adventure.

Called playsh, the new tool is a collaborative programming environment based on the multi-user domains, or MUDs, so popular online in the early 1990s.


Gaurav talks about bootstrapping a startup

"Bootstrapping a startup in 7 difficult steps". Gaurav, NewDelhiTimes. Notes from Gaurav's presentation at Barcamp, Delhi can be found on Hemanshu's blog hci@work.Coincidentally, Guy Kawasaki is talking about evangelizing Blogging. Since his post is also directed towards networking, his lessons are very relevant to startups too.

(Cool, Gaurav gets a mention in the same breath as Guy, so it appears that Gaurav has made it bug time :)!) 

GMail offers personalized e-mail addresses

How masquerading works: An interesting development in the e-mail space on GMail. You can now masquerade your address with any other address that you own. For example, before today, I could send e-mail from my RIT computer science department account (, but have the From line read from Similarly, I can masquerade my address. This is a neat feature for those who own a domain but don’t want to have to pay a hosting company to host the mail server. GMail will now do the hosting for you for free.

Setup your own domain with a personalized e-mail address: There are many benefits of setting up a personalized e-mail address. When building a business network, engineer at professional dot com sounds better than engineer at gmail dot com.

All you need to do is, purchase a domain that you like and you think will represent you accurately. Next, setup mail forwarding from that domain to your Gmail account. You have just ensured that all mail sent to engineer at professional dot com will be directed to your GMail account. The next step is to login to your GMail account, hit Settings > Accounts > Add another e-mail address. Follow the steps to verify that you indeed own engineer at professional dot com. You should now be able to send e-mail from your GMail web interface with your professional address. If your a Pop3 or IMAP user, your e-mail client should also allow you to masquerade your account when sending email.

Finally, GMail provides a huge amount of space as compared to any other provider. That alone ought to convince you

Masquerading and security: When every engineer reads up on SMTP, the first thing you learn is how simple it is to send e-mail over the Internet by faking the sender. Most phishing attempts rely on this detail to con users into believing an e-mail is from a recognized authority.

However, some mail transfer agents (MTA’s) on the Internet have safeguards to prevent masquerading. For example, some MTA’s will verify that the e-mail originates from E-mail sent from your GMail account will fail to pass this litmus test, since the masqueraded e-mail originated from a server (and not professional dot com). Note that this is in theory and I have not had the opportunity to test it out yet.

GMail requires you to prove that you do indeed own the address your attempting to add. This safeguard proves that sufficient thought went into designing this feature. It will be interesting to see how they solve the issue with strict MTA’s.

Conclusion: An obvious requirement is to match signatures for every address. Maybe in the near future you could even expect GMail suck in all your e-mail from your original mail host.

E-mail clients have been doing this ever since I can remember. Masquerading is nothing new. However, GMails impact on Internet businesses is definitely huge.

We still want to believe that the consumer is King

An Indian summer: As first weeks go, my first week here has been exceptionally interesting. I am enjoying the fact that the systems here are geared towards a personalized experience. This is not to say that in the past the experience was missing. I also cannot ignore the fact that Indian bureaucracy is legendary. Getting anything done involved filling forms and travelling from desk to desk.

Re-integrating: Within the past week, I have purchased and setup various financial products, got connected with the world, assisted in the purchase of computing hardware and re-integrated myself into the day to day activities here. My bank even provides me with a personal relationship manager. Not that a personal relationship manager is anything new. For example, my father has a personal relationship with every staff member at his old time private bank. The only difference is, no one ever bothered to label that relationship, while the larger multi-national banks have.

I can hardly rival my experience re-integrating here with my experience in the US. I remember the US systems were quick and reliable. For example, the toughest part was getting to the bank branch. Opening the account was easy. As a student I could not afford a car, and if you don’t own a car then your dead in the water as far as getting around is concerned. If you hired a cab or took a bus, the time and money spent were unusually disproportionate to the distance you wanted to go. In contrast, getting around an Indian city is cheap, that is not what you have to concern yourself with. Instead, you really ought to worry about getting conned when you get on that bus or an auto-rickshaw.

The AirTel network: Back in the States, I was on a wireless service contract with a large US GSM provider. The contract had about 4 months left over on it. I never anticipated moving to India so soon when I purchased the contract. Needless to say the provider billed me an early termination fee (BIG $$) when I reneged on the contract and left me with a GSM/GPRS Nokia phone.

On the second day back here, I got ready to get reconnected with an Indian mobile number. My father suggested I could go down to the AirTel customer service store where I could purchase a no obligation, relatively cheap, pre-paid SIM card for the AirTel GSM/GPRS network and at the same time activate it. All I had to do was carry my proof of residence and a passport sized photograph. Within an hours time, an AirTel representative helped me get the right forms, buy the card, submit the documents and I was on the network with my original GSM phone. Cool! Had I decided to go with the post-paid solution, my contract would still have no obligation. Freedom!

Indian (un)reliability: The other experience was with a broadband provider in my area – Iqara. I called up their local office to schedule a connection (no 1-800 here). The person who answered the phone connected me to the individual who was responsible for a new connection. I actually had a real name and an extension number of one person who was responsible for my new connections. Within the next two hours I handed over money for a new connection to a representative (who drove down to my place) and I was promised a new connection before the end of the week.

I will not fail to mention that Iqara never delivered on their promise. I don’t have the money or the broadband connection, but I have receipts, a name and a number and I am going to call that person on Monday. Until then I have to imbibe the intensity with which my friends chase down service providers over the phone. Perhaps in the process I will also learn a little Marathi 🙂 a popular local language that can open many doors. Which reminds me, I had once upon a time promised myself I would learn Spanish.

Problems of the people: Pune wants to become the first wi-fi enabled city. M.G. road and the University of Pune are already there. That promise could be a life saver for individuals who are stuck in a routine Pune traffic jam. If you ever wanted to cover the 10 kilometer stretch between my house and the University of Pune, carry a laptop with a wireless radio. In a few months from now, you can spend the 30 minutes your stuck there e-mailing all your friends not to drive down that same road.

If you think about it, Pune really does have a chance of making its ambitions come true ;). In the past, other urban planners (e.g. San Francisco) usually provide mass transit first and then aim for wi-fi. Pune on the other hand can skip the entire mass transit mess and go on to providing wi-fi. In fact, I imagine that in the near future Pune-ites will simply stop commuting and work from home over free internet.

The Google Story: I am reading an insightful book by David Vise on the quickest, largest, hottest Internet, Media and technology success of our time: Google. Google succeeded in its early days because of great feedback and support from friends, well-wishers and other users of Google beta. They were first users of the system and reported with intensity on how well Google (beta) solved their own problems with searching the Internet. Larry and Sergey kept up with them because they felt the feedback was very important. No doubt, many others also had a hand in its success in their own different ways. Professors helped make connections with Sand Hill Road, Google hired key employees from their network and a friend provided the garage space when they decided to move out of Stanford. I accept as a fundamental truth, that people make technology companies.

I am confident from what I know of Pune that any startup here can make the same connections. Not only are there enough smart consumers who will let you know what they want, people here are very social and will go out of their way to assist you. For my own startup, I promise to sincerely imbibe the Google philosophy – solve the problem really well first. Keep the feedback loop short. I don’t plan on making razor sharp deadlines that will decide when the product will ship. Instead, I believe the fun and learning in a startup’s journey will come from inviting and absorbing honest feedback.

Life is very different: And so is the market. My friend calls it the “Touch Factor”. It is these two words that decide the degree of success of any business model here. It has always been here.

Related Stories: Potential and Impact of Basic Public Services – Shrikant.

The Mobile office solution to load-shedding

For the uninitiated – Pune is undergoing year round conservation of electricity. The power plants cannot keep up with the city power consumption (or so we have been told).

To get around the 8am to 10am power cut in Shivajinagar, I will be working from our office space near Senapati Bapat road. When load shedding envelopes our office space (I suspect during lunch hours), I will probably be working from home.

Random conversations

AirTel postpaid seems like a good bet. I heard that AirTel also has prepaid data plans which might be worth looking into.

My Brother threw out a real shocker today. He asked me to move in with my parents while he thought he would take the individual apartment below :). That suggestion made me nervous.

A friend suggested that apart from her friends and family, she missed most were the random conversations, and the honesty of the folks who she worked with in India.

While walking down Bhandarkar Road today, I felt humbled. This place can do that to you. No life in the States to go back to anymore. The noise and air pollution are definitely the worst ever. People seemed to have stopped caring altogether.

I was in for a surprise in the morning. Friend, Ex-Bishopite, and now associate Director of Everest Brand Solutions – Vijay Lalwani showed up on MSNBC “showbox” this morning. It was an awesome experience to watch Vijay talk about the Fevicol radio ad. Way to go Vijay!