Monthly Archives: June 2015

Experience at AngelHack Chennai 2015

Was at the AngelHack Chennai event on Sunday… My thoughts.

Firstly, it was the first hackathon I went to. Was great to connect with a lot of people including college students, other working professionals, those who had quit job at an early age to startup and the experts from IBM, HP, ThoughtWorks and ClusterPoint.

With a list of 30 teams from across India that competed, it was a good event. I am sure there would be events with a lot more experienced teams happening elsewhere though but its important to have teams coming in early. I am sure it would have been a good learning for them too.

The trends I saw are these.

  • Many ideas revolved around building platforms. Only point though is that its easy to under-estimate what it takes to get a platform successful business wise.
  • Multiple ideas that targeted the emergency response / accident / safety scenario (on roads / in house for elders etc). Thats a good thing. Important problems to solve but again interfacing with multiple parties and trying to solve too many things in one shot is tough. Keeping the whole scenario in mind and starting with one focussed device / solution would be great. Over time, can expand to solve more parts of the problem.
  • One thought process to possibly avoid is to start thinking from the point of what tools I have and what problems can I use it to solve. I believe its a wrong approach. We do need tools to solve problems but just because I have a tool, like an API that HP provides on sentiment analysis, trying to use it to solve a problem leads us to try and manufacture problems or see them in wrong light. Very often, we tend to under-estimate the need for domain knowledge. I cant stress it enough. Businesses are successful because they understand how things work on the ground and how they are able to help the players adopt new behaviours / tools which are beneficial. Not because we have tools. So, starting from the problem is the right direction.
  • In a sort of continuation of the thought above, its important to know that we have the right solution to the problem. Implementation is secondary. We cannot use sentiment analysis to judge behavioural traits of people. We cannot use signature based unlocking of phone without having the algorithm to compare it reliably and authenticate. Sometime, some things are not possible and thats why they are not done as yet.
  • Not hitting at bold ideas. I totally realise that its a hackathon and 24 hrs is no time to solve a big problem. Even then, its important to start picking the real big problems that society around us faces. That’s one reason the winners were the winners. The social impact of having a tool to tell us about safe / relatively unsafe areas in a city is great. Its not innovation that always matters. Using existing ideas / solutions to solve a problem which exists where we live is good enough. Also, not-for-profit is a perfectly valid business model. That does not mean its not fundable. Foundations can fund, govt can fund, we can crowd source, run by donations etc. Is it valuable to people? Thats all matters. Means can be worked out. So, would be great to see more technology being focused on solving real problems which exist at the social level. (I am also guilty of the same but have some plans for the future)
  • On the technology front, it was good to see that teams were able to pick up IBM Bluemix, HP On demand, Cluster point etc in a short time and use. Also, good to see frameworks like Angular, Ionic being used. Few ideas on Internet of Things (IoT), those involving hardware, were good to see.
  • Safety / interoperability. When we design hardware that goes along with other existing devices in the market, we need to know that they will play along well and that safety is not compromised. Addressing specifically a team which attempted to enhance efficiency of water heaters, its important to address safety concerns first. It cannot be an after thought. I am not commenting on whether the solution was safe. 5 minutes is not enough to judge that but in such attempts, safety must be explicitly addressed as one of the key areas for which design is done. Also, interoperability is primary when our solution is not complete in itself. That is critical to address.
  • Lastly, one point on Privacy concerns. I saw a fair number of them looking to use GPS sensor from the phones to use location and build location aware applications. Its great but again addressing privacy concerns is important. We cant take the user for granted. Just because a sensor exists, we cant use it. Also, it drains the battery. So, apps which expect GPS to be on all the time are not welcome from user perspective. I am all for using all sensors on the smart phones. This is what allows phones to do things that we cant do with laptops but care and concern for user needs primacy.

I wont be doing justice if I were not to mention that there were more than 3 good ideas and implementations. Events have certain specific requirements as success criteria. We need to respect that but that does not mean that the ideas which didnt win are not worthy of pursuit.

Please feel free to weigh in.

Hope to attend more events in time…. Cheers 🙂

Thoughts on Learning: Part 3

Linear / Non-Linear / Staggered ….. Is there a right way to learn? And hence to teach? A disclaimer. These are more my understanding from various sources. Not a result of a structured study. I do not even quote specific sources. I frankly find that at times, very structured studies get inefficient and get far away from reality. Hence, this approach.

Today, I want to share thoughts with you on the various ways learning can happen and how we can look to plan it. Firstly, I will quote in summary 2-3 theories and then discuss them.

  1. The most esoteric is probably the relationship between games and learning. The theory goes this way. Even games are to be learnt. And kids love games. Why do they love games? What is it in games that cause the attraction. Can we use that in learning? So, comes the concept of “Flow”. In simple terms, what it says is that, the goal must be very clear to the player. Rules must be real simple and what they should do must be clear. Start with very simple targets and progressively increase complexity as they LEARN. Otherwise, we end up either getting too difficult against their learning level of the game or too easy. One way, they end up demotivated and other way, they get bored. So, thats great. Why dont we apply that to teaching stuff in classrooms? Teach students some simple things. Get them to do it. Once they do that well, increase the complexity and go on.. Whether all students can learn at the same pace is a different issue altogether. Even assuming we can deliver in a personalised way, is this a great concept applicable to learning? Should all teaching follow this concept of “Flow”?
  2. The simplest method goes this way. How can a student solve a problem without knowing the rules that govern it? So, if one has to solve a problem on how many times a ball will jump when dropped on a floor, then teach them the physics behind it and then let them apply the rules (of nature in this case) to the problem. So, theory first. Apply on the problem next. Of course, we take simple problems first and then go to more complex problems but there is a primacy to theory. In part, that’s because this approach is easy to run on mass scale.
  3. A method somewhere in between is more reliant on practical learning. This method believes that what is the point in attacking a problem without understanding the problem itself? How on earth did Newton learn physics? Did he learn the theory first? Of course not. He started from the problem and after studying it, playing with it, arrived at the rules that nature followed. Should we not go the same way? The obvious trouble with this method is that it appears to be too slow. Why should we re-invent the wheel? Its after all known what the rules are. Why go through the cumbersome process again. Let us directly deliver the end result to the students. (with some background on how it came)

Things are getting complex. For sure. And the article is going long…. Let me break here. I will deal with further thoughts on this in Part 4.

One caution though. Looking back, I note that Method 1 goes like this. Learn phase 1, practice phase 1, learn phase 2, practice phase 2…. and so on. Not that this contradicts with Method 2. Just that the chunk sizes are supposed to be much smaller and palatable in Method 1 as against that in method 2.

Let’s look at more thoughts on this in the next part…

Cheers. 🙂

Thoughts on Learning: Part 2

Dr. Abdul Kalam’s speech just made it easy for me to start the second part.

Do read

Today, I would like to address the question of “What is the purpose of schooling?” as of today? How do schools measure themselves and how they should. If schools (in India, my limited knowledge area) are measuring themselves by PASS Percentage, then we certainly are on a wrong path. I would rather believe that schools in essence must be working towards the purpose of leading to betterment of humanity. We cant expect corporates to do that for us. If we believe that this is too lofty a goal even for school, then where else will we address this issue? For all the science that we teach, if we dont let the students explore the consequences of using science wrongly, would we be doing justice?

Coming back to the original thought, for all the advancement we have made, the basic problems that plague our society still remain the same; health, malnutrition, lack of education, sanitation, unequality of wealth distribution, religious intolerance etc. Who will even work towards solving these problems or have we accepted defeat at the hands of these problems and taken them for granted. Are we happy in a world where 70% or more of the population will just scrape through life or even struggle to be free. If we dont bring up these aspects in front of children (at whatever appropriate age), then what message are we giving them? That either we adults know the solution to all of this or that these are not worth attempting and they should just think about how to better their own lives.

In essence, I would believe that a one liner can sum it up all. The goal of schools can be to impart this simple understanding. Coz if only unit economics works, will whole systems be fine.

“Each should give more to society than they take from it”

Some may do so by creating new products that improve health, some may do by establishing social organizations that work towards equality, some may use law to achieve the same. Entrepreneurship need not be restricted to creating for-profit companies. It is as I see a “marathon towards solving problems” which are relevant to society. In that process, one may make money but not always. Creating systems for betterment is the key. That should certainly be a thought which students come out of school with. By not telling them this, we are telling them that we adults know all solutions and that they need not worry. We simply dont. We would better encourage them to attempt some of these and may we help them in this attempt.

(Sorry if I did digress.. That seems unavoidable the way I write 😉 or may be I will learn how not to. )

Thoughts on Learning: Part 1

Its been long… Really long since I wrote something. Of late though, thoughts are pushing me to write again… Not long articles. Not as if I know what I am saying completely. Just putting out ideas that are shaping up. On the Learning Process.

My broad thought lines as of today

  • How meaningful is our schooling and college system to learning?
  • What remains the purpose of schools and how much or how little are social aspects a part of learning?
  • Who should learn what? Who decides? and when?
  • Is STEM Education becoming more the focus and are we missing out on letting kids learn aspects of ethics and social responsibility?
  • Is “Teaching” as a full-time profession a great thing? I mean, what of a teacher who does not continue learning / researching? Are they the kind of teachers we need or would we be better of with teachers who are themselves into creation / research and take students along in that process?
  • How critical is it to start learning from the problem than try to learn stuff and then attack a problem.

Lots to think about. Lots of ideas running in my mind. Would welcome thoughts, links to great articles on the subject in comments.

Have fun 🙂