Sunil Garg

The Case for Shared Computing

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My elementary school’s computer lab probably had 50 computers, where we frequently played Oregon Trail) and made flashy presentations in HyperStudio. My middle school had a lab of iMacs and rolling carts full of brand new iBooks. My high school had hundreds of PCs available for use in computer labs, classrooms, and even in the hallways. Needless to say, as I grew up, I always had individual access to computers and never needed to share.

In most of the world, this isn’t the norm.

Due to the fact that computers cost money, resource-constrained schools simply cannot afford to provide kids with access to one computer each. One approach to this issue is that of Nicholas Negroponte, which is to reduce the cost of computers to the point that One Laptop per Child is a feasible ideal.

Unfortunately, even if Negroponte achieves his goal of producing laptops at $100 each (they’re $200 today), maintenance expenses will bring the real cost of deploying these machines to over $250 per year. In India, where the government spends under $100 per student per year, deploying such technology is obviously an impossibility given these budget constraints.

Estimated Costs of OLPC

Another approach is to split a single computer for simultaneous use by multiple people. Microsoft Research India has done much work in this field, through projects such as MultiPoint and Split-Screen – these projects connect multiple input devices to a single computer and thus allow people to have individual access to the machine, allowing for shared computing.

I’m currently working on a project for the Computing for the Developing World capstone course at UW with three other friends to explore the use of shared computing via multiple numeric keypads in improving primary education. Called MultiMath, our software provides arithmetic drills to four students at once, allowing for shared computer use, individualized attention, and adaptive questioning in competitive and collaborative environments.

This week, we are in Bangalore, running preliminary field tests at government schools in the area. We’ve learned a lot, but I’ll save that for another post.


MultiMath will be presented as a demo at ICTD 2009 in Doha, Qatar.
Interested in similar projects at UW? Check out Change.

My Year in Cities, 2008

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This year brought another study abroad trip and a road trip in Canada. With a total of 22,366 miles flown, a bit less than 2007, here are the cities where I spent my time this year.

  • Beaverton, OR*
  • Seattle, WA*
  • Vancouver, Canada
  • New Delhi, India
  • Satoli, Uttarakhand, India*
  • Corbett National Park, India
  • Binsar, Uttarakhand, India
  • Jageshwar, Uttarakhand, India
  • Noida, India
  • Agra, India
  • Pickering, Canada*
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Quebec City, Canada

One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

Previously: My Year In Cities, 2007

Blame It on Dreamhost.

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Wondering what happened to this website and many others? Here’s an excerpt from an email that Dreamhost just sent me:

Unfortunately, because of the file server problems, in order to get your sites back up, you will now need to REUPLOAD all your content. We are still trying to recover the data from peeler, but at this point it looks like that process may take a few days, if it is even possible at all.

So, while I’m somewhat at fault for not doing my own offsite backups, Dreamhost has tremendously failed by:

  1. not maintaining their servers appropriately
  2. not having redundant backups
  3. not communicating with their customers in a timely manner (it took over 30 hours of downtime before I was sent an email)
  4. expecting customers to keep local backups of all of their content
  5. spending their energy promoting unlimited bandwidth and disk space to new customers instead of fixing the above issues

I can only hope that they will redeem themselves with some extraordinary customer support over the next few days. I can still say that Dreamhost has provided excellent service for the most part, but it’s the times like these that can make us forget about all of that in an instant.

For more information about this particular issue, see this post at the Dreamhost Status Blog.

Painting India on the Silver Screen

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First, a lesson in how to make a movie sound cheesy and boring:

The story of how impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik became a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” – an endeavor made without prize money in mind, rather, an effort to prove his love for his friend Latika, who is an ardent fan of the show. [imdb]

While that sentence does not misrepresent the movie, Slumdog Millionaire is far more than a romantic game show appearance. Rooted in the escapism that is typical in Bollywood cinema, the story is a deep one that uses Jamal’s rags-to-riches appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as a framework from which to explore not only his incredible story as an impoverished orphan from the slums of Mumbai, but also the ups and downs of life in poverty.

Over the course of two hours, we follow the stories of Jamal, his brother Saleem, and love interest Latika, and witness their encounters with everything that life brings them, including Amitabh Bachchan, religious tensions, police brutality, child exploitation, urban gangs, and love. What’s most striking is that these individually believable microstories combine to paint a refreshingly realistic portrait of India, even though stepping back to the big picture reveals an unbelievable fairy tale.

Much as Gregory David Roberts did with his writing in Shantaram), director Danny Boyle brings the energy of Mumbai and all of India to life with brilliant cinematography, an excellent cast, and a surprisingly great soundtrack by AR Rahman and MIA.

Experiencing India through their eyes is fully enjoyable and humbling. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take a look at what just about everyone else has to say.

This Is Our Moment.

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America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes we can.

―President-elect Barack Obama, November 4, 2008

In the Netherlands, I Fight Stains

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While I was in Amsterdam last year, I came across Sunil brand laundry detergent at the grocery store, which was pretty cool.

I just found some of their ads on YouTube, which I feel compelled to post here, if for no other reason than that they contain my name.

Here’s an old black and white ad:

In this one, I fight stains with martial arts:

I have no idea what they’re saying. Maybe one of you out there on the internets will translate the videos for all of us?

Board Game Blasphemy

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New replaces old. From MSNBC:

Toy maker Hasbro Inc. has updated its classic Clue game for today’s tabloid culture to include younger characters, more weapons, and new rooms, including a spa and guest house.

The six characters’ last names remain the same, but their first names and bios have been updated. For example, Miss Scarlet is now Kasandra Scarlet, a famous actress often featured in tabloids. And Mr. Green is now Jacob Green, an African-American “with all the ins.”

Colonel Mustard is now Jack Mustard, a former football player. The professor? Now Victor Plum, a billionaire video game designer.

The saddest part is that this isn’t a special edition – it’s a replacement of the original Clue board game that we’ve all grown up with.

Deceptive Packaging

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For the record, I disagree with Minute Maid’s decision to devote less than 0.3% of this carton’s area towards indicating that its contents are from concentrate.

Why Whrrl Is So Awesome

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If I’ve talked to you since I started working at Pelago last month, chances are that I’ve told you to go join Whrrl. Apart from not having an “i” in its name, Whrrl has many traits, which usually get condensed into the one-liner description of “location-based social network”. Unsurprisingly, that isn’t immediately interesting to most people, given the number of existing options, so I thought I’d use this space to showcase some of what makes Whrrl so unique and powerful.

Millions of places, and they’re all on a map

Google Maps was a revolution in 2005 because it took the useful-but-boring maps we were accustomed to on the web and made them fully interactive, allowing you to pan and zoom the map by simply moving your mouse. Whrrl takes that a huge step further, by putting every public place in America on the map itself. Instead of having to search for a particular place that you’ve already heard of, you can easily discover new places around you.

The map is yours

Of course, with all of those places to visit, you need a way of knowing which ones are interesting. Rather than showing you the general-purpose ratings and reviews you’ll find at Citysearch or Yelp, Whrrl tailors your map to the opinions of your friends, allowing you to make decisions based on the opinions of those you trust. The places on your map will be green if your friends have rated them highly, or red if they generally dislike a place. If you’re new to Whrrl, your map will be prepopulated with the opinions of Top Whrrlers, who are the most active users in your city. What’s more, if your friends choose to share their location with you, they’ll also show up on the map whenever they’re checked into a place.

Helping you discover new places and events

Apart from simply clicking on any one of those places, if you’re looking for something in particular, you can do really deep searches depending on your current mood and preferences. I’ve found that Whrrl’s location search is more powerful than any other site I’ve used before, and it’s in part because Pelago has a data team that’s on a mission to actually call every restaurant in America for accurate and relevant information. For example, it’s 1am in Seattle as I write this, and Whrrl can tell me about 300 places nearby that will still be open in an hour.

It’s at your fingertips

Not only is Whrrl on the web, it’s also accessible from every mobile phone via SMS, so you can discover places on the go. If that’s not enough, you can download full-featured Whrrl clients to many phones, including iPhone and Blackberry devices.

Sign up today!

Note: If it isn’t already obvious, even though I work for Pelago, there is no transitive relationship between this blog and the company. Read my full disclaimer here.