2009 is coming to a close, which means that it’s time for a recap of the year’s travels.

This was yet another year that brought many surprises. In January, I began working on MultiLearn as a capstone project in CSE 477. Thanks to very generous support from our advisors and sponsors, the project resulted in lots of travel. Combining those trips with a few others, I flew 79,661 miles this year, which falls well beyond my previous record from 2007.

Here are the cities I visited this year:

  • Beaverton, OR*
  • Seattle, WA*
  • Eugene, OR*^
  • Bangalore, India*
  • Mysore, India^
  • Ooty, India
  • Coonoor, India^
  • Mumbai, India
  • Corvallis, OR^
  • Doha, Qatar
  • El Dorado Hills, CA
  • Gurgaon, India*
  • Udaipur, India
  • Jaipur, India^
  • Agra, India
  • Berkeley, CA^
  • Noida, India
  • New Delhi, India

One or more nights spent in each place, with the exception of day trips marked with a ^. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

Previously: 2008, 2007

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Earlier this month, I had the incredibly humbling experience of attending a presentation by Mark Horvath, creator of invisiblepeople.tv, who has dedicated himself to sharing the stories of homeless people in America.

Like many others, my interaction with homeless people has generally consisted of me walking past them on the streets of supposedly thriving cities like Seattle and Portland. What’s more, most of us have adopted a negative stereotype towards the homeless, having dealt with relentless beggars, witnessed drug addicts, and read stories about people who make thousands by begging at highway onramps.

Mark turns that stereotype around by sharing just a few stories. In actuality, it turns out that the vast majority of the homeless are honest everyday people (many are children) who are trying to get out of difficult circumstances. Below are a couple videos he shared – hopefully they’ll be enlightening for you too.

If you’re like me, after watching these videos, you’ll be left wondering how you might help. I know of a couple options: If you want to help raise awareness, you can support Mark’s InvisiblePeopleTV RoadTrip, through which he’ll be sharing stories from across America over the next month. If you want to take a more direct approach, check out Change.org’s list of non-profits that are working for this cause.

Questions, comments, reactions, criticisms? Leave them all in the comments below.

Over the past couple years, I’ve attended a few events hosted by various members of the Seattle tech community. Most of them are focused on running and promoting startup companies, but last month I had the chance to attend one that was purely centered around encouraging creative expression: Ignite Seattle.

If you aren’t familiar with Ignite, it’s a series of talks which are 5 minutes presentations, each with 20 auto-advancing slides. People are free to talk about whatever they want, since the goal is simply to share exciting and entertaining ideas with the community. Here’s a meta-talk by Scott Berkun about the format:

I could fill this space with more uninteresting text. Instead, I’m going to share some of the talks I enjoyed. Have fun watching, and hopefully you’ll quickly see why you should come along with me to the next Ignite, whenever that may be.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.