Ramblings of a wanna-be geek

How Will You Measure Your Life – Musings on Clayton Christensen’s book

Driving out of San Diego on a fine spring afternoon, enchanted by the amazing weather and the freeways crisscrossing in what seemed like an intricate pattern, I asked my friend at the steering wheel, “What would it be like to drive on a road where you couldn’t see/know anything beyond a short distance ahead of you?”  His response was prompt but deep, as if I had asked something obvious – “that’s called life“.  Clay Christensen’s book emphasizes this and offers some ‘frameworks’ to think about how to live and measure your life actions, both professional and personal.

Clay focuses on three  aspects – finding success and fulfillment in one’s career, having happy and deep relationships with one’s family, particularly with spouse and kids, and finally, leading a life of integrity and staying out of jail. The last one is interesting- it has a fair bit to do with the fact that many alumni from his Alma mater (HBS) end up there, and that Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was his classmate.

He claims he teaches you how to think, and not what to think, citing the example of how he taught Andy Grove to think about the research in “Innovator’s Dilemma” in the context of Intel. I have mixed feelings about whether I walked away after reading this book knowing how to think, but it certainly posed some difficult but life-altering questions to ask oneself before embarking on professional and personal ventures.

Usefulness of ‘theory’ in dealing with life

Clay encourages people to develop theories about what works and what doesn’t, in different aspects of their life. Having a theory that can explain what will happen, even before you experience it is valuable, since the only other options are to drift ad-hoc or make decisions based on data. Data is usually available only about the past. Relying on that data is  ‘like driving a car looking only at the rear-view mirror’. You don’t want to go through multiple marriages to learn how to be a good spouse or wait until your last child has grown to master parenthood. Having a good theory, one that dispenses advice in the form of “if-then” statements, is like having a compass to navigate.

The order of sections

Interestingly, Clay orders his sections into career, family (spouse followed by kids) and then integrity in that order. The choice of career over family is a debatable one, but Clay justifies it saying you’ll likely spend more hours at work than in any other aspect of life, so making sure you find fulfillment at work and are not making any compromises is vital.

The Balance of Calculation and Serendipity

“You have to balance the pursuit of aspirations and goals with taking advantage of unanticipated opportunities.  Managing this part of the strategy process is often the difference between success and failure for companies, and its true for our careers too.”

There are two distinct and conflicting approaches that one comes across in life – “have a plan for the next X years, know where you are going” and “take it as it comes”. Clay’s advice is that both of these approaches are valuable, and the key to happiness lies in knowing when to use which one. It is worth asking oneself – What are the circumstances where it’s best to be deliberate, to have a plan? Where does it make more sense to be emergent, to be open to the unexpected?

He provides the example of automaker Honda, who entered the US market in the hopes of selling large bikes that didn’t fare well against US competitors. While they were struggling to establish their presence in the target market, a certain lower-end almost toy-ish bike model became popular, by chance, in and around Los Angeles. Honda shifted its strategy to focusing on these smaller bikes and eventually wrote off the original business unit. This allowed it to not only survive in the US market, but also thrive in a niche segment that it had created for itself.

This balance of pre-planned measures and embracing opportunity is difficult to achieve. Success is difficult if the firm doesn’t focus on getting everyone to keep working together in a certain direction (if an incumbent strategy is working). At the same time, the same focus can cause the firm to dismiss as a distraction what might be the next big thing.

Also, shifting gears is only possible when the firm has money left-over to pivot and try another approach. In most cases of failure, the firm spent all its resources on the original strategy which failed. The same applies to decisions taken at an individual level, personal or professional, where you want to conserve some resources to be able to try alternatives and iterate, if things go wrong. Only a lucky few get things right at the first attempt, and that’s not bad. Success doesn’t depend on getting it right at the first go, it hinges on whether you continue to experiment until you find an approach that works.

The disconnect between what we think and tell ourselves, and what we actually end up doing

Firms often articulate a certain ‘strategy’, that describes their plans and intentions. But the true ‘strategy’ really comes out in the form of how the firm allocates its resources and people, at the level of minor individual decisions made on a day-to-day basis. There is often a disconnect between what is said or intended and what actually ends up being implemented. The same is true for us as individuals. Do our choices of what we do with our time, energy and resources actually reflect what our priorities are?

“The trap many people fall into is to allocate their time to whoever screams loudest, and their talent to whoever offers them the fastest reward. That’s a dangerous way to build a strategy.” 

Do our actions really match what we intend to do? A good example would be the number of people who end up in fancy-sounding consulting, IB, VC/PE positions post b-school with prestigious titles, but with no clear path to their stated goals. A number of these folks entered b-school with specific dreams, such as ending up at a CxO position in a certain industry. Clay addresses this point as he describes the example of Nolan Archibald, chairman of a Fortune 500 industrial tools manufacturing company.

“He built his career by registering for specific courses in the schools of experience. Archibald had a clear goal in mind when he graduated from college – he wanted to become CEO of a successful company. But instead of setting out on what most people would be the “right”, prestigious, stone-stepping jobs to get there, he asked himself, “What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming a successful CEO?” He made some unconventional moves early on in his career, moves that his peers might not have understood on the surface.”

In Archibald’s own words - “I wouldn’t ever base the decision (of what job to take) on how much it paid or the prestige. Instead it was always – is it going to give me the experience I need to wrestle with?”


Knowing what really motivates us

“When we find ourselves stuck in unhappy careers, and even unhappy lives, it is often the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us.” 

Clay talks about his classmates who ended up being unhappy despite (or because of?) prestigious roles in Fortune 500 firms. They had trouble finding meaning in their jobs and/or had work lifestyles that prevented them from having healthy, well-nurtured personal relationships.

Happiness in work and life comes from two kinds of ingredients – hygiene factors and motivation factors. Aspects like compensation and work environment fall under the hygiene category while the motivation factors include intangibles such as recognition, responsibility and personal growth. Too many people because they over-emphasize the hygiene factors (“Let me get a high-paying job for now, once I am financially settled, I will do what I care about”) and downplay the motivation factors. Before they know, they are stuck in a rut and it is difficult to switch gears. Clay talks about this in a professional context, but it was hard not to think of Indian arranged marriages, where some people pay more attention than required to the hygiene factors (superficial ‘personality’ traits, financial status etc)  and the motivation factors (what would motivate the guy/girl involved to stay in a long-term relationship and do well in it) are almost ignored.

Clay plays up the role of managers in arranging for these motivation factors to work out. I wonder what the managers I know think of his statement – “If you want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, be a manager. You are in a position where you have 8-10 hours each day from each person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that, at the end of every day, your employees will go home feeling like they are living a life filled with motivators.”

“When you find out what really works for you, when you are in a place where both hygiene and motivation factors are satisfied, then its time for you to flip from an emergent strategy (take it as it comes) to a deliberate one (I have a concrete plan for the next X months)”. This is easier said than done.

“What’s important is to get out there, and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests and priorities begin to pay off.” Nothing new or unheard of, but  golden advice nonetheless.

Clayton’s journey is well worth remembering here, he has had a mixed of planned and spontaneous decisions himself. He accidentally ended up a grad-student at b-school after years of consulting and a start-up, and his best work (“Innovators Dilemma” and “Crossing the chasm”), what will probably be his strongest legacy, came between ages 37 and 43. The numbers are worth remembering for people like me or my friend who recommended this book after a discussion on quarter-life crisis!

“What has to prove true for this to work?” and other important questions we fail to ask ourselves

As firms embark on something new, hockey stick charts and promises of growth are common. In all cases of failure, one of the major reasons is that the assumptions behind the promising models weren’t rigorously challenged or tested. While this is common knowledge in firms who actively try to counter it, as individuals we make the same mistakes in embarking on something in our lives. Some questions worth asking oneself before considering a new stint, personal or professional -

  • What are the assumptions that need to prove true for me to succeed in this assignment?
  • Which of these are within my control?
  • What assumptions have to prove true for me to be happy in this choice that I am contemplating?
  • Am I basing my position on intrinsic or extrinsic motivators? What evidence do I have?
  • Is there a way I can swiftly and inexpensively test if these assumptions are valid? How about making sure I am being realistic about the path ahead of me?

Life Investments cannot be sequenced

Some of us think of life as a progression – thinking about taking care of aspect X for a while and then turning our attention to aspect Y. That rarely works well in practice.

“The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward.”

This can tilt and skew your priorities. Investing time and energy in building a long-term happy relationship with your spouse or kids are things that don’t offer the same immediate sense of achievement that a fast-track career does. It takes decades of investment before you can put your hand on your hips and say “I have had a great married life” or “We raised our kids well”.

The consequences of neglect aren’t immediate and quickly visible either. Few people know of the scientific study that discovered the number of words spoken to an infant and the manner in which they are spoken (“Language Dancing“, something that I suppose Indian mothers are naturally good at) make a huge difference in the child’s cognitive abilities all the way into their teens.

What job did you hire that milkshake for? – Understanding what is required of you in a relationship

This is an interesting case study on how Clay helped a breakfast chain increase its milkshake sales not by standard means such as knowing what customers to target or what offers/changes would lure them, but through a deep understanding of what ‘purpose’ the milkshake was being used for by these customers in the first place. The findings were far from obvious at first, but intuitive given that Clay had framed the problem in terms of “what job is it being hired for?”

Clay observes that a number of unhappy marriages are actually based on selflessness. He cites the example of a husband who comes home to a tired wife attending to young kids, and gets to work immediately with the dishes and household chores without her knowledge, only to realize that what she needed the most was some adult to talk to after a day spent around restless infants. The chores are the least of her problems and him doing them only adds to her guilt.

“If you study marriages from the job-to-be-done lens, we would find that the spouses who are most loyal to each other are those that have figured out the job that their partner needs to be done – and then they do the job reliably and well.”

“A relationship is not about finding someone who you think is going to make you happy. The path to happiness is finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to. It is natural to want the people you love to be happy. What can often be difficult is understanding what your role is in that.”

On Parenting

Think of development as composed of three components – resources, processes and priorities. Parents today are spending too much time and effort making sure their kids have the right resources (enrolling them in all sorts of classes, doing work for them etc) while hindering their kids from figuring out the right processes. The ‘processes’ are the ways in which the child realizes her priorities and what to do with the resources at her disposal.

“Start early by finding and giving them simple problems to solve on their own, problems that can help them build their processes and a healthy self-esteem. As I look back on my life, I recognized that some of the greatest gifts I received from my parents stemmed not from what they did for me, but from what they did not do for me.”

Encourage your kids to stretch – to aim for lofty goals.  Urge them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again. Celebrate failure if it’s a result of a child striving for an out-of-reach goal.

Not placing enough importance on the schools of experience – both as individuals and firms

Clay cites the example of fighter-pilots who are selected based on intensive tests that are intended to weed out all but the most gifted, the most skilled. What is really happening here is that the test experience and preparation for the test shapes how the pilots deal with setbacks or stress in high-stakes situations. What’s being mistaken for “high skills” is a “great skills along with a high degree of exposure to certain experiences”.

A survey among hiring managers, showed that by their own admissions, they didn’t do a good-enough job of picking the right candidates. Hiring managers who were interviewed said that 33% of their choices were superb, 40% were adequate and 25% turned out to be mistakes. Considering how important hiring is to a firm, the numbers are surprising. Clay attributes it to conventional processes not relying

Nolan Archibald’s example earlier is a good case-study of how it pays off to make decisions based on a possible experience-portfolio rather than superficial indicators.

On family culture and integrity 

When it comes to family culture, the examples we set for our spouse and kids are important.

“Most of us want to try to be consistent. But in the pressures of day-to-day living, that can be tough”. Left unchecked enough, “once” or “twice” quickly becomes the culture.

You know that several aspects in life will often switch to autopilot mode. You need to properly program the autopilot in your life and family by setting the right examples.

On marginal cost v/s full cost

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Carol Lewis

We think in terms of marginal costs all the time, the incremental difference a small step will make. But we end up paying the full price, whether we like it or not.

Following your principles 100% of the time is easier than doing it 98% of the time.


How to identify and stick to a life-purpose

There are three parts to a purpose – likeness, commitment and metrics. Sketch out the “likeness”, which is like an outline or negative of what you see yourself and your life as. This will serve as the blueprint and guiding compass for your decisions and actions. Put in commitment to making that blueprint come to life. Instill the right metrics to track yourself, being careful not to get caught in the caveats discussed above.

“Take the time to figure out your life’s purpose, and if you do so, you’ll look back at it as the most important thing you ever did”

It is worth nothing that Clay advises his students to do this while they are still at school or early on in their post-school lives.


Credits: AT for recommending the awesome book,  Ashish for instilling the book summarizing practice and Sujeet for reminding me often to revive this blog.





















Getting infected

“He didn’t sleep for four nights. Four whole nights. And if that trip had been his idea of a vacation, where, the psychologist wanted to know, did he work ? “

“He didn’t want to fight for petty wins when there was a bigger game in town. And the bigger game was pinball. You win one game, you get to play the next. You win with this machine, you get to build the next. Pinball was what counted.”

Its a tough task not to relate to the characters and the story that Tracy Kidder unfolds before you in The Soul of a New Machine. He depicts heroism in systems engineering and makes circuit designing sound like the sexiest job ever. He ensures that you, despite being a mere reader, get the kind of adrenaline rushes the 30-odd team did as they set out to build the next-generation 32-bit minicomputer over that one year period.

The book has a Pulitzer prize to its credit and has been called the “original nerd epic” by many critics. Given all that, attempting to write a review would be sheer folly. Several people have done a great job of it before. Below however, is an attempt to log what I learnt from the book and what I enjoyed the most. The post is long and verbose, but it doesn’t count.  The hope is that the (usually non-existent) reader will be inspired somewhere midway to give up on the post and grab the book instead.  :)

So what makes the book so likable ?

Bringing out something that is Transcendental

The technology that the book talks about is far outdated today. From minicomputers to  the age of handhelds, we have long taken for granted technology that the protagonists considered path-breaking. However, Kidder’s observations about the way engineers work, what keeps them driven, how teams deal with long-term challenging projects still remain valid in the current world. Even technically, there are certain insights he provides which really amaze you as they come true now . For instance, “A time would probably come when components would operate so quickly, that the distance the signals would have to travel would ultimately affect intimately the speed of most commercial computers“. Its something we take for granted now, but to have this insight 30 years back is brilliant.

The Author, his narration, his attitude
Hey, its a journalist trying to understand the computer industry. So on first thoughts, one probably doesn’t expect much of an insight on the technical side. I expected the book to be a “view from 20,000 feet above” of the intricate process. Wrong. The book taught me more interesting things than any course on computer design or architecture I took. The author claims that he struggled with the technical details, but eventually, in the book he brings them out as the most amazing analogies teachers could give. From microcode sequencing,page faults, instruction caches, logical  address spaces, privilege levels and protection rings – he has a simple, handy explanation in day-to-day parlance for anyone. He makes sure that not knowing the technicalities does not prevent the reader from appreciating the challenges that the engineers faced.

A peek into corporate dynamics
For those engineers who look at management with a sneer, this book is only bound to magnify that feeling. On one hand you have the brightest of people ever, facing impossible deadlines in designing something thats ground-breaking. On the other, there are the managers who seem to be practicing what they call the “Mushroom theory of management” – Keep them in the dark, feed them shit, and watch them grow.

  • A logic analyser costs ten thousand dollars, overtime for engineers is free.”

Bringing out a good technical product is about a lot more than making a good design  and getting it manufactured – thats the lesson one learns from the protagonist. Ah, the protagonist ! He is an engineer at heart but when circumstances demand, he strategizes, cooks up plots and gets more adorable with every move he makes. He is a perfectionist but also he knows when to move with the times, and write on his board – “Not everything worth doing is worth doing well”.

Dating the engineers, Up Close
Every now and then, you get something to keep you in awe of those people. It could be when the main designer spends twenty hours in the library hunting for quotes and flourishes to add to his ISA specs.

  • “They revealed the class of feelings that Wallach brought to his job. And with these, he had signed his name to his piece of the new computer.

Or it could be how the midnight programmers approached life.

  • Taking that machine apart was a fantastic high. Something I could get absorbed in and forget I had these other social problems.”

They talk and live engineering like a religion and their passion is contagious.

  • Writing microcode is like nothing else in my life. For days, nothing comes out. The empty yellow pad sits in front of me,reminding me of my inadequacy. Finally it starts to come. I feel good. That feeds it, and finally I get into a mental state where I am a microcode writing machine.”
  • “The pressure, I felt it from inside of me.”

People (yours truly is a good example) keep fumbling and keep flailing around trying to figure what leadership is. In that regard, the protagonist here is a rather uncanny phenomenon as a leader. He leads by example, but he also does a lot to turn his own team against himself. No one really knows whats on his mind. And yet, he evokes respect.

  • West is interesting. He’s the main reason why I do what I do.”

Working in teams
Team dynamics can be interesting and confusing at the same time. The book teaches you to accept it in whatever form it comes.

  • “Often Guyer leaves at around three in the morning. Veres comes in a few hours later, looks at Guyer’s notes in the logbook, the pictures he has taken on the analyzers. And he instantly knows whats wrong and how to fix it. They make a marvelous debugging team, but only when not working together.”

It happens. To even the best of us. Accepting it seems to be the best way to deal with it.

  • “I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.”

Being distraught, yet being happy
Theirs is a tough industry. To put it in the words of the author, the industry’s short product cycles lend projects an atmosphere of crisis.Computer
engineering is arduous in itself, and this makes it more intense. Hours are long; emotions get taxed. The technology changes every year and its hard to keep up with the kids fresh out of school. A long-term tiredness can easily creep over by your thirties.

The fun part is that these guys still discover things that keep them going. Be it messing with each others’ files, programming ridiculous AI onto each others’ terminals or getting yourself an unencrypted copy each time your boss sends something encrypted to his server.
Masochists they are, but that doesn’t stop them from being fun people to be with.

Random Musing – Of computers, engineering and life

  • The protagonist can lie to himself  :)   – “I gotta keep life and computers separate, or else I ll go mad.”
  • Time in a computer is an interesting concept. When I sit in front of the logic analyzer, twelve nanoseconds is a big deal for me. And yet, when I realize how much longer it takes to snap my fingers,I have lost track of what a nanosecond really means.”
  • She’s romantic, foolish, unrealistic – everything an engineer’s not supposed to be. But I like her.”
  • He could write two to three hundreds lines of code in his mind, but he had a hard time remembering his own phone number.”
  • “I don’t care how computers get sold. I just build them”

You could say I am infected.  Seldom do you find a book which makes you fall in love with every alternate line.  For the reader (again, if existent) who bothered to read it all the way up to here – here is a list of books next on the infection spree (oh yeah, I am pretty free this semester or at least thats what the assumption is ) – It would be great to hear from you if you have views on the below list or other recommendations -

Getting OpenEmbedded accepted for GSoC 2010

It has been a long period of hibernation for this blog and its now time to make good use of the aggregation privilege on Planet LinuxToGo that Florian has given me. GSoC 2010 announcements are out, and mentoring organizations have now about a month or so left to plan out their applications. This blog post is to discuss the possibility/feasibility of Open Embedded applying as an independent mentoring organization for GSoC 2010 and to gather views/comments/ideas on the same. Speaking to a couple of OE developers on IRC, this sounds like a decent idea for various reasons that I shall elaborate on here ..

Why OE should apply as mentoring organization for GSoC :

1. Lots of good ideas needing implementation
Chris ‘kergoth’ Larson came up with an interesting compilation of tasks and concerns list for OE [0]. Another current source for ideas is the uservoice page, though most agree that it needs more promoting [1]. So yes, there are lots of things that could make up for interesting OE project ideas,though we need a better compilation.

2. Better exposure for the community
GSoC is an ideal place to get prospective developers and possibly do some good community propaganda.

Why OE makes for a good organization suitable for acceptance in GSoC :

1. In 2006, OE was a part of GSoC under handhelds.org. The community and project are now large enough and well-supported to apply independently.

2. The prime requirement an organization should meet for GSoC acceptance is good ideas and good mentors. The latter, I am confident, are abundant in OE. From my experience as a GSoC student with an (unofficially) OE project, we have a large number of people in the community who would make amazing mentors. Some of them have already been mentors earlier, either for other communities or in 2006. As to good ideas, as mentioned earlier, we have some head-start,with a couple of places describing what is needed. What we need is a perhaps a page on the OE wiki, putting them all together. Ideas could be segregated into two categories – the recipe based ones (though there might be issues with this) like a gnome OE port and the ones which involve python hacking/working on the bitbake core.

What needs to be done :

1. We need to set up a Wiki page or some space where we can call out for mentors and prospective ideas.
2. Figure out whether GSoC projects involving just recipes would be acceptable to Google and if we have good enough ideas for that category. My own project last year was of that kind, but then as rightly pointed out by someone, I was just lucky. Projects that involved hacking on the bitbake core will surely be well-received.
3. Are there other open-source projects that OE could act as a umbrella organization for ? Being an umbrella org for smaller projects with good ideas greatly increases the chances of acceptance.

With organization applications typically starting in the first week of March, we have about a month to go to do the above. If you are an OE developer reading this, comments/suggestions /flames are more than welcome.

Disclaimer: I am keen on seeing OE get accepted in GSoC this year,but that has nothing to do with any aspirations of applying as student/mentor. A summer intern with Microsoft Research implies that I will be officially out-of-touch with open source/GSoC. I do however have vested interests in the sense that, I would love to see OE reaching out to more people and perhaps some OE contribution from my univ. and country.

[0]: Tasks: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/112715/Documents/OpenEmbedded%20Tasks.html/index.html
One more here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/112715/Documents/OpenEmbedded%20Usability%20Concerns.html/index.html
[1]: http://openembedded.uservoice.com/

Science Fiction – Echoes from the Unknown

There is a lot to write about the Shaastra gone  by (for those uninitiated,  it is the technical festival of my university,IIT Madras and one of a kind in India), but only if the typical CSE assignment drills would stop …. :( But there is Science Fiction to talk about, where I got the first prize in rather queer circumstances. It isn’t usual for a contestant to come to know of a writing contest midway through it, to run to the venue midway and somehow jot down stuff while supposedly overseeing builds. Well, I had fun :)

Thanks to a classmate,I have my story ready to be put up here. So here I go to log my story below before I lose it like I did last year. I am satisfied that I could point somewhat to how life is getting technologically interesting but alarmingly mechanical with time. To the rest, well, comment on it and I shall know.

Credits :

1. Amrita – The co-ordinator who took the pains to ask me to write, when I was totally clueless about the event, maybe just because my story placed second last year.

2. Arun Chaganty – For being stubborn on typing out the story and “proving his vettiness.”  (Someday, I shall understand how his personal scheduing algorithms manage to bring out fantastic results while being so pointless on the face of it.)

3. SuperVol Subhashini and my co-coordinator Vijay, who took care of the lab setup for the two hours that I was furiously scribbling away.

The Story:

It was built by the human race for human research and supposedly comprised of humans. Yet, there was nothing ‘human’ about this place. Eureka, one of the most awe-inspiring technological breakthroughs of it’s times was a bundle of paradoxes, in more ways than one. This giant space-ship laboratory was the cradle of numerous astounding discoveries in space-time relativity. But the discoverers themselves had no clue of space and time themselves as they worked away to glory round the clock in a setup that floated across the cosmos at gigantic speeds.

Inside one of the special research chambers of Eureka, it was yet another day for Zora. Well, it was ‘just another day’ for this beautiful and composed lady, even as each day witnessed her coming up with some milestone invention in human-embeddable chips. “If only we could embed the infinite computational resources that we make use of every moment, integrating it with our brains and empowering it…”, she would always say, “there would be no limits to what we could achieve.” Her ideas and work made her among the most respected and looked up to scientist in Eureka, and that was enough to keep her fuelled and working non-stop. The fact that her loved ones thought she was out there making machines of men, having already turned herself into one in the process didn’t make much of a difference to her.

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GSoC 2009 – Winding up…

As Google Summer of Code 2009 draws to a formal close, its time to sum up all my work and the fun I had with my project, thank the people who have stood by me all this while and hopefully give some insights into the project. Read the rest of this entry »

GSoC Updates – Report 4

This post briefly sums up the work since my last report, when I got a basic Maemo-Angstrom filesystem image working.Since then I have focussed mainly on the following two issues -

1. Improving the Hildon Desktop environment and adding useful applications - The improvements included getting the application menu in hildon-desktop working, fixing some crashes and detecting a couple of OE related packaging issues, which led to those crashes. I have also added support for all the hildonised gpe applications from Diablo extras-devel, and some of the Fremantle Stars applications – omweather, maemo-mapper etc. Work on modest and other Fremantle apps is in place.

2. Restructuring my work -The earlier repo at http://github.com/rkirti/maemo-oe/tree/master required the user to manually add some recipes to the OE tree due to core components like glib/gtk etc. I have now changed and restructured this to create a proper OE overlay, just like jalimo does for instance, and the new overlay which can be used on top of a clean OE tree is hosted  at - http://github.com/rkirti/maemo_angstrom/tree/master

Instructions for usage have also been documented here.Flames/suggestions/comments are as always welcome here or on IRC. :)

To sign-off, here a couple of screenshots of the newly added applications.

Hildon Desktop on beagleboard from the VNC viewer

Hildon Desktop on beagleboard from the VNC viewer

Omweather running on Angstrom as seen through the VNC viewer

Omweather running on Angstrom as seen through the VNC viewer

Update 1:  I am currently testing my work on the Beagleboard, so interested beagleboard users can look at this download page , for the latest image to test with.

Something to remember…..

While its been a long while since I last had a proper update here and there are quite a few things that need/deserve to be written about, I shall keep them pending for the meanwhile, thanks to GSoC work and other stuff. What I can’t keep off and am compelled to spend a couple of minutes recording them here is the following two random musings (not mine!) which seem to be hovering around me too much :)

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GSoC Updates: Hildon-on-Angstrom

Since my last post, I have been working on duplicating the hildon-desktop environment that I achieved on my laptop, on an Angstrom base on the beagleboard adding the needed bitbake recipes.

I now have a hildon-on-angstrom image which I could get ready about two weeks back. The image has hildon-desktop, some plugins,some supplementary apps. like Maemopad and Maemopadplus and so on. This forms the basic of a maemo-angstrom-image. I am currently testing it on a Beagleboard.

The apps boot well, but there are issues like locale support not being present and difficulty in loading icons which I have working on for the last week. Both the errors seem to be arising out of lack of support in the image. I am building a file-system image with gpe-image/ x11-gpe-image in Open Embedded as a base. The work over the next week will involve finishing cleaning up these issues with the apps currently, documenting the status, adding the maemo connectivity elements (already in progress), and some base packages.

The work on the recipes for the packages, the conf. files and image recipe can all be found at my github account:


Some screenshots of Maemo apps. running on my Beagleboard viewed with the vnc viewer :

Hildon Desktop via VNC

Hildon Desktop via VNC. Basic plugins supported, but lack of locale support is the show-stopper

Application Menu

Application Menu

MaemopadPlus, screenshot taken from Remote Desktop Viewer

MaemopadPlus, screenshot taken from Remote Desktop Viewer

As the screenshots show, the basic framework for Maemo support is ready, but the UI/apps. here need a whole lot of refining to get it to the same states as those running within Scratchbox. Comments/Suggestions/Flames/ Request for particular apps. to be supported in OE would be most welcome!

GSoC Updates – Hildon and beyond


This post is meant to be a summary of my work over the last fifteeen days and a discussion on what follows, the issues I face and so on.  I have finally managed to get Hildon desktop running outside scratchbox, something I was stuck with when I gave my first report.  I  have a certain sort of UI running at the moment, and the recipes for which are done and will be released after testing this week. They are currently hosted at http://github.com/rkirti/maemo-oe/tree/master

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NoteBuddy – A GVim plugin for easy note-taking

Laugh at me if you wish to, or call it heights of craziness.

I wouldn’t be surprised,since most of my classmates (and non-classmates too)  find my addiction for writing well-highlighted notes in >= 3 colors ridiculously amusing anyways.But then, old habits die hard, and as I find myself  using Vim  these days for everything I can, I miss the good old luxury of color and personalization of notes that pen and paper provide. I could switch to a normal word-processor and use the M$ style WYSIWYG formatting – but that would be like tasting bitter-gourd after fig ice-cream ;)

So I tried to see if I could do some quick job to make those additions to Vim today- keeping  a couple of my notebooks with me  to see the requirements. This is what I could get -

The Plugin in Action - Note the template with User Details

The Plugin in Action - Note the template with User Details

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