Delhi

y!Vmail - voice mail for your Yahoo! Mail

Yesterday Dan, Pradeep and I presented “y!Vmail: voicemail for your Yahoo! Mail” at the Yahoo! University Hack Day Contest, winning the award for the 2nd best Hack! (jump to the demo video )


Our team with judges Paul Tarjan and Rasmus Lerdorf

The adventure started when I heard about Yahoo!‘s Hack U event:

Join Yahoo! web experts including Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP, for a week of learning, hacking and fun! You’ll hear interesting tech talks, hacking tips and lessons, and get hands-on coding workshops where you’ll work with cutting-edge technology. The week’s events will culminate with our University Hack Day competition—a day-long festival of coding, camaraderie, demos, awards, food, music and jollity (it’s a real word, look it up).

Years ago when I was in my teens, I was an avid participant on the school / college tech fest circuit. Almost every major institution in and around Delhi would organize annual technical festivals, hosting programming contests and software demo competitions. This was where I got a chance to showcase my creations and meet other hackers. Winning these events became a good way for me to pay off those telephone bills — web development in the dial-up age was an expensive hobby!

I decided to enter the Hack Day contest just for fun; it had been a while since I participated in one of these. It wasn’t about winning this time; I just wanted to do the whole “idea to execution to demo” thing with a group of friends, and spend hours screaming at each other over STUPID hard-to-find bugs that are actually staring at you in the face, high-fiving every hour as a feature milestone was scratched off the todo-list. The reward: to be able to stand in front of a group of people and say “Hey guys, look what I made!.” (If it’s hard to appreciate what this feels like, this video might help.)


Yahoo! gave away a bunch of t-shirts, this was on one of them

3 days before the Hack Day, I had an idea about building a phone-based interface for email. The idea was simple enough to build in a day, but fun enough to make an enjoyable demo. The only problem: I was already in the midst of a “hack” daymonth of my own; VLDB was due 3 hours before the start of the Hack Day, and I was already sacrificing sleep for LaTeX and Python for more than a week. There was no way I was going to be able to do this alone. Enter fellow grad students Dan and Pradeep. I told them about the contest and my idea. While they are both expert hackers, I totally forgot about the fact that people in Operating Systems research don’t really do a lot of Web Programming: “PHP….? I’ve never…” said Dan. I pointed them to the Yahoo Developer Network site and returned to my research paper writing madness. Hopefully by Friday evening, I would have a web-savvy hack team.

On Friday, I took a quick nap after my paper deadline, and walked over to the Hack Fest area to meet my team (who had become PHP and telephony wizards by now) and load up on caffeine and sugar that the Yahoo! folks had set up for us.


They even had my favorite candy !

We split the work into two parts; Dan would build the phone interface while Pradeep and I would figure out the email and contacts API to write an email client backend. 7 hours later, we had the first version of our product up and running. We could call in and read emails. Happy with our progress, we decided that it would be wiser to go home and show up early next day. We ended up wasting a few hours the next morning worrying about the presentation: the lecture hall had spotty cellphone coverage, a deal-killer for a phone demo! Pradeep made a breakthrough here, discovering that an obscure panel on the wall was actually a secret speakerphone. Having resolved demo issues, we resumed coding and plugged in the remaining features: navigating through emails, email summarization, and email prioritization. The friendly timestamps feature (“4 minutes ago”) was stolen from my blog’s code (i.e. the Status header of this blog).

Around 3:30pm on Saturday, we updated our hackday entry:

y!Vmail

by Arnab Nandi, Daniel Peek, Pradeep Padala

“Not everyone has a computer, but everyone has a phone.”

This hack allows people to access their Yahoo! mail through a 1-800 number, using ANY touch-tone phone.
Press 0 to open, * and # to navigate, 7 to delete. We figure out which emails are important, and read them first. We summarize long emails so that you dont have to listen to all of it. If you want to talk to the person, just press 5 — we’ll connect you.

APIs used: BBAuth, OpenMail, Contacts API, Term Extraction API

Hack presentations started at 4:00pm on Saturday. I started with a 20-second powerpoint pitch, followed by a rather entertaining demo. Using the lecture hall’s speakerphone we had the lecture hall call our service. Entering the correct PIN logged me in, which resulted in an entire roomful of people were now hearing the words “Welcome to y!Vmail. You have 5 new emails…”


Me pushing numbers on the phone


Here’s a short video walk through of our app:

More details at http://yvmail.info

A few minutes after the presentation ended, the prizes were announced. We ranked second. The winning hack was Brandon Kwaselow’s “Points of WOE”; a native iPhone app that allowed browsing and creation of placemarks on Yahoo! Maps. Congratulations, Brandon!

Overall, this was a very exciting and enjoyable event; I had a rocking good time hanging out with the Yahoo! folks and getting a cool project out the door with around 15 hours of work. I end with some lessons, acquired over years of doing demo contests:

  • Be creative, but avoid feature creep.
  • Split up into sub-teams, but make sure you’re pair programming most of the time.
  • Get Version 0 done Super Super Early. Then polish, polish, polish.
  • Reuse (with attribution) as much code as you can.
  • Take lots of breaks, make friends, and have fun.

Image credits: Rasmus, Erik
Shout outs: Folks at Twilio for making the coolest telephony API in the universe!

My year in cities, 2008

This year was less crazy than last year . Nonetheless, here is a list of cities I have visited in the year 2008:

  • Seattle (+Bellevue +Redmond)
  • Traverse City, MI
  • Los Angeles
  • Las Vegas
  • Mumbai
  • Delhi
  • Kolkata
  • Fairfield, CA
  • San Francisco
  • Mountain View, CA

And of course, home snowy home:

  • Ann Arbor, MI

Here’s wishing all my dear readers a wonderful and happy new year ahead!

linked list

my year in cities, 2007

Happy New Year, folks! 2007 was a year of experiences for me. Inspired by Jason, here is a list of the cities I have visited this year:

My India Trip:

  • Delhi
  • Kolkata
  • Ranchi
  • Mumbai

My Beijing Trip (SIGMOD Conference):

  • Beijing
  • Xian

My Internship at Google this Summer:

  • New York City
  • Jersey City (I know it’s right next door, but it counts!)

My Austria Trip (VLDB Conference):

  • Vienna
  • Salzburg

Rest of my time:

  • Ann Arbor

11 cities; 4 countries, 3 continents. Let’s see what 2008 has in store for us!

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in india!

Temperature in Delhi: 26 degrees Celsius
Temperature in Ann Arbor: -11 degrees Celsius

Feels good to be back :)

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google mumbai, google delhi

Google opens sales offices in Mumbai, Delhi. Total tally: an R&D center in Bangalore, an engineering center in Hyderabad, and 2 sales offices.

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artistes unlimited: en route

Delhi people! Artistes Unlimited has a play at Kamani on the 4th and 5th of February, called “En Route”, starring Ashish and other cool people. Go see!

En Route - poster
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arnab zeitgeist, 2005

Wow, what a year. Highlights from 2005:

  • Lived in 4 cities, 2 countries.

Mumbai, Jan-April: Finished my stint as a research assistant at IIT Bombay. Kept cribbing about how sad my life was back then, but the experience was totally worth it.

Delhi, April-May: No place like home. Rest and Relaxation time.

Bangalore, May-August: The wild, wild life of a software company intern. Play foosball all day[Ok, I did do some work; it’s hard not to do work when you’re working with such amazing people!], get off work, do FreshLimeSoda+DosaCurry at Pecos/Mojos, do random timepass at CMH Road / Brigade Road, reach Guest House late at night, wake up at 10 to breakfast and VH1 in Bed. Aah, the good life!

Ann Arbor, August-Now: My first experience outside India, spending the first few weeks thinking “This is not too bad…”; and then getting caught in the storm of activity that was the first semester of grad school. Now that it’s over, I must say it was fun. Could have done better, but I’m not disappointed with how I fared.

  • Cooked Prawns in Butter Pepper Garlic for a group of hungry girls
    I have never seen a whole platterful of prawns disappear in 30 seconds. You know you got it right when they lick even the garlic off the plate :)
  • Moved around quite a bit.
    Cities / Towns I have been to this year (in random order)
    Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Goa, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Frankfurt, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas.
  • Started grad school
    Embarked on a multiyear expedition; an attempt to become Dr. Arnab. This has been the most difficult and important decision I have ever taken in my life, with all common sense pointing in the other direction. I’m really interested to see how this works out.
  • Bought my first Mac
    An old, second generation iMac, but the OS X experience is worth the money I paid for it and more.
  • Unbroke my heart
    For sure this time. Or so it seems :)
  • Spent an insane amount of money on my teeth
    If there is one advice I have to give to anyone, it is: TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEETH. DENTAL WORK IS FRIGGIN EXPENSIVE.

This year has probably been the best year in my entire life. A lot has changed, hopefully for the better. I’m really looking forward to next year: 2006, let’s see what you bring!

random update

I’m alive, out of Bangalore, now in Delhi.

I have nothing witty to write right now.

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Delhi Times

Just spent a week in Delhi, the weather here sucks big time! Hot, humid and just plain sticky. It seems the Delhi weather wasn’t satisfied with its dehydrating, scorching sun; so it decided that we shall now have the weather of Kolkata in Patparganj. I had no idea my forhead had so much water in it.

Anyway, I’m headed back for wonderfully-weathered Bangalore tonight by the Rajdhani, will reach monday morning. Funny, but I’m actually looking forward to work. However, from the lack of emails from my boss and co-worker; I’m suspecting they’ve forgotten me already. Oh well.

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