Hackeam ’18 – A hackathon that left a lot to be desired

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I am back from two days of sheer coding, brainstorming, strategizing and bonding. It was one of the most tiring weekends I’ve ever had. I drove more than 100 kilometers going to and fro.

When Shivam told me about the 2018 edition of Hackeam, I was not immediately excited. It was when I heard about its unique methodology that I decided to participate. Like regular hackathons, its main event is about 24 hours of non-stop coding. Unlike regular hackathons, that’s only one aspect of the whole thing. Their motto says it all:

Trek. Report. Hack. Adapt. Achieve.

This year’s theme was using technology to make a significant social change. It was a good theme — a practical one — given that most hackathons focus on bringing out the best programming talent.

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Blind cricket

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Players from the Indian Blind Cricket Team sharing their experiences at Disability Matters Asia Conference 2017 in Bangalore.

Wikipedia defines blind cricket as “a version of the sport of cricket adapted for blind and partially sighted players.” Before yesterday, I didn’t know it existed. Shame on me!

It is not every day that you get a chance to meet players of an international sports team. That happened to me at Disability Matters Asia Conference 2017, yesterday, July 28, where I met players from the Indian Blind Cricket Team. Although the conference was about innovations and best practices in the field of accessibility in software, prominent differently-abled people were invited to share their experiences. Top IT companies were invited to speak on accessibility in software, with Accenture being the lead event sponsor. The event was enlightening in many ways. I have separately written about my conference experiences on LinkedIn.

A blind cricket experience zone had been set up inside the conference hall. This was a pitch-sized area, bound by nets, where one could experience how blind cricket was played. Non-blind people were blindfolded before they were handed the bat. It was not surprising to see those people unable to even make contact with the ball. I did not try my hands at batting but watched intently when others did so.

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A blindfolded person tries his hands on batting.

Blind cricket is played with an auditory ball – a hollow ball filled with stuff that produces a rattling sound when the ball is rolled. The bowler, before throwing the ball, feels the stumps or the crease to make a sense of direction. Using their non-bowling hand as a rudder, they throw the ball with an underarm action. The batsman uses sweep-shot to maximize the chance of hitting the incoming rattling ball.

Each team has four players who are totally blind, categorized under B1, three players, partially blind, categorized under B2, and four players, partially sighted, categorized under B3. It is nothing short of amazing to see how the fielding side strategically uses this combination to cover the entire ground.

Blind Cricket is globally governed by the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC). It has 10 member countries, including all regular cricket test playing nations such as India, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, etc. The governing body in India is Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI).

The whole experience was enlightening. I think it was a great idea by the organizers to arrange for this experience. As an IT professional, I found it particularly interesting to see in reality how the blind play sports. I was already getting some ideas about certain design elements to use and not use while creating accessible software.

Leading the contingent of players, present at the event, was Shekhar Naik, mentor and former captain of the Indian team. Naik has captained the Indian cricket team to two major victories – the 2012 T20 world cup and the 2014 world cup. He was awarded the Padma Shri earlier this year by the Government of India for this feats. It was an absolute honor to meet the man in person: a humble and down-to-earth guy, always ready to make friends.

Naik is partially blind and plays in the B2 category as wicketkeeper-batsman. He told me the stories of other players that he knew as well as his own. A lot of players in the team are congenitally blind, mostly due to heredity. In Naik’s own family, 15 others have some form of visual impairment.

To sum up, DMAC was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to. I got a chance to meet some incredible personalities who have achieved phenomenal success despite struggling with even the simplest of things every day of their lives, things that fully abled people take for granted. I am glad that I now know something about how the blind play sports. This has opened up my thought process for designing more accessible software. I close my blog post with this beautiful picture where I am standing along side the Indian cricket team (Naik is wearing an orange cap).

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Mon blog en français

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Ici je suis écrit en français. C’est mon prèmier blog en français: un effort sincère sans beaucoup d’aide de Google Translate. Je n’écris pas beaucoup mots que je ne connais pas.

Mais je ne devrais pas me limiter à l’écriture de blogs pour apprendre le français. Je devrais écouter des chansons françaises et lire leurs paroles. Et lire les nouvelles en français.

C’est marrant. Peut-être devrais-je écrire plus de ces blogs.

Fun trip to Bangalore (March ’17 edition)

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Don’t let “edition” in the title mislead you into believing I’ve had a lot of fun trip to Bangalore before. But I’m hoping I will going forward.

Nishith and I went on an official trip to attend Microsoft’s March 16-17 Tech Summit event. I have nothing much to say about the event other than it was mostly Microsoft’s product advertisement carnival, and that the only high point was the session on cross-platform mobile app development using Xamarin. Having created both native (Android and iOS) and hybrid (Ionic and Sencha Touch) mobile apps, I was instantly sold on the idea of using C# to create 100% native apps. IMHO, hybrid apps suck! They suck much less with Ionic 2, but I have found the overall UX to be still behind what native apps offer. I have made a pledge to develop my next mobile app POC using Xamarin.

Since there is not much else to talk about the summit, I’ll share a few memories of my trip.

Before leaving, we celebrated Shivam’s birthday with a cake and team lunch.
We had dinner at a very happening place Koramangala Social on 7th Street in Koramangala. These jalapeño cheese croquettes were so delicious we ordered them twice.
On day 2, our lunch was Andhra meal. We had this amazing Andhra thali at Bheema’s on Church Street. It was my first Andhra food experience.
On our return flight, we hung out at the Priority Pass lounge in Bangalore airport. It was my first lounge experience. Freebies are always good 🙂

P.S.: I have nothing against Ionic/Angular. I have always absolutely loved the development experience that they offer, it’s just the end result that is most of the times not to my liking. I’d blame the WebView more than the SDK!

An updated system

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opensuse 13.2 Plasma 5.5
My current desktop: opensuse 13.2 Plasma 5.5

I have been away from developments in the larger Linux world since quite some time. I’m not a distrohopper any more. I’ve kinda settled down on my (childhood) favorite openSUSE. I’d installed version 13.1 about two years ago on my brand new laptop. A few days ago I decided to update my KDE 4 to Plasma 5. To be honest, the KDE Frameworks 5 fad hadn’t really caught my attention until only a week ago when I stumbled across KDE’s latest release announcement. I was bowled over by the screenshots! The looks, the elegance, the finesse… everything was perfect. So I instantly took the decision.

Sadly, there’s no officially supported way to install Plasma 5 in openSUSE 13.1. I tried, but ended up screwing my installation. So I did a full distro upgrade zypper dup. 2GB of package updates and a few hours later, I was on a 100% working openSUSE 13.2. Nothing broke during the upgrade and all my settings were preserved. Plasma 5 turned out to be as good as it had seemed in the screenshots.

I’ve been living happily ever after. True story.

P.S.: A bit off-topic: After months of inactivity, my Raspberry Pi is back on its legs after I finally fixed its SD card issue (caution: please seriously consider safely switching off your Pi every time). Now I’m working on a top secret IoT project using my Pi. Shhh…