An Evening with Matz

Had a opportunity to talk to Matz, the creator of Ruby Programming language. Some thoughts he shared were, he understood language projects as typically a very long term ones, something like 50 years. That is, if you get involved in writing a new language, the project could keep you occupied for about 50 years. He also mentioned that writing a language is easy, the subjects are taught well and books are available, but designing a good language is a hard task.

It was very entertaining and enriching to hear these thoughts from him.

Shavarsh Karapetyan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavarsh_Karapetyan

Karapetyan had just completed his usual distance of 20 km (12 mi) when he heard the sound of the crash and saw the sinking trolleybus which had gone out of control and fallen from the dam wall.

The trolleybus lay at the bottom of the reservoir some 25 metres (80 ft) offshore at a depth of 10 metres (33 ft). Karapetyan swam to it and, despite conditions of almost zero visibility, due to the silt rising from the bottom, broke the back window with his legs. The trolleybus was crowded, it carried 92 passengers and Karapetyan knew he had little time, spending some 30 to 35 seconds for each person he saved.

Karapetyan managed to rescue 20 people (he picked up more, but only 20 survived), but this ended his sports career: the combined effect of cold water and the multiple wounds he received (scratched by glass), left him unconscious for 45 days. Subsequent sepsis, due to the presence of raw sewage in the lake water, and lung complications prevented him from continuing his sports career.

On February 19th, 1985, Shavarsh just happened to be near a burning building, that had people trapped inside. He rushed in and started pulling people out without a second thought. Once again, he was badly hurt (severe burns) and spent a long time in the hospital.

He later moved to Moscow and founded a shoe company called “Second Breath”. Karapetyan was later awarded a UNESCO “Fair Player” medal for his heroism.

main belt asteroid3027 Shavarsh, discovered by Nikolai Chernykh, was named after him (approved by the MPC in September 1986).

Happy Gandhi Jayanti

The Dandi March : A simple act of making salt shakes the British Empire

Gandhi had some concrete plans, steps and targets while achieving his goals. He is often known for the the principles he stood for, but this is example where he followed them through, but showed a tactical approach to achieving a goal. Many find it hard to believe as how a march can be equated to a fight, but Gandhi showed that it was an act of disobedience and when done in the same spirit, it achieved the purpose of what's achieved by other means like violence.

In early April, 1930 Gandhi, 61 years old, reached Dandi after walking 241 miles in 24 days. He then defied the law by making salt. It was a brilliant, non-violent strategy by Gandhi. To enforce the law of the land, the British had to arrest the satyagrahis (soldiers of civil disobedience) and Indians courted arrest in millions. There was panic in the administration and Indian freedom struggle finally gathered momentum both inside and outside of India. The picture of Gandhi, firm of step and walking staff in hand (shown above) was to be among the most enduring of the images of him.

Source: http://www.kamat.com/mmgandhi/dandi.htm

Letter to a teacher

This piece is famous as Abraham Lincoln's letter to the teacher of his son and there are good number of sources which dispute that fact. Regardless of that, this is a wonderful piece of advice and some thought provoking ideas.

Yesterday, incidentally, I had to recollect this one from out of blues, when I was listening to some one. Things may not as black-and-white, but I had to say to myself "For every scoundrel there is a dedicated leader."



Letter to a teacher.


He will have to learn, I know,
that all men are not just,
all men are not true.
But teach him also that
for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish Politician,
there is a dedicated leader…
Teach him for every enemy there is a friend,

Steer him away from envy,
if you can,
teach him the secret of
quiet laughter.

Let him learn early that
the bullies are the easiest to lick…
Teach him, if you can,
the wonder of books…
But also give him quiet time
to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky,
bees in the sun,
and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach him
it is far honourable to fail
than to cheat…
Teach him to have faith
in his own ideas,
even if everyone tells him
they are wrong…
Teach him to be gentle
with gentle people,
and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son
the strength not to follow the crowd
when everyone is getting on the band wagon…
Teach him to listen to all men…
but teach him also to filter
all he hears on a screen of truth,
and take only the good
that comes through.

Teach him if you can,
how to laugh when he is sad…
Teach him there is no shame in tears,
Teach him to scoff at cynics
and to beware of too much sweetness…
Teach him to sell his brawn
and brain to the highest bidders
but never to put a price-tag
on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears
to a howling mob
and to stand and fight
if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently,
but do not cuddle him,
because only the test
of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage
to be impatient…
let him have the patience to be brave.
Teach him always
to have sublime faith in himself,
because then he will have
sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order,
but see what you can do…
He is such a fine little fellow,
my son!

Magic Square of my Birthday

 

 

06

01

19

81

44

45

8

7

46

7

47

10

11

54

33

9

Inspired from Ramanujam's Magic Square

 

Image

 

The process is simple - http://nrich.maths.org/1380

But the interesting part in the solution involves seeing a symmetry in 2d arrangement of numbers like if you fold the square, the external numbers add up to the internal numbers of the facing side. :-)

2011 in Science

Here are some interesting developments in Science and Technology field that happened in the year 2011. This is a choice of some random events, but it definitely shows that future is extremely promising!

January 

February

 March

April 

May 

June

  • The United Nations holds a ceremony in Rome, declaring the once-widespread cattle disease rinderpest to be globally eradicated.

 July

 August

  • A computer has learned language by playing strategy games, inferring the meaning of words without human supervision. (MIT News)

September 

  •  A monkey sporting a ginger beard and matching fiery red tail, discovered in a threatened region of the Brazilian Amazon, is believed to be a species new to science. (The Guardian)
 
  • Feeding a supercomputer with news stories could help predict major world events, according to US researchers. (BBC)

October 

November

 December

  • Researchers at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) report the discovery of a new particle, dubbed Chib(3P). The discovery marks the LHC's first clear observation of a new particle since it became operational in 2009. (BBC)

As you can notice from the list, my choice includes an inclination toward computers, physics and a couple of happenings in India. A lot has happened in 2011 throughout the world and you can get a gist of it from this wikipedia article 2011 in science.

Happy Mother's Day & Commerce

Commercialization of Mother's day began very early, and only nine years after the first official Mother's Day had became so rampant that Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become, spending all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration. She criticized the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother's Day, and she finally said that she "...wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control ..."

Commercialization has ensured that the holiday has continued, when other holidays from the same time, like Children's Day and Temperance Sunday, do not now have the same level of popularity.

Finding A Suitable Solution

This text was first published in Avinash Sonnad Blog

Finding a suitable solution

Written by Senthil Kumaran

Presented at the conference by Senthil and Avinash, Spastics Society of Karnataka.

Avinash was a student with Spastics Society of Karnataka and currently a student with Christ University. He has multiple disabilities and suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Senthil is a Software Developer working in Bangalore. He knows Avinash from the time he was in Spastics Society of Karnataka and has been working him in identifying a suitable technology for overcome his challenges in communication.

Avinash and I started looking out for a suitable Assistive Technology for a long time and we have discovered a number of things with our trial and error methods. It was quite clear to me that Assistive Technologies will be useful for people like Avinash.

Just after meeting Avinash, I realized, a software called Dasher could be useful to him. So, I went to his house and I remember we started with Dasher. We did not know how to use it. I read and studied the documentation and it was of no avail. I also realized the limitations of Avinash then. I saw that he was able to move only his thumb and the index finger and he had a lot of involuntary movements. I tried different kinds of mouse which he can hold on with his two fingers and my search for an Assistive technology device started along the lines of finding a suitable mouse device for Avinash. It was four years ago, that we also tried Voice Recognition to see if it would be helpful. Very few people were using Voice Recognition then and I had heard that it requires considerable training to use the Voice Recognition. So I started with the Voice Recognition training and I soon realized that the software was demanding a certain accent and it was not able to recognize Avinash's style of speaking. It led me to give up the thought on Voice Recognition itself.

Our First Accessibility Device

Avinash is an avid reader. I was surprised by the way he used to read his books. He used to lie down on his side on bed and his mother used to flip pages for him. Reducing his dependency on his Mother to flip pages for him might be the first step forward. I knew that Adobe Acrobat reader had the auto-scroll option that would help in reading the book.

In his personal laptop with books loaded as PDF documents in the auto-scroll mode, the book will automatically scroll at regular pace set by us, Avinash would be able to read the entire book without his mom's help. Viola! This was our first accessibility device.

With this feature, he read 5 books completely. He read, "Alice in Wonderland", a set of 14 short-stories of Sherlock Holmes and H.G.Well's "First men on Moon".

The Adobe Acrobat software also has a reader option where the software can read the words aloud. However, it was not desirable as it was very mechanical and it was not enjoyable for Avinash.

With the auto-scrolling feature, there still was a problem. It was not possible for Avinash to take a break while reading as it would require manual intervention to stop the computer from scrolling. So, Avinash had to be constantly on his toes, so as to figuratively speak, to keep pace with the automatic scrolling of the book.

We definitely needed a better solution with more control.

Second Accessibility Device - Mobile phone

One of the mobile phones in the market had a stick like pointer in the middle and it was very suitable for Avinash. If someone placed that mobile in his hands, he was able to control it with the stick interface. So, I got the idea of connecting the mobile via blue-tooth to the laptop cursor, so that the scrolling of the book can be controlled. But the mobile which I got was slippery and also it required its cover to be removed in order to expose the middle stick interface properly.

Tearing down a mobile just to use the pointer was something I daringly tried, but proved, not effective.

We did try with controlling the cursor, but it was simply inefficient given the limited control which Avinash could exercise on his mobile phone.

Third Accessibility Device - A very small infra-red mouse

Given that mobile phone was not suitable, I started looking out for a small mouse which could fit into Avinash's palm. I got a Infra-red wireless mouse from Staples store at Marathali, Bangalore. This was incidentally the first purchase, specifically made for 'trying things out'.

I tried if we could control our original solution of Dasher with this small-mouse in the way such that it could be used like a click device. I studied Dasher again and saw that the whole operation can be controlled using a single switch, but I did not find a way to interface that single switch to our mouse.

So, I wrote to the dasher mailing list to seek help from experts. Dr. Julius who is an expert in assistive technology suggested that I try out camera mouse, which can recognize Avinash's face and thus he should be able to to control the mouse movements with his head. This was an innovative suggestion, which we had not tried in our earlier attempts.

Fourth Accessibility Device - A camera mouse

The camera mouse solution was an interesting one. I setup the camera mouse that it could recognize some fixed point in Avinash's face and as he moved his head the position of the mouse pointer could be controlled.

And to our surprise, we found that "It worked!". He practised a lot with the camera mouse solution, working in tandem with Dasher. These were the first few words written by Avinash using the Camera Mouse on Dasher.

"Education is the only possible way to enlighten the people's mind to make this world a beaieul place to live in. "

It is a from Dr. Kalam's book, "Inspiring thoughts". Avinash was able to write this down with great difficulty. There is a mistake in the sentence, and I left it consciously, because it always believe, it is okay to make mistakes.

The camera mouse was not the solution yet. Due to involuntary movements, the mouse pointer deviated frequently from the intended position. Julius suggested to us that by gently nudging it back to the specific point this could be controlled and he advised us to practise more. However, someone had to assist Avinash in adjusting the camera-mouse settings properly and then load the required software. Avinash could exhibit only a certain level of control from this point onwards. It was a good improvement from where we started with, but it still lacked something which we desired, namely the ease of use.

Fifth Accessibility Technology - Voice Recognition

Meanwhile in the Dasher mailing list, someone had mentioned that he was using Voice Recognition in composing the mail and he uses Voice Recognition and Dasher simultaneously. I approached him and he suggested that Voice Recognition technology has improved a lot in the recent years and suggested that I try with the latest version of Microsoft Speech software.

This required us to upgrade the speech recognition software in the operating system. Once we did it, we tried the Voice Recognition training program again. To our surprise, it worked very well for Avinash's voice and his accent was not a problem like before. We were just enthralled. He quickly finished the training and saw if he can use the voice recognition to control the computer by voice. However, to our disappointment, it did not recognise the correct words when Avinash was using the software. It was due to the way the software is designed. It had a huge sample space to search and it did not identify what Avinash was trying to say.

Then I set about to find a software which provides a limited voice recognition capability, something like it could do only 10 tasks for the commands we give. Given the limited and well defined set of tasks, the software may work without any problems for Avinash.

Sixth Accessibility Technology - e-Speaking Voice Recognition software

Now, I did find a software that was meeting our exact needs. It was e-Speaking Voice Recognition software. It used the System's voice recognition engine and provided a limited set of commands to control the computer. It was readily available for a nominal price. I purchased it and found that it was exactly what we wanted at the moment.

Thus, Avinash could use the software effectively using speech. He could control the scrolling of the adobe acrobat reader to read books, browse the folder to go and get a new book, Connect to Internet and read news etc.

This was wonderful, it enhanced his ability to work independently on his computer. With more practise he was only getting better and this proved to be a convenient solution for Avinash. Just switch-on the computer with with these software in the auto-start mode, if the microphone is attached to the computer, then he could control it from that point onwards. No manual intervention further required.

Seventh Accessibility Technology - Writing via Dasher using Speech

A complete solution required combining the above individual elements. Avinash had tried and succeeded using Dasher via head-mouse and then he could now control his computer using e-Speaking voice recognition software. How about the idea of combining both? Namely controlling the cursor of computer via speech. We tried and it worked again. It was immensely helpful and satisfying. Avinash was able to write on his computer using Dasher! This required more practise in understanding the way Dasher works. Over time, he gained the ability to control his computer and dasher together to write sentences effectively.

Avinash still uses on-screen keyboard to click on letters and composing words. He takes a long time to compose in this way. However, I believe with his speed can be increased significantly using Dasher, which would be as close to the average speed of one among us.

Finally something useful

This was a very good result. We both overjoyed with the outcome. Avinash's mom was free from the task of flipping the pages for him. Avinash was able to immerse himself in some creative pursuit for hours together on computer and Internet and thus be engaged with some activity or the other. Both Avinash's father and his brother, Sanjeev, are both happy with this new found capability and the way he keeps himself engaged in his studies.

It was very nice to find a solution which was useful and effective.

For me, Senthil, I found that, I took on a very hard problem in relatable space, dedicated myself to find a suitable solution. It was satisfying. When someone suggest about "scaling" the solution, I say, solutions to disabilities are person specific. Needs of each and every person is different, a solution needs to be specific to every person.

I hope this article provided a glimpse into the process of finding an effective solution for Avinash. He uses Dasher effectively for a variety of purposes, even for taking tests in college now.

This  was written  by senthil  for the book released on the beginning of Assistive Technology Conference.

i thank Senthil for all that he has done for me.

- Avinash

Here is the video of accessiblity tool in action