Benefits of Kayaking

Kayaking has always been one of my favourite outdoor activities, there are many life lessons that can be learned while kayaking like:

Achieve Mindfulness:

In this age of constant distraction, it has indeed become an art to have and cultivate a focussed mind, simple things that human beings have engaged in like a rudimentary conversation are now being interrupted by the ever pervasive gadgets that surround us and cloud our thoughts. When was the last time you stood in the queue while waiting to pay for your grocery without fidgeting with your mobile phone? Recent research as shown the our attention span is on a downward spiral. Now how do we take back our mind that has been fatigued with interruption and entertainment? I believe that one of the ways would be to engage in activities that create that state where we are completely engaged with all our mind like Kayaking. You hold your paddles, sit firmly in your Kayak and look at the horizon and ride your Kayak, But I believe that you have taken control of your mind momentarily, you have seized it from relentless train of thoughts and interruptions to force it to focus, you have achieved mindfulness.

Realise the Power of Now:

In continuing with the topic of Mind, a lot of us have our mind racing backwards in to the past and forward into the future, now the Kayak is not just a vehicle for the body but also the mind. In Order to drive the Kayak you need to be completely be present, I mean your body and your mind. The past ceases to exist and so does the future. It is the ultimate body/mind exercise to realise the power of Now, it is the exercise to realise the timelessness of the present. You realise your past has no impact on you, you are not a victim of things that happened before, you are also not anxious about a future that is illusive, you realise that the only thing is the present and your become an active participant in taking charge of it to realise the power of Now. One learning from this is the knowledge about the consequence of our actions by getting an immediate feedback.

Know that Control is an Illusion:

A lot of us often think that we control our destiny/surroundings going through our routine lives, this may often be true only to be falsified in the face of adversity and crisis. The only control that we do have is our action and nothing else. You are seated on a Kayak and you have a single paddle in your hand with which you can move in the direction of your choosing. Sometimes things do not go as anticipated in the water and likewise in life, at that moment we need to learn that new opportunities open up, from crisis comes providence. We need to let go of our craving for control and accept a degree of turbulence and uncertainty within our lives. Being in comfort when things are unpredictable should be a natural state of the mind.

 

 

Place: Ao Phang Nga National Park, Phuket
Recommendation: Two Sea Tours, Phuket

Book Review : Bootstrap Site BluePrints by David Cochran & Ian Whitely

I picked up a copy of “Bootstrap Site Blueprints” with a few expectations in mind , firstly to familiarize with Bootstrap which has become one of the foremost front end frameworks and secondly to really gain a hands on experience to develop an in-depth knowledge rather than surface level understanding.

The first chapter takes you through setting up the environment , then creating a basic home page with Bootstrap including few home page elements. Having obtained a basic understanding in the first chapter , the second chapter provides a step by step hands on walk through for creating a portfolio site that includes a responsive navigation bar, sliding carousels, a three column page with a footer. While performing the exercises , we also learn the basics of responsive design and the importance of development for multiple screen sizes.

The second chapter also includes a primer into the fundamentals of LESS [Lean CSS]  which a popular CSS pre-processor, meaning that it extends the CSS language, adding features that allow variables, mixins, functions and many other techniques that allow you to make CSS that is more maintainable, themable and extendable. I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the LESS primer and how we end up using it right away to customize our bootstrap installation to our needs.

With the above experience of customizing Bootstrap’s LESS files to our needs , we proceed to create a WordPress theme based on that in chapter 3 . I was pleasantly surprised how each chapter builds on the concepts and skills picked up from the previous lessons and through application we are constantly reinforcing our knowledge.  In chapter 3 we  download and use the Roots Framework which a popular WordPress Starter theme that has bootstrap integrated into it. We proceed to convert the static theme developed earlier into a full-fledged WordPress Theme. While doing this we learn important WordPress Concepts like Advanced custom fields,  page templates , WordPress Loops , integrating LESS/   CSS  / Java script using the right way etc.

Chapters 4th and 5th take you even deeper down the rabbit hole where we build a complete Business front end for an e-commerce site  along  with  product pages , here we re apply a few concepts learned in the earlier chapters while learning some new ones like writing media queries , implementing our own color schemes and designing a complex responsive layout.

The final chapter was my favorite where we build a complete single page site from scratch . through this process we end up making a jumbotron, a features list using the Bootstrap Fontawesome Icons,  a masonry layout for testimonials using java script plugin and finally wrapping up with a complete custom styled pricing table.

I found this book not only interesting in terms of concepts but it is also a tutorial that needs to be practiced and exercised . I would recommend it to any one itching to get started with front end development frameworks.

How to achieve a Growth Mindset.

Image by unsplash.com
Image by unsplash.com

Carol Dweck in her Book “The Mindset – the new psychology of success” talks about two kinds of mindsets that people generally have . One is the Fixed Mindset and another is the Growth mindset.

What is a Mindset ?

A mindset is the way we perceive the world around us , it is the way we act, think, believe and say in our everyday life.  It is the lens we see the world through while navigating the maze of our lives.

a person with a fixed mindset believes that his or her abilities are carved in a stone , that knowledge / talent are gifts are  given by nature and they are set. on the contrary , a person with a Growth mindset perceives life as a sequence of opportunities to grow and improve. The Growth mindset person knows that every thing can be learned and little changes can bring big results. The Analogy used by Carol Dweck to  illustrate the difference goes like this :

Imagine John arrives at the university to be handed out his grade which happens to be C+ for the Mid term exams , This upsets him and he leaves the university later to find that he has received a parking ticket for his car . Utterly frustrated by now due the mid-term scores and the parking ticket, he decides to call his friend only to be turned down as his friend happens to be busy. Now all these incidents have happened in a span of a few hours impacting his mood . Now John being a fixed mindset person thinks that he is not good enough in his studies because of his C+ and is utterly frustrated and feels hopeless regarding his academics.

Getting a parking ticket has only added on to the frustration and he begins to feel like he is loosing control of his life . now feeling rejected by his friend after a bad day really ticks him off and now he begins to feel insecure while holding a grudge towards his friend who he thinks ignored him in his moment of need.

Imagine turning around this whole situation on top of its head . If John was a Growth mindset person the following sequence could have happened . Upon receiving the C+ for the Mid term exam , he takes a moment to reflect . He realizes that it is the Mid term and not the final and there is plenty of room to improve . he contacts his professor and gets some advice on going about ,  he see his professors as resource persons to help him do better.  Later he realizes that he has been fined with a parking ticket , John does not react but rather thinks what needs to be done to rectify this situation , he does not complain nor feels victimized thus he goes ahead to pay for the ticket while taking this as a valuable lesson. He clearly thinks in terms of Actions to be performed.

Finally John calls his friend who ignores him and  cuts the call . John Does not get offended as he is a growth mindset person . rather than getting upset , he realizes that there must be something happening to his friend who could be caught up in something. John adds to his action items to call his friend later to check with him. Three qualities that we could notice from a person with a growth mindset that we can imbibe in our lives are the following :

Ability to Reflect on points of Improvement :

We are all good at something and not so good in many things  . Thus life is made of opportunities that we can exploit to achieve Mastery/proficiency on different abilities/talents/skills. When we  realize that we can get good in something by focusing  our minds  on it with consistency we are speeding on the Highway of the  Growth Mindset.

Resilience  in the face of Adversity :

This quality is a cornerstone of a person with the Growth Mindset. Rather than seeing himself/herself as a victim of the situation , the Growth Mindset person has the ability to turn  around adversity into a moment of personal growth and in some cases achieves maximum personal growth while faced with such situations.

Late to Get offended :

The importance of this quality can’t be stressed enough . Almost every moment in our life presents a choice of being or not being offended. There are simply exponential number of ways that we could be offended which includes colleagues we work with , family members, circumstances around us , the badly maintained local park  , the government etc . Taking offence clouds our ability to think and lays the foundation for anger, it is like hitting a brick wall with your head rather than walking ahead through the situation with clarity. Cultivating this habit really effects many other aspects of our lives including of those around us.

Now what do you think constitutes a Growth Mindset ?

Book Review : Building E-Commerce Solutions with WooCommerce

“Building E-Commerce Solutions with WooCommerce” is a Must read for anyone looking to get started building an online store with WordPress. The last few years have seen an exponential growth of WordPress which continues to dominate the CMS scene and there was a major requirement / gap in transforming it into a viable/usable Ecommerce platform. WooCommerce was forked from Gigoshop and is being developed by the good folks at WooThemes along with the WordPress Community. Of all the self hosted Ecommerce Solutions , WooCommerce has been the most extendable , usable , out of the box platform that I have used. With such an explosion , there is a dearth of tutorials to get started with WooCommerce.

“Building E-Commerce Solutions with WooCommerce” is a Beginners guide to getting started with creating your own solutions. I say that it is a beginners guide because except for chapter 6 which deals with customizing the functionality of WooCommerce , it is pretty much readable by anyone who runs an online store with little programming skills.

There are two main target audiences for this book who are Site Admins who are looking to deepen their knowledge on WooCommerce and then there are those WordPress developers looking to get started as a WooCommerce developer ,i.e. get started with developing WooCommerce supported themes and Plugins. Be aware that this book targets more of the former than the later. The Chapters are organized in a manner that is easy to comprehend and they are filled with screenshots . At the time of this review , I am using WooCommerce Version 2.1.5 and the screens have already been changed due to the rapid development cycles of WooCommerce so be aware of that.

Ideally it would be best for the beginners to read this book while doing the exercises in the sequence of mention . Having a grasp of HTML/CSS/PHP/WordPress Codex would definitely help but it is not a must[Except for Chapter 6]. For the WordPress Developers looking to develop in WooCommerce , this books definitely gives a launchpad but doesn’t go deeper, understandably to focus on the beginner crowd.With that said , I enjoyed this Book and it makes a quick read at 132 Pages. I would recommend this book to any one looking to create a Ecommerce solution with WordPress

There is a Buy one, Get one Offer currently on until the 26th March at the Packt Publishing site on all of their 2000 ebooks,  If you are looking towards learning to setup your own Ecommerce store , the time is right now.

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Bangalore RHoK creates 8 apps for better world

Bangalore joined 41 cities around the world to host Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon. Random Hacks of Kindness is a growing community of innovation building usable open technology solutions to real world problems. This is made possible by hosting weekend hackathons twice a year where experts from development areas pitch real world problems to the hackers/tech-experts and then hackers form teams choose their problems and hack over the weekend to create a proof of concept to solve part of the problem with technology.

Hackers from RHOK June 2013
Hackers from RHOK June 2013

On 31st May RhoK reception was hosted at the Center for Internet and Society. The reception was attended by 40 people including many registered hackers. The reception program was series of keynotes on various themes of RHoK vision and work. There were keynotes ranging from user experience to agile planning to experiences in Himalaya to philosophy of social impact of technology. Of course the major attraction of the evening was the keynote by Jacob Appelbaum of Tor project. He spoke about tor and some other technologies in encryption that can help human right & environment activists. The audience got a great treat when he took up questions from audience and spoke in details about each question. Apart from the keynotes there was a successful launch of ‘Project Bachchao’ at the reception. This was very special because ‘Project Bachchao’ started as a hack (led by Chinmayi) at June 2012 RHoK Bangalore, traveled to Grace Hopper Women’s hackathon in Bangalore, got incubated by Geeks without Bounds and came as a first release of first product to launch at RHoK reception. Everyone congratulated Project Bachchao team on the launch!

Hackathon:
The RHoK hackathon in Bangalore attracted 40 hackers on day 1, who took up 9 challenging hacks, after 2 reviews on day 1 and idea exchanges, eventually 8 hacks came out at the end of day 2.

There were 7 problem statements pitched at the Bangalore RHoK 

  • Accessibility cloud by Voice Vision (accessibility to web surfing for visually challenged)
  • Green Trails Project by India Hikes(a reward system to encourage cleaning up of Himalayan treks)
  • Disaster Recovery and You D-R-Y (online knowledge-base of disaster scenarios with solutions that worked before-during-after the disaster to save/protect lives and property)
  • Season Watch by Nature Conservation Foundation(visualization of data about blossoming/fruiting/seeding patterns of trees to watch effect of climate change on seasons and patterns in trees)
  • Bangalore Green Cover (an app to map and track trees around the Garden City <aka Bangalore> with an aim to make people fall in love with trees)
  • Missing Children (a mobile app to create open database of children seen begging at signals/stations that will allow searching by facial recognition in case people wish to search for missing child)
  • NGO accelerator by Saket of myshareplex.com(a match making for NGOs and volunteers to appeal for/donate time/materials)

The teams took up some of those and few of their own problem statements and presented following hacks at the end of the hackathon:

1. Glow Green & Save Life: This is simulation of traffic situation where Ambulance needs to get priority right of way to be able to reach nearest Hospital in shorted time. Satvik & Akash took up this project and developed a simulation using Google Maps and Java Script. This nice simulation shows how the traffic signals will be controlled for letting the Ambulance pass on priority basis.

2. Season Watch: This is a data visualization hack. A data set of 60,000 trees from one state of India was given to this team and the team built and app to visualize the data on various parameters, including Google map visualization of the trees. This app allows users to upload current photos of the trees, data related to the tree like blossom, fruits, types of insects, birds, animals eating leaves/fruits, growth of the tree, etc. It was a lot of work and the team took up all of it enthusiastically, eventually they were able to finish most of the work of data visualization and the representative of NCF was very happy to get the results of the work.
The project is almost completed. The team is mostly students who will be busy with their examinations this month, so they will coordinate with NCF in July and finish the work. Meanwhile NCF may use some of their work in their existing website.

3. Green Trail Project: This problem statement was repeated in this RHoK hackathon from last one. One team, mostly students of IIT-Kanpur took this up and started working on it. They worked closely with a representative of India Hikes and they were successful in building the framework and most of the functionality visualized by IndiaHikes.
The project is almost completed and the team has discussed with India Hikes about meeting over next 2 weekends and finishing the work and launch and test it. India Hikes is willing to take the team to Himalaya for a trek to test this project.

4. Non-Profit Accelerator: Saket Bhushan of myshareplex.com brought this problem statement himself and worked on this problem statement alone. This app is online match making app for NGOs and volunteers. The NGOs using this app will be able to post their requirements in terms of volunteers and material. The volunteers will be able to contribute by their time and material. No money donations are managed by this system at this stage. This app is part of a whole NGO management (mini-ERP for NGOs) system developed by Saket <myshareplex.com/np>
This project is finished and will be implemented by Saket very soon.

5. Talking LCD (assistive technology for visually challenged): this problem statement was derived from a problem statement defined by Voice Vision of Mumbai. Mr. Muthu of Enable India took this problem statement and made some changes to it. He eventually decided to make a screen reader for LCD/LED screens that can help visually challenged employees to work with the screens (e.g. Visually challenged gas station attendant). The team planned to work with Raspberry pi hardware to prototype the LCD screen reader for faster and cheaper prototype.
The team was able to finish coding proof of concept and Mr. Muthu plans to take this forward as problem statement owner.

6. Missing Children: Problem statement taken from last RhoK hackathon. The team worked on Windows phone app that will allow the users to take photos of children begging at signals/railway stations. The photos will be uploaded to online photo database (flickr/google/picasa/…) with location and time data. The people searching for missing child will then upload a photo, the app will use facial recognition software on server side and give suggestions matching the photo with location and time, thus helping the search.
This project is almost finished and can be implemented soon. Android / iPhone version need to be developed.

7. Bangalore Green Cover: Problem statement presented and hacked by Chinmayi and team. This team worked on an Android app that will allow users to take photos of trees around Bangalore city. The app will then map the tree on Google map and create a dedicated page for the tree. The user can then keep posting updates about the tree regularly. The aim of this project is to make people fall in love with trees.
The team finished the project and aims to launch this project soon.

8. Frequent traveler miles for bus commuter: Problem statement presented by Emaad, Rachee, Bhuvanesh and hacked by them. They developed an Android app that allows user to take a photo of their local bus ticket, the app will upload it to their profile on the server and give them few credit points based on the distance traveled/value of the ticket. The users can accumulate the points and hopefully some company / local transport authorities will then reward the traveler for the points. The aim is to encourage people to take public transport.
The app is almost ready to be launched.

The local sponsors for Bangalore RHoK were:

  • Center for Internet & Society – venue and food sponsors
  • Simpletechlife – event partner
  • ThoughtWorks – swags/ goodies sponsors
  • The Better India, YourStory.in, theAlternative.in – digital media partners
  • Event photos at: http://www.flickr.com/groups/rhok/