Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Traffic & Link Analysis

I have been looking into different mechanisms for tracking website traffic, popularity, analytics and whatnot. I signed up for Google Analytics and those stats have been great. Additionally I'm looking at Compete.com, Alexa & Quantcast. Reading a post on Traffick today I learned about google's Webmaster Tools which gives provides info about how a site scores on a variety of search queries. Here's how my blog does :

Top search queries Average top position
1. edu 2.0 7
2. permaculture credit union 10
3. resurrection lily 10
4. arriane 6
5. laura drewett video 3
6. freeman thailand 2
7. etrade global trading 7
8. laura drewett 10
9. freeman video 20
10. kiva freeman 1
11. freemans audio 4
12. freeman school mumbai 5
13. where's the internet 6
14. freeman you tube 8
15. where's disneyland 8
16. freeman foto 1
17. wheres the internet 5
18. freeman's video 9
19. pop freeman 9
20. viagra store 43

Im not sure how I landed the 8th position for 'where's disneyland'
The viagra store is evidence of a particularly bad case of comment
spam I took care of some time ago.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

BigDog Instructional Design

SkillsCamp gave me the chance to see a variety of approaches to teaching technical material and experiment with my own. This has increased my appreciation of good teachers and opened my eyes to the field of instructional design.

At EIndia last month I met Douglas Bell, an instructional designer with EDC. Last night I called him to ask for advice on how to create compelling educational materials.

Here are some notes from that call :

Develop explicit learning objectives
Be 'needs' based
Avoid creating material that is just an orientation
Create tasks with which people will develop skills by accomplishing the tasks
Be clear - 'at the end of this module students can do x, y, z'
Learning objectives should be objective and observable
Assessment so students can get feedback of whether they're on the right track
Iterate, watch closely to see how students are responding to the material and modify the material accordingly - you probably won't get it the first time.
PRACTICE
Action based, avoid passive lectures
Look at what other people are doing, online universities, etc

google: big dog instructional design
for a site that has good information on instructional design. Maybe this

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kendara


Archive.org rocks. Anyone curious can look at the website for the startup I did after leaving Sun back in 1999. Check it out.

Digital Bridge Camp

Since Sunday I've been here in Devlali - close to Nasik - at the Digital Bridge Camp. The purpose of the camp has been to connect people working in non-profits with technology which can make their jobs easier.

During my two sessions so far I walked people thru using and setting up a wiki on pbwiki.com and creating a blog on blogger.com.

Right now Noel Hidalgo is demonstrating a number of tech tools and resources non-profits can take advantage of including
- the different kits Tactical Tech offers nonprofits
- NTen has webinars for showing people how to migrate to Linux or, GIS or using Google Adwords.
- dotorganize study on technology available for social change organizations.
- personal democracy formum also provides research reports on technology in politics.
- mobileactive.org directory and strategy resources for uses of mobile technolgoy in activism.
- greenmediatoolshed.org
- globalvoicesonline.org
- dotsub.com website for helping subtitle videos
- internet archive

After tea we're going to introduce googlegroups, civicspace, mailman and a variety of other mailing list software and free content management solutions

Yesterday, Sapna Shahani who worked at the Berkeley Community Media Center before moving back to India talked about her plans to set up a community media center in Mumbai.

Prof. Nagarjuna also gave a talk on the SELF Platform which he's been developing at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education. He also introduced Wikipedia and gave an impassioned speech on wiki culture or the culture of openness.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rapid Execution vs. Capacity Building

In the time I've been here in India I've met a number of people working at or running service companies. The most common engagement models for these companies I have seen are:
- fixed bid projects
- fixed price per developer (no transparency)
- cost plus (full transparency, hiring company can negotiate directly with the employees, the service company takes an HR fee for doing the search, plus a monthly facilities fee, plus some margin)

Of these I generally push for the cost plus model for the obvious benefits transparency brings, and the employees in India feel more like first class citizens in the companies they are ultimately working for. It also tends to be expensive as dealing with less expensive / more junior developers requires time, sensitivity and hand holding, all of which are hard to do across 11 time zones and 12,000 miles.

With fixed bid projects, often much of the work is done by junior engineers hidden behind someone who communicates well and interfaces to the client. There can be time & cost benefits to this, but because the process is opaque, the back end to these types of operations tends to shuffle a bit, which can make consistency problematic.

Amitabh Jain runs a small software service company that approaches this differently. Oriented around building teams for his clients, he initially hires junior developers and then mentors them as a group in the technologies and processes of the client. It takes some time for the teams to become productive, and Amitabh reflects this in an escalating payment structure which starts at a few hundred dollars / month / engineer and grows each month such that after a year the client is paying market rates.

I like this model because it reflects the current conditions of the labor pool,
it gives Amitabh the chance to add significant value by mentoring the individuals and teams involved, and the hiring companies benefit from having cohesive teams at a lower cost and with less risk than if they tried to hire more senior people individually directly. The downside is time, its definitely more about capacity building than executing a project quickly.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Teaching Programming MIT & IITb

I am researching ideas on how to prepare students with the skills and work ethic necessary to be effective programmers.

Philip Greenspun has some interesting
thoughts on What's wrong with the standard undergraduate computer science curriculum and has published a course on Software Engineering for Internet Applications to address some of these issues. He encourages other comp. sci. educators to provide this course as well and provides them with teaching resources.

This is the assignment list Professor Om P. Damani put together for his Foundation Lab course at IIT Bombay. I really like the assignments, but I'm kind of blown away by how much work they are and how little time is given to complete them. A good friend of mine went to IIT and said this was standard and mentioned that this class was one of three a student would be taking in a semester all with similar work loads.

Another aspect of Damani's class I find interesting is that there doesn't appear to be any programming instruction ie. descriptions of arrays, functions, classes, objects etc .. There wouldn't be time. A student needs to pick up a new language and create a large project with it in the time it would take an MCA academy to get to looping.

Tipping in India

In America tipping waiters and delivery people is automatic. There may be a few edge cases as you get closer to fast food, but not very many.

The ambiguity runs the complete spectrum here. Many Indians I eat with don't tip at all or leave a token couple of coins even on fairly expensive meals. Others - especially if they have spent significant time in the states - leave the western 10 - 15%.

The weirdness is further intensified for the broad range of prices involved. Like we have a chaiwalla who comes by my place twice a day and pours each of us a small cup of chai for 3 rupees each. I'm not involved in the financial transaction, but I'm sure there's no tip involved.

In contrast the pizza I just ate for dinner was 160 rps. Somehow I felt funny tipping the pizza delivery guy when the chaiwalla guy came and poured us all cups of chai for less than I would have tipped for the pizza, so I dissed him.

But whereas the chaiwalla has probably never gotten a tip from anyone, I have tipped the delivery guy before, so there was anticipation there which wasn't met. I feel guilty about that.