Rohit Mishra

Thoughts which don’t fit in 140 characters.

What Is Work?

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Harj Taggar, partner at Y Combinator,  wrote a post yesterday on how he got rid of his addiction to email by deleting the mail app on his phone. He says

The least obvious consequence has been the lengthening of my concentration span, even when I’m at my desk with easy access to my email. I’ve long realized that email is the biggest killer of my productivity e.g. if I’m trying to code I never stop to go and play video games but I did stop and check my email because I could justify it as work (“work” that is both significantly easier and provides a quicker dopamine hit than trying to solve a hard problem). But once I rid myself of the habit of checking email constantly on my phone, suddenly I had less of a habitual urge to check my email in general. It feels wonderful.

I believe this pseudo-work is the biggest obstacle for anyone trying to do something useful. I was a victim of this addiction myself. For a long time, I considered checking Techcrunch, Hacker News, Twitter as part of work.  It is not work. Nothing apart from the next item on your to-do list, Trello, Asana etc is work.

Do a favor to yourself. Stop believing in this broad definition of work.

United Airlines Should Pay Dearly for Fucking Up With Their Customers

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Airlines and telecom companies are eerily same when it comes to dealing with customers - total indifference. There is a horrible story at this link on how United Airlines left a 10-year child who was traveling on their ‘unaccompanied minor’ program (costs $99 ) unattended for a long time.

United was flying Phoebe as an unaccompanied minor on June 30th, from San Francisco to Chicago, with a transfer to Grand Rapids.  No one showed-up in Chicago to help her transfer, so although her plane made it, she missed the connection. Most crucially, United employees consistently refused to take action to help assist or comfort Phoebe or to help her parents locate her despite their cries for help to numerous United employees.

This is not about fancy customer service names or outsourcing. Business is a human endeavor, and this incidence shows how companies like United have become totally inhuman. I am sure there will be a few employees at United who would have done the right thing but, the those involved here didn’t and there is not even an official apology till now.

The worrying part is how companies like United get away with things like these. A couple of years back, they had a lot of abd PR when they broke a passenger’s guitar. The guy made a video on it,which went viral.

It shows how the average consumer doesn’t give that high priority to consumer service than to say saving a few dollars. I don’t understand what has led to this indifference in our minds towards customer service.

As an example, I always use Cleartrip for travel/hotel bookings. They are not the cheapest, but I have seen several incidents where the founders have taken it upon themselves to ensure that their customer doesn’t face a problem. Also, they don’t put you on hold for minutes when you make a call to their helpline.

I  hope more companies use better service as a selling point.

Women in India

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A couple of minutes after waking up this morning, this is what I saw.

A 19 year old  Class 11 girl was beaten, stripped and molested on the streets of Guwahati while she was returning from a party at 10pm in the night. The shame of India is that a significant number of people will rationalize this incident by focusing on a girl partying, what she was wearing, who she was with, and not on what happened with her. Some news channel reporters shot this incident, and it went viral on the net. 96 hours have passed since the incident, and only 4 people from this mob have been arrested.

This is one of those animals -Amar Jyoti Kalita  who, from his Facebook profile, works at an Assam Govt. company called Amtron. He has apparently been arrested. If you can fuck his life, please do so. Thanks.

There is a sad truth about what happened - though it outrages and saddens me, it doesn’t surprise me. Look at this Hindustan times headline on January 1, 2008 - Mob molests 2 women on New Year’s Day . This was on New Year’s eve. The women, part of the same family, were returning after celebrating New Year at J W Mariott hotel, and were accompanied by one of the victim’s husband.  A year before that, something similar happened at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Similar to today’s incident, that too was recorded and circulated. Lot of outrage and anger followed. Some of those beasts, all teenagers, were  arrested. To my knowledge, none of the perpetrators were convicted or their conviction wasn’t news-worthy.

Unlike most other things, one cannot blame this only on the government. Yeah, police response can be faster and they can go harder against these beasts, but one cannot expect the police to patrol all the streets all the time. The main problem is that when an average Joe sees an incident like this, he decides to walk away. Not help the victims, not call the police - just walk away. That is how 2 young people - Keenan-Reuben, died in Andheri, Mumbai last year when they fought people eve-teasing their girlfriends. Bystanders thought it was none of their business as the two were beaten to death.

What should one do? Not go out on the streets with girls. Carry guns all the time. The solution at the individual level are pretty trivial. This is where the government can do its due - frame tough laws, and hang these beasts. These people shouldn’t be treated like humans. We should do what we do to animals who go crazy - shoot them.

Understanding Linked Data and Semantic Web

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I have found the concept of linked data attractive. It seems like the right way to take the web forward. As part of brainstorming things for Allotrop, I wanted to understand the different components of  the semantic web.

You should start with this TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee.

There is a free book available at which goes in the details of the various things that need to come together for linked data to work. It doesn’t has any prerequisite, so if you want to get familiar with the idea of semantic web, then it is a good read.

If Google Had Shown Some Love to Google Talk

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GTalkAnother new update to Hangouts, now you can broadcast your hangouts to people everywhere. Cool. I don’t use hangouts, but I think it is a cool feature and will give it a try sometime. What I do use often is Google Talk. To be clear, I converse with very few people on Google Talk. The majority of the conversations happen on Facebook and WhatsApp. I am an Ubuntu user and the Skype client Linux sucks, so no Skype for me.

I remember distinctly when GTalk was the main IM client for most. Yahoo Messenger, its main competitor, was big and bloated. Like most things Google at that time, GTalk and its GMail plugin were fast, clean and reliable.

Somehow, Google just lost love for GTalk. The Windows client did not get any update and the service became slow, buggy and unreliable. On my Android phone, the Talk client loses messages in between. The GMail Talk plugin keeps playing its own game of  disconnected – connecting – yeah, we are back - disconnected. To my knowledge, there isn’t any good iPad app for GTalk. Compare that to the omnipresent WhatsApp, and the ever improving Facebook Messenger, and you will wonder why is Google not interested in Talk.

To my naive mind earlier, the reason for Google’s lack of interest was that personal communications are not a big enough market. But, Apple’s launch of Facetime and iMessage, Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, Facebook’s resolute efforts on Messenger, Samsung’s ChatOn etc have proved that my naive assumption was entirely incorrect.

Hangouts are one of the few/only interesting thing about Google+  right now. Instead  of building this we-will-kill Facebook product, what if Google had iterated on Talk and become the dominant online conversation tool.

I will update the post if I find any reason behind what happened.

Photo: flickr/hippydream

Moving Wordpress From Dreamhost to Linode

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I talked about the reasons to move to Linode in my post yesterday. Now, I will mention the resources I used to move my Wordpress blog over to Linode.

You need to start by exporting your Wordpress database to a sql file . You can do it using phpMyAdmin.

Next, you need to copy your wp-content folder using a FTP program like FileZilla.

I then followed this excellent tutorial for moving a Wordpress blog to Linode. This is a comprehensive tutorial which will guide you from the first step of signing up for Linode .

There are some errors and typos in that tutorial that you should take care of.

The correct syntax for importing your old wordpress database is

$ mysql -u username -p -h localhost Database-Name < data.sql

If you have a dedicated database server, replace localhost hostname with with actual server name or IP address. If while creating the user for the database at mysql prompt, you didn’t add the “ @localhost ” part, remove “ -h localhost”.

While editing wp-config.php, make sure that you enter the same prefix as in your old wordpress database in $WP_Prefix variable. You can find your old wp-prefix by examining the table names in your wordpress database.

In the tutorial linked above, there is a mistake in #protect wpconfig.php. It should be:

# protect wpconfig.php

order allow, deny
deny from all

The Wordpress specific settings depend on how you have setup your permalinks. You will find those settings at Settings->Permalinks in your Wordpress dashboard.

If you are hosting your Wordpress blog in a sub-directory  like /blog, you should place your.htaccess file in /blog and not in /.

The uploads folder should be chmoded to 775 and not 755.

In this configuration, you won’t be able to update Wordpress and its plugins from within the dashboard. Wordpress will prompt you to enter FTP credentials. Don’t do that. The problem is that Wordpress runs under apache’s username, which is www-data, and this user doesn’t has permissions to write to your wordpress folder. The secure way is to do updates manually from the shell. If you want  to be able to do it from the DashBoard, you should refer to this IRC log.

Basically, before updating, you need to run

chown -R www-data /path/to/the/wordpress/install/on/your/filesystem/

Revert it back to the default user after updating.

Hope these steps help you in moving Wordpress to Linode. If there is anything that I am doing wrong, do point out in the comments.

If you are feeling great, please signup to Linode using my referral link.

Hello Linode

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I have shifted to Linode from a Dreamhost shared account. My Dreamhost account was up for renewal,  and I decided that this is a good time to switch to a VPS . There are a couple of reasons behind that. First, I want to get some hands-on experience running a server.  Second, Dreamhost doesn’t play well with Django or Ruby (anything except PHP, I guess), which I need for my startup Allotrop.

My option was to keep the blogs on Dreamhost and then use AWS for my startup. Right  now, I am working alone on Allotrop, and I don’t want to spend the extra hours learning to manage AWS. Over-optimization is one of the more common mistakes we do. I will shift to Ec2 when needed. Also, after doing a fair bit of research, I found out that a cloud service like AWS makes sense once you expect traction. Allotrop is a few months away from launch, and I won’t spend any extra money than I absolutely need to.

By the way, if you are just starting out, and want to find a cheap shared host for your Wordpress and class projects, go for WebFaction. It has awesome support for Django, Rails and other application frameworks.

Linode logo

Someone Please Fix Comments

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I think comments are an important part of web. What is said there is as important as the actual post. But, comments are broken, horribly. I think they work well in sites with less traffic. But, for more mainstream sites, they are useless. I have few specific gripes with the current systems.

  • Why can’t site push to top or highlight the comments made by OP, my friends, and people who I have subscribed to on Facebook or follow on Twitter. I will be more interested in what they have to say.

  • Give some method for the OP to highlight those threads which he finds more interesting.

  • Also, pingbacks should work much better. Instead of just showing me a link, show me a snippet of the post. How am I supposed to know what to make out of it?

  • No matter how good the tools get, comments will always depend on what kind of environment and level of debate people keep up on their sites. Fred Wilson’s AVC .com has the best comment network as far as I have seen.

I have primarily used Disqus and Facebook comments and the comment system used by Wordpress, Tumblr etc. I am not aware of what Echo and IntenseDebate are up to.

Disqus is coming up with what they say is a new version of their product called Disqus 2012. Hope it fulfills few of the things on my list.

Photo Credit: flickr/missmiah

I Need My Change

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The second line translates to

All shopkeepers give this [the candies] instead of a 50paise or 1 rupee coin.

I came across this image on Facebook . Like many others, I am also irritated by  the replacement of good old 50p, 1 rupee coins with candies. I hear rumors that this is due to the apparent crisis of coins in circulation in the market. It may be true, or this may be a nice trick to increase the revenue of your friendly neighborhood  shop.

Whatever, I can’t wait for the next generation of mobile money to come here. Will Square be the answer?

Why Shutting Down Oink Is Not a Good Move

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oinkshotOink is a service, which lets you “rate everything”.  Built by Kevin Rose’s (of Digg fame) Milk Labs, Oink was launched in November, 2011. Rose’s popularity drove the app to 150k downloads by December.

Today, Milk Labs announced that it is closing down Oink and that users can download the data.

We started Milk Inc. (the company behind Oink) to rapidly build and test out new ideas. Oink was our first test and, in preparing to move onto the next project, we’ve decided to shut it down to help focus our efforts.

There are a couple of problems:

a) What can you do with the downloaded data? Can you put it in Foursquare, Foodspotting etc? Shouldn’t Oink at least write some documentation for developers on how to use this data?

b) Aren’t we burning up users by asking them to rate things and then leaving them stranded after a few months? Rose’s popularity will generate enough media that users will sign up for his next “experiment”, but how difficult does this make getting new users for a startup with non-celebrity founders.

I am currently reading Eric Ries’ [The Lean Startup](The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses ) and I agree with his beliefs about going as fast as possible through the build-measure-learn cycle. But, Ries tells us to pivot if we learn that our idea is not working. I am not sure what Milk Labs is doing here.

There is nothing unique about Milk Labs. Every startup wants to rapidly build and test new ideas. But, you also persevere with your startup. Work with your early adopters to improve the app. If you are so specific about just ‘testing’ an idea, then I think they should have mentioned in bold letters, that this is an app for testing purposes only. Right now, Oink seems as if it was built for collecting data.

I will start work on Allotrop, which will lets user list the things that they love using, seeing, eating etc. I know many startups and established companies are doing similar things, but this is still an unsolved problem. So, I will do my best to solve this problem. Like every other startup, I will also pivot if what I build doesn’t work. But, I will do my best to support my users because every second that they would have spent on Allotrop is precious. It means something.

More than good examples, I look for bad examples. I decide that no matter what happens, I will never do something like this. For me, Oink’s legacy will be of a bad example.

Update: In the Hacker News thread of the original announcement, many people have commended Rose for sticking to what he said and closing down Oink when it didn’t get traction. They argue that investors invested their money in Milk Inc., the parent company and not Oink. That is sad about our time. We care more about investors’ return than users. You don’t build a startup for investors’ returns. You build it for solving your users’ problems and giving them a great experience. I strongly recommend reading this post by ex-Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith on why he left the investment firm.

Tip: Hacker News