Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Birth and Death and Post-Mortem Evolution -- MusicID, Gracenote, MySpace and My World

It always amazes me how long technology can live after its been created, and the creators have since nearly forgotten about it, and completely moved on.

I started a company back in 1999 with some colleagues. We created an audio fingerprinting system to identify sound recordings irrespective of audio compression type, bit rate, codec, etc. If you're interested, you can read all about in a paper I co-wrote HERE or from one of the key patents available HERE. In any event, at the time I was filled with all these dreams of how far our technology would go, how it would be used all over the world; I was so convinced of our success, that I was even concerned about how my friends would see me when I was filthy rich. Well we sold the company to another company; at the time it wasn't exactly a price or situation to be thrilled about - the market was crashing all around us, our VCs were tapped out, everyone was running to survive, and we all had to get new jobs. My biggest concern was whether we'd have health insurance since my wife was pregnant with our first child. My next biggest concern was whether the technology would see the light of day.

After working like mad to realize technology whose base algorithms you once naively flirted with on a napkin in a restaurant, its truly depressing to know there is a very real chance of it going absolutely no where. I distinctly remember a moment -- standing in the shower sobbing -- distraught that all these good ideas could simply die. I then emotionally unplugged, got a job with some health insurance, and moved on; I had more important things to worry about, like the birth of my first child.

Well surprisingly it turned out the technology lived on. Gracenote started shipping it with a fancy new name and marketing schpeal. And now, after more than 5 years have passed, good old MusicDNA (our buzz word), now called MusicID, is still quite alive and thriving on this Halloween day with thousands of geeks buzzing about it on Slashdot, and making major news headlines like:

Social networking giant MySpace has inked a deal with GraceNote to use the company's MusicID audio fingerprinting technology to review audio users upload to their profiles to make sure it doesn't violate copyright. Using the technology, MySpace intends to block uploads of copyrighted music recordings; users who repeatedly attempt to upload copyrighted material will have their accounts suspended.

I might have thought it'd feel good having something I played a significant role in building from scratch take off. Mostly it just feels odd, maybe even bittersweet -- perhaps something like a tragic relationship that never worked out -- one with lots of screaming and yelling and hair tossing that finally ends in an abrupt departure -- many years later, through some random friend in a random grapevine, you hear that this ex is doing well.

Monday, October 30, 2006


I've forked off all posts related to my artwork and poetry onto a new site dedicated to these topics: deep-art.blogspot.com. If you are interested in these topics, make sure to update your RSS readers (I highly recommend Google Reader if you don't have one). The RSS feed is HERE and the atom feed is HERE. I may occasionally cross post for things like show announcements, etc. All other topics will stay here on good old Chalo Bolo.

I made this change mostly because I need a site dedicated to only artwork; I'm often handing out cards and pointing people interested in my artwork to a website - they seem to get confused at Chalo Bolo, perhaps due in part to the myriad topics. Also, I was excited to try out the new Blogger beta. One day I'll be migrating Chalo Bolo to the new Blogger beta, but so far, the G-folks haven't made it easy. The new site takes advantage of some great new features like labels, template based design, and inlined RSS feeds.

Have a look and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Show at Glow Natural Health Center

Art: A few days ago I hung a show at Glow Natural Health Center. I hung about 15 of my recent paintings. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera along so I could shoot some photos for you all. Anyway, its always exciting for me to see work hanging in a new place, especially a space with great lighting. What was particularly cool, is my friend Lindsie, who's acupuncture practice is there, ordered this very excellent wire-art-hanging system. It took me less than 45 minutes to hang the whole show, a process that usually takes a couple hours of hammering, wall destruction, and tense hair pulling. Because of these cute little efficient German made hooks that slide up and down picture wire, I was able to quickly adjust height, and hang, in an uncharacteristically calm, Zen-like fashion. I'd buy them for our house if it wasn't for the 100$ per hook price!

This painting is one of those hanging in the show. I recently shot it, along with some other paintings and have moved them to my Flickr site, so you can now see them in the splash photos and slide shows shown above.

Monday, October 23, 2006

William Utermohlen: Documenting his Descent into Alzheimers

Art: Rarely does a painter make it to the front page of a major paper in the US. Today is an exception. The New York Times is running a piece on William Utermohlen documenting his descent into Alzheimers. Its a rather goofy article in some ways - trying to almost linearly equate the resulting images w/ the progression of neurological changes. Nonetheless, the images are interesting. I hope I get a chance to check out the show one day, though I have no trips to NYC planned in the next few weeks. Here's a snippet:

The paintings starkly reveal the artist’s descent into dementia, as his world began to tilt, perspectives flattened and details melted away. His wife and his doctors said he seemed aware at times that technical flaws had crept into his work, but he could not figure out how to correct them.

“The spatial sense kept slipping, and I think he knew,” Professor Utermohlen said. A psychoanalyst wrote that the paintings depicted sadness, anxiety, resignation and feelings of feebleness and shame.

Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies artistic creativity in people with brain diseases, said some patients could still produce powerful work.

“Alzheimer’s affects the right parietal lobe in particular, which is important for visualizing something internally and then putting it onto a canvas,” Dr. Miller said. “The art becomes more abstract, the images are blurrier and vague, more surrealistic. Sometimes there’s use of beautiful, subtle color.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the Tractor in Mohalon

Art: I recently finished this painting called On the Tractor in Mohalon. Its based on some photos I took last December in Punjab on our farm. My nieces from California and Nayan were running wild on the farm. I was busy giving scooter rides and coaxing the kids into posing for photos I knew I'd painting in the not so distant future. It was a glorious sunny day with bright yellow mustard fields in full bloom. HERE's a mini slide show of the painting with some detail shots.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What is Web 2.0?

Tech, Search: I've been thinking a lot lately about this whole web 2.0 business. The phrase is everywhere, as are evidence of 2.0'ness. I thought I'd re-read Tim Oreilly's classic paper called: What is Web 2.0. Its still amazingly relevant, and seems very prescient these 13 months or so since it was published. Here are some snippets I find revealing:

It is a truism that the greatest internet success stories don't advertise their products. Their adoption is driven by "viral marketing"--that is, recommendations propagating directly from one user to another. You can almost make the case that if a site or product relies on advertising to get the word out, it isn't Web 2.0.

One of my favorite quotes of this piece:

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.

The mind set behind Web 2.0 companies is so different. These build and deployment time descriptions seem so outrageous to software folks, but if you consider that 2.0 developers are in many ways marketers, but on a deeper application level, amongst other activities -- making widgets, and hooks that draw in users, it makes sense. Here's some more:

Cal Henderson, the lead developer of Flickr, recently revealed that they deploy new builds up to every half hour. This is clearly a radically different development model! While not all web applications are developed in as extreme a style as Flickr, almost all web applications have a development cycle that is radically unlike anything from the PC or client-server era. It is for this reason that a recent ZDnet editorial concluded that Microsoft won't be able to beat Google: "Microsoft's business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google's depends on everyone exploring what's new in their computing environment every day."

And finally, what is a 2.0 company:
  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
  • Trusting users as co-developers
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models

Friday, October 06, 2006

Book Review of Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

Book Review: I recently finished Suketu Mehta's fantastic book called Maximum City. I couldn't put the book down for many nights. If you have ever spent time in Bombay, or want to, you must read this book. While Suketu can be pretty dark at times, you have to trudge through to the end to get a little light. Sure Mumbai is a mess, but its also amazingly interesting. I don't think I have ever read such an intimate portrait of a city. Here's a snippet from Seriously Sandeep, a more patient blogger than I:

The book is divided into several major sections, each focussing on distinct and unique aspects of Bombay: Shiv Sena, Bollywood, the Mumbai police, the Underworld, Prostitution, and Spirituality. These exist in any big city but what distinguishes them from other cities is their uniqueness found only in Bombay.

I agree. It was fascinating reading about the Bar-Girl scenes. I had no idea this world existed - my many trips to Mumbai typically involve the relatively benign hanging out with relatives, the obligatory trip to Elephantus Island, and some tourist wanderings. For the uninitiated, apparently there are all these dancer bar places, where woman act sort of like Bollywood Geishas (i.e. not prostitutes, but the male idealized image of a young Bollywood sari thrusting heart throb) - they master this art of getting rather sketchy but often wealthy fellows to fall in love with them; the men throw tons of money their way, and if they're lucky, eventually get a continuously challenged pseudo-relationship. Equally intriguing were the Bollywood chapters and the gangster interviews; I found the author's following of the pious Jain family perhaps the most interesting.

On the whole, I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. Extremely well written, very captivating, and very original. If I had to bash anything, it was this very dark overall perspective the author seems to have - I would be concerned if this were your only exposure to India.

For those still reading, here's more from Seriously Sandeep:

Suketu Mehta both confirms certain widely-held myths and shatters certain others. For example, I didn’t know that one of the major contributing factors to Bombay’s urban crowdedness is the result of the misdeeds of a handful of powerful builders–the Rahejas are just one of them–who thwarted a well-thought plan to improve Bombay by expanding housing settlements to the West. Also the fact that several “sharp shooters” of the underworld often change allegiances from this don to that only for cash, and not out of loyalty or conviction. Or the fact that Sanjay Dutt’s character comes across as nothing more than a frightened school boy who likes to identify with the “tough guys” in the hope that they’ll protect him from other tough guys/bullies. Mehta traces this attribute to Dutt’s experiences as a school-going boy who used to routinely get beaten by teachers and bullied by his classmates. Hence his fascination with the dons, his passion for guns, and his obsession with bodybuilding, as the author remarks, Sanjay “was built like a brontosaurus.”

His soujourn with Ajay Lal (most names are changed in the book) a high-ranking cop makes for interesting reading. I however, found it hard to believe when Ajay Lal says he has not touched a single paisa as bribe. Blame it on my cynicism or plain mistrust. Yet, it is believable on several counts: Ajay Lal was prominent in unearthing the D-hand in the Bombay serial blasts, and instrumental in solving sensational crimes. His humiliation at the hands of his own department–transfers, inquires, etc–is the price he pays for his honesty. Mehta also exposes the murky details of “criminals in uniform” aka cops who went on a shooting spree, killing even innocent people merely on unfounded grounds of suspicion, shakes you. Overall, the picture you get is that the efficiency of Bombay cops is top class given the severe constraints under which they are forced to work. The author has titled this section as Second best to Scotland Yard, but the characters in this section say it is far superior to Scotland Yard. It is definitely believable.

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