Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lord of the Flies: Hard Lessons for a 5 Year Old

I posted HERE about Nayan's decision to wear a patka and be a proper Sikh. Well it seems he's changed his mind. For 4 weeks Nayan was perpetually taunted and called "weirdo", "freak" and repeatedly ordered to "take it off" by other kids. He was very surprised. He honestly expected other kids to be as excited as he was in his religious adherence. What particularly frustrated him, was that whenever a child asked him "why he had that thing on his head" - and he tried to explain it, they ran off laughing.

We had no idea he was being harassed until last week. He was afraid to say anything since the school authorities had lectured the kids not to "tattle." Ameen went in to speak with his teacher upon finding out. The teacher, to her credit, took action to separate some of the harassing kids. But I believe it was all too late. These things can be pretty viral in their propagation. The damage was already done.

Nayan learned a hard first life lesson: fitting in is really important, and in the all white school of North Beach Elementary, he already stands out. With all the pierced, tattooed, pink haired "open mindedness" of left wing Seattle - one would think this wouldn't happen. Well it seems many humans, even as young as 5, simply are obsessed with something as harmless as a head scarf. It saddened me to see him so excited with his new haircut and eagerness to be accepted, but alas, at least his heart was in the right place. He was very logical about it, he said, "Papa, perhaps I can try again when I'm older, and better at explaining Sikhism."

Saturday Morning Soccer in Ballard

We don't yet have a mini van, but we do spend Saturday mornings at Nayan's soccer matches. I can see why this is THE world sport; the game seems to come very naturally to kids, and unlike T-ball, they really get into it. A quick video of the kids playing afterward is shown below (the gunfire audio is courtesy of Google's new video uploading software, the original is HERE):

Monday, September 24, 2007

Seth Falcon joins Hypertext Solutions

Some folks have been asking what type of individuals we are looking for here at Hypertext Solutions. In general, we are looking for star contributors in multiple areas including but not limited to the areas of: text analysis, natural language processing, distributed programming, information retrieval, and data mining. I thought it might be helpful to chat with one of our new hires and ask him why he joined us.

Seth Falcon began working for Hypertext Solutions last week. In addition to being a key individual contributor to the well known open source Bioconductor project, Seth helped lead the overall development efforts for the project and was responsible for orchestrating the efforts of over a hundred contributors scattered world wide. Seth is a known contributor to R, a widely used statistical programming language. Seth brings with him a wealth of statistical and programming knowledge which will help us as we develop beyond our core areas of unstructured and structured text handling.

I asked Seth a couple questions when he first started last week; I have shared these below:
Seth, you obviously were working on very intriguing and influential work. You could have gone anywhere, both to large companies as well as myriad startups. What was it about Hypertext Solutions that really stood out for you as the place to join?

There were a number of factors that made Hypertext Solutions the most intriguing choice for me. First of all, a small start-up was appealing because I want the excitement of building The Next Big Thing along with the responsibility of helping to evolve the development culture. Another factor is the problem domain. The search space is a rapidly growing domain rife with interesting problems. So not only did Hypertext provide the start-up environment I was looking for, but it gave me an opportunity to work with cutting edge technologies in a domain that I find interesting and challenging.

So, how do you like it so far?

A few days before I started, I received a "book bomb" from the company (don't worry, just a bunch of books, absolutely no explosives) consisting of a number of technical and fiction titles. I thought this was a great way to start communicating the company's vision to new hires. Today is day three. I continue to be impressed by the technologies that we are working on and am enjoying getting to know my colleagues. I'm really excited about ramping up and starting to contribute to our products.

More about Seth can be found on his blog at: User Primary.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

First Day of School

The other day was Nayan's first day of kindergarten. This was a bitter sweet moment for me. While I'm overjoyed Nayan is growing up to be a mature, articulate, and thoughtful young boy, its sad, in a way, to know he's growing up. I recall distinctly when I was 17, waving goodbye to all of my family and friends, as I boarded an airplane to head off to Chicago and my new college life; my family and friends were so emotional -- sad, and crying. In me, there was no sadness; I had to pinch myself to stop from smiling; I was thrilled at arriving in my new life and leaving my small town world behind. Without a doubt, when that day comes with Nayan waving goodbye to me, I'll be a real emotional mess.

Despite the teachers rounding us parents up and taking us to the "cry" room - no one was outwardly sad, most of the moms were just grinning looking forward to their precious hours of freedom. There were, however, many practical concerns. Nayan has never been away from home for such a long duration. Simply getting him to eat his lunch is a whirlwind of a challenge. Well he learned quickly. After 3 days of stubbornly refusing to eat anything but the cookies in his lunch, he ultimately caught on.

I was also concerned about Nayan getting picked on for his patka. Nayan has recently decided he will be a proper Sikh and never cut his hair. As others, Ameen and I were quite surprised by his decision, and powerful will. Nayan has virtually no role models here in the states who have kept their hair, but his dearest cousins in India all have their hair kept. Ameen, after many failed trips to the barber, ultimately relented. So it turns out no one teased him, as Ameen was certain would be the case. Our neighborhood is really full of such open minded and caring people. Thank God we don't live in France, where Nayan would have been ejected from the school system for simply following his faith.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

KDD 2007 Videos Available

The KDD folks have made select talks and interviews from KDD 2007 available online. If you were unfortunate, like me, and unable to attend, you can view the videos HERE.

I recommend Calculating Latent Demand in the Long Tail by Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine.
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