Trip to Ziro Festival of Music

I’ve been to a few music festivals in India & out, and Ziro definitely takes the crown as the most memorable. Just reaching Ziro itself is an adventure: flight to Guwahati, overnight train to Naharlagun (about 15km from Itanagar), and then a six hour taxi ride to Ziro through abysmal & at times non-existent roads. Because of these roads, taxis have a tendency to break down often, increasing travel times further.

We had booked a camp around a kilometre and half away from the main stage, and the camp was managed excellently: it had clean running water all the time, bathrooms weren’t full of shit even at the end of day 4 (a rarity in the world of porta-potty installations), and the food was great, even if the camp organisers were a bit stingy in doling out portions.

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This is the “sun stage,” for slower music.

 

The short walk to the venue was never too tiring, even on the way back after a long day of standing around, and there were several restaurants on the way with excellent local food.

The venue itself had two stages, a “sun stage”, that played from noon to dusk, for slower music genres like blues and jazz, classical instrumentals and vocals. The “moon stage”, from dusk until 11PM was for the harder music to dance to: alternative, rock, rap, and electronic. Just the breadth of the program was something that I didn’t expect going in to the festival (most bands in the lineup I had never heard of before). It was great to listen to all kinds of genres for somebody like me who is not particularly into music.

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This is me with a hat, and a bunch of cute kids behind me. What’s not to like?

The quality of the sound-stage was excellent. Even though it was an open air concert, I loved the sound quality. Except for one day when the main speakers on the sun stage gave out, everything was perfect.

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The “moon stage” had a different character 🙂

And the bands were great. There were a bunch from the North East, but a lot more from all across India, and even a few foreign bands from Japan, the US and Europe. Not a bad showing at all. Here are a few I liked enough to jot down. The ones starred are the ones I really loved:

  • Oorka
  • 👏 Nubiah Garcia
  • Mono
  • 👏 Ditty
  • Small Talk
  • 👏 Sukanya Ramagopal
  • Search & Found
  • 👏 Ambushed
  • Cryptography 3.0
  • Malok
  • 👏 Colored Keys
  • Mathias Durano
  • Adi Mandal
  • Sam Paa

As might be obvious, my music tastes lean heavily to the slower kind of music, but I did enjoy the rap and some electronic sessions.

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Now imagine this shot with a Leica!

This is the second trip in a row that I haven’t taken my Leica on (this time because of fear of rains), and this one really suffered for it. I would’ve loved to photograph the great yellow rolling fields with a better lens, and there were certain shots that were just begging for a good RAW edit. Next time!

The North East definitely deserves a deeper look. This was my first trip to the region, and hopefully will not be the last!

Trip to Mahe

Last month, I took off on a short trip to Mahe with some friends. Here is one sweet video I took from the trip:

& my favourite photo:

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Even though I took the Leica on the trip, I took most photos with my iPhone X and a borrowed DJI Osmo (a fancy gimbal), and the photos didn’t turn out to be too bad at all.

There’s a great trifecta that make Mahe an appealing drinking destination in Kerala: great & unspoilt beaches (North Kerala has lots of em), cheap alcohol (Mahe, even though completely surrounded by Kerala is a union territory and part of Pondichery), and great non-vegetarian food (because of the Muslim population). Unfortunately, I was on a detox regimen when I visited, so couldn’t enjoy this part of the tour much.

I also went and visited parts of North Kerala that were near, including Thalassery which again has excellent food, and Muzhipilangad, which is the only drive-in beach in Kerala. It’s a fantastic beach even if you don’t bring in a vehicle, as I almost waded a half kilometre off shore before encountering crazy depths.

 

Short Linkblog: 10 Technology Elements of a Blockchain

The blockchain and its various implementations are a wonderful example of technology changing the world. By using a distributed ledger that rewards more people maintaining a true copy, a viable replacement to fiat currencies is now possible.

When I first heard about blockchains, I thought it must use some esoteric technology. This view was easily reinforced by how frequently academic terms like “white paper” and “proof of work” are referenced in the blockchain world. When I started digging deeper into the bitcoin stack however, I found that most of the concepts used were very simple. In fact, I now think that Satoshi was a genius not in that he advanced the state of the art in computer science, but as befits a great engineer, he combined several widely disparate but simple concepts in the computer science & engineering world to create something truly unique & compelling.

What are these concepts? I’ll try to list down 10.

  1. Public-Private Key Cryptography: for blockchain identify & signing.
  2. Peer to Peer & Multicast: Easily find and talk to other nodes. First pioneered by P2P file sharing way back!
  3. Unspent Transaction Output (UTXO) [more detail]: for simplified ledgers.
  4. Merkle Trees: for efficient storage & verification of transactions.
  5. Proof of Work Mining: Algorithmic Problem Solving as a reward mechanism.
  6. Block Creation [more detail]: Use previous block hash + transactions to create block.
  7. Building a Blockchain: Distributed order creation to avoid double spends.
  8. Blockchain Forks & Resolution: Longest chain wins.
  9. Difficulty Adjustment [more detail]: to increase difficulty with mining power, and ensure that blocks are generated in uniform time.
  10. Independent Transaction Validation: Every node independently verifies transactions before storing in pool. There is no trusted actor!

So there you go! 10 concepts that you have to grok, and then combine to form the foundations of blockchain-based payment networks like Bitcoin. This should easily be a good weekend read 🙂

 

Replr: Easy Command-line REPLs

I built a small utility this week to help anybody start a REPL in any language stack[1], with any libraries of their choosing. It’s built on top of docker, and it was a fun exercise for a couple of days to build something that’s I’ll personally use quite a lot when trying out new Ruby gems.

So instead of creating a Gemfile, making sure that its syntax is correct, installing the version of Ruby you’d like via rvm, instead, you just type in a single command:

replr ruby chronic

& your REPL is ready!

Do check it out at Github and gem install replr

A few things I learnt while building this:

  • I wanted to keep dependencies low (because this is something people will install as a binary into their machines), so I did all the argument parsing et. al. manually. It’s not that hard or clumsy at all. replr currently has 0 dependencies.
  • I used Visual Studio Code as the editor for building this, and its quickly becoming my go-to editor for every kind of code editing. I was one of the last few folks holdouts at Textmate 2, and while VSCode is still not native enough for my tastes, the breadth & depth of its editor and tooling integration is hard to live without now.
  • Speaking of VSCode integration, I’ve heavily used the Ruby editor integration to make sure code conforms to Rubocop​ guidelines. It’s nowhere near as good as Prettier​ on JavaScript though. Prettier just has you spoilt with its auto-formatting & opinionated code rewriting. I feel Ruby can really use a tool like that.

[1]: Well, it currently just supports Ruby, but am planning to add new stacks soon!

Trip to Hampi

Uma & I went on a trip to Hampi recently. It’s an easy place to travel to if you’re based in Bangalore: we took an overnight train to Hospet (& then an auto ride on to Hampi), but you can go by road—take a car or a bus—or even a flight if you’d like.

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The north side of the river seems drier, and these sort of spindly trees are everywhere.

This was one of the best trips I had in recent memory. Hampi in its heyday, as part of the Vijayanagara empire, must have been one of the most wonderful places in the world. The extent and immensity of the ruins, and the stories and legends behind each are simply mind-boggling. There are rock pillars that make sounds of musical instruments. There are huge street markets made of stone that used to sell diamonds.

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Hieroglyphics anyone?

The Vijaya Vittala temple is just a work of art. If you drive around the Hampi area, every 200 metres or so, you come to a random protected monument: it has no name, but it looks as sweet as any Roman ruin. If you think North India is teh shit, do visit Hampi: the ruins and the glam on display here puts to shame any North Indian monument.

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Monkeys are constant companions wherever you go in Hampi.

We stayed at Shanthi guest house during the 3 days we spent at Hampi, and it’s a good enough place to stay. The ruins of Hampi are bisected by the river Tungabhadra, and touristy guest houses are on the north side of the river. The south side is where most of the important sights to see are, but staying on the north means that you can take a good break from all the walking around and just chill.

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Both greenery & dry stones. Hampi is a study in contrasts.

The first day we took a scooter (around ₹600 bucks a day + fuel), and traveled around the North side of the temple. We saw:

  • Pamba Sarovar & Lakshmi temple, which you can safely skip. Pamba Sarovar sounds awesome, but it’s just a temple pond.
  • Anegundi: Chinthamani temple, which is cool. This is apparently where Bali & Sugriva fought.
  • Hanuman temple/Monkey temple. This is one of the those places that I struggled to climb up the 575 steps to the temple. Having asthma and long climbs is not a fun combo. My brain went into reptilian survival mode by the time I got up to the temple. It’s a good enough place if you just want to checklist it out.
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The Virupaksha temple. By half.

There are good places on the north side of the river if you want to have food: a notable mention is German bakery, where they have low-floor seating and great desserts.

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Old Kannada writing is everywhere.

The next two days we spent south of the river, returning by 5.30PM when the last ferry starts. There’s a truckload of places to see here, so I would recommend at least 3 days for this part as we found it a bit rushed. Here’s some notable stuff we saw:

  • Virupaksha temple is the main temple still functioning just on the banks of the river. It’s huge, with immense towers all around and has nooks and corners with a lot to explore.
  • Kadalekalu Ganesha & the Monolithic bull are cut from single pieces of rocks. The figurines have deteriorated quite a bit, but it’s still an impressive sight.
  • Hemakuta temple area south of the Virupaksha temple is a series of several temples and structures. It’s one of the first such places I’ve visited and you can spend a long time wandering around the area and taking photos of odd structures (which is what I did).
  • Elephant stables are a cool structure just outside the Zanana enclosure. I kept picturing the huge place alive with Elephants and their trumpets.
  • The black stone Pushkarni is also a good visit. You can’t climb down into its depths unfortunately, but I’ve always been fascinated with old Indian well constructions.
  • Vithala temple was the best temple structure we saw. This is the place that has large complexes surrounding the main temple, a dance hall with instruments from stone, and a Konark ratham duplicate (that has a great backstory).
  • Mathanga hill is the iconic Hampi sunset destination. It’s calm, quiet and peaceful, and the sun contrasted with the greenery and the mountains, and the temple structures leads to great shadows all around.
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Doesn’t this remind you of Roman viaducts?

There’s a lot more that we saw, but the ruins start to blur into one another after a while. It’s a place where you can spend a week or more though, slowly enjoying the old structures.

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The black stone Pushkarni.

I would love to learn more about the rise and fall of the Vijayanagara empire. And since I love to read historical fiction and alternate history, I would love to read about stories about the empire. It must have been a great place in time.