A sunny Saturday at BeaglesLoft.

Siva sent me, Krace, Kartik and Sayan an email asking whether we would be available on the 7th of June to volunteer for the first offline Django meetup. I was only too happy to receive the invitation and replied saying “I believe I can make it”.

The next mail in my inbox is where I found TechBuilders. The email was from the BangPypers mailing list posted by someone called Niranjan. This is the link that was in the mail:

http://techbuildersbayesianreasoning.splashthat.com/

Even during my time at HasGeek last year, I used to keep wondering why isn’t there any learning related to Math happening among all these Computer geeks who were working on Python, JS, Ruby, etc. I even had a decent conversation regarding this with the one person whom I found to be interested in the Math aspect of computers. His name is Abhijith and we became friends at the Fifth Elephant conference last year when he signed up to volunteer for it.

Suffice to say, visiting that link, when I saw that these people were trying to bring Math and Computer Science together, I knew it was something that I could not miss at any cost. I sent Siva and the rest of them an email then and there itself saying I had stumbled upon this TechBuilders meeting and might not be able to make it for the Django workshop.

I love teaching and hence was extremely upset about missing the Django workshop. However, on the other hand, I felt like the TechBuilders people had read my mind. It was, as Paulo Coelho would say, a calling. I could not resist going. Also, I had to give up on my Saturday writing as well.

It was being hosted at Haggle’s office. The people working at Haggle were the ones behind BeaglesLoft (a playground for creators and innovators) and also behind TechBuilders, their initiative to teach the Bangalore tech community something that it is lacking. The office was just a 5 minute walk away from my home.

The mail which we received from Asya, the quick witted community manager at BeaglesLoft, on the day before had asked all of us to be there at the venue exactly at 10:30AM and not to follow the “Indian Standard Time”. Little did they realize the inevitable force they were reckoning with. The meeting started at 11:00AM.

The event was supposed to start off with Sandipan from JustDial giving a talk on how they were using Bayesian theorem at their company. Unfortunately, he had some emergency and could not make it. So Niranjan, who is the founder of Haggle, took the stage and started off by introducing us to what the whole deal was about.

The thing that I liked about Niranjan was that he was not pretentious. He really observed Math was not a part of the IT culture, along with the liberal arts being treated as a completely separate entity as well. He wanted to create an atmosphere where these things would co-exist and would value each other’s importance. There, he was doing it.

Not just that. I have heard many people twisting their words to indirectly mean “spread the word”. Niranjan directly told us to do it. His conviction to doing this impressed me. Apart from taking the initiative to build the community, I must say he is a really good teacher too. He taught me Math and that, is amazing.

If you were to meet me before my 4th year of college, I would have told you, without question, that I was going to become a Math teacher. So when he talked about Mass Probability function and the Bayesian theorem in a way that I could understand after more than 2 years of staying away from it, it felt really great.

You must read his series of blog posts on Bayesian Reasoning here: http://beaglesblog.tumblr.com/tagged/techbuilders

We were asked to read them before attending the meetup. Having been the college kid, I put it to the last moment as usual. An hour before the meetup! I finished off all the posts within 45 minutes and it was time to leave in order to reach the venue on time. That dreadful feeling of not having revised what you had learned that dawns upon you on the morning of the exam day was on me. I know, it is funny. But to know that it was not something to worry about, made me feel even more excited to attend the gathering.

Towards the end of his session, he proposed a few use cases where Bayesian reasoning could be applied so that we could break up into teams and work on modelling them.

One was about a Rikshaw driver. Suppose you were one and someone came and asked you to take him to Jayanagar, how would you apply Bayesian reasoning to know whether it would be profitable for you to take him there.

Second one was about the problem given on the blog itself, identifying a person whom you meet in the US as being from Bangalore or not.

The third one was the famous Monty Hall problem. Even though I say it is famous, it was the first time I was hearing of it. It is an interesting problem which makes you realize why Math ain’t your gut feeling. It is a bit crazy, but yeah, read it.

We decided to then split up into three teams of 5 each. The decision was followed by an interesting 5 minutes of trying to figure out an algorithm to split us up. Whether the count should start from 1 and go until 5 before the 15 us were through or whether it should start form 1 until 3 until all of us were through. The confusion was funny enough to have while we were learning Math!

I was in team 2 consisting of:

Sandeep, an IIITB graduate who was going to join Haggle in a few months. He was sharp. The moment we gathered around a table to “brain-buzz”, he came up with this idea of building a recommendation system which would analyse the social media streams of users and figure out what sort of restaurants he preferred to eat out of.

Ashray, who was working with Haggle already. A strong and silent person, I would say. He was as keen as the rest of us on learning together.

Ashutosh, who is Sandeep’s junior at IIITB. He is awesome. When I was struggling to get the basics really strong, he took my pen and paper from me and taught me the reasoning from step 1 patiently, with examples and proper explanation. I hope to see more of him over the coming days.

Last but not the least, Fasil. I would define him as exuberant, but not the BSing kind. He was very outspoken but knew exactly well what he was speaking about. He was working on his own startup.

By the time we had discussed and modelled our recommendation system, it was time for presentations.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the drinks and biscuits that were there all along! No, no, seriously. What kind of a chump would I be if I did not mention this after eating 6 of those delicious cream biscuits right under the nose of my team mates while they were busy building the recommendation system!

Asya, Reya and Tania made sure we had the best atmosphere for thinking and solving the problems at hand. These are the times when I really see the importance of good community managers. They make other people’s lives easier. I never saw myself like that when I was at HasGeek I guess. I just hope others did at least.

It was time for the presentations and team 1 was the first one to go in front. They had build a model around detecting the person who was sarcastic. After analysing manually a few 100s of a person’s tweets and identifying the sarcastic ones in them, each person was assigned a probability of being sarcastic based on how many times he was sarcastic among his past 100 tweets.

This was done for more than a few users. After having built the prior data, when a new tweet came in, you could use the Bayesian reasoning to find out what was the probability of that tweet being sarcastic given it was from a particular user. They had a few numbers as well for demoing this.

Second one was us. Well, I have already explained what we did. The interesting point that Niranjan made was to use more than just words for our probability calculation. Because if we were to just look at words like “Pizza”, “Burger”, etc, then we would miss out on differences between sentences like “I hate pizza” and “I love pizza”.

Once ours was concluded, team 3 came in. They had a funny use case. I have learnt to take things in a lighter note and I hope people don’t jump around reading the use case. It was about the probability of a girl going out with you given the fact that she smiled at you. As funny as this was, for a few of them to think of something like this, would mean that the social media that we have today would have already gone miles ahead in terms of taking advantage of  us on similar terms. It was scary.

Niranjan came up to conclude the presentations. This is where he asked us to spread the word and help build the community. He left the rest of the afternoon as an open invitation to do anything sitting together or to move out.

They were taking memberships for the community and I “sold my soul”, as Asya put it. We hung out with each other for an hour or more, getting to know each other better.

I met Samarth, a smart lad who was a Hardware hacker by passion working at Infosys. His face was familiar and there was only one question that I could ask him about it. “Were you there at any HasGeek events?”. Yep, he was there for Droidcon 2013.

Then there was Vamsee, who was a kindred soul when it came to people calling him “Vamshee” adding that all-too-horrible “h” right in the middle! We shared our grief with each other over how inconsiderate people were towards our feelings.

Then there was Ashutosh, Jha (because I really can’t remember his other part of the name), Fasil, Prateek, who asked me, “Hey, aren’t you that guy who wrote that Eventifier blog post? That was amazing”. I was so happy! Jon from Minsh was there. It was good to meet him after such a long time. He was the first few geeks whom I interacted with as soon as I had joined HasGeek. Definitely a part of what made me grow.

We shook hands and were about to leave when I met this unassuming young fellow at the stairs.

“Hey, don’t I know you?”

“I am Rishab. Umm.. Do you know me?”

I unleashed my secret weapon once again.

“Were you at any HasGeek event before?”

“Oh… Were you at MetaRefresh 2013?”

“Yeah, I was a part of the organizing committee”

“Okay. Maybe you heard about that guy who gave a talk on CSSDeck?”

“Oooh! It was you! Now I remember… Cool man”

So that was him. He had generated a whole lot of buzz with his flash talk at that conference. He said he was working on his own startup now. I bid him goodbye and was on my way.

Now I have an excuse to learn Math. I hope these folks keep at it. It was amazing.

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