Facebook’s First Female Engineer, Ruchi Sanghvi

Huffpost Tech writes about Ruchi Sanghvi, who was Facebook’s first female engineer. Its profile portrays Sanghvi–who left the company last year to start her own company Cove soon after marrying a fellow Facebook engineer–as an example of the success of startup meritocracy. But it also shares her views on what she calls the boys’ club and the difficulty of breaking into it at Facebook.

Sanghvi, who didn’t use a computer regularly until college, went on to launch such features as News Feed, which defines the user experience for many people on Facebook. Her rise at the company from when she was one of the first 10 engineers hired illustrates the potential and possibilities for a bright young engineer in the tech field. Given her vantage point and success, her impressions and suggestions stemming from her experiences carry a certain weight.

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Sysop-in-chief leaving Whitehouse

Sources: Kundra leaving White House:

Vivek Kundra, the first-ever federal chief information officer, is planning to leave the White House in August, according to sources.

Kundra, who has held the position for two-and-a-half years, is leaving the administration for Harvard, the sources said, although it’s unclear if he’ll be teaching or taking a more research-oriented post.

As CIO in the Office of Management and Budget, Kundra was responsible for overseeing $80 billion in federal information technology projects. In that role, he spearheaded a number of initiatives to try to make the government’s complex technology systems more efficient and less costly.

Kundra is one of three White House officials tapped to revamp the government’s use of technology. President Barack Obama also appointed Aneesh Chopra as the federal chief technology officer and Jeffrey Zients as the chief performance officer. All three positions were brand new roles in the White House.

I’m a little behind in the curve when it comes to these sorts of things, but technically I think Kundra would be an “information architect.” I imagine the architects to be the officer corps of the systems administrators, who are the grunts.

According to Google Trends there hasn’t been any news out of this guy for a while….which is usually a good thing if you’re a systems administrator! It’s kind of like being an offensive line guy in football, if people are noticing you it’s probably not a good thing (e.g., there’s been a major security breach and you have to take the fall for it). I’m personally skeptical of the “cloud computing” initiative Kundra spearheaded, for national security reasons. I wouldn’t ever put anything sensitive in Dropbox, and I don’t care how good the feds think they are, hackers will worm their way into their “lockbox” in the cloud at some point. But Vivek Kundra doesn’t have to worry about it, some other command-line jockey will take the fall for it…. Continue reading

The Copycat Facebook Ban

BangladeshFlag.jpg Remember how on May 19th, the Pakistan government banned facebook? Phillygrrl wrote about how all the hoopla was over how there was one page on Facebook dedicated to the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” which was in turn a retaliation to the anti-South Park activists out there. Soon after, people in Pakistan couldn’t access YouTube (that ban was lifted a few days ago, selectively).

Well yesterday, Bangladesh totally copycatted Pakistan.

Bangladesh has blocked access to Facebook after satirical images of the prophet Muhammad and the country’s leaders were uploaded, say reports. Officials said the ban was temporary and access to the site would be restored once the images were removed.

A spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) told AFP Facebook had “hurt the religious sentiments of the country’s majority Muslim population” by carrying “offensive images” of Mohammed. [BBC]

I just think it’s kind of silly that that they are “officially” citing the cartoons TEN days after the actual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” That site isn’t even up anymore. If that was really the issue, the halal-ness of the interwebs in Bangladesh, wouldn’t they have banned Facebook at the same time Pakistan did – on May 19th the day before the ‘sanctioned’ date of May 20th?

I think the real issue is that the current Bangladesh government was insulted by cartoons made about THEM. And they are using the anti-Muslim sentiment as a scapegoat. Continue reading

“Children of a Lesser Google”

Hey, remember when Google’s motto used to be “don’t be evil?” Vaht, you thought they still had it? I did too, but this…might not be evil, but it certainly seems a little unfair:


Google India had launched a ‘Doodle 4 Google – My India’ contest in August. The Doodle is the logo design you see on the Google homepage. The theme of this competition was ‘My India’. On November 12, Google India announced at Taj Ambassador Hotel that tech hub Gurgaon based 4th standard school kid Puru Pratap has won the competition…a laptop computer for himself, a t-shirt with his doodle and Rs. 1 lakh (approx 2100 US dollars) for his school.

But his counterparts in USA and UK won substantially more. According to Google their US winner “will win a $15,000 college scholarship to be used at the school of their choice, a trip to the Google New York Office, a laptop computer, and a t-shirt printed with their doodle. We’ll also award the winner’s school a $25,000 technology grant towards the establishment/improvement of a computer lab.”

So let’s see: Indian winner = laptop + T-shirt + $2100 (for his school) + $0 (for himself)
US winner = laptop + T-shirt + trip to NY + $25,000 (for his school) + $15,000 (for himself)

Let me see…let me do the math…I dunno, maybe you need a special algorithm or something to make these two things equal? Because to my eyes, it looks like the Indian kid is getting royally screwed. It looks like the same contest, run by the same company, is rewarding a far lesser prize to the winner from one country than to the winner from another country.

The writer of the quoted piece goes on to point of various other prizes that are awarded equally to winners from all countries. She concludes:

Are we children of a lesser Google? Or is the Indian market less important? Perhaps Bing has the answer.

Dammit. I like Chrome. Continue reading

Naveen Selvadurai & Foursquare


A little over a year ago, my social networking life was all but nonexistent. Like everyone else my age, I had a Facebook page left over from college. Other than the occasional stalk-in, er login, however, I rarely used my account. But overnight (it seems) everyone and their aunty joined Facebook. Before I knew it, I had second cousins from Pakistan who I’d never met trying to friend me and my mother calling me every morning to discuss my status. (“You were sick and you didn’t call me?”) Now Facebook is the first site I visit each morning. And after Facebook comes Twitter. (My name is ____________ and yes I do have an Interwebz addiction.) And now, I’m afraid I may just join Foursquare, a new social media site which has my friends abuzz. What is Foursquare you ask? Ever sat by yourself in a coffee shop? Wished a friend was close by and wanted to hang out? Didn’t feel like texting everyone in your phonebook? If you’d logged in to Foursquare, which was co-founded by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai this past March, you would’ve known immediately who was around.

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Valare Upakaram, Google

Indic_screenshot.jpg Via the “web clips” which perch above my 5,090 unread GMail messages, news that Google’s email is now down with some brown languages:

Until now, there hasn’t been a good way to send email to friends and family in Hindi, my native language and their language of choice. That’s why I’m happy to announce a new feature for Gmail that lets you type email in Indian languages. If you’re in India, this feature is enabled by default. If not, you’ll need to turn it on in the “Language” section under Settings. Once enabled, just click the Indian languages icon and type words in the way they sound in English — Gmail will automatically convert them to their Indian language equivalent. [link]

3410684214_542408482e_m.jpg Oh, if only there were some way for me to type Malayalam words the way they sound in English to me…and have GMail (or anything else, for that matter) automatically convert them to the correct Malayalam-in-English spelling equivalent.

For example, sometimes while I’m writing, blogging, tweeting or commenting on your Facebook crap, I feel the compulsive need to refer to the side dish I loved most as a small child: a fried, potato-y concoction which I’d spell “oorelkarunga merehkwerty or in a similarly butchered fashion.

Do you know how that shiz is actually spelled?

urulakizhangu mezhukkupuratti

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Introducing DesiFilter: for all your Stalking Needs!

And some of you wonder why I sweat engineers…look at what amazing things they do! Hot off our tip-line:

A couple of weeks back, Sree asked SAJA Forum readers to help him see if there were any Desis affected by the Madoff swindle: http://www.sajaforum.org/2009/02/crime-any-desis-on-the-madoff-client-list.html
As a techie, needing to have humans manually crowdsource the filtering of Desi names out of a long list seemed inefficient.
That’s why I built DesiFilter, a new web tool to help community journalists and obsessive Desi-angle stalkers:
http://www.desifilter.com (click on “Example 1”, etc. for sample datasets)
It’s pretty simple — just feed it some text, and it’ll go through a list of about 26,000 common South Asian names and highlight possible matches.
South Asian names are super-multicultural. I tried to remove most common Anglo names (otherwise any list of American names would be all false positives), but there’s still substantial overlap with Iranian, Arab, Turkish, and Portuguese names. It may miss Anna John and catch Osama Bin Laden — but it’s still infinitely easier than looking for potentially Desi names by hand.
My goal is for the tool to be part of any obsessive Desi-angle stalker’s toolkit. I’m interested in what you or Sepia readers find with it. I’d love feedback. Thanks.

You want feedback? Boy, you ’bout to get you some feedback, let me tell YOU. 😉 I love how it’s an accepted practice to be an “obsessive, Desi-angle stalker”. It’s just so matter-of-fact. And warm and fuzzy– we at SM are not the only ones! Admit it, you totally do it, too. When movie credits roll, and you see a Best Boy named Neel/Jay/Anil Patel/Sen/Singh, you feel a little twinge of recognition…or indigestion. Who told you to get a Large popcorn AND nachos?

Anyway, is this the first time I’ve reprinted an ENTIRE, somewhat lengthy missive to the tip line, verbatim? Why, I think it is. I just don’t have the heart to remove anything. Especially any sentence which allows me to escape freely (muahahaha) while catching Bin Laden. FINALLY! Someone needed to do it and the U.S. sucks at it. Jai Hind! No, wait…Jai Ho! Actually, more like Jai HIM—-> Anirvan.

Of course, if you’re a bibliophile, you already knew him; he’s behind the very respected BookFinder.com

…the best resource (online or off) for finding used, rare, and out of print books. The Library of Congress recommends it; both Newsweek and Money magazines called it one of the two best book sites online (the other, in both cases, being Amazon.com). [link]

And no, Anirvan didn’t pay me to splort all over your screen with my giddiness over his geekery. I splorted for free! Wait, that sounds awful. My point is, we get dozens, if not hundreds of tips. We rarely have the resources to cover each one. Most of you are aware of this.

I’m sure Anirvan sent in his DesiFilter message, shrugged, and thought “maybe”. He certainly couldn’t have expected that I’d put down my outrageously late dinner of lemon rice and paavaka mezhukkupuratti, pause the DVR and postpone packing for my trip tomorrow, just to publish an effusive endorsement of his efforts. He deserves it, though. It’s not every day that reading a tip makes me go –> :D. Better living through technology, y’all. I’m ’bout it bout ‘it. Let the stalking begin! Wait, that doesn’t sound right, either… Continue reading

Put Your Money Where Your Munh Is

Want to know if a celebrity is playing both sides of the fence? Whether that new guy you’re seeing is actually a Republican or just dresses like one? If your boss maxed out at that fundraiser or got comped? Whether your neighbor’s political involvement stops at that hideous lawn sign?

Hell, yes!

FundRace gives you the technology to do what politicians and journalists have been doing for years: find out where the money’s coming from, see who it’s going to, and solve the mystery of why that crazy ex-roommate of yours is now the Ambassador to Turks and Caicos.

Using public records filed with the FEC of all contributions greater than $200, FundRace calculates the who, where, and how much of hard/soft cash going to political parties/candidates/PACs. I’m all agog at the technological marvels that produce such transparency.

Nosing around a bit, I came up with:

Jhumpa Lahiri, Writer, gave $250 to the DNC
Kalpen Modi, Actor, gave $1,395 to Barack Obama
Atul Gawande, Surgeon, gave $250 to John Kerry
Aziz Ansari, Producer/Actor, gave $1,150 to Barack Obama
Vikram Pandit, (current CEO at Citigroup, then COO at Morgan Stanley), gave $2,000 to George W. Bush

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The Googlization of Everything

Those who know me well often joke that I’d make a good spokesperson for a Google ad. I can’t help it if Google has changed my life (and I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way). The google desktop app has saved my writing life more times than I care to mention, and google calendar is the means by which my husband and I can always convince each other to attend otherwise resisted events (“Oh, you couldn’t make it? I had no idea. Your google calendar said you were free!”)

So, of course, my curiosity piqued when I recently read about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s recent book deal with the University of California Press. siva.gif

Per Publisher’s Weekly:

THE GOOGLIZATION OF EVERYTHING: How one company is transforming culture, commerce and community – and why we should worry, showing how Google is taking on governments, organizations and entire industries – and the implications of Google knowing more about us than we know about it.

(The book began as an open book experiment sponsored by the Institute for the Future of the Book, where Vaidhyanathan is a fellow, and was subsequently picked up for publication.)

Vaidhyanathan is a rising cultural historian and media scholar whose two previous books Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System have met with wide praise.

He is approaching the book as both a fan and as a critic, he says at his website: “I am in awe of all that Google has done and all it hopes to do. I am also wary of its ambition and power.” Continue reading

Facebook loves us a little too much.

Flying all over the intarwebs is an NYT article about Facebook— and how it is apparently the equivalent of a social networking roach motel; once you check in you can’t check out.

Are you a member of Facebook.com? You may have a lifetime contract. Some users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data. While the Web site offers users the option to deactivate their accounts, Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely.

The first flummoxed Facebooker quoted by la grey lady is brown!

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
It took Mr. Das about two months and several e-mail exchanges with Facebook’s customer service representatives to erase most of his information from the site, which finally occurred after he sent an e-mail threatening legal action. But even after that, a reporter was able to find Mr. Das’s empty profile on Facebook and successfully sent him an e-mail message through the network.

I understand that Facebook is ostensibly attempting to keep the reactivation process zimble, should one change one’s mind about one’s participation in this timesuck, but one might still find this policy douchey. (Now who has U2 stuck in their head? Just me? Meh. You kids and your tatti taste in music.)

Facebook’s Web site does not inform departing users that they must delete information from their account in order to close it fully — meaning that they may unwittingly leave anything from e-mail addresses to credit card numbers sitting on Facebook servers. Only people who contact Facebook’s customer service department are informed that they must painstakingly delete, line by line, all of the profile information, “wall” messages and group memberships they may have created within Facebook.

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