Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Noodling away at Barcelona part 1

Very often I go through these phases where I feel I know nothing about something, and then I need to learn more about it. Lazy as I am, whether I end up learning or not is a different story, but at those moments I get all hasty and rash and make sudden decisions. One such evening in the Fall of my junior year (when I was already taking CS150, CS188, EE120, Econ136, - for the Cal EECS student reading this, and had bought the Cal Football season pass), I shouted at myself:

and promptly signed up for IEOR 190E - Mobile Technology Entrepreneurship.

Best decision ever.

This class, taught by Ken Singer and sponsored by http://bmic.org/ was one of the most valuable and memorable experiences at Cal. The class itself was a lot of fun - as an EECS student I rarely get to work with people from all the various majors that Berkeley has to offer, from business to engineering, and learn not only to code but also to make money ;)

Long stories short, the class was a lot of fun and we practised ideation, execution, team management, marketing, pitching to VCs... the whole hog. Our team was either starved for ideas or had too many and couldn't decide on one - I'm not sure which. Eventually, we settled on a cloud based multimedia note creation app, and in an intense namakarana session, branded ourselves Noodle with a ready made punchline - Use your Noodle! (geddit?).

Ok. Time for some (subtle) product placement here:

Not worded very well/ doesn't look pretty enough? Well there you go - do not give marketing assignments to a programmer who will work on it split screen while sitting in his office at work. (For such lessons and more, take IEOR 190E!)

The class ended in a competition between the teams, where we pitched in front of real Bay Area VCs. There were 5 teams in all, with really awesome ideas. That final competition was when I really realized how awesome an experience this class had been. It was all over. Little did I know.

Team Noodle, thanks to an awesome performance of the speakers, won second place, Judges choice, and first place, Audience choice! What this meant was - we were in the running to represent Berkeley at the University Mobile Challenge at Barcelona, in Feb 2011!

A winter spent coding, and by the next month, somehow, in a mad rush of events, we were given round trip tickets to Barcelona. No kidding! I cannot tell you how excited we all were. Oh hey, haven't introduced the team yet -

So here we are, the umm..fantastic five? (or Noobs of Noodle. you pick). 4 of us from Berkeley, and just coz outsourcing is in fashion and all, we brought in Aaditya, my pal from the Chickmuni days at Bangalore.

Barcelona. One of the most interesting cities I have seen by far. A queer mix of western retail giants like GAP and ancient Gaudi buildings all over the place. The day we arrived, we checked into the BeMar hostel, and headed straight out to explore. Here's a quick tour of Barcelona, as we saw it.

Park Guell

Really famous, kinda cool park that's some distance away from the rest of the city. Has some interesting sculpture going for it, a really nice view, a bunch of live performers of Spanish music, and a bunch of desis selling souvenirs!

La Sagrada Familia

Arguably Barcelona's most famous tourist spot. A majestic church, whose design was started by Gaudi as early as 1883. The design is so crazy that construction is still not complete! Even today you can see huge cranes trying to build the new towers (which are, by design, taller than the ones you see here!). And crazy design is the right word - the wall carvings are really intricate, and funnily enough, the left and right sides of the building don't even look the same.

What I thought was the coolest part of the design was the way the design was made.Since Mr Gaudi did not have access to CAD and SolidWorks and Photoshop, he used strings with little bags containing weights to model the entire structure. The whole model hung, upside down, from the roof. The string represented archways. Each weight was carefully chosen to make its string bend with just the right curvature. Then he used a mirror to erect the model, and somehow saw the Sagrada Familia from an inverted image of strings and little brown bags.

The insides of this magnificent structure are even more beautiful than the outside. I read somewhere that it is supposed to depict trees in a forest, or something like that. Either way, it was simply stunning.

And of course, the most exciting part was going up the tower. Not just coz it's a pretty darn awesome view, but coz of the way we managed to be total desi while we did it. We were too late for the last guided toursand the entrance was closed, so we snuck up the super narrow stairway meant for people to come down. Yes, the first thing we did in Barcelona was go somewhere we weren't allowed to; even jumping into gaps in the wall when we heard footsteps coming down. All so we could get a pic like this, on the crossbeam at the top of one of the towers!

La Rambla

Where the action really is. This is a long street, where the pavement is about twice as wide as the road itself! Fancy restaurants,Irish pubs and clubs line the streets on either side. Street performers and artists can be seen all along the street. So can gelato stalls! We were there at around 1am, and it was about as crowded as namma Bengaluru's MG Road on a Sunday afternoon!


Snacks, Spain ishtyle! I love the concept - many many options but very small servings, and typically very cheap (about 3 Euros per serving). The idea is to try many different dishes over a single meal. Patatas Bravas... the clear favorite!

Picasso Museum

This man Picasso was a genius. (highlight was). His early paintings are among the most amazing ones I've ever seen (and yes I have been to the Louvre). Especially one gigantic painting where there is a glass on a table, and he actually got the transparent nature of glass perfectly right!

Somewhere along the way, the old man just lost it (or found drugs.. or something). He seemed to take great pleasure in distorting human faces and coloring them vividly and weirdly. The museum had this animation where he started out with a pretty painting of a little girl, and then repainted on top of it. Every re-painting episode saw one of the girl's organs move somewhere else, and it ended up as some grotesque caricature.

Super small bar, but definitely awesome to just stand there and watch the bartenders put on a show for you. These guys are famous for their flaming shots, but they also have pretty crazy ones that are made like a chemistry lab experiment. Literally, set liquid on fire (wish I could have done that in chem lab), invert flask to cut off air supply, serve both drink and the smoke in the flask. (random video on YouTube that shows this being made - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcALAOaYpys )

Life of a Barcelona citizen?

But seriously, do these guys even work? Study? Do anything but party and sleep? I'm not kidding - based on the 3 days I spent there, this is what I think an average day in Barcelona is like:

After a day of roaming the city, it was time to go meet the other teams from around the world (7 different countries, I think) for dinner. For that, the competition itself, and the mind blowing Mobile World Congress - take a look at part 2!

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