KType is now RocketKeys!Thu, 31st Jan '13, 3:35 pm::
Little over three years ago, I took a long walk and came back determined to build KType - a tool to help people with speech disabilities. It took over a year of intense independent research and development but I finally released KType Pro in late 2011. I went to India in early 2012 and beta-tested it with the inspiration behind KType - my cousin Keval - who took mere minutes to start typing full words and sentences. Eight-months later, I released KType Free to help spread the word. Throughout the process, I received unbelievable amount of support from my wife, family, friends, and even complete strangers. Best of all, I regularly received words of encouragement from actual users and their families.
In October 2012, I was contacted by a brilliant researcher-turned-CEO, Alex Levy, whose company MyVoice develops "life-changing aids for people with speech and language disabilities." Over the years I met numerous developers, speech-therapy experts, and families of people with speech disabilities and I always had a difficult time explaining to them what KType really was. Yet from the very first minute of our conversation, it was clear to me that Alex truly understood what I was trying to do with KType and he could explain the app better than I ever could. Wasting no time, I flew up to Canada the next weekend to plan the future of KType and to attend my first Halloween party.
Since my return from Canada, I worked with Alex and his team on releasing the new version of KType. I am so happy to say that KType is now RocketKeys, part of the MyVoice family of apps, and available in the Apple App Store. Tomorrow, I'm driving up to Orlando, where Alex and his team are exhibiting RocketKeys at the Assistive Technology Industry Association 2013 Conference. From what Alex tells me, we have a very popular booth in a prime location, so I should be prepared to talk to attendees all day non-stop. I can't wait!
Three years ago when I decided to change my entire life around and take such a huge career, financial, and social risk, I asked my wife what her thoughts were. Without a blink, she replied "Do it." I told her to take some time to think clearly about it because it could mean lots of personal stress and financial difficulties. She immediately said "You'll figure it out. I'm not worried." For a while, I thought she was just being nice or didn't want to discourage me by saying anything negative but now I realize, she was just being honest. She truly did believe that I would figure it all out even though at that time, I had no experience in the assistive technology industry, had never built an Apple iPhone/iPad app, had never done multi-year independent research, had no experience in building prediction engines, and had absolutely no support from anyone in the field.
It took a few years but she was right, I slowly figured it all out. And she supported me the whole time in the most-likely-to-make-Chirag-succeed-way, by telling me that "it doesn't sound too difficult for you." There are two surefire ways to encourage someone: (1) tell them it is impossible (2) tell them it is trivial. The latter works better on me because when everyone tells me it is impossible, at least I have an excuse when I fail, like when I ran just 50 miles instead of the 100 miles that I signed up for. But when someone says it is too easy for me, my ego won't let me quit, no matter how difficult it really is.
I have no idea what the future holds but I know I couldn't have gotten here without my wife's support. Juliet, I love you and hope you're ready for my next big project after this :)
We're building a pet enclosure in our backyard so that our tortoises and ducks can roam freely. One of our neighbors came up with the actual design and it includes a small wading pond and lots of ferns. We're planning on adding heat lamps to keep the critters warm when it's cold outside. I will post lots of photos of our mini-zoo once it's ready. I can't wait!
Update: Here's a short video of our ducks wobbling around in the backyard. Towards the end of the clip, you can see the ducks and the cats together and behind them is the new enclosure still under construction.
Looking aroundTue, 15th Jan '13, 1:10 am::
2013 is off to a pretty crappy start. It started with lots of computer issues and sleepless nights, followed by the tragic death of a brilliant hacker. Then while I was in the middle of a bureaucratic paperwork hell, I got the shocking news of the untimely death of a close family friend in India.
In situations like these, you can't help but reevaluate your life's priorities. Should you work hard and save for a better future or should you make the best of today because who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? Even if you believe that it should be a balanced mix of both short-term and long-term goals, should you give up some of your long-term principles to make your loved ones slightly happier in the short-term? The problem isn't that these are hard questions to answer. The problem is that no matter what answer you come up with, life has a way of shaking the foundations of all of your assumptions, bringing you back to square one all over again.
Philosophical musings of such existential nature essentially boil down to the eternal question, "What's the point of it all?" While the question is communal, the answer is deeply personal. A few years ago, I resolved to answer this question for myself with the stipulation that no matter what happens in life, my answer shouldn't have to change. After all, if there is a point to life, it can't change just because I gained weight or lost my savings. I pondered over what makes me happy, what makes me excited, and what motivates me the most. No matter what "purpose of my life" I came up with, it seemed temporary. "Computer programming?" Who knows what's going to happen in a decade. "Raising a family?" Certainly, but it seems too generic and more of a commandment than an ultimate purpose. "Be the best at X?" Seems too selfish and if I lose my ability to do X for any reason, not a long-term answer.
After thinking about this question for days on end, I finally came up with a very simple answer that initially seems vague and pretentious but in fact has stood the test of time quite well. My purpose in life is to help others. That's it. I'll join you in saying that on the surface, it reeks of platitude and sounds patronizing. But the more I live through good times and bad, the more my resolve to fulfill this purpose strengthens. And it answers the hardest questions in life so beautifully. What's the point of it all? To help others. How do I handle tragedies? By helping others. Why do bad things happen to good people? Who knows, let's help them first!
While I can say I have found my calling, I haven't found the best means to achieve it yet. I can't afford to make generous donations to charities and I'm not the kind of person who feeds the homeless in soup kitchens. There are a million people who are more passionate about helping others directly like that than I am. What I am passionate about is building tools to help others. KType was my first serious attempt at that but it is far from my last.
Every time I hear something that makes me sad and start to question the meaning of life, I tell myself that the answer for me, is to help others. It seems like a feedback loop of perverse incentives but the sadder I get, the more determined I become to help others. My newfound defense mechanism against problems without solutions (tragedies, trauma, grief) is not to look inward but around. I don't know if that is a good thing or not but so far it's working - instead of being morose, I'm learning to be more empathic.
With condolences to the family of the recently departed Sudhakar Bhai Sampat, I remain hopeful that his memories will live on for years to come.
This is what it's all aboutWed, 2nd Jan '13, 11:55 pm::
A review of KType I received today:
- "Thanks to Chirag Mehta for this wonderful app. I've searched high and low for a speech machine for my cousin who has Huntington's Disease. This is the only one I tried that my cousin wants to use. It's simple, customizable, reliable, and the word prediction feature is so fast and right on that it's almost spooky. As a rule, my cousin can say an 8-word sentence with only 12-15 keystrokes. This app also has a feature to customize for people with unsteady hands. As my cousin continues to lose her motor skills, she will be able to continue to speak with this same app."
For the past month, I've been working hard on the next version of KType with a brilliant team of developers and can't wait until it is officially launched.