Category Archives: the way things are

A walk in the morning

This morning as I walking past the usual crowd, I found it easier than usual to ignore them. Such strong were the thoughts inside that the cacaphony outside due to monkeys attacking the garbage made little difference.

So when she stopped me to talk, I was slow to respond. “Can you check if they fed him milk since morning ? Just see if there is open bottle of milk lying near his bed.” We know each other now. I am there for #9 and she is there for bed #7 and that is all we need to know. Over the past four days, we haven’t even exchanged names and doesn’t even seem important. I had no intention to go inside the ICU but now I was sure to go and check on the Anurag, her less-than-an-year old boy. I told her that when I saw him last evening he was playful and continuously moved his arms and legs and that often invited the nurses around him to also come play with him. I felt it must be important for her to know that he plays and observes the room and interacts with things around, even if they are his oxygen mask or the tubes around him.

Sugar: Fine, white and deadly

The cynical me rarely finds something that is written by somebody else so moving. This is about an article on nutrition – one that describes sugar as a much bigger culprit than say saturated fat. It describes the macro-economic and political reasons behind fat being declared the villain and the massively negative effects of the nutrition guidelines set up government(s) on the population.

Got this from @limnephilidae and I have read it more than once and also took out a PDF version (just in case they decide to put it behind a paywall). So please go ahead, do yourself a favour and read this.

The original article is at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin

PDF Version, readable. 24 pages: Sugar

your addiction cycle

I am rarely two minutes away from my phone at any point in the day. No other object comes this close to me. So obviously I have developed a fondness for it and it leads me to pick it in my hands.

Sometimes I don’t know why I have held it in my hand though and I find myself fiddling with it. I do a series of things with it:

press the home button, slide right to unlock it
look for whatsapp and sms messages
check my email
check facebook
open twitter
open instagram
open zite, decide not to click on anything because those articles are too long and I don’t have time to read.
same for pocket
see what my friends are doing on foursquare and path
open kindle, see the list of unread books, close it.
check the temperature and forget why I needed to know it.
scroll past to the next page of apps and look for something important there but don’t find anything.

The above is what I call an addiction cycle. James Altucher also mentions about his addiction cycle in one of his blog posts. These are dangerous routines because I estimated that I do it about twice every waking hour. Sometimes even when I wake up in the middle of the night for water.

Your time goes to this dungeon of unproductivity and is never going to come back. So learn to overcome this.

Like most bad habits, this one can be overcome by looking for cues that tell your brain you are now in to this addiction and then have a series of mechanical responses programmed into your head that you blindly follow.

For instance, every time I now unlock my phone, I ask myself

What specific task do I want to accomplish when I unlock this phone ?

If the answer is not satisfactory, I stop there.

Incumbency

Exhibit 1: Clayton Christensen. His book The Innovator’s Dilemma is a celebrated one. He talks about how companies lose out on great opportunities because they stay focussed on where they earn most of their profits from today and hence sidestep what is new, promising but perhaps too small today.

Exhibit 2: Jonathan Ive, in many interviews and in his tribute speech to Steve Jobs explains that Steve had a lot of respect for fledgling ideas. He knew that “while ideas ultimately can be so powerful they begin as fragile barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily dismissed.

I could several stories about how large, incumbent companies have been overcome by new, smaller ones but I will skip that part because what I would like to do is extend this to our lives as well.

Most of us have an idea of what we want to do when asked to define a no-holds-barred ambition. I, for instance, want to a) make a product that is used by millions of people everyday b) want to make the world smaller by being able to travel with the same kind of planning that we do for making coffee c) want to learn programming again and experience the joy of building something that others use.

I am sure you have your ideas too, perhaps even more fun than the above 🙂 But the one thing I often hear myself (and also others) say is that they are too invested in their current lifestyle, commitments and they have responsibilities they must respect and a combination of these greatly affects their ability to pursue their dream.

I believe the reality of how we operate is totally different. I say so because while we all have stuff to pursue, the action really happens on a microscopic, everyday level when we wake up and make a decision to work on X or Y. Let’s say you want to learn gardening (or programming for that matter, in my case). The time you invest in learning the new skill doesn’t give returns right away and your mind sub-consciously continues to fight the low probabilities of success of this new venture against the assuredness of the current. We’re conservative beings, risk-averse and wanna maximise on what we know. I think this is what our brains do because of how they’ve evolved. Self-preservation, if nothing else for a fancy word.

The fact however is that you change your probabilities of success by sheer hard work and perseverance. You have to,  you *must* fool your brain at those giving-up moments to somehow circumvent the doubts during this transition from low-success probability to a higher-success one.

Fight the incumbent thoughts in your mind that tell you to hold on to what you have instead of embracing the change. And tell yourself that you will put in the hours to do what is required without even thinking of results for a fixed time every day.

PS: I’m trying to do this these days to learn programming. I’ll let you guys know how far I reach 🙂

Referral programs

They’re a magic pill. But they don’t apply to all situations.

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Your product is likely to fall into one of the lines on the graph above. If you’re on the blue line the benefit to an individual user of your product increases if more users use your product.

Referral programs don’t work very well with products on the red line.  For the blue line kind of products it is very hard to achieve 1 user bringing in 2 users and those 2 new guys bringing in their own 2 new guys and so on. Many companies resort to offering freebies or plain money to users to fundamentally do marketing for their company. While it is certainly not a bad idea it will not get you a hockey stick.

I often use Dropbox as an example when I speak about referral programs. Dropbox is more useful to me when I use it across multiple devices of mine. I also could find more utility if my co-workers and friends use it. Dropbox decided to structure their referral program promoting the latter use case – this is a crucial difference that must be understood.

Consider PayPal, another favourite of mine. They had two things to offer: a buyer paying the seller, and users sending money to their friends. Through all the $10 referral rewards they gave out to their users for getting their friends onboard, my guess is that they’d have done better if they have that $10 instead to add on top of money they decided to transfer to their friends. So imagine this: if you gave your friend $25 for a lunch through PayPal your friend would’ve gotten $30 and you get $5.

Mind you, hindsight is always 20/20 and do keep in mind that their belief at that time was that P2P money transfer wasn’t really that much of a business as getting merchants on eBay accept PayPal.

So while referrals are great in folklore, the magic only applies to 1% of the 1%  If you’re not in that category, don’t despair because when people like a product they naturally share it socially. All you need to do is to make it easy for them. See how these guys do it.

If you’re there you’ll find that your referral program design will end up having to monetarily incentivize the users on getting other users as opposed to users finding the intrinsic value of the product increase for them.If you’re on the red line the benefit to one user doesn’t increase when other users also use the product.

Honesty, or marketing ?

I mentioned something about honesty in a previous post. Reading it again I felt I should explain it a bit.

Nothing better than a real world example to explain a view.

I recently stayed at a holiday resort at Merchala a place about 15 km north of Jim Corbett national park. It is a quiet place in a valley with a stream flowing next to it. More importantly it is marketed to people from the big city (Delhi) as a place to go to wind down and be close to nature. I am tempted to write more about the place but perhaps later.

In their rooms I found some directions regarding re-using towels – they encourage you to not send them out for washing as frequently like many other hotels do in order to ‘save precious water’.

Honest you think ?

Absolutely not, I say.

I call it so because ‘saving precious water’ is not even close to their top 10 items to focus on. For instance they happen to keep a 2000 square meter garden immaculately green with grass that doesn’t even belong to that place and also maintain a swimming pool. They have a central heating system (electric) for cottages spread across 2000 sq m so imagine the wastefulness in sending heating water all around ! And towels shouldn’t be cleaned every so often to save water Really?

So why does water wastage for towel washing come up as item 2 on their messaging to their customers ? It’s because this is a message they want to give to their customers that resonates and brings a positive response.

It has no connection to what they actually are. And hence is not honest.

Many a time marketing does not soulfully say what product is. Don’t get me wrong – It isn’t supposed to be a description of the product. The very purpose of marketing is to create demand. This is done by fundamentally asking the question: what does the consumer want to hear, not a description of my product features.

Rarely though, these two things are the same and it is then honest. I am a bit biased for this kind of honesty and I guess that is evident already 😉

Freemium products are by definition honest.

A better infrastructure ?

I found something weird during a visit through the road toll collection booth at Moradabad when I passed through it last week.  The image below shows two circles that are two consecutive toll collection points that charge the exact amount (Rs. 15/-). I passed through both and was subjected to two queues, a kilometer apart. 20140317-170850.jpg

I couldn’t help but wonder and the most likely explanation in my mind was that highway toll collection was assigned to two different companies who managed different parts of the highway and since there was no simple way to allocate funds collected in one place (trust issues), it was probably their solution to setup two points for collection.

I was wrong though since on asking I found out that a number of vehicles go to  alternate destinations south on the two roads marked there. Those vehicles who go through the entire toll road pass through two toll collection points and thereby paying the full toll (Rs. 30/-).

This method leaves a majority of people have to wait at two queues wasting double the time required in toll collection. I hated it instantly and also set out to think of how it could be done better in the first place.

I thought I had a very decent solution but I now know it is wrong and I understand the reason for the current solution to exist. It is not optimal and is doubly bad for the majority, but man honestly I don’t have a better solution. (Note: I have made some assumptions listed at the bottom of this post – those are valid for the context here so do read them).

So at this stage I invite you to give a better solution if you have any.

My original (but now rejected) solution is below: Red ones ask for Rs. 15/-, Blue ones ask for Rs. 30/-

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Assumptions:

–  automatic toll deduction through a transponder won’t work because you need compliance from a large set of cars that are from another state. 

– license plate recognition won’t work. You’d have towait for maybe another ten years till every car here has a machine readable number plate (States like Delhi have already started making them mandatory)

– A system where vehicles punch out an ‘entry’ ticket and that is used to calculate and charge toll at the exit points won’t work either. There will be an arbitration opportunity most likely exploited by some enterprising businessman who will sell lower toll fees entry cards to the incoming vehicles. Governance: Let’s not even think of solving that in this frame. 

People (un)like me

People unlike me

This past year I discovered a ‘feature’ in a couple of people whom I’ve interacted with a lot. That ‘feature’ (or maybe I should call it behaviour instead) of theirs is very unlike me and I’ll be honest – it wasn’t something I could process very easily and left me confused as to how to deal with them.

It is the ability of theirs to share a definitive (and sometimes extreme) opinion (good or bad) about a person and then alter it that in a different context after some time (hours or days).

See, I’m the type of guy who’d think before sharing an opinion about another person and I would much more careful if that individual is not present when I am saying that. निन्दा is a beautiful Hindi word that describes the negative connotation in mind about this.
So it is pretty obvious why I’d be confused.

Adaptability is the theme in my mind these days, so I particularly appreciate the need to be able to say, ‘I was wrong earlier but I know better now and have no qualms admitting it’.

It doesn’t work for me however if you say ‘He is a bastard’ and the next day invite him to dinner … at your home. 🙂 The dissonance is un-natural to me and yet I know it is not so for everyone.

So I’ve decided to not take an opinion too seriously now, especially of people who are a bit too, ‘malleable’.

So you think you’re significant ?


You’re on one land-mass in one of the satellites of a star. Guess what, some 275 million of those stars are born everyday.

You really think you are significant for anything beyond your own mind ?

I wish  that I get to bring a significant contribution within the universe of my mind. That itself would be a life well lived.

For the geek in you, check out the Drake Equation. It explains a lot.