Category Archives: the way things will be

Autonomous driving cars

One of the arguments that I have often heard is that in the competition amongst self driving cars, Tesla has an advantage because it has more cars on the road, thereby collecting a LOT more data than any of the other companies’ (Apple, Uber, Google) cars.

I don’t buy that argument.

Tesla surely has a lot more cars with consumers who have purchased cars from roadster onwards, but it sure doesn’t have the data that it needs to train the car to drive by itself. Having cars driven around every street of the world under all kinds of conditions is not all. The car needs to be able to collect data using *many* sensors (cameras, LIDAR, speed, road conditions, traffic sensing and so on). Only then would their computers be able to learn how to drive the car in the conditions that are presented to them.

To build autonomous cars, a *lot* of data needs to be collected about the road conditions and it might also be useful to have a person sit in the car and point out things that may not be obvious to all the sensors in the car. So Tesla’s argument that their cars will become autonomous sooner than others because they have more miles on them is not cool.

Making money

So here is an idea.

For some really popular, outstanding products that make you drool and want to buy them right away, you may occasionally also have the opportunity to earn more money by purchasing equity in that company. Two such companies come to mind: Apple and Tesla. They both make products that are experiencing massive demand and this only means good profits for the company.

I did a retrospective calculation where I listed every product of Apple that I have purchased so far and calculated what would happen if I had also purchased Apple stock worth the same money at the same time.

I started with my first Macbook (May 2008) and iPod (December 2008) all the way to my most recent one, an iPhone 5 (Dec 2012). I pulled out historical stock data from Google finance and figured that if I had also put in the same amount of money in purchasing Apple stock, the value of my stock today would be about 2.6 times that of the money I invested in.  It is roughly 17% IRR. If you’re really curious send me a note and I will send you the calculations.

So the point is this: Mortals (like me) who are not frequent investors in stock have this very good way to find out which stock is a good one: Just by observing demand in the environment around you. Does the Micromax A110 sell for a premium at the shop, or is there are several months worth of backlogs in the delivery of the latest Ford vehicle that just launched ? Buy that stock if you can!

I badly want to own a Tesla. I also am unable to afford it – unless, well I buy Tesla stock and it earns me enough to buy it!

Shhh! don’t tell anyone. 

 

Now for the disclaimers:

1) I am not suggesting that purchasing stock is an alternative to purchasing the product. The above is just a tool to measure

2) This doesn’t always work though as is the popular case of Oculus Rift, the company that raised its’ seed money on Kickstarter and later on sold out to Facebook for a couple of billion dollars while the original ‘seeders’ did not have any upside from those billions. (To be fair to Oculus, they did deliver on what they said they would to their initial backers, so no harm done by them deliberately – it just isn’t the right money earning forum for backers who should look elsewhere).

On marriage

I learnt this from a big bro I respect-a-lots! These words, mark them down, tattoo them on your arm.

the key is not to marry the right person but, to be the right person

I think  I am going to absorb this for a bit more time.

realigned atoms

It’s atoms around us, isn’t it? Everything is. All things around us are an alignment of atoms in a designated format. People, cultures, mountains, lakes, planets, stars come and go because the atoms decide to align themselves in another manner. Continuing this I want to present four different meditations on this topic

betelgeuse

In response to one of my previous posts (link) where I had asked where will you be 427 years from now, I received a very interesting answer. SK told me he knew where he would be in 427 years from now. He said he’d be a star.

It is true, right ? From another planet, the Sun ofcourse looks but just another star. All human bodies will eventually remain in the gravitational pull of the Sun and they’ll be part of this star too.

I am convinced by the sheer arithmetic of the Drake equation and that means that I believe in intelligent life outside of our planet. If you’re unconvinced, try the exercise here (link).

metamorphosis, past-life regression and memory

I was thinking of situations where memory continues past boundaries you’d not normally imagine.

1. A bunch of caterpillars in an experiment were given a mild electric shock along with a particular scent. The caterpillars learnt to stay away from that smell soon. When they went in to metamorphosis and emerged as butterflies who had an aversion to the same scent (link). This occurs despite the caterpillar completely transforming first into a gooey, liquid mass of genetic fluid before it takes the shape of a butterfly. Something makes it remember. The alignment of atoms carries out in a very specific way so as to not lose this information. I don’t believe this is accidental though, it is a very planned, specific and accurate way of transformation.
2. You’d have heard of people who remember stuff from their previous lives. There is in fact a very tacky TV series on that topic I once saw. When you think of the human bodies as atoms too, it it not all that hard to imagine some memory moving on to the next re-alignment of atoms. This is not going to happen accidentally but there just might be some way for this to happen without us fully understanding it (yet). 
I’d like to believe so.
3. Things have properties. Magnets attract iron. Water stays liquid between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius, Helium is heavier than Hydrogen, they attract each other and so on. I’d like to think of these properties as embedded within the specific alignment of the atoms in that object. If it wasn’t so, how else would a magnet *know* to attract iron or water know to remain liquid ?

groundhog day, the movie

Bill Murray wakes up the next day in exactly the same situation on each day – over and over again. He talks to his friends and the people around him and they don’t seem to know the difference because to them it is just another day, February the 2nd. However to Bill Murray it is the February 2nd that is the day after February 2nd.
See I’d like to think that he remembers something from the previous day that the other characters around him don’t. That’s that basis of his becoming a piano master, an ice sculptor and learn all about the people in that town.
He is the only one who carries over this memory from the previous day while others don’t.

xkcd

Finally I want to share this beautiful cartoon on xkcd. Profound.

xkcd_lego

#100happydays

From Rhea Malvai (link) I learnt the meaning of the hashtag #100happydays. Matt Cutts too, in his TED Talk (link) speaks of a way to form habits by repeatedly doing things for 30 days. His point is that if you can sustain a good habit for 30 days, your chances of holding to it are much higher after that.

One of the important and regular things I want to add in my life is the feeling of gratitude and happiness. Many people and events have inspired me to do so but one that stands out is the episode of This American Life (link). This one was narrate by Michael Lewis and tells the story of a guy who has a story about how he got in to college which is quite a romantic story and is one that re-inforces your faith humanity. Except that it is not true — all of it. He has this way of adding his perspective on regular events that make the world around him look much brighter. That episode is a life changer to me.

So I started this little experiment some time back.

I spend a few minutes every day thinking of at least one thing in the day that is a reason to be happy. Not a lot, just one thing. Even on a shitty day when you have a lot of things not going the way you want, you can always look for one thing to be happy about.

This is the 21st day and I can tell you that it is a good idea and has changed my thinking if not at all times at least for some time in the day.

Now on to making this a habit – Should be easy.

Resilience /1

I like to think that Resilience is more a function of attitude than skill. This definition allows room for nurture to make a person rather than just leaving to nature (or the DNA you are born with). Of course, I acknowledge that many people whom we call resilient are naturally so. They, due to their bringing up or life experiences present a particular attitude to life’s challenges. But it hardly means it isn’t learn-able.

See: Resilience is the ability to continue when you’re in the dumps. It is a conviction so strong that it sounds irrational to others.

I think it stems from the underlying belief that the current (low) moment is just a small detour in the much longer journey of life. I learnt in a Radiolab episode once of a tribe that has exceptional navigational skills. Their language has a few hundred terms to refer to the cardinal directions. Think of a word for slightly east of north, another word for slightly *more* east of north. Get the drift ? They did an experiment where they blindfolded one of them inside a closed room and revolved them quite a few times and asked them which direction their nose pointed to. They were simply too accurate ! Turns out in their minds they always have a map with themselves as a dot on it. It helps them re-anchor whenever they are lost. And people who’ve lived with them and learnt their language also start doing the same.

It is learnable, you see – the ability to view the larger story with the current time as a marker on it, guiding you to the larger goal.

More important to everyday life, you can make some of your own practise assignments that will help you behave more resilient.

I like to think so.

The story that Betelgeuse will tell

I got curious about stars when I could first see a lot of them in the sky. This happened when I lived away from  Delhi for the first time. We urban sissies hardly see 20 stars on a good cloudless night while at least 100 are visible at a good star viewing site within the circle you can make with your thumb and index finger.

Star gazing is the most humbling hobby. Every time I walk at night when I can see some stars, I can’t help noticing the familiar ones. They’ve remained there as I have changed cities, grown up, gone through the ups and downs of life. Most of these stars are so far away that what we observe today is where the star was tens, hundreds or thousands of years ago.

In the northern hemisphere (where most people live anyway), you can’t miss Orion that looks like this in citylight:orion-city

 

In rural areas, it might look like this:
orion-2

 

The shape and the star names are in this image:
orion-full

 

I like to think of stars as witness to our world, and they actually see what our world was like back then and even now! Consider the top left star on Orion,  Betelgeuse – which is pretty bright and is slightly red-ish. It is 427 light years away. That star, when you see it today was at that spot back in 1587. In that time, Delhi looked *very* different. It was when Akbar was the 45 year old ruler of pretty much most of what is India and Pakistan today.

Think about what Betelgeuse will tell a future generation about you in 2441 AD, 427 years from now.

What do you think will remain of you then ?

We’re born myopic. Let’s fix it.

Evolutionary improvements over the past few eons have taught our brains to detect and identify any immediate changes around us. You might have noticed that at times when you are not even focussing at the corner of your eye, the slightest movement catches your attention. This is remarkable by the way and very specialized processors and sensors (rods in the eye and the hippocampus in the brain to be specific) help you achieve this feat. Think of it like low-power natural language processor built in the new Moto X. Evolved, just to do one thing really good.

Such hyper-efficient systems are myopic. As a result, our brain loses out on noticing long term changes around us. If I were to change the colour of this text one point on the RGB scale at a time chances are you that will not notice it till some time has passed. I am talking about changes that your eye CAN detect, but your brain refuses to acknowledge – like the gradual scaling of paint on a wall over seasons or the tree adding a new branch. Big changes – that we do not ‘see’.

I believe that we should inculcate the same approach in our short lifespans too. This hyperopic approach will force you to compensate priorities for something you did not before. Long term changes are arguably enormously more powerful than short term changes.
Consider the skill of language: Our ability to pass on unique information we learn to our children (this is the basic skill of language that only a few species have). It allows us to teach our children to ward off new dangers and point to new resources. Over time this makes us insanely more powerful than any other species.Consider however the time it would have taken to evolve speech, hearing and language from the point where we didn’t have it. I don’t know the exact years, but safe to assume it was more than 100,000 years. While that looks like an awfully long time to one generation, it is a blip for the entire species in its’ evolutionary story. That ‘blip’ however completely differentiated these ‘speaking’ species from others to a point where you simply don’t look back ever !

As a case in point, here are two ways you could think of this in your work life.

Your active, contributing working life is somewhere between 40 to 60 years in which many of us end up in a learn-everything-by-going-to-college-then-work-all-your-life approach. Don’t you think punctuations for picking up additional skills is a much better thing to do ? Or perhaps a six month period every 5 years where you only improve on a specific area of yours that you wish to make better on ?

Or think about your goals at a 40 year scale; I think that having a personal brand that clearly stands for what you imbibe is so much more important than the immediate promotion or a salary hike that you’d been vying for and perhaps even losing sleep over. Trust, I have always believed is much harder to earn than money and takes a much longer investment to achieve. It is much harder work than say, closing a sale or writing a program to solve 2048.

And the above examples are just the onset of a way of thinking – What’s stopping you from thinking about other aspects of your life in this way ? Perhaps all your key decisions like the choice of the city you grow up in, the spouse you chose, the books you read would be influenced by this thought process.

I look forward to hear how you think the world would operate differently if everybody became hyperopic 🙂

To the drivers in Delhi

Delhi-Traffic

I am going to do something laughable. I will attempt to coax the junta of Delhi to change just one of their driving habits by presenting a rational argument.

Before I lay out the rationale, here is the summary: I’d like you, the people of Delhi, to stop adding new ‘lanes’ to road at a traffic light by shoving your vehicles at the sides diagonally in an attempt to make it ahead of the car to your side.

First, let me explain a concept: The flow or traffic (or fluid for that matter) through any particular cross-section of road is the largest when unrestricted and is in a single direction. That’s how faucets work – no in a kind of reverse way ?

One of the most important principle in traffic is to avoid collisions. This is done by maintaining adequate separation from all other adjacent vehicles. Imagine a scenario on a two-lane road where no vehicle can possibly change lanes. In this scenario, the only separation a vehicle needs to worry about is front and back. Now by allowing for vehicles to change lanes, the need for maintaining sufficient sideways separation becomes important. If the vehicle in front of you in the adjacent lane wants to come in to your lane you need to either reduce your speed or (if you’re a Delhi driver) increase your speed making the other guy wait for you to pass. Either way the average speed of the two lanes reduces, adversely impacting the throughput of the road.

Extending the above scenario to a case where there are lanes on either side of you, the potential reduction in speed is even greater because you could have vehicles come in from either side. You get the drift. You could argue that vehicles can instead indicate their intention of changing of lanes beforehand. That does allow for inter-vehicle separation to be kept lower but it nevertheless does impact average speed on either lane albeit a bit lesser.

Now imagine what happens when a lot of vehicles are waiting at a red light waiting for it to turn green. The throughput of the road (number of cars that pass through in one unit of time) essentially depends on the speed of the vehicles in front. If they are slow, the entire traffic behind them is slow.

So what happens when another vehicle edges at the side of the traffic light hoping to get ahead of the one already in waiting ? It adds an additional lane to the traffic and due to a greater need for separation causes the vehicle already at the light to be even slower than what it is. This in turn reduces the throughput of the *entire* road affecting every vehicle. Perhaps two or three vehicles do gain by edging from the sides and the impact is the reduction in speed of about 50 other vehicles.

In my book, this is not cool. So I urge you to consider not creating a new lane by edging your vehicle in.  Do this for the greater good. Do it for the warm fuzzy feeling that you did not cause agony to about 50 other vehicles as well.

The downside ? That punched-in-the-stomach feeling that some other sucker still did that leaving you in the slow lane. If only I knew the way around that…