Have an idea..

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, December 28, 2010 10:02 AM 3 comments
What the world needs is software that makes it easy for senior citizens to use e-mail.

Assisted living facilities for seniors already have computers. But how many 80-year olds can navigate Gmail or Outlook?

What we need is software that acts as a "mask" and sits on top of, for example, Gmail. Its main function would be to hide all the options that aren't relevant.

All you would see is very large buttons labeled READ, WRITE, and OTHER.

Seniors should never see more than three large, clear choices on the screen at one time.

And there should never be any double-click situations. One click is enough.

And seniors should only receive e-mail from people who are in their address books. No spam allowed.

Any attachments should open automatically, as if they are part of the e-mail body.

Obviously someone would have to be available to do tech support, including entering new e-mail addresses in address books, and that sort of thing.

You can buy a special computer that is customized for seniors, but it would be handy to have the software available for existing computers.

If grandpa lives with you, and wants to use the home computer to send e-mail, just click "grandpa mode" and get out of the way.

Merry X'mas & a Happy New Year

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, December 25, 2010 8:11 AM 1 comments
Christmas is an excellent holiday for children.

But we adults need our own holiday too isn’t it?

One that is something like the opposite of Christmas. Let's call it National Discard Day.

It could be in June, just for symmetry. The concept for this holiday is that each of your friends and loved ones gets to decide which of your current possessions you have to get rid of.

It's like reverse gift-giving.

In December, people say "Happy holidays!" and "Happy New Year!" In June, around National Discard Day, you might hear something more along the lines of "Lose the Crocs, dipshit. You're not the scrap dealer."

National Discard Day would be cruel but practical.

I came upon this idea after hearing stories of old people's houses that are cluttered beyond all reason. The elderly often have three of everything. I always assumed that the packrat impulse comes from growing up during the post independence days.

There's no point in giving away something that you might need to barter for food.

I was thankful that I'm not like that. Then one day I noticed that we have three vacuum cleaners in the store cabinet. One is lightweight, and good for quick jobs, but it has no hose attachment. The other is useless except for the hose attachment. We need both of those vacuum cleaners, obviously.

The third vacuum cleaner is the "good" one that does everything well, but it is literally too complicated to operate.

It's like the unwanted son of Rusty Man and Prime Tweeter. I can't tell if I'm preparing to use the hose attachment or giving it a goddamn happy ending.

Topping it off, our Mumbai home has a whole new house vacuum system along with a miniature dust buster. If you're keeping count, we will soon have something like 5.5 vacuum cleaning systems, assuming the Dust Buster counts as a half.

Apparently the post independence days aren’t the cause of hoarding. There is always some perfectly good "reason" for keeping stuff. For example, you can't throw away an old chair because someday you might need it for a party.

You can't throw away an ugly knickknack because it was a gift. You can't throw away your stained sweatshirt because nothing else is quite as comfortable.

That's where National Discard Day comes in. You need the help of other people to make the hard decisions for you. In a perfect world, once your home reaches some point of possession saturation, one item must be discarded for every item that enters.

No exceptions. If you disagree, I label you a hoarder.

In my case, our loved ones would presumably force us to get rid of our Dust Buster and our two semi-crippled vacuum cleaners.

The only downside is that trying to figure out how to use the "good" vacuum cleaner looks a lot like porn for gay robots.

But I can definitely live with that.

Look out for this application....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Wednesday, December 22, 2010 9:34 AM 0 comments
Imagine you’re sitting down to eat, but before you take a bite, you whip out your smartphone, fire up a special app, and take a picture of your food.

The app identifies the food types by appearance, then calculates the size of your portions, and estimates your intake of calories, carbs, protein, vitamin, mineral, sugar, salt, and so on. Later you can review your data in a variety of ways.

You can see your calorie intake for the day, or compare yourself to other people who are your same age, size, activity level, and so on.

At the end of a meal, if you have some food left, you can snap another picture so the app can calculate the net of what you actually ate.

If it seems impossible that an app could recognize food types, consider that software can already recognize faces, voices, specific songs, and fingerprints. Recognizing broccoli can’t be that much harder.

And anything that has a label or a wrapper, such as Diet Coke or a Snickers candy bar, would be relatively easy for the app to identify.

Soups and casseroles would be harder to identify and analyze. The app might ask you to supply some information on the main components of the dish. If you said it was a casserole with potato, chicken, and garlic, the app would know that garlic is a minor ingredient and potato is the main ingredient.

It might even look at similar recipes in its database and take an average.

The app would not be perfect at estimating, even with your frequent tweaks. But it would be far better than your own guessing. And it would be great at telling you where your diet is lacking. You might think you have a good diet, only to discover that you aren’t getting enough variety of fruits and veggies.

Now imagine that an accessory for this app is a small waterproof motion detector that you can clip to your footwear. It comes with a watch that also has motion detection. When your smartphone is nearby, the two motion detectors wirelessly download how much movement your arms and legs have experienced that day.

That would be a rough proxy for exercise. You would have to add any data for weight training because that doesn’t require much movement.

Now your app has your total nutrition and exercise profile. You could round out its knowledge by telling it your age, weight, gender, whether you smoke, and other relevant health questions.

From that point on your app could predict your life expectancy and even your odds of dying from specific types of preventable diseases. Perhaps your watch could display both the current time and how many days you have left if you keep living the way you are.

Two factors that most influence human behavior are the ability to measure progress and the framework used to rank performance. This app solves both problems. Allow me to expand on this.

I’ve noticed that losers compare themselves to the average of other people, whereas winners compare themselves to their own natural potential.

The loser can find comfort in knowing there are plenty of other slackers, and he is average (good enough) among them. The winner compares his progress to his personal potential and doesn’t stop until he achieves it.

Researchers have found that simply being near overweight people has a large influence on your own weight. This is probably a result of looking around and deciding that eating a little extra is normal, and good enough. The app I described would change your point of reference by continually reinforcing your own potential.

In time, your frame of reference would be less about your chubby friends and more about how you are doing compared to your own best, as measured by your app.

Try to top it .... any suggestion?

Posted by Tandarin Nike Thursday, December 16, 2010 1:25 AM 2 comments
For historical reasons, the device in your pocket or purse - the one that you use to browse the Internet and send email, is called a "phone." We need a new name for that thing.

Cell phone and Smartphone are words that recognize the historical roots of the device while making things worse. "Mobile phone" is archaic. Those are some ugly words.

And all of those labels have the problem of making the phone feature seem highest in importance while it trends less so every day. Ask a teen how often he makes phone calls on his texter.

I'm biased against the voice communication function of my so-called phone because I hate that particular feature. It's impossible to have a conversation by cellphone if any of the following conditions is true:

1. An earpiece, headset, or speakerphone is used.

2. One of you is in an area with bad reception.

3. One of you has an iPhone.

4. One of you has a heavy accent.

5. One of you is insanely boring.

6. One of you is near anything loud, such as traffic.

That covers just about every call I'm likely to get. I end half of my phone conversations by shouting

"I...CAN'T...HEAR...YOU...SEND...ME...AN...EMAIL!!!"

"On top of that, people use the phone to ask me for uncomfortable favors or deliver bad news, whereas they use email to give me information I want or need. When my so-called phone rings, my first reaction is "Shit. What's wrong now?"

When I get an email or text message, I feel a tingle of optimism.

Text and email are polite invitations to a conversation. They happen at the speed and leisure of both the sender and the receiver.

In stark contrast, when you get a phone call, it's almost always a convenient time for the caller and a bad time for the recipient, who I refer to as the "victim" because I insist on accuracy.

My philosophy is that every phone conversation has a loser.

Anyway, back to my point: We need a new name for your cellular phone.

The new name should embrace all of your device's functions while favoring none. It should understand the future of the device and release on its history.

The name should not be long or klunky or geeky, so forget about calling it a communicator.

My suggestion, which I offer simply to prime the pump, is to call the phone your "head." This term recognizes that you are essentially a cyborg with a detachable brain.

You offload a lot of your memory into your device, and it helps you communicate and gather information, just like the other parts of your general skull area.

There isn't much chance of name confusion with the organic part of your head because the context will always be clear. If you say, "I can't find my head," or "Whose head is ringing?" each utterance has only one rational interpretation.

Granted, there could be some confusion if a head is contemplated as a gift item, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

There's a saying in our country: "You'd lose your head if it weren't screwed on." And now it isn't. Your head is partly on your shoulders and partly in your pocket or purse.

And we often misplace it precisely because it isn't screwed on. I think the word "head" is perfect.

Try to top it. What is your suggestion for a new name?

Let's be more effective to face the future...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Sunday, December 5, 2010 8:22 AM 2 comments
In the early eighties, I had a neighbour who studied computer programming in college but didn't pursue it as a career because he believed it had no future.

His reasoning was that software coders were the future secretaries of the world, someday doing little more than rearranging the code written by those who came before.

He figured the pay for programmers would approach minimum wage in 15 years or so.

We're still waiting for that to happen, but I think of his prediction whenever I see young people making career choices.

There's a lot of guessing involved.

I think technical people, and engineers in particular, will always have good job prospects.

But what if you don't have the aptitude or personality to follow a technical path? How do you prepare for the future?

I'd like to see a college major focusing on the various skills of human persuasion. That's the sort of skillset that the marketplace will always value and the Internet is unlikely to replace.

The persuasion coursework might include...

Sales methods

Psychology of persuasion

Human Interface design

How to organize information for influence

Propaganda

Hypnosis

Cults

Art (specifically design)

Debate

Public speaking

Appearance (hair, makeup, clothes)

Negotiations

Managing difficult personalities

Management theory

Voice coaching

Networking

How to entertain

Golf and tennis

Conversation

You can imagine a few more classes that would be relevant. The idea is to create people who can enter any room and make it their pitch.

Colleges are unlikely to offer this sort of major because society is afraid and appalled by anything that can be labeled "manipulation," which isn't even a real thing.

Manipulation isn't real because almost every human social or business activity has as its major or minor objective the influence of others.

You can tell yourself that you dress the way you do because it makes you happy, but the real purpose of managing your appearance is to influence how others view you.

Humans actively sell themselves every minute they are interacting with anyone else.

Selling yourself, which sounds almost noble, is little more than manipulating other people to do what is good for you but might not be so good for others.

All I'm suggesting is that people could learn to be more effective at the things they are already trying to do all day long.

Care to bet with me?

Posted by Tandarin Nike Friday, December 3, 2010 1:27 AM 2 comments
I wonder if someday the doctor's waiting room will be a giant MRI device, or whatever technology replaces it, that can scan you, diagnose your problems, and write prescriptions without human intervention.

Imagine that someday you have a tiny chip inside you to monitor your blood chemistry on an ongoing basis.

When you enter the room, the computer recognizes your face and matches it to the identity information on your chip just to be sure. Then the computer reads your blood data from your chip and begins scanning your body.

You don't have to be motionless because the computer is fast enough to compensate for your movements. How about that?

The computer has your entire medical history, along with the genetic information that was taken from your umbilical cord. It also knows your lifestyle because your bank records and your location data (from GPS) are available by law to the medical establishment.

The computer can even scan your Facebook pages and other online sources to see what social situations you've been in lately.

By then, privacy will seem like a quaint custom from our primitive past. Children will learn about it in history class.

The computer then compares all of your information with a vast database about other human beings and looks for anomalies. Based on this information, the computer diagnosis you and prescribes treatment.

At that point, a human nurse might be involved to remove a splinter or apply a bandage. If you need surgery, a robot does the hard part while a human doctor probably just supervises.

In the next stage of healthcare, the MRI-like device shrinks to the size of an airport screening device that fits probably in the doorway of your home, so you get a full and instant physical every time you pass through.

Every problem is diagnosed early.

What part of that future is unlikely in say 50 years?

Can anyone challenge me on that?

our proximate creator could be humans from distant planets...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, November 30, 2010 7:32 AM 2 comments
Someday, when almost everyone is connected to almost everyone else via the Internet, I would argue that humans will have evolved into a single collective organism for all practical purposes.

It would be much like the way individual cells of your body are united as one human.

Sure, humans aren't physically connected to each other, but neither are the atoms in your body if you shrink down to their level and take a look. You'd see more empty space in your body than matter.

So proximity doesn't seem to be relevant to the definition of a living entity. It has more to do with how the parts communicate and act in a generally shared purpose for survival.

Thus, when humans are linked via a central nervous system called the Internet, we can call humanity a newly evolved creature.

Humanity will eventually develop the scientific wherewithal to create new worlds, create new life, and manipulate existing life. And humanity will be immortal for all practical purposes, as long as it diversifies its parts across multiple planets, which seems likely.

If science progresses at a normal pace, it seems inevitable that we would someday terraform a planet and seed it with life designed to evolve.

Prepping new planets for our eventual colonization might be part of our long term plan for survival.

We'll always need more real estate if we keep reproducing. And it is the only way this new entity called humanity can survive.

Once we future humans get rolling with all the terraforming and seeding planets with life, we'll probably repeat the process thousands of times over millions of years.

And that brings us to the interesting part which has got me thinking for some time now.

Logically, it is far more likely that we are the product of previous human tinkering than it is likely we are the original humans who started it all. There can be only one first planet of humans, but there will be (or has been) thousands of subsequent versions that are essentially man-made.

So even if you assume a traditional God exists, it is far more likely that your more proximate creator is people. And even if you believe in evolution, it is far more likely we are a human designed version than the very first version.

And the odds that somewhere there is at least one planet inhabited with some version of advanced humans is very high indeed, for there is no rational reason to believe we are the first of what will be thousands to come.

It's more likely we are somewhere in the middle of the process.

Here's the secret to friendship...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Friday, November 26, 2010 7:10 AM 3 comments
Have you ever wondered how someone crosses the line from being an acquaintance to a friend?

Or more importantly, if you want to convert an acquaintance into a friend, what could you do that wouldn't come off as stalking?

I think you can define a friend with two criteria, both of which must be met.

A friend is. . .

1. Someone you have told a secret.

2. Someone who has accepted a favor from you.

Notice that I have cleverly defined a friend in terms of things you give and not things you receive. If you are evaluating your potential friends in terms of what they can give you, or how they can entertain you, you probably don't have many friends.

I read somewhere that telling a secret makes the recipient of the secret automatically bond to you. It puts the giver of the secret in a vulnerable position and it changes the receiver into a protector.

That's halfway to being friends.

The second rule is simple but powerful. We accept favors from strangers all the time, without any expectation of becoming friends. But we don't also share secrets with those strangers. It is the combination of the secret and the favor that nudges an acquaintance into a friend.

Most people are wired to reciprocate. So if you go first with your secret and your favor, the recipient will be primed to do the same. It is the willingness to reciprocate that matters.

Obviously you don't want to give a dangerous or important secret to an acquaintance in hopes it will lead to friendship. You want to hold back the good stuff and start with something small.

For example, lets say you are both at a dinner party and your host served you fish. At the dinner table you told the host the food was wonderful, but later and privately to your would-be friend you jokingly confess that you hate fish. That's a secret, but a tiny one. You don't want to start out with your deepest secrets.

Work into that over time.

Likewise with the favors, keep them tiny at first. You might have some special knowledge to share that costs you nothing but a few minutes of your time.

Or perhaps you had a conversation about a vacation spot and you forwarded an e-mail with a link that your potential friend might find useful. It's a tiny favor and will be accepted.

You don't want to start right off offering to drive someone to the airport at 4 AM.

This partly explains why people who work together, or play sports together, naturally become friends.

You have lots of opportunities to share small secrets and perform minor favors. And of course you have lots of things to talk about. That helps.

The secret and the favor are necessary but not sufficient for making a friend. You still need some basic chemistry and common interests. But chemistry and common interests aren't things you can easily change.

So if you find a candidate for a friend with whom you have some chemistry and common interests, work on the secret and the favor.

Those you can surely control.

One more theory to ponder...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, November 16, 2010 1:32 AM 4 comments
I have many crackpot theories.

Today is no exception. Let's test today's theory, unscientifically.

First, think of someone you know who is unusually creative. It should be someone who almost can't stop creating, whether that involves painting, sculpting, starting new businesses, rebuilding cars, modeling, whatever.

But don't count knitting or anything that involves following directions. I'm only talking about creating from original ideas. Pick someone for whom the need to invent something new as often as possible almost defines the person.

Okay? Now hold that thought.

Second, think of your best friend who does NOT have a creative streak and is about the same age as the creative person you chose. Okay, do you have both people in mind?

Now, which one has more body fat?

My prediction is that the creative person is usually thinner than the non-creative person.

My theory is that when your body experiences the early stages of hunger, you become more creative, and more energetic. (Obviously at the later stages of hunger you become sleepy, cranky, distracted, and probably less creative. Let's call that starvation and not hunger.)

This makes sense from an evolutionary view. As soon as you feel hunger coming on, your body is designed to put you into your most creative and energetic mode for the purpose of hunting and gathering. If you can't outrun your prey, you have to outthink it.

And if there are no bananas in your usual tree, you'd better have a creative idea where to look next. It makes sense that the onset of hunger would stimulate your brain to its highest operating level.

I came to this theory after two decades of watching how my own diet influences my energy and personality. One pattern is remarkably clear: My creativity and energy are highest when I haven't eaten much lately.

Is that a coincidence?

The highest period of creativity in my life coincided with the period in which I became a vegetarian and felt hungry all the time no matter how many carrots and salads I ate. I joked about it at the time, but there was a very real sense of clarity that coincided with my change of diet.

During those same years, I discovered that my most creative time was in the morning. I assumed it had something to do with alleged circadian rhythms, coffee consumption, or the fact that there were fewer distractions.

By the afternoon, I was lucky if I had enough brainpower left to drive my car. My new theory is that I have very little food in my stomach during the morning, and the onset of hunger is spiking my creative energy. I'm in hunter/gather mode. Then I eat lunch, and its nap time.

There are days when I experience floods of creativity that are almost overwhelming. I noticed recently that those times coincide with periods in which when I'm trying to lose a few pounds to get back to my target weight.

Today as it stands my target weight has gone for a sixer.

By now you've probably seen the CNN story about the nutritionist who lost 27 pounds and became generally healthier by eating mostly junk food, but limiting his calories.

We don't know if it raised his risk of cancer in the long run, so no expert is recommending his diet. But it calls into question how much we really know about the link between food and health.

On a final note, have you ever wondered why famous musicians write their best songs when they are young?

Maybe it's because young brains are more creative and less cluttered, or because they are more tapped into the youth culture, or maybe it's because they are doing more drugs.

But maybe it's also because young musicians don't eat as much as their bodies require. Musicians tend to look underfed during their most creative years. Maybe it's not a coincidence.

I remind you not to get your health and nutrition advice from me.

But I'm curious if your own creative moments have coincided with low caloric intake?

Am happy for the wild dogs..

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, November 13, 2010 8:48 AM 2 comments
According to a new study, which I am quoting here, women are attracted to intelligent men for both long term relationships and for hook-ups.

The only time women are not attracted to intelligent men is when they have the option of a good looking guy who is dumber than pants on fish. Still, it's comforting to know that given the choice of two ugly guys, women usually prefer the one who is not a moron.

And obviously many women will still pick the guy who is both ugly and stupid if he has lots of money, good hair, is tall, or plays in a band.

I did my own study to reach that conclusion. It's titled "Duh.."

In my immense experience as an unattractive smart guy who was not always a dreamer, there are in fact women who have fetishes for smart men. Not many, but they exist.

My guess is that about 5% of the female public is in that group. That's probably good enough to keep the inventions flowing for a few more evolutionary steps.

The only risk to the future of humanity is that nerds will invent a technology that is better than sex with another human being.

I'll try to keep this next part rated PG-13, so please be patient with the indirectness. Can't help it.

I assume some entrepreneur is already working on creating a business where guys will be able to buy a lifelike female body part that plugs into a standard USB port, and can be controlled by someone else across the Internet.

That artificial body part could mimic a hand, mouth, or whatever. In the short run, the business model would involve paying someone, in countries where such things are legal, to control the device and appear on a web cam chat.

In the long run, artificial intelligence and computer generated imaging; women will be controlling the action, so the whole system would only cost Rs 100, with no recurring fees.

And, that will be the end of humanity because nerds will stop mating, their genes will die out, humanity will revert to the Bronze Age, and all the attractive, dumb people will be eaten by wild dogs.

I like to end on a positive note, so let's take a moment to be happy for the wild dogs.

Barge your way through immense real estate....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Monday, November 8, 2010 6:06 AM 4 comments
I've been thinking about this for quite awhile and it's interesting to see technology coming together to make it feasible.

The idea is that people will start living on barge-like boats and slowly motor or sail around the ocean and to stay in the best weather.

Of course, you'd need a number of technologies to make this feasible, and all of them either exist or soon will. Obviously you want solar power, and some method of storing the energy for night.

You'd need a desalinization device, GPS, and some sort of satellite Internet service. And you'd probably need some serious waste treatment gear.

The reason I think the future will be barges instead of standard boats is that you can start small and add real estate as you can afford it. Just connect a new barge and presto. And you can dock to other barges to create temporary or permanent communities.

If the barges are designed to be connected, according to some common standard, the entire city can move around to the best weather and fishing spots as and when needed.

The reason I think this will be a compelling lifestyle is that you won't have to pay much in taxes if you live and work in international waters. And there will be no government to squelch your freedoms, unless you choose to form one.

Big countries will have no compelling reason to conquer your barge, or even your barge city, because it will have no strategic value.

With scale, you get floating hospitals and schools and all the other services you need. The big problem of course would be pirates. But there is a theoretical amount of firepower that makes that risk manageable too.

You could have your own surveillance drones that warn you well in advance of any company.

I seriously think it will happen.

Nobel Prize.... here I come

Posted by Tandarin Nike Monday, November 1, 2010 1:05 PM 2 comments
As regular readers might by now know, my goal is to win a Nobel Prize.
I don't really care which one. I'm just in it for the instant celebrity status that comes with it. Last night I came up with an idea that should get it done.

This idea targets the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. I don't have any relevant education in those fields, and I haven't done any research, so I know I need to come up with something big to get the judges past their bias for competence.

My idea needs to cure a whole lot of problems. Anything less would be begging for the award committee to snub me once again.

My idea is this: A web site that collects extremely detailed lifestyle habits from volunteers all over the world, which includes the type of food they eat, how they exercise, exposure to sunlight, and lots of other things.

These volunteers will also enter data on any health problems they encounter, from a sniffle to a broken hip. The data would be available to the general public, without association to the identities of the people, so amateur researchers can mine for patterns.

For example, we might find that people who have a diet rich in a particular vitamin or mineral don't get cataracts, or tinnitus, or shin splints, or whatever.

This idea is cobbled together from several other ideas floating around in the ether. Most recently, I was wondering why my allergies inexplicably went away in the past year.

The only thing I changed, as far as I know, is taking some supplements, and there is some scientific evidence to believe that could help. But it might be something else, such as drinking more lime juice than usual. If the database I described already existed, doctors could check to see if people who take supplements, or drink lots of lime juice, have fewer allergies.

I read a book called The China Study that is a lot like this concept, but with less detail than I am proposing, and limited to China. The data from China showed that people who ate a plant-based diet hardly ever got the most common killer diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

This past month you might have seen a number of media reports about other research that supports that same point. Wouldn't you like to know if most of the health benefit shown in The China Study came from particular plants?

Personally, I don't want to eat any more kelp than I need to.

The other source of inspiration for my idea is the stories about amateur astronomers who have been given access to the vast unviewed archive of pictures of space, so they can help find any anomalies.

You'd think that would be boring work that no one would volunteer to do, but apparently so many people are volunteering that the servers initially couldn't hold the load.

I think that in a world of 6 billion people, it wouldn't be hard to find a few million who are willing to record their lives in great detail, knowing it would have so much benefit to humanity. And volunteers might end up finding solutions to their own health problems along the way.

The database would do more than discover what prevents health problems. It would also tell you what lifestyle elements promote good moods, or lead to high performance at work, in school, or in sports. It might tell you what elevates testosterone, thus improving our productive lives, and probably keep you looking younger. The potential is just too vast.

I'm hoping the idea is so good that someone builds the web site.

If you decide to do it, I promise to thank you by name when I am in Stockholm accepting my award.

Now wish me luck ……

skill management...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, October 26, 2010 8:16 AM 5 comments
It's easy to do two things at the same time, as long as one of those actions is a practiced skill that you can do almost automatically. For example, walking and talking is easy. And some people can play the guitar and sing, as long as they have practiced both of those skills until one requires virtually no conscious thought.

But you can't do two things at the same time that both require original thinking.

I know this first hand because my wife, Shaila, likes to bring up conversations in the car that involve rotating three-dimensional objects in my mind while expecting me to simultaneously navigating to our destination. This doesn't work out so well.

The actual driving of the car is easy, because that is a practiced skill. But trying to imagine the correct route to our destination is impossible for me if Shaila is simultaneously asking me to imagine the optimal placement of living room furniture.

The other day, as I was cleaning pasta sauce off of every inch of the inside of the microwave, I was reminding Shaila of my bandwidth limitation for spatial manipulation.

I cajoled her in engaging me in a conversation involving the manipulation of objects while expecting that I would simultaneously be able to imagine the proper combination of pasta, sauce, a bowl, and (this next part is key) a cover inside a microwave. I managed to put four out of five objects in the right place, and frankly felt good about it.

I have a practiced theory that music appreciation resides in the same part of your brain where you think about yourself. That might be why it's good to listen to music while doing boring tasks, such as going for a long walk, because music interferes with your mind's ability to think about yourself.

I also find it impossible to do any sort of creative writing while listening to music, perhaps for the same reason: Creativity springs from a deep examination of self, which you then generalize, and music seems to share that bandwidth.

I can, however, listen to music and manipulate three-dimensional objects in my mind just fine. Those functions don't seem to interfere with each other.

I wonder if we humans will get to a point where we understand how to manage the different parts of our brains in the best fashion. For example, if you have an important upcoming task that involves manipulating objects in your mind, is it better to practice spatial tasks all morning or better to rest that capacity of your brain until you need it?

During some period of my life, I wrote a number of computer programs that involved intense manipulation of objects in my mind, for hours each day. I discovered that it was difficult to be social at night when my mind had been manipulating object during the day.

It felt as if I were deep inside a cave and yelling to the people who stood at the cave opening. It seemed as if the practice of programming interfered with, or exhausted, the part of my brain that handles social skills.

It is generally agreed that playing soccer is a good crossover skill for playing tennis, probably because of the footwork. Could we get to the point of understanding the brain where, for example, we tutor someone who is struggling in math by asking him to do non-math tasks that are complementary to the math-handling part of the brain?

I wonder, does playing a highly spatial video game for hours a day help your math skills, exhaust them, or have no impact?

If you have a date in the evening, will you be at your most witty and charming if you spent the hours ahead of the date doing light exercise, reading a novel, or assembling some IKEA furniture?

I'll bet there's a right answer to that question.

Synchronicity or Chance....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, October 23, 2010 9:06 AM 2 comments
You probably might have read or heard about the story of the woman who won the lottery for the fourth time. Some say the odds of that are 1 out of 18 septillion.

I think almost everyone who reads this blog will assume it wasn't luck, and that there was some criminal activity involved. But it made me wonder if humans have some sort of innate and similar view of where coincidence fails as an explanation. Let's test that....

Let's say a mysterious woman appears at your door and tells you that you have a special power. If you write the name of a person on a piece of paper and put it in a sock overnight, that person will die.

You try it once out of curiosity, picking the name of some scoundrel from the news so you won't feel bad if it works. And sure enough, that person dies of a heart attack that very night.

Your first thought might be that as a general rule, scoundrels live risky lifestyles. You might have gotten lucky on that one. So you try it again the next night with a new name, and that person is also dead by morning.

You try it twenty times, never telling anyone else of your experiment, and each time it works before sunrise the next day.

You can imagine a variety of explanations for your experience. You might be crazy, or dreaming, or experiencing selective memory.

Maybe the mysterious woman who told you of this method is somehow watching you and putting out the hit order on the name you choose, for reasons that you can't understand.

Maybe you're just good at recognizing when people's time has come. Maybe you are part of some sort of science experiment or reality show. Perhaps there are a dozen other explanations.

My question to you is this: How many times could you repeat this experiment alone, with whatever controls or privacy you could muster, before you believed your actions were causing specific people to die?

For me it would be somewhere around the third person.

Two ears and a mouth........

Posted by Tandarin Nike Friday, October 22, 2010 9:03 AM 4 comments
Just imagine an advanced alien life form that materializes on earth in the middle of a popular dance club. The alien has a cloak of invisibility and observes the humans dancing. He is here to watch and learn.

My question is this: Would the alien ever learn to distinguish good dancers from poor dancers?

Now suppose the alien leaves the club and finds a bar that is open late. He observes a lot of what we call "conversation" happening. The alien's universal interpreter device allows him to understand the content of the conversations.

My question is this: Would the alien ever learn to distinguish a good conversationalist from a poor one?

I started thinking about this after reading that people with Asperger syndrome have trouble understanding the subtleties of human social interaction. That skill doesn't come as a package deal with general intelligence.

The advanced alien can't figure out who the good conversationalists are, nor can the fellow with Asperger syndrome even if he has an otherwise exceptional IQ.

Now suppose we gave both the alien and the Asperger guy some rules about dancing and some rules about conversation as benchmarks by which to sort the good from the bad.

Would it help them?

With dancing, you could point out that the movement of your hips should be timed with the beat, and that the level of motion should be somewhere in a range that is neither too quiet nor too frenetic compared to the other dancers. You could throw in other rules as well, such as no finger-pointing, no excessive repetitiveness, no monopolizing the entire dance floor, and so on.

You might have dozens of rules when you are done, but the highly intelligent alien and the Asperger guy (probably an engineer) could learn them all fairly quickly. And from that point on, they could discern good dancing from poor dancing. They might even be able to imitate it, with some practice.

Now consider conversation. How many times have you been in a restaurant and been victimized by the loud guy at the next table dominating the conversation without the benefit of being entertaining?

It seems somewhat common that people who are neither alien nor Asperger syndrome types have no conversation skills. Indeed, it appears that many so-called normal people don't even understand the concept of a conversation.

A conversation, like dancing, has some rules, although I've never seen them stated anywhere.

The objective of conversation is to entertain or inform the other person while not using up all of the talking time. A big part of how you entertain another person is by listening and giving your attention.

Ideally, your own enjoyment from conversation comes from the other person doing his or her job of being interesting. If you are entertaining yourself at the other person's expense, you're doing it wrong.

You might think that everyone on earth understands what a conversation is and how to engage in one. My observation is that no more than a quarter of the population has that understanding. I was solidly in the conversationally clueless camp until I took the Dale Carnegie course, in which one small part of the learning dealt with the mechanics of conversation. It was a life-changing bit of knowledge.

Prior to the course, I believed that conversation was a process by which I could demonstrate my cleverness, complain about what was bugging me, and argue with people in order to teach them how dumb they were.

To me, listening was the same thing as being bored. I figured it was the other person's responsibility to find some entertainment in the conversation. That wasn't my job.

Yes, I was that dumb and I didn't know it. The good news is that once I learned the rules of conversation, I was socially reborn. It turns out that active listening is more fun than talking, although sometimes you need to guide the conversation toward common interests.

I am sure three-quarters of the people reading this post ..... just thought,

"Uh-oh. I didn't know conversation had rules."

Peace at last.....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Wednesday, October 20, 2010 11:40 PM 2 comments
This relates to my stay in Europe two decades ago. That was a time when there was more peace on earth then what it is today. This probably could be because of a lesser populace or due to more spirituality existing those days than what it is today.

It began with the Islamic call to worship. A friend of a friend agreed to do the call after coming in from Europe the night before and knowing that he would head to Europe the next morning. It was followed by the choir’s rendition of the calm Kum Bah Yah. Then the entire audience joined them in John Lennon’s Imagine.

The experience continued with Buddhist chants by Tibetan monks, a Christian experience of contemplative prayer, Hindu chants, Vedic prayers, Native American music, and a Sufi remembrance. The audience sampled the many ways to connect with and deepen their experience of Spirit.

It was now time to practice being at peace. Across the street, in a public park, 450 people sat in silence for 30 minutes. They were practicing any of the ways just expressed by the spiritual leaders and teachers, or one of their own, but they were all, in that half an hour, deepening their awareness of Spirit’s presence.

Few years earlier, a friend of mine had read an article that said that they tried this in one of the battle zones of Lebanon in the 80’s and the bombs stopped dropping in the village where one percent of the population engaged in a daily practice of meditation. They did not hold the idea of peace or “intend” to manifest peace. They just connected with the Divine.

My friend took up the challenge and thought, “What if one percent of our community, 15,000 people, engaged in this practice?” In the research, it was noted that not only did the bombs stop falling in that village in Lebanon, but the incidents of violent crime and fatal accidents went down.

Science is exploring the idea that two particles that are separated are still affected by the same by an outside influence even when they are far apart. Sociology explains that communities have impact beyond their bounds. In the global economy, the impact of code written in Indonesia is felt around the world.

The message is clear across all disciplines: We are one.

When we think of brokering peace in the world, at best we think of delegations sitting in a room hashing out the complexities, at worst we think that it has to happen by the sword, or gun.

Do you ever think that your meditation practice could bring about an idea so profound and, so far, evading? Do you ever think that you can bring about peace by using the Law of Attraction: bringing peace by being peace?

When you practice meditation, sit with the intent of experiencing Spirit, do you feel at peace? Could it be that the peace that you experience, the peace that passes understanding, is felt by those around you when you walk out of your practice?

For about two and a half hours at my *'Kuladev' in Goa few weeks back, there were no egos, no treaties, no guns, just Spirit.

It was a profound experience of being Spirit. I can vouch I experienced peace.

*Kuladev and Kŭladaiwat, stands for "family deity, that is either a god or a goddess" within the Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) sect. Kuladevtas play a very pious role for the GSB's.

Imagine big... You might surprise yourself

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, October 19, 2010 7:15 AM 2 comments
I discovered as a child that the user interface for reprogramming my own brain is my imagination. For example, if I want to reprogram myself to be in a happy mood, I imagine succeeding at a difficult challenge, or flying under my own power, or perhaps being able to levitate objects with my mind.

If I want to perform better at a specific task, such as table tennis, I imagine the perfect strokes before going on to the table. If I want to fall asleep, I imagine myself in pleasant situations that are unrelated to whatever is going on with my real life.

My most useful mental trick involves imagining myself to be far more capable than I really am.

I do this to reduce the risk that I turn down an opportunity just because I am clearly unqualified. So far, this has worked well for me.

I pursued a short career stilt in writing despite having no real talent. When a publisher asked me to write a book, I quickly agreed, despite having no relevant writing experience. When a network marketing business group asked me to give a humorous paid speech to their members, I said yes, despite having no meaningful experience at that sort of thing.

After all, if you spend a lot of time imagining you can run twenty miles, it makes the idea of running only ten miles seem entirely feasible.

Later on, as my enginnering career took off, albeit pretty late in giving me good returns, many of my friends have asked me if I ever imagined I would reach this level of success. The question embarrasses me because the truth is that I imagined a far greater level of success. That's my process. I imagine big.

I've never admitted this before, but my favorite imaginary scenario involves being elected Prime Minister of India. I choose that job as the target of my imagination because I am spectacularly unqualified to hold public office. If I can successfully imagine being a great prime minister, I won't have trouble imagining I can succeed at lesser tasks.

Some of you reading this blog would probably be good at the job of being prime minister if given the chance.

So for you, imagining success as a national leader might not be much of a stretch. But I am blessed with absolutely none of the qualities necessary for leadership. That's exactly why I choose to imagine it.

Let me give you an idea of how unqualified I am to be prime minister.

First, I'm not good at remembering names. Or faces. Or countries. My staff meetings would be a whole lot of  "Maybe we should nudge what's-his-face's country. You know, the one that grows the coconuts. Or maybe they manufacture tractors. I remember that their leader had a funny hat. Make it happen."

I'm not charismatic. If I were to stop at diners as part of my campaign, people would ask me for coffee. It would be one bad photo op after another.

I can't ask people to sacrifice their personal interests for the greater good. It feels evil.

I couldn't force myself to spend time doing useless tasks such as visiting victims of natural disasters or working on a peace plan with our neighbours. I would argue that napping would be a better use of my time.

And I would make matters worse by showing research to back my point. I wouldn't be able to get through an entire press conference without saying "Blow me."

Obviously I couldn't last a full term in office, much less get elected. But that doesn't stop me from imagining that someday the party flag would have my face where the finger used to be.

Imagine big. You might surprise yourself.

The ideal gift idea....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Sunday, October 17, 2010 7:46 AM 7 comments
I'm not good at buying gifts.

I start worrying about it in April, and by the time October rolls around I'm in full panic mode. Call me spontaneous, but I prefer when my failures surprise me, not when they are scheduled for October 27th every year. By this time of year I feel as if I'm tied to the railroad tracks, I hear a whistle in the distance, and it probably isn't a bullet train.

When it comes to gifts, they say it's the thought that counts, but I can't even get that part right. Whatever the hell I'm doing is more like the Dalai Lama clearing his mind and meditating, but without the relaxing part.

When I try to think of an appropriate gift for my wife, all I see is nothingness. The problem might have something to do with my own view of material goods. I can walk through a shopping mall for hours without seeing anything I'd want to own more than I'd want to lug it back to the car.

For example, if I see a shirt that looks nice, I can't imagine why I'd want to own it. I already have shirts that keep me warm. It won't make me look more attractive, unless I wrap it around my face, and I buy two more to stuff in my shoes so I'm taller. For some reason my wife prefers it when I have new shirts, which is exactly why I get shirts for my birthday, shirts for Diwali, and shirts for my anniversary. And I have been led to believe there is a holiday called National Shirt Day.

I am guessing that some of you have the same gift-buying problem that I do, minus the crazy parts. I propose that we stick together and come up with some sure-fire gift ideas to make our own lives easier. I will prime the pump with this suggestion, and you can thank me later. It's a company that sells sterling silver necklaces, gold plated and hand-stamped with (wait for it...) the names of a woman's children: Allukas Designs.

Aside from the obvious brilliance that jewelry is always a correct gift for women, when you add the names of her children, it takes it to another level. That's the "thought" part you keep hearing about. I am told that gold works for just about every woman and goes with just about every casual outfit.

Plus, unlike a ring or clothing, there are no sizing issues. I already got this gift for my wife last year, so I can't use it again. (Full disclosure: Shaila told me to buy it for her.)

Okay, now it is your turn. Leave your gift ideas in my mail box or in the comment area, with links if you have them. The ideal gift idea should show some sort of thought, have no sizing issues, and be priced in the spouse-gift range.

Put some thinking into it because in all likelihood you're deciding what my wife will get for her birthdays for the next ten years.

The power of ideas.....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, October 16, 2010 1:46 AM 2 comments
One way of imagining the future is that you and I, the so-called current generation, will selfishly party until we die, leaving to our children nothing but crushing debt, a boiling turd of a planet, and various Apple products.

The problem with this analysis is that young adults have most of the guns and muscles. So isn't the younger generation complicit in stealing from itself? Think about it......

Imagine a 20-something, muscular thug on the street, with a loaded gun in his waistband. A 60-year old banker with a bad back waddles up to him and says, "Give me your wallet!" The thug reaches past his gun and hands over his wallet. That's how our society is organized. I'm not complaining, since I have more in common with the banker than the thug.

In theory, the young soldiers in any country could collectively decide that they deserve most of the national wealth and then simply take it. If you think that sounds like a crime, assume that the first thing the soldiers could do is force lawmakers to rewrite the laws.

If you think that sounds unethical, I would argue that the people who take the most physical and mental risks for the benefit of society should get the most pay. That seems perfectly reasonable and moral to me. And let's assume the soldiers are smart enough to leave enough money in the capitalist system that it still works.

Perhaps the CEO of a major corporation would only earn $250K per year. If he wants more, he can surely join the Navy.

I only bring this up because I'm fascinated by the degree to which brains have evolved to become more powerful than guns. Society's founding geniuses engineered a social system that encourages the young people who have guns to shoot at each other instead of robbing old people.

Forgive me for calling that awesome.

Arguably, the most important function of human language is to protect the smart from the strong. Humans use words to create sentences, and sentences to create concepts, such as our notions of duty and honor.

Powerful concepts control behavior. Without our language and concepts, the strong would kill the smart, and humans wouldn't evolve to be any smarter. I think you could say that human evolution is being guided at least partly by the power of ideas.

I can't remember if I had a point.

Realization comes pretty late ...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, September 25, 2010 9:14 PM 2 comments
This is the kind of post that would either have you in splits or have you thinking that the positions of my brain and something else have somehow interchanged.

I started shaving (my beard) when I was in Std. IX (13 years of age) but I would usually go to the barber once in 3 or 4 months to get the job done. After joining college I bought my own shaving kit but I would use it only in case of an "emergency" or when it just caught my fancy to shave - just for fun.

I still continued going to the barber and would get shaved only once in 2 or 3 or 4 months (usually tied the job with a haircut).

My friends never got that. They would repeatedly ask me whether I was inconvenienced by the bushy beard. It never troubled me, though, and I never got why they all thought so.

Apparently, stubbles itch may probably make one feel awkward. Somehow, I never felt that way.

I thought that whole thing about regular shaving making one's skin and beard hard were hogwash and I was special and everyone else was just going crazy setting a lot of store by urban legend.

Then a barber told me one day that it was *very* easy to shave off my beard (I told him it was around 3 months old). That got me thinking. After all, here was a guy with experience, and he ought to be right.

And then I got married, and thereby lost the freedom to "maintain" my beard as I would really have liked to.

Actually, in a very narcissistic sort of way, I actually liked to grow my beard for long periods of time just to gloat at the look of surprise on people's faces when I got it shaved off.

And I can't do this any more now. I'm now like any average Joe, shaving my beard on my own. Ah, the drudgery! You know, it's quite a pleasurable experience sitting down on a reclining chair, all tucked up, listening to some olde worlde music and getting royal treatment.

And to top it all, most supermarkets do not stock the kind of blade that goes on my nearly 10-year old razor, a Gillette SensorExcel World Cup Edition (1998 vintage with the blue-coloured grip strips rather than the standard-issue grey strips). They would rather have me spend a few hundred bucks and get a new razor and a new set of blades.

So much for the backward compatibility we pathetic little enterprise software designers and engineers have to ensure with every freakin' piece of code we write. Luckily, I ultimately found a set of blades that would work with my razor and I was all set to go.

So these days I'm doing the job on my own, religiously, five times a week. And horror of horrors, my stubble now starts to itch!

What have I done to myself?! I've absolutely managed to spoil something so pure and innocent and made it into this irritating monster, and it is definitely *not* going to change for the better.

Oh!!! What a life......

Swacchata Tyaj Prabhuta ...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Thursday, September 23, 2010 9:15 PM 2 comments
Often times I've heard the argument that one must appear "neat" before visiting a place of worship (this could also include sitting down for prayer at home in front of a deity).

I have been - on many an occasion years ago- rapped on the knuckles for "neglecting" to, for example, take a head-bath before sitting down for prayer.

First of all, I do not particularly relish prayer/worship of any kind (i.e. at home or at the temple). I will not say I am an atheist. It is just that I do not think that there is a designated time and place for worship. The fundamental tenet of any religion is that a person should first be a good human being and his/her actions should not hurt those around him/her.

I do not have any illusions that regular prayer and worship will automatically absolve me of all my sins and wrongdoings. For all those words and deeds of mine that may have hurt others (I am pretty sure no human being is perfect in that sense and everyone, including me, must have hurt someone or the other albeit unintentionally), I repent regularly.

I also have a lot to be thankful for, and this is another of the reasons why people are urged to worship God - to express their gratitude for their daily bread etc. I do this in a different way. I respect the power that made the Universe (and by extension - Nature and Life).

In this light, I believe that cleanliness should not be limited just to the physical, in that it is not sufficient to be neat and prim and proper physically. One should be clean in terms of the mind and soul too during a prayer session.

Often times, it hurts me to see people carry the baggage of hate, scorn, derision and all the other vile emotions to their respective places of worship. At the same time, it is not uncommon to see instances of cheating and mistrust manifest themselves at these same places.

I wonder how this can be changed. I ask myself how it might be possible to tell those self-professed religious, God-fearing people that the show they put on is hollow, and without inner cleanliness, there can be no true Godliness.

Incredible Power cuts!

Posted by Tandarin Nike Wednesday, September 22, 2010 9:08 PM 5 comments
Eleven outages of various lengths in the space of 13 hours that has left the pathetic UPS of my friend absolutely bone-dry and totally incapable of riding even something as small as a single voltage blip!

What a life..?

What's a guy to do? Especially one who has seen no outages abroad since 2006.

It's very difficult to think about working from home these days here in India, as the power backup offered by the generators in the apartment complex in question here in South India is abysmal (just one light each in the hall and the kitchen) given the kind of erratic power supply we are fortunate enough to have been bestowed upon ourselves. God... please HELP us.

One option for my dear friend is to work on a laptop. It's time to get a new battery for that aging office ThinkPad he uses. The damn thing doesn't even last 45 minutes now, and not even that much if there is lots of disk activity such as during boot-up.

However, I see no reason in spending roughly 2 to 3k INR on a battery for a laptop that won't even fetch him a few hundred bucks. Anyway, the machine belongs to the office so he probably does not have to worry too much about this aspect, although I'd rather use a newer machine with faster hardware.

Secondly, I simply do not enjoy programming on a pathetic 1024x768 15" screen, and definitely not with the 1920x1200 I can get from my Dell 24" LCD (back home). However, that LCD needs power, again, and loads of it (at least compared to a laptop screen). With the UPS low on reserve power, hooking up the LCD to the laptop is again not a smooth option for sure.

In the absence of efficient, mature solar panels that can consistently (i.e. irrespective of how bright/cloudy it is) deliver 300W of power and given current battery technology, what's a guy really to do if he wants to work from home? Shift to a different place in town (not very feasible and besides, many other factors come into play)? Use loads and loads of costly, inefficient solar panels and depend on utility power + UPS for the night (if needed)?

The long-term solution really is to have a battery technology that combines the advantages offered by lithium-ion batteries such as low size/weight, easy maintenance, quick charge times (compared to the kind of backup time they offer) and consistent output along with those of lead-acid batteries such as low cost and the ability to support a high power draw for a long time.

Such a technology would make millions here in India leap for joy but we're still a few years away, at best, from getting there. Though I must say, I have access to such technology and hardware in Bahrain.

My friend can probably get an inverter, but I don't know if the apartment owners' association would permit the usage of one, and in any case his main problem is not the rest of the appliances at home but only the computer, and during day time on a few days at that.

Besides, he would still be affected by the same problem he is facing now - of not enjoying 18 straight hours of uninterrupted power to keep his UPS batteries fully charged and capable of serving his machine's power needs for 1.5+ hours at a stretch (incredible ratio, isn't it?).

Don't ask me the details. I would definitely not do such a miserable setup specification/design. It's just crap when the suppliers here wringle their way through sales talk. I have had my good time designing and overseeing commissioning of in excess of 200KVA UPS's at single sites.

One thing for sure, there is incredible scope for young engineers who would like to take power engineering as a subject in India. That's both at research as well as commercial harware manufacture levels.

Wish I was twenty years younger to take the nation building task, as there is no other place on earth where such opportunities abound. India is the place to be in.

Hope young minds are reading this.....

Wisdom gone for a Sixer...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, September 21, 2010 9:28 PM 2 comments
This is an interesting incident that I witnessed nearly a couple of weeks back at a large store in close proximity to my residence in Mumbai.

I was standing in the queue at one of the billing counters as I had picked up a couple of things. It was a Saturday evening (I should mention that I absolutely hate visiting malls because of the crowds, and Saturday evenings are *really* crowded - but that day was one of those unpalatable exceptions) and the queues were all very long.

I would have chosen a shorter queue, but I stood in the queue for the billing counter nearest to the exit gate because my wife was standing outside.

She did not have a cell phone and hence I did not want her to worry about where I was.

The wife of the gentleman standing in front of me in the queue suddenly came barging in with their two kids and started admonishing the poor man for choosing "the longest queue". She literally dragged him over to another queue which was noticeably shorter.

The elder of the two kids must have been five - maybe six - years old, and as the lady told her husband, "Did you notice that you chose the longest queue?" while they were walking over to the other queue, this kid chimed out, "Which will slowly become the shortest queue."

Perhaps I am underestimating five to six-year old kids, but that moment really struck something in me, and got me thinking. Here was conventional wisdom of one kind against another. The lady employed a greedy algorithm of sorts.

The end result she had in mind was that her family should get out of the queue and the shop as quickly as it could. In a sense, her approach was probably near-sighted. All things (such as the efficiency of the clerk at the billing counter and the average number of billable items per head of customers in a queue) being equal, the shortest queue does guarantee the quickest path to the exit, but in the real world, all things are not always equal.

More often not, a variant of Murphy's law applies where you see that the queue you just moved out of suddenly starts moving a lot faster than the one you just joined (this could sometimes be just imagination and the fickleness that is such a big part of any human being).

However, I was amazed to see a young kid realizing the fact that this kind of a greedy approach to minimize waiting times at queues could actually result in a sub-optimal solution.

That said, one simply cannot just stay put in a certain queue if it is or happens to become the longest and one is short on time.

It is an interesting thing - pitting one form of conventional wisdom or common sense against the other.

Usually, common sense is derived out of fact and/or considerable experience, and here is one situation where neither really counts.

Like they say, 'Common Sense is not too common' .....

Obsolescence never meant the end of anything—it's just the beginning

Posted by Tandarin Nike Monday, September 20, 2010 6:19 AM 2 comments
They say it comes with age. They all talk about how our grandparents can't understand new-fangled dresses, hairdos, food, jobs, gadgets and what have you. Living in the past is taboo and all they want to hear about is progress and life in the fast lane.

I fell for it all. Till the other day I mentioned "old" people and a propensity to not accept change in the same breath. And then I suddenly realized that I too began harbouring similar tendencies.

Everyone nowadays wants a cellphone that can take photographs, allow them to surf, read mail, play games, watch movies, connect to their computers and transfer stuff, feed their dog, wash their clothes, call others names etc. etc. I say I don't. One, I don't have the patience to scour through reams of specifications to find the one model that I want. Two, I don't want to have this patience. Why should I, when my current cellphone can faithfully do all that I ask it to?

The digital world has moved from categories and classifications and folders to tags. I had no patience for that too, atleast initially. I've begun sucking up to tags very recently; that too in a very limited manner to organize my bookmarks online so that I don't have to worry about corrupted browser profiles and dead sectors on hard disks.

So, am I being obsolete? Perhaps I'm missing out on progress and life in the fast lane. Maybe. Now, is there anything wrong with this? Can one consider obsolescene to really be taboo?

I can only answer by saying that I'm comfortable with what I use to achieve my needs. I don't feel it eats too much into my productivity or efficiency, and more importantly, my budget, to currently do what I want to do with the technology I use at the moment.

Unless I can find a truly great use for any of this new-fangled stuff, it's all useless to me. I don't fancy reading email from my cellphone simply because more often than not I have a computer with internet access available to me most of the time. My commutes are short and infrequent and I can live for an hour a day without having ready access to the internet. After all, who checks mail or reads news online when they're asleep? Just add an hour and nothing is lost.

Such is the case for many other things. There are definitely people who can put the latest technology to the greatest use. Markets, however niche or mainstream, always existed for practically anything that could be designed, produced and sold.

I feel I have to consider how my lot can be improved in a manner corresponding to the investment made on such technology before taking the jump. That's fair, isn't it?

So, my dear granddads and grandmoms, despair thou not. You have led great lives and continue to be shining role models to us despite still living in the past.

Ganapati Bappa Morya!!!

Posted by Tandarin Nike Monday, September 13, 2010 9:38 PM 2 comments
The visage of Ganesha (or Ganapati) is easily recognizable as the elephant-headed God of Knowledge and Wisdom. A Ganesha murti can be found in the home of every Hindu. Tiny Ganesha figurines also grace the dashboard of new cars; and Ganesha icons in a variety of poses is a popular gift for family and friends. With the ever-growing popularity of Ganesha, devotees start their prayers with this hymn to Ganesha.

Many are familiar with the legend of Ganesha’s coming to life.

Once when Shiva was away and Parvati wanted to bathe, she created a male child from the skin of her body and gave it life. She instructed the child to let no one come her way.

While she bathed and the child stood guard, Shiva arrived, but was stopped by the child whom Shiva does not recognize.

A fight ensued and Shiva beheads the boy and discards the head. When Parvati finds out what happened to her child, her sorrow remains inconsolable. To make amends, Shiva instructs his band of followers to bring the first head they come across. When they return with the head of an elephant, Shiva places it on the child’s body and gives it new life. Thus Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, came to be.

Children are intriqued by the appearance of Ganesha and want to know: “Why does he have a trunk? Why does he have large ears?” and so on. While this hymn does not answer these questions, enlightened people over the ages have guided us to perceive the unique aspects of Ganesha’s form in a manner that is relevant to our own lives.

The elephantine ears guide us to give people our full attention, particularly to our family and friends. The overly large head further guides us to reflect on what people say and to carefully judge the merits of their words. The narrow eyes caution us to focus on our surroundings and be ever watchful.

The small mouth hidden behind the trunk prompts us to speak sparingly, but with clarity and truth; and the enormous stomach symbolizes our need to digest all good and bad experiences life brings our way.

A rear hand holds a noose directing us to control our senses and desires; the other rear hand wields an axe, useful in severing our desires and attachments, which trap us in this materialistic world.

The front right hand is always raised in blessing, in a posture called the abhaya hasta – removing fears of the unknown. Seeing such a posed hand soothes our heart, drives away worries, and reassures us that we are ever in God’s care. And despite all the challenges that come our way, he stands by us and loves us dearly, always!

And finally, with his left hand presenting modaka (rice muffins), Ganesha promises us sweet fruits of our labors and ultimate peace in our spiritual quest.

Ganapati Bappa More Ya!!!
Ganapati 2010 at Nayak's-Banakal - Karnataka ....

Ganesh Chaturthi (or Ganapati Chovati as we Konkanis call it) is THE celebration in our extended family home in Banakal- Karnataka. We took a few days respite in Shimoga meeting our relatives and then returned to our ancestral home just in time for the Ganesh Chaturthi Utsav (festival).

Over the next day, our extended family home transformed itself into a festive temple. The entire woman folk of the Nayak-fold got busy preparing traditional Konkani sweets and foods for the occassion.

Siblings and cousins from all over Karnataka descended on our ancestral home on the auspicious day. Professional that we have become, we as flower stringers decorated our main hall in elaborate arrangements of plump marigolds.

Humongous pots and pans, giant oil lamps and other puja accompaniments were retrieved from storage and polished to a high gleam. The ornaments which deck the murthy were brought from the safe storage vaults of the local bank and kept ready for dressing.

The day before, jackfruit leaves were washed and pinned to make the pocket KhoTo idli. Torans of mango leaves decorated our doors, and officially, Ganesh Chaturthi was underway. While the women folk strung their favorite ‘garlands’ and traded gossip, we boys went to pick up our Ganesh murthy.

In this first pic, Ganapati has only been brought and kept in place


During the first puja, the murthy was dressed with flowers, and with the recitation of chants, sanctified with the divine presence.

During the one day of Ganapati, all pujas were performed as prescribed in the Puranas, including recitations from the Vedas by a dedicated bhatmaam who has been assigned the task by his father who in turn has recited many of the pujas for our ancestors.

At the end of the day, the murthy was consigned to the family well (visarjan), leaving us all in melancholy.

Until of course the next year.... Ganapati bappa morya, pudcha varshi laukar ya..

The hundredth post and a legacy to remember...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Sunday, August 29, 2010 8:32 AM 6 comments
Can’t believe it’s happening...

My hundredth post!

This Blog’s 100th post!

Let me cut the cake first.

I had thought that my 100th post would be an epic post.

A post that everyone would remember. But looks like it ain’t going to be anything of that sort.

I had told myself that I would call myself a newbie on the Blogosphere until I write at least a hundred posts.

So, here's something to commemorate my 100th post.....

One of the biggest problems with the world is that we're bound by so many legacy systems.

For example, it's hard to deal with global warming because there are so many entrenched interests.

It's problematic to get power from where it can best be generated to where people live.

The tax system is a mess. Banking is a hodgepodge of regulations and products glued together. I could go on. The point is that anything that has been around for awhile is a complicated and inconvenient mess compared to what it's ideal form could be.

My idea for today is that established nations could launch startup countries within their own borders, free of all the legacy restrictions in the parent country.

The startup country, let's say the size of modern day Bahrain, would be designed from the ground up for efficiency. Buildings and cars would be so energy efficient that the startup country could generate all the power it needed from sun and wind.

The extra power created during the day would be stored as heat in molten salt, or maybe by pumping water up to a artificial lake. (Both energy storage methods are already being used in places.)

The entire banking system would be automated. There would be no cash in the start-up country. You wouldn't need to "apply" for a loan because the virtual bank would always have a current notion of your credit-worthiness.

If you need a mortgage, just type in the address of the home you want to buy and your pin code. The bank automatically checks your income and expenses from your bank account records, along with your employment status and credit background. You have your loan in less than one second. And you don't need to sign anything.

The tax code in the startup country would be simplified to the point where residents might forget it exists. I won't argue the flat tax versus sales/use tax here, but the point is it could all be collected automatically by the virtual bank.

There would be no such thing as an accountant or tax auditor in this new country. (I would argue that the government could be the only insurance company, for every sort of risk, from health to fire to auto, with its profits substituting for taxes. That's another discussion.)

The Fire Department would be tiny. You can design modern homes to be virtually fireproof. And let's say cigarettes are banned, because we can, to further reduce the fire risk.

I imagine a world with cameras in every room, and on every street corner, recording all the time, but encrypted so that literally no one could view the video without a court order. You wouldn't need much of a police force in that scenario because every crime would be on video, along with the entire escape route, all the way to the criminal's bedroom.

Maybe that's too Big Brother for you, but if you reflect on how much privacy you've already given up to technology, it's not that much of a stretch.

Most of what is scary about the government having power is the lack of transparency. The startup nation would have full transparency. Any citizen could log on to his computer and see what court orders had been issued for what videos and why.

Campaign contributions would be eliminated because all campaigns would happen on the Internet so that running for office would cost next to nothing. Once elected, any citizen would have access to the elected politician's full banking records, including investments.

I could go on, imagining every element of the startup country as an optimal design, from its local government to the layout of its streets, to the livable nature of its homes. The point is that the startup country could be awesome. And only the most employable folks would be allowed in at the start, so the economy would be blazing, mostly from IT jobs and light industry.

Arguably, China accidentally performed a variant of this experiment with Hong Kong. Oversimplifying the history, Hong Kong was part of China and leased to the United Kingdom for 99 years, like a startup country within a country. When the lease expired, China presumably made a fortune by getting it back in a far more robust form than it could have generated within the Chinese system.

A startup country designed today could, in fifty years time, become a tax-generating windfall for the parent country. And it would also test a lot of concepts for building, banking, economy, energy, and lifestyle.

Would love to work on this project... Any takers???

Now let's all toast to my 100th post!

Not bad for a little over eight months, don’t you think?

Perhaps I should have waited for the 108th post, a Hindu mystic number?

Or the 888th, a propitious Chinese number?

Or the 69th, Hugh Hefner’s sacred number?

It's Ok, me think....

Let’s get on with it…

Three ways to interact....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Thursday, August 26, 2010 8:52 AM 2 comments
My theory is that a typical human understands only three ways to interact with another person.

Pushover: I'll do whatever you want.

Negotiator: I'll do this if you do that.

Bully: Do what I want or there will be consequences

People change modes depending on circumstances. A parent, for example, can't afford to be a Pushover, or a Negotiator, with a small child.

The parental role is a Bully role by definition. It's the only way it can work. "Do what I say or I will take away a toy."

One person might be a Bully in one context, and a Pushover in another. If you're locked into one mode all the time, you're probably experiencing some friction.

A person in the military might take the Pushover role with a superior, the Bully role with subordinates, and the Negotiator role with peers. I'm making no judgment on the ethical or functional value of any of the roles.

They all have a legitimate place.

The Bully role takes some explaining. Almost any human interaction has an implied penalty if it makes another person unhappy. Sometimes the penalty is emotional, in the form of withdrawn affection, less attention, or fewer future favors.

Other times it can be more explicit, as in "Do this or you're fired." Don't get hung up on the word "bully." It simply refers to someone who promotes a "do this or else there will be a penalty" environment.

Bullying isn't necessarily bad. Sometimes the only way to stop another person from doing something harmful is by threatening consequences.

Bullying is society's boundaries and its glue. The Police have to be Bullies to do their job. In the rare cases that negotiation is called for, a special Negotiator steps in.

The value of the true Model of Personal Interaction, if any, is in understanding what modes of interaction are likely to work together. Obviously two Bullies will make bad partners.

Two Pushovers will get nothing done. A Negotiator won't do well with either a Pushover or a Bully, because neither will negotiate.

A Bully and a Pushover can do well as long as the Pushover keeps his ego in check.

Some Pushovers enjoy the role.

Two negotiators can do well together, if they don't exhaust each other, and they negotiate fairly.

While people can move easily from one mode to the other, I suspect everyone has a go-to mode when the situation is ambiguous.

You have to start somewhere.

I wonder thus, if most tension in this world comes from people who get locked into their go-to mode and don't recognize when it's time to change modes.

An assignment done quite well....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Wednesday, August 25, 2010 8:44 AM 5 comments
My assignment was to pick up a few items from the grocery store. You should understand in advance that I'm not the designated shopper in our family. I suffer from a condition. If you ask me, for example, to open the crisper and take out the bag of fresh peas and the sealed cabbage, I would come back with, at best, one of those items and a bag of small carrots.

So you can imagine the panic that sets in when I'm handed a shopping list. I hope and I hope and I hope that the list will contain only familiar and easy-to-locate objects. For example, cucumbers are a good choice for me. I know where to find them, and when I come home with one that is spongy and inedible, I can say, "It was the best one they had."

I scan the shopping list: six items. I feel good about five of them. The sixth is coconut milk. Oh, God. I do not ask Shaila where in the grocery store I might find coconut milk. That is announcing failure in advance. I vow to find it on my own.

As I drive toward the store, I consider the possible hiding places for coconut milk. I'm sure it's not in the dairy section. And they probably don't have an "all things coconut" section. It's not a fruit juice. It's not a soda. My only hope is that a thirsty monkey is in the store at the same time, so I can follow him.

I soon realized that I don't have any of the qualities necessary for finding coconut milk. I'm not a good shopper. I'm not experienced at cooking, which might give me a clue as to what section the coconut milk would be in. I have no knowledge of the store. I have no patience. I'm not a good guesser.

If there's a choice that is correct and a choice that will go horribly wrong, my instincts always lead me in the direction that will be comically catastrophic. It's often not good to be me.

I was willing to ask someone for help, but all of the store employees were in their secret hiding places, and the other shoppers all seemed angry. If I had a different type of personality, I might impose on the other shoppers and not care about their angry reactions.

Or I might have interrupted a checker during a transaction. But as I'm trying to tell you here, I have NONE OF THE QUALITIES NECESSARY FOR FINDING COCONUT MILK. I don't know how many more ways I can say that.

I decide to do a shelf-by-shelf search, leaving out no section of the store, no matter how unlikely. I search through the donuts and the tortillas. I rifle through the radishes. "It might be frozen" I think to myself before opening every door of every refrigerated section.

After searching most of the store, I was near exhaustion - and starvation, ironically. I reached the Asian food section. I never knew that my grocery store was a racist, but there it was. My eyes gazed upon a can on the bottom shelf with mostly Japanese or possibly Chinese characters and an English title "Coconut Milk."

Now I have a new problem. I wonder if any of those words mean anything I should know, such as "Not intended for use in any of the ways your wife would like”. There were a lot of ways this could go wrong. Worse yet, there were two brands side by side. Was one of them the "right" kind and one of them the sort of thing you only buy if your luck runs out?

I choose one brand randomly and grab four cans, semi-triumphantly. I quickly locate the other items on the list and sprint for the checkout. As a precaution, I double-check my shopping list. It said FIVE cans of coconut milk, not four.

Damn! I hurried back to where I found the first four, only to discover that in the past five minutes the store employees had scampered out of their hidey holes and rearranged the entire store without anyone noticing. It was like a bad dream.

The Asian food section was now nothing but pickles and mayonnaise. Or maybe I am bad at retracing my steps. The point is that I have NONE OF THE QUALITIES NECESSARY FOR FINDING COCONUT MILK TWICE.

Eventually I find where the Asian food section has been hidden. I pay for my items and stride triumphantly out of the store, across the parking lot, only to discover that someone has stolen my car. Or maybe I forgot where I parked. Or maybe the friggin' thing was on the bottom shelf of the ever-moving Asian food section. The point is that I couldn't find it.

In past situations like this, when I needed to distract myself so I wouldn't spontaneously transform from tomato red into something green, I used to check my phone to see if I had any interesting messages. On this day, despite having both the ringer and vibration setting on, my phone had failed to warn me of two incoming calls from Shaila. The first text message read "Also get lemon juice."

The items I had already purchased would have melted in the car, should I ever find it, because temperatures hovered around 45 degrees C. And I couldn't take my groceries back into the store because I fear being arrested for shoplifting. Once I buy something, I spend the next six months driving in wide arcs around the store whenever I'm in the area just so no one will falsely accuse me of running out the door without paying.

This is one more way in which I'm not normal. I know I had a receipt. Shut up.

Eventually I found the car. I drove home and tried to convince Shaila that the lack of lemon juice was ‘Lulu’s' fault. She didn't say anything, but judging from the way she shook her head in disgust, I think she really hates that store.

Balance of stress...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Saturday, August 21, 2010 1:27 PM 4 comments
The common view is that sometimes you have stress and sometimes you don't.

The Question is, where does the stress go when you don't have it?

My theory is that stress is a universal constant. If you have less of it at any given moment, then other people must be taking on more to balance things out. For example, let's say you go on vacation. While you're on the beach, your coworkers are trying to handle their own workload plus the projects you left behind. You haven't reduced stress; you've simply transferred it to your coworkers. And if you work alone, you can frontload your stress to get ahead of deadlines, but you can't reduce the total amount.

Suppose you have a non-injury accident in your car. You're all stressed out, and the universe is temporarily out of balance. Then the tow truck shows up. He's the happiest guy you've ever seen because he's making a good profit from your misfortune. Soon the stress level at a local auto repair shop will go down because they will have a new customer. And the suppliers for that body shop will get paid, and so on down the line.

All of our institutions are set up to ensure the efficient balancing of stress across humans. Consider capitalism. Every sale of stock creates one winner and one loser. Every promotion leaves someone behind who is jealous and resentful. Every bid you win means more work.

On a monetary level, capitalism isn't a zero sum game. In principle, while the rich get richer, the poor can be getting less poor. But with wealth comes extra stress. As soon as you shed the stress of starving, you take on the stress of a higher level of responsibility. You can get rid of certain causes of stress, but you can't get rid of stress itself. The universe makes sure that new stress always finds you.

Sports are designed to create as many losers as winners. The relief of victory is exactly matched by new stress in the losers. Think about it.

Entertainment, such as a movie or TV show, is generally designed to generate stress in the viewer and then release it at the end. The total amount of stress balances out.

You can see this continuous rebalancing of stress in your own life. Every time you put some huge, impossible, stressful problem behind you, another appears as if from nowhere. The new source of stress might be a "good" one, as in planning for a wedding, or wondering how you will perform in a new job. But stress it is, nonetheless.

Moreover, in times when chance alone does not provide you with enough stress to replace what you had, you'll do some dumbass thing to increase your own stress level. You'll sign up for skydiving lessons, walk through the bad part of town, or insult your boss. Stress must be served.

Conservation of stress is another clue that we live in a programmed existence, subject to certain rules and limits established by the author of our reality.
 
I say that because it is exactly how you would program such a world if you were the author. You wouldn't let the characters in your world rest, as that would be somewhat pointless. You would make sure the environment provided a steady flow of stress so the characters could feel alive, and could fully exercise their personalities.