Newsletters

January 2, 2017 § 2 Comments

As we grow apart in our work & personal lives it becomes harder to keep up. Every year, I send out a newsletter to friends to share updates on what I am doing and thinking.

This year’s edition: 2016 – The year of mixed feelings

Hope this year takes you to your happy place.

P.S. Here are previous years’ editions:

 

A probability mistake

December 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Game 1

There is a box of marbles. You know, marbles like this.

880eabe114d85c7a40325ddfe22b440f

If 1000 such marbles are in a jar, 998 of them white, and 2 of them red. Now you dip your hand into these smooth marbles and take out one.

What are the chances that it is red?

Yes, 2/1000, or 0.2%.

Fair game.

Game 2

Now, let’s do something else. There are 1,000 students who apply for a very selective high-mathematics program. The program can only have 2 students this year. Yeah, it’s hyper-mega-selective.

For any random student, the chances of getting selected are – 2/1000. Right?

Nope.

Because all students are not alike. Unlike the marbles. A student who comes from a a well educated family, say, a doctor’s son has much better chances than 0.2%, and the son of a bicycle repair mechanic has much worse chances than 0.2%. And also, both these odds are  not strictly computable. The odds would be the same if the students were exact clones both in terms of DNA and Environmental factors – and this is never the case with the complexity life offers us.

This might seem simple and trivial, but we make this basic mistake many times. Even Elon Musk. See if you can see the flaw in his argument.

If you didn’t, sample this. There are more than 7 Billion people on the earth right now. Almost all of them dream. A dream is indistinguishable from reality. So, the chance that you are reading this blog in a dream is 1/7 Billion? Or, around 56 Billion people have been known to exist till now, so the chances could be 1/56 Billion that this is real? Or what about animals? Do they dream? Micro-organisms? Aliens?

Or let’s take this even further. You are in the room with say, 200 novels. All these novels have different characters. Let’s say there are 1,000 characters in the same room as you are. Now, are the chances you being a fictional character 1 in 1,000? What about all novels available? What about all novels which ever existed? What about all oral stories AND novels which ever existed?

It’s fun and stimulating intellectual exercise to think that whatever we see is a simulation. I definitely recommend it for the next party. But it is downright dangerous to not understand  how probability works in making important decisions. Most of the times, it is almost impossible to judge probability in real-life situations. But what’s more, you don’t even need to judge. For example, you don’t need to know the exact chances of accident due to drunken driving, to know that you should not do it.

If you are interested in more regarding these, I strongly suggest reading books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – which have a lot of stories about how massively impactful decisions went wrong, because people did not think about the odds clearly.

A fault in my thinking

December 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

Human brains are miraculous machines for pattern matching.

I read quite a few books and many times I find thinking the same things as the author – esp if the author is a big intellectual authority. As a younger man (23), I found a lot of things in common with Vivekananda.

Now, I feel a sense of pride when I see Silicon Valley philosopher-kings like Naval who recommend some of the same books that I do, and I read these books/authors before them, or before knowing they also recommended these books. Cases in point – Sapiens  – for which I followed the author’s lectures before the book was published, and Jiddu Krishnamurti which I discovered in a book fair in a small town 9 years ago.

This drives me into a self-congratulatory mode. But here’s the catch. These guys have also read and recommend a lot of books which I have not read yet.

And that’s where I need to focus to maximize learning.

As we grow familiar with people, places and ideas, we like them more. We feel more comfortable with them. And we stop growing. Looking for gaps helps in growing, and keeps you humble.

Similar thing also happens when I read books. I used to underline the ideas I already agreed with, and glaze over things which were new. Or something startlingly new. But to uncover new perspectives, I now try to highlight things/names/places/ideas which I know little about. This is very different. Hope to learn and grow more.

In general, the negative, the not, helps you learn more. To analyze someone’s behavior, it helps to think of things they have not done. This reveals their unconscious biases, which might be better predictors of their behavior than conscious actions. Similarly, to understand a product, sometimes it helps to ask what does the product not do. Here you can either get into the mind of the creator to better understand the product, or sometimes discover opportunities to create better ones.

 

 

Nuggets Reborn

December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

So yes, I have crossed the 300 days mark in the Dutch Land. A lot has happened, because stuff keeps happening, you know. But rather than a review, here are some observations/insights in general which have been on my mind (and WhatsApp, and Twitter !)

* Create products and stories. Destroy concepts and ideologies.

*Rationality and intellectual honesty are independent of credentials, and raise the effective IQ. (An average Dutch guy is more rational than many IIT/IIM graduates I know). Corollary: better decisions defeat raw analytical power in the long term.

*If you are offended about something, you are clinging to an illusion.

*Better to be clearly wrong than vaguely right.

*Don’t think different. Just think for yourself.

*Pray for what you have. Not for what you want. It’s called Gratitude.

*I am not distracted. You are boring.

*Engagement is commitment. Take the first step. Or, for many people, avoid the first step.

*Highest impact entrepreneurs make tools for creators.

*Defining mental clarity – when you can criticize your beliefs better than anyone else.

*The more things you want, the less you are likely to get.

*If no one makes fun of you, you don’t have (or express) original ideas. You repress yourself to fit in.

*A great strategist will spend least amount of time strategizing.

*You hire a book to enhance your mental models. If it fails, you should fire it. You want quality, not quantity, of hires.

*A well-thought out idea – is less and less distinguishable from execution.

*The less the apparent value, the more effort needed to sell a product.

*If you point at technicalities, your central point is weak.

*Learning new things improves knowledge of older things.

*Doing projects in which you cannot fail is largely a waste of time.

*When people say ‘I truly believe’ – it is a marker they are boring.

*You can learn more in 1 year of a startup than 5 years of a university.

*’Living in a simulation’ is the new ‘Living in a dream’.

*Career strategy -> find what is weird about you and make it 100x.

*Some people should call you crazy – some of the time.

*There is a time to let things happen, and a time to make things happen.

*In MOOCs, instructors talking to an actual class seem way more interesting than those you know are talking to a camera.

*Winning the wrong battles is worse than losing the right ones.

*Sometimes, strategy is just the set of actions you feel most emotionally comfortable about.

*Great art solves a problem – connecting to yourself.

If you enjoyed these, or didn’t, I have more:

Nuggets

Nuggets Reloaded

 

 

 

 

200 days !

August 22, 2016 § 4 Comments

So, I have crossed the 200 days mark in the Netherlands. Reflections are in order.

So, far last 2 months or so, my wife Swati has been here and it has been a great time with a lot of trips and socialization and richly flavored food.

Some key experiences before the internship started:

Collage-making workshop. Probably the most transformative 20 hours at TU Delft yet. I had no idea collages could be so powerful. Ultimately it’s the familiar concept of combining ideas to generate new ideas. But here, these are visuals. And the power of visuals – can have a solid impact. Have a look at these I found on the net:

 

And the things other participants made in the workshop had even more impact.

New friends. I also made some new friends – people from contrasting backgrounds. One comes from a Bengali family and was raised in the USA, whose mom works at Princeton. One is a Brazilian designer who recently found a boyfriend. He is the first guy I know who is gay. And others. Sometimes I think people too are collages of different ideas. And the more collages you see, the more your mind expands (yeah I don’t like saying ‘mind expands’, but what else to call that feeling?). Sometimes I just think ‘mental model upgraded‘.

Old friends. I also met some longtime friends who traveled to EU in the summers and they gave me fresh eyes to see this place.

For work, I have been researching the applications of Virtual Reality and I found a whole new world. There are a lot of things I experienced and came to know – as this is my first (though mini) working assignment in the EU.

Stuff about workplace – UNITiD:

  • People come on time and leave on time. No work on evenings or weekends.
  • People speak Dutch. I should have learnt it. Picking up bits and pieces now.
  • We had lunch together. Everyday. The food was very different from the food offered at TU Delft. But I found you can have healthy and efficient lunch.
  • There is no visible hierarchy – open floors, no CEO offices. No dress code at all. This might be due to this being a design consulting firm.
  • Slack is an awesome tool for workplace communication.
  • I worked with Multiple screens for the first time and found it so cool to move a window from one screen to another.

 

Office Lunch

Lunch table at office. Love the red ship outside.

It was mesmerizing to see the ships in Rotterdam from those large windows while working on cool concepts in Virtual Reality.

VR Walkthrough

Workstation.

There is an awful lot I can talk about about my work here. But I will make a separate presentation for it and I guess add a link to it later. Most interesting: I got to experience latest gadgets like the HTC Vive and Microsoft Hololens (Oculus Rift too, but it made me sick).  Here is a pic of me with the Hololens (and a stock picture showing the experience).

These gadgets can expand the human experience and the applications are pretty astounding. I am eagerly waiting for the awesome future. But sometimes I worry that tech. is moving too fast and I may not be able to keep up with it. Just like cultures do not embrace technology at the same speed, individuals too have varying rates of adoption. And while human brain surely has an upper bound for speed of learning, tech is advancing way too rapidly. Way too rapidly. I mean, self-driving cars are already there !

While I experienced the future, I also explored the past. Made a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Swati and I spent 6 hours there and I spent 4 more reading about the guy.

While he did go nuts before he died a horrible death, he was painted with great care and discipline and wrote insightful, feeling-laden letters to his friends and family. Some people even assert that he was a natural writer who taught himself painting.

He learned a new ways of painting when he moved to Paris (the place to be for artists then) and his paintings became better. I could not help but think – Silicon Valley today is like Paris of that time – a hotbed of new ideas. How would a creator change if he went there? Also, Van Gogh was very much of a prolific doer who ‘executed’ and ‘failed fast’. In the last year of his short life, he averaged 1 painting a day !

Here are some of Van Gogh’s interesting works. In 2-D, their impact is greatly diminished. Significant power of a painting comes from the thick effect of a passionate artist’s brushstrokes.

I also visited the Magritte Museum in Belgium and dipped into surrealist art. I had heard about “Ceci n’est pas une pipe. But had no idea it was from Magritte. Check out these interesting ones :

It is tempting to think that looking at paintings is a pretentious exercise. But these painters took far-fetched leaps of imagination and again, I can’t find words to describe the experience of looking at these except ‘mind-expanding’. This quote by surrealist painter Salvador Dali comes to mind:

Blog Dali

And then finally, it has been so good to discover new places. We visited the Scheveningen beach in The Hague and Kralingse Lake in Rotterdam.

So well, there has been a lot of good time and mental-model upgrade in these days. And I hope there is more to come.

I see that this looks like it is just fun and happy time here. But there have been days of guilt and insecurity. And strong ones. Adjusting to a new culture is hard. Our hardwiring is very strong. I can opt to remain in my comfort zone and only talk to most Indians or people in international companies. Or I can soak in the new as much as possible. I choose the latter, because that’s what I see myself as. But it is hard. And it is definitely not for everyone.

Let’s see what the next 100 days have to offer 🙂

 

Delft Diaries – Day 100

May 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

100 days completed here at Delft. Some reflections are in order.

How are things?

Things are good. Better than before.

Academics – Am scoring near or exactly the top of class in individual assignments, and fairly well in group work – overall efficient. In initial days, there were some fears of academic overload, but they are allayed. Academics are not my goal, but good to know that they don’t obstruct my way.

Weather – Way better. The days have become longer and warmer, and I ride a bike now. Fun and good cardiovascular exercise.

Internship – Being a bit hyperactive in initial days, I got an internship in a digital design company in Rotterdam. Feels good as I will be able to skill-up during July and August, and also learn more from pro-designers.

Dutch Culture – I have grown to like Dutch people and their style. Open and relaxed and easygoing and direct. Coming from startups where directness is valued, I feel more at home here. I particularly enjoy talking to Dutch Design professionals – they are straight-talking hard working no-bullshit people.

Also, I have not yet learned much of Dutch, but that’s never been a big problem.

Traveling – Have been traveling around a bit, and of course, many places are like pictures cut out of a postcard.

Work – Am able to resume design work with the awesome Indian-language startup Pratilipi. Remote work is not that tough if you have a good relationship with existing team.

What did I learn?

Ideas Matter – Yes, we all know execution matters. But you know that ideas create impact when you meet people who have no ideas. I love reading – this helped me sail through in assignments here.

Networking is the (probably) the best time investment – Maybe in today’s world ‘What you know’ is more important than ‘Who you know’ but I am not talking of networking in sense of pulling strings – but of exploring different perspectives. The more new people you meet, the more ways of thinking you have, and again, more ideas.

And connecting with people helps you create enormous leverage in output – you can do things which you never could have done alone.

Humility Matters – especially in design – it is very easy to fall in love with your work, it is your creation, your baby. But that closes your mind to other people’s ideas, and you cannot grow as a creator if you cannot receive new ideas. Being Indian, I also suffer from a sort of IQism, a bias for smart people, but some people need not be fast, widely read thinkers to create great output. They do it simply because of their love of the craft.

Keeping on the Treadmill – Sometimes, brute time investment produces far better results. Especially in design, iteration makes output dramatically better. Something like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 7.14.15 PM

It is quite easy to fall back on just-do-it attitude, and being satisfied with whatever result comes out. But even in other areas, like meeting new people – keeping the push on gives great results which make complacency look scary.

Social Interactions are like games – When I was new here, I could clearly see how so many of the social interaction were like little games. Little power games. Emotional gymnastics. Now that the relations are more stable, I don’t notice it that much, but initially, the observations were stark. Needless to say, people who are good at this have an easier time overall.

Concretization – While it is good to write read or discuss ideas on  digital tools, it helps a lot to use pen, paper and colored printed material to do serious work with ideas. The more physical the process, the better your results.


So, yeah, overall, things are fine. I am worried about relaxing too much in the good weather, but maybe this post will help me keeping on the learning and growth.  Looking forward to more fun ahead !

Delft Diaries – 5

February 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

Finally the rubber hits the road. Groups have been allotted and work has been divided. And it’s fun cool nice.

Mood swings are lower now, and I am surprised how much that depends on the weather. When the sun is out, it’s impossible not to feel good about the day, about life, about everything. And when it’s rainy and cold, things are opposite.

Day 13

Valentine’s day was nothing special – we don’t celebrate it very much anyway. But as the days pass, I miss the mornings with my wife Swati. The cup of tea in bed, and the discussions on life, and the breakfast.

Aah, back to Delft.

I went to the huge IKEA store.

 

Though smaller than a Big Bazaar and Sarvana Bhawan in Chennai, it was pretty huge, and for the first time I saw kids playing around. It felt good to think about having a family here with all the warm, cozy stuff.

Design, even on sets of knives they have the designer’s name written. I wonder regularly at the thoughtful design of everyday things.

It was a cold and rainy day, but I got good and important stuff.

After coming back from the store, I wasted a lot of time on the new edition of my favorite 3D game – Infinity Blade. Enjoy the screenshots !

Day 14

A bit adventurous.

I took an elective which seemed fun – 3D design. But as I sat through the class, I was nervous. This was way out of my depth. Materials, Splines,.. buzz. I like taking challenges, but of a certain type. This was like flying an airplane when you like taking challenges on the road.

 

See what I mean?

So, during the class break I was talking to a friend and told him I can’t do this, and he told his friend and he told his friend – who was the academic associate for another course, and bang I walked right in the middle of class in another course. Everyone looked at me odd, but things got under control soon.

Day 15

Today the sun was out – the pics from the start of this post. Just one class, and I spent a a few hours in this place (it’s called a library, but it’s unlike any I have seen).

 

It feels good to be there. In the night, I took some more pics.

‘Industrieel Ontwerpen’ is Dutch for ‘Industrial Design Engineering’. And yes, that car is right at the entrance.

Day 16

Nothing much, apart from seeing that – startup thinking is everywhere. And I want to remain a part of it.

 

Day 17

Got selected for a project with KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines here. First project outside core academics. Let’s see what happens. Worked on an assignment on Van Moof bicycles. Had no idea electric bicycles existed and they were part of a sharing system.

Also, a Van Moof Electric bike costs ~ 3,000 Euros. That’s 2.3 Lac INR.

And yes, these are again, incredibly well-designed. Wish to get one, some-day.

Day 18

Another day with work – classes and group assignments. Had a misunderstanding with a friend. Cleared it.

Got awesome news in the morning. My sister had a son. She has a daughter – Navya. And Navya really wanted a younger brother. She has one now :).

Day 19

Mostly boring day – no classes. Had a nice chat session with a friend from Engineering College who lives in a nearby city. Lot of pros and cons about Europe, the situation in India. Hope to get to his place soon for Biriyani.

This has been a long one – for I don’t plan to write day-wise stuff now. Things are getting into a settled mode with work getting more intense. Will update in case of special events.

Hope you enjoyed it 🙂