10 Sep

Barbie, Conan, Body Image and Intellectuals

Living Barbie

There is a 28 years old Ukranian woman named Valeria Lukyanova, who believes that she is from Venus and decided to change her look to suit her inner body image.  She chose herself the look of a Japanese anemi character and achieved it using intelligent makeup and some cosmetic surgery (her age, heavy makeup and surgical assistance are all contested).  People started calling her a living doll, and then a living Barbie.  That’s flattering the Barbie doll because she is so much prettier.  Lukyanova is a singer, sort of, and wanted to use her new look to spread her spiritual message of peace from Venus (and, perhaps, to sell some music).

But something quite unexpected happened.  More and more young women are wanting to follow Lukyanova and are going in for living doll looks.  Being a living doll is not for the faint at heart.  It calls for a radical lifestyle modifications, and dollops of money to pay for the mandatory cosmetic surgeries!  Unlike our friendly neighborhood intellectuals would like us to believe, these women are not being brain washed by the Galactic Association of Cosmetic Surgeons or evil multi-national corporations trying to sell them trillions of dollars worth of eye liners to these unsuspecting young women.  They are not even doing this to get themselves more boys.  They do it so that their outer look matches with their inner body image.

Funny and misguided girls you say?  Well, not so fast.

Body Building

Take our male body builders and high octane actions stars.  We have all noticed how they ripping muscles augmented by multiple steroid cycles and Synthol (of course, they hotly contest the usage of steroids or Synthol).  Isn’t it strange that these guys have more heterosexual male fans than women fans?  None of these famous muscle heads have ever been called a sex symbol. On the other hand, the most popular sex symbol today, George Cloony, doesn’t even take his shirt off in most movies.  If you have tried googling “George Cloony Shirtless”, you will know why!

George Clooney Shirtless

If this body is found sexy by most women, then why are the body builders spending huge amount of efforts and money on ripping muscles?  The muscle size doesn’t even add to one’s longevity, mental acuity or money earned.  Like the living dolls, the body builders are catering to the self-image that is typical of their own sexes!

Barbie doll’s body proportions appeal to the girls.  Most guys, on the other hand, salivate for the curvy and strong body of Xena the Warrior Princess!

Warrior Princess

Cosmopolitan is the leading lifestyle magazine for young women and Maxim caters to young men.  Make a quick comparison between the models you find in them and you will find the women in Cosmo are more stick-like.  Whereas the women in Maxim must have curves.  Anorexia, or something close to it, seem to be the inner body-image template and most women try to gravitate to this.  They spend a lifetime trying to go as close to this self image as possible.

Take a look at any men’s fitness magazine and you will find ripping muscles, advertisements for muscle building supplements and black market steroids.  On the other hand, women oriented fitness magazines seldom post pictures of Mr. Universe.  Page after page, the post lean and athletic looking male bodies with broad, well formed shoulders and V shaped torso.  Like Ken.  Men who are looking for ripping are doing it to cater to their own inner urge.

Is it wrong to desire a body that appeals to one’s own inner image?  Of course, not!  If their body-desires doesn’t hurt anyone else, or it doesn’t conflict with their other priorities, what they do with their own body is none of anyone else’s business.

Is it wrong to blame the corporations, capitalists, multi-nationals, patriarchy, media and the buffalo for this phenomenon?  Of course, yes!

Most of our so-called intellectuals are fraudsters who are too incompetent to do their homework before they air out an opinion.  Liberating ourselves from the twisted world views they provide us is an important part of building ourselves happy lives.

That is the central tenet of this blog!

06 Sep

Google Car will be Life Changing

Google Car

Technology progresses in geometric speed.  With every passing day, technological breakthroughs keep arriving faster.  What more, each change has a much bigger impact than the previous change.  Ray Kurzweil predicts that at this rate, technology would’ve progressed sufficiently for man to merge with machines.  He has named this incident the “technological singularity“.  Because our brains are not equipped to perceive exponential curve, we find it extremely difficult to wrap it around the accelerating power of technology (TED video).

Google Car is a strong reminder to the skeptics that rate and magnitude of technological changes do accelerate.  Though Google Car per se is of only peripheral interest to this blog, let us take a closer look at it to help us comprehend the speeding up of technological changes.

Born out of a 2005 DARPA challenge tackled jointly by Stanford and Google, Google’s driverless car (video) pet project has taken a life of its own: The cars have driven more than 500,000km  accident and driver free, three states of US have permitted plying these cars on their roads and many more states and countries are to follow suit.  What looks like a pet project of a billionaire pair and a bunch of geeks is anything but a toy.  This innovation is about to make big changes to the way we live, and the change is going to happen much more quickly than we can imagine.

90% less accidents

The most emotionally appealing advantage from an self-driving car technology is this: 90% of the traffic accidents are caused by human error!  In the US alone, Google expects that its driverless technology will save 30,000 lives an year, avoid additional 2 million injuries and reduce accident related expenses by at least $400 billion.

Save commute time

Because driverless cars will be networked and exchange traffic information, drive with a much lesser physical clearance from each other, avoid collisions more effectively, etc., driverless cars can run faster, more cars can be accommodated in the given road space and they effortlessly select most optimal routes.  Hence, driverless cars will substantially reduce traffic jam and reduce commute time, to 90% by some rough estimates.  A 2012 study estimates that traffic congestion cost about $100b in US alone!

Less Cars on the Road

A car is one of the largest personal expenditure met today, still a car sits underutilized for most of the day.  This is with driverless cars.  In the era of driverless vehicles, most of us will seek to reduce under-utilization of assets by using common resources.  These resources will be operated by businesses that appear like cab companies.  The will have cars parked all over the city, in designated locations.  People hail them electronically, hop in and hop off.  Because the human driver is eliminated, driverless taxi service will be available at just a fraction of the cost we pay our cabs now (which in itself is much smaller than what we usually pay to self-owned car).  If the trend catches up, car pooling will automatically evolve out of this and the cost of using a car will sharply plummet.  Along with this, the number of cars will come down too.  By an optimistic estimate, driverless cars may reduce the total number of cars on the road by as much as 90%!

With 90% of the cars, traffic jams, commute time and traffic accidents all will further reduce!

What changes will happen

Driverless cars will make professional drivers obsolete.  US is already talking about truck drivers being eliminated over the next few years.  The trend will continue and accelerate.  Along with drivers, driving schools will eventually become redundant too.

With the cars being controlled and guided by pre-programmed rules, traffic violations will vanish.  With that traffic policing will shrink and take new roles.

Substantially reduced accidents will eventually put emergency medical services out of business.  Along with that, revenue of car insurance companies, and the companies that offer road accident covers, will shrink.

With the utilization of the cars increasing from the present levels, need for parking space and facilities will reduce.  With substantial reduction in the number of cars, and traffic snarls, construction of new roads will slow down and consumption of fuel plummet (on the other hand, if we discover cheaper sources of energy, car traffic on the highways will increase).  With better utilization of resources, cost of using a car per mile will plummet.

With number of cars reducing (after an initial hike owing to people converting to driverless), many car companies will go out of business.

Cab companies will flourish, but only if they rediscover themselves ground up.  With no driver inside a car, in-car entertainment will take new dimensions.  We will see the birth of a new vertical called ‘car-apps’ and the app makers coming up with several innovative solutions that we haven’t even felt the need for today.  Google, of course, is expected to share the driverless OS (like it shared the Android OS of the mobile phones) and build another mammoth revenue stream out of it.

So much for a pet project.  The funniest thing is, the technological innovations that gave us driverless cars is trivial comparing with, say, coming up with an intelligent search engine like Google (we easily forget that what a fine piece of peerless technology the Google search is).

How soon

In 2008, self driving cars could drive two blocks of closed loop at 40kmph.  By 2012, driverless cars have already driven 500,000km  in real life traffic.  With that kind of driving experience, Google must have pretty much figured out the driving algorithm.

A driverless car must have four additional feature

  • Machine operated controls (trivial challenge)
  • Central silicon brain (trivial challenge)
  • Driverless OS (Google already has it and it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who sets out to build it.  Given that it is just a piece software with few million of dollars of investment, the bar is not high at all)
  • Sensors, consisting of RADAR, gyro, GPS, etc. (existing technology)

As of today, the cost of the sensors runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars and they need to go through further miniaturization.  This is the only piece of technology that is keeping the driverless car from becoming a mass market product.  There is nothing fundamentally revolutionary about any of the technologies that make driverless cars possible.

If we take a closer look at the sensors, we will realize that

  • Microwave generator in kitchen oven costs just a few dollars; other than this, everything else is just solid state signal processing
  • Gyroscope (usually, a fiber optic gyro), again, is largely software
  • GPS has already become dirt cheap
  • The cost of putting them all together, as of today, is high.  But that is because only few small companies with limited resources have been developing these technologies for the tiny industry of land mapping.  When mass market players jump in, cost of these sensors will plummet.

With time, these sensors will cost just a little more than a microwave oven.  We shouldn’t be surprised if inexpensive driverless cars become available even before all the countries in the world have permissions in place for plying a driverless car!  In less than three years, driverless cars will become common scene in select places on the planet.  In about 10 years, driverless cars will be a common thing anywhere in the world.  That should convince the skeptics that the Singularity is Near (book)!

Note 1: Funny, the Google Chrome browser I am using to write this article keeps reminding me that “driverless” is not a valid word

Note 2: This post is largely based on the book Driverless Cars: Trillions are up for Grabs

04 Sep

Laura Carstensen: Age brings happiness

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen of Stanford had spent her life researching the state of mind of the elderly.  She and other researchers working in the field have come up with some eye-opening insights, which run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

Psychological Stability

Contrary to the popular image of “grumpy old man/woman”, older people seem to be psychologically more stable!  Human brain seem to become more stable with age.  If an elder person is depressed, they are most probably suffering from what started when they were young.

 

Older Brains are Stable

Also, people who are neurotic seldom learn to become happier with age.  They often start from such a low baseline that any improvement in the inner happiness simply doesn’t muster enough force.

By the way, women of all age seem to be reporting more psychological distress than men.  It is not clear if this is due to self-denial that most men are known for.

Experience more Positive Emotions

Older people experience more positive emotions.  There are lesser threats in their lives and lesser uncertainties.  With age, sources of anxieties start decreasing, either because they have been resolved or because people learn to live with them.  Contrary to the popular wisdom, youth, it seems, is the most miserable period in one’s life!

More Positive Emotions

After about mid sixties, the number of positive emotions being experienced by a person seem to come down with age.  Part of it has to do with age associated impairment of health.  If so, with modern anti-ageing techniques, the dip will be postponed by a decade or two. Does it mean that the increase (in positive incidences) will continue for another decade or two is a different question. If the answer is yes, then age-extension programs will yield some of the happiest human societies we have seen till today!

Ignore Negativity

Older people emotionally disassociate themselves from negativity!

There is a module in the brain called amygdala, which lights up (becomes active) when people encounter emotionally charged stimulus.  When researchers put younger and older subjects in a brain scanner and showed them emotionally positive and negative pictures, something very interesting came out.  The amygdala of younger subjects was activated when they encountered both positive and negative stimulus.  Older people had much bigger spike for positive stimulus than younger people, and they ignored the negative stimuli!

Emotionally Ignore Negativity

Older people have learnt to ignore the negativity.  At the same time, they have learnt to appreciate positive emotions better.  No wonder they are happier!  This has become more obvious through another experiments conducted by the researchers.  They showed younger and older subjects pictures of positive and negative faces and measured the amount of attention they paid.

Positive Bias

 

Older ones paid poorer attention to negative faces and paid better (than younger people) attention to positive faces.  It is as if the elders have become really good at ignoring negativity!  It may not always be a good thing (what good can it be if one ignores all atrocities in the news paper).  At least, it, makes them happier!

Emotionally dense Social Network

With time, emotional life of people becomes richer and more complex.  As people get older, they tend to retain the emotionally close and meaningful relationships and the casual relationships fall off.

Social Network of Older People has much more meaningful realtionships

With age, people become more selective about who they socialize with.  The riff-raff, not-so-close, meaningless relationships dwindle in numbers.

In Laura Carstensen’s words, as people grow older, they tend to

  • Live in the moment
  • Know what’s important
  • Invest in sure things
  • Deepen relationship and
  • Savor life

From the teachers of positive psychology and the science of happiness, we know that these are sure recipe for lifetime of happiness.  Add to this a more stable brain, no wonder that people are much happier as they grow older (of course, we are only talking about healthy individuals, who are also financially self-reliant).

Even anecdotally speaking, when I look around, I see that everyone I know, including myself, is much happier now in the middle ages than we were in our twenties or thirties.  Carstensen must be on to something here!

To learn more about Laura Carstensen’s work, you can watch this Youtube video or read her book A Long Bright Future.