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.

26 Aug

Naked self-portrait: Simplest life extension tool

Naked Self-portrait

Most of us have a huge inertia when it comes to working out and eating right.  Even though we have heard millions of times that eating right, sleeping well and shaping up will add one or two decades to your life, and more life to every year, we never got around to doing them.  There is a simple one minute exercise that will break down your inertia: Get yourself a naked self-portrait!

Are you not convinced that you have body image issues?  Here is a bunch of questionnaires (not-free) that will help you get a scientific self-calibration (but let me assure you, getting a naked self-portrait is lot cheaper, and easier, than dealing with these questionnaires).  If you think you weigh too much or too little, you are likely to have a poor body image.  If you are a perfectionist, guaranteed that your self assessment will be worse than how others assess you.  If you were out of shape during your formative years, you are likely to be carrying the cross throughout your life.

Feeling bad about your body is not some fancy thing for the pansies.  It sits in the core of your self-image and dictates everything you do, it is part of our personality.  For a starter, it dictates what you wear, who you hang out with, the places you go to and the things you do.  It transforms your life.  Body image is a much stronger force than we give it credit for.  Unfortunately, in most of us, it is too subtle a force that it remains under the radar.  Hence, we go through the life without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

Even more unfortunately, in some of us, the body image misalignment is too strong an urge to ignore.  These people go great lengths to correct the misalignment.

  • Chelsea Manning, Kristin Beck went through great pains to transform oneself from being a man to a woman (Beck has a book in Amazon on his/her transformation)
  • Cindy Jackson has the world record for maximum number of plastic surgeries conducted on a person (Cindy has self-published a book on “How to: Cosmetic Surgeries”)
  • Valeriea Lukyanova calls herself the living Barbie and uses her looks to give you a ‘message from the space’ (don’t miss the slide-show; and the video will give you an insight into a mind that is very, how shall I put it, unusual).

Whereas we sympathize these people, or call them desperadoes, they consider themselves brave.  They are right.  They knew what they wanted, they worked hard for several years to get to it.  And they wear their designer persona proudly, even though it might open themselves to ridicule, sometime severe ones.  But this post is not for these brave souls, from Venus or not.

This blog post is for the rest of us, who have lived throughout our lives with this nagging feeling of not having a body that we deserve, a body that we are too shy to reveal, a body that must be covered with clothes in order not make us feel bad, get depressed or wanna fling it over the bridge.  Muster yourself enough courage just for one minute: Get yourself pictured naked!  And force yourself to look at it, really look at it.

For most of us, this one minute, no-money, exercise will make you start genuinely looking for ways to fix your body.  If your inner nag is like that of vast majority of the people (i.e you don’t have issues like sexual self-identify, anorexia, etc.), chances are that you will start to eat right and exercise.  Or at least, consider it seriously.

That will add 10 to 20 years to your life!  Not a bad for mustering whee bit of guts isn’t it?

21 Aug

Fuck-you Money

Fuck You Money

Buckminster Fuller (of buckyballs) said “controlled time is our true wealth”.  To him, wealth is the time span for which we can maintain our desired lifestyle without having to spend time making money. During the dot-com bubble, Silicon Valley came up with Fuck-you Money.  For them, it is the amount of money you need in your hand before you can stop working for your living.

Sadly, the amount of wealth many of us have accumulated can’t even last a month if we stopped working. For some smart people among us, it can last a few years. It’s only the case of a small fraction of people that the wealth can last their entire life time.

Million Paupers to Billion Kings

Historically, masses never had opportunity to acquire decent amount of money without taking huge risks.  Comparing with today’s terms, human productivity was abysmally low [chart below shows the population and per capita GDP of UK (By the way, did you notice how there is a tight correlation between the population and per capita income?  If you want to understand this phenomena, you should watch this TED video)].

UK GDP across centuries

 

Our culture carries the burden of thousands of years of legacy.  We still live by religious and moral teachings that were conceived 2,000 years ago, if not earlier.  They come from an era where anyone who didn’t take work seriously perished, or became a criminal.  Even the nature of work was such that it placed huge premium on toil, rather than creativity.  You can see from the graph that this was beginning to change somewhere around 1850 and the change picked up pace around 1920.

Take a look at the next graph.  It shows the price of lighting (in today British Pounds, for million lumen hours) in UK over the last two centuries.

Price Of Lighting

When you put the two graphs together, you can see that before 1850, not only people were making far less money, they were spending through all their orifices.  Unlike most of us like to believe, today we live in a world that is cheaper than the past.  And, today, we live in a world where everyone makes enough money to live like how a Duke used to live, if not a King.

We now have an opportunity to make enough money, without taking unreasonable risk, in a few short years to fund our living for the rest of our lives.  Unfortunately, no one tells us that because we are stuck in a culture that is founded on values and customs that were appropriate thousands of years ago.

Note: The above two graphs were taken from this paper.

Education for Foot Soldiers

The education system that we have today was founded in Prussia, during the late 19th century.  The purpose of the Prussian education system was to produce more people who were capable of reading bible and working in the army.  Eventually, when industrial revolution came along, the same education system was used for mass producing workers for the factories.

Back then, it was a huge deal.  10 years of education guaranteed a lifetime of earning opportunity.  And as an added bonus, there was even an assurance of some support cash when a person can’t work anymore.  Life has never been this good and every responsible parent rushed to ensure that their children had this thing called formal, mass produced, education.

Unfortunately, mass education prepares us to be a worker throughout our life.  It doesn’t teaches us the skill required for retiring early in life.  Even after getting a 20 year education, we

  • Can’t even set up a personal financial accounting system (unless we are specifically trained as a financial accounting professional)
  • We have no concept of creating wealth.  We are only geared towards earning money.
  • We learn nothing about risk taking or risk management
  • Training on ethics and morals are relegated to the margins of elementary classes, when we can’t appreciate much of nuances involved.  To make the matter worse, the ideas taught in the name of ethics are often toxic.
  • No one tells us that happiness is the ultimate purpose of life.  Whereas, mass education constantly keeps reminding us that we must be good workers, good citizens, etc.

The list goes on.  But the point is this: Not only does our education fails to equip us with skills needed for creating enough wealth, education and the society actually orients us towards life time of toil. No wonder most of us have no concept of ‘wanting’ to become wealthy for life!

Work subsumes everything else

During our working years, so much of our lives revolve around work. We simply have no time left for anything else substantial.  We allow the work to spill everywhere and ‘life’ to be relegated to the cracks and crevices.  Whatever non-work time that we permit ourselves is mostly used up for recovering from work.  Worse still, very often we spend our leisure time to augment our success at our work.

In a life that is filled with thoughts of work from the time we enter the kindergarten, to the time we are 60 (when physical fitness deteriorates), it is no surprise that we don’t even stop to contemplate the possibility of making a pile and getting out of the game.  We don’t know how to make the pile, or how much, or what to do when we make it.

We are so inseparable from our work that with the exception of perhaps the Batman, all of us define our identies by the work we do!  For anyone in their right mind, it should sound ridiculous.

Non-work is an Unfamiliar Territory

Most of us don’t know what to do with our time if we stop working today.

Many exciting moments of our life happen in our work place.  Until recently, before the online social networks popped up, work is the only place where we could meet people of comparable caliber and taste.  Work also brings us to a larger number of more colorful people.  Work brings us self-esteem.  Work gives us easy targets.  Work removes many ambiguities from our lives.  Work also gives us a clear sense of getting ahead.

Not working has one crucial disadvantage: Too many options and zero training to handle such abundance of opportunities!

Since all of us live such a work-centric life, there is a sheer paucity of sufficiently exciting, and sufficiently engaging, non-work activities in our culture.  The impoverishment of options further reduces the choice of things one could do after one stops working.

We have over-designed our systems to give us economic security. We failed to design them for happiness.  That was OK till the last century, when becoming rich was synonymous to raising above the poverty line, which is the pre-requisite to happiness.  However, with large portion of the world leaving the poverty behind, the idea that wealth is only a pre-requisite to happiness is just sinking in.  We are just beginning to realize that once a certain amount of wealth is accumulated, and our future is secured, we are better off spending our time on pursing happiness more directly.

So, how much is too much?

If you are setting out to make your own pile of fuck-you money, the first thing you need to do is this: Have a number!

Unless you know what will set you free, you will either under shoot and end up working throughout your life, busy making the ends meet. Or overshoot and end up working throughout your life acquiring meaninglessly huge abundance.

Here are some clues that will help you put a number on your personal requirement:

  • The amount of money should enable you (and your dependents) to maintain the desired standard of living for the rest of your life.
  • The amount of money should be sufficient to give your kids the acceptable (to you) quality of start in their life.
  • The amount of money should be sufficient to cover your health care demands for the rest for your life.  And remember, unlike your parents, you are very likely end up living up to a hundred.
  • Around 2020, if not earlier, you will be able to pay money and acquire biological enhancements.  You better have some money for this one!
  • Last, but not the least, you should have sufficient money to chase your passions

If you are looking for living a comfortable middle class life for the rest of your life

  • You live in the West, or BRICS or one of the other fast growing countries
  • You are living in a large city
  • You are in your forties or fifties

if you have acquired approximately US$ 2 million to US$ 5 million (including the money you have to spend in your primary residence), that is your fuck-you money.  If you are looking for living as the upper middle class, then you are looking at 5 to 10 times the number above.

Unless you are planning to use money as a tool to buy you power, influence or recognition, you will seldom need a larger sum to set you free.  Also, if you decide to live a simple life in a small town or a village, you will need much smaller amount.

What is your passion?

Most of the people don’t know what they are passionate about.  Don’t worry about it.  Your passion is likely to change over time anyway.  There is nothing wrong about it.  People whose passion multiple passions live a richer life with much varied experiences.  Even people who stick to same domain throughout their life usually keep shifting their interest areas inside their chosen domain.

There is only one way to find out the things you are passionate about: Try various things!  The more different they are from each other, the better.  The most probable reason you haven’t found your passion is probably because you haven’t been experimenting enough.

Finding your passion outside your work can be a strong incentive to quit working. Or, at least, allocate a decent amount of time for your life besides work.

How to make that kind of money?

Most people don’t know how to accumulate so much of money in a reasonably short period of time.  After all, none of us get an education about making money!  But if you are serious about taking charge of your life soon, you must find an answer to this question sooner than later.

Making money is just a matter of skill. Usually, it is a cluster of skills. The skills are not very difficult and they are very learnable. The problem is you will need to perform all of them consistently with reasonable level of success.

If you don’t set out to find the answer to the last question, you will be dragging yourself through the life, living from day to day, spending 10 to 12 hours on making money, and do it for several decades. There is so much you are going to miss out in life!  That will be sad!!

07 Aug

Talking eyes

Sclera

Have you ever met someone with his or her eyeball tattooed?  And if you have, have you ever tried to hold a conversation with them?  I am guessing you probably haven’t.  But you sure have held a conversation with someone wearing sunglasses.  If that conversation was with a person you don’t trust or you don’t know that person yet, do you remember the uncomfortable feeling you had?  The uncomfortable feeling comes because you can’t see that person’s sclera.

Sclera is the white of an eye.  Sclera of most animals have black or brown in color.  Also, in most animals, the iris is large and it occupies most of the eye socket.

With humans, our eyelids are horizontally elongated, increasing the opportunity for the eyeballs to become more visible.  Human eyeballs have lost all pigmentation so that they are clearly contrasted against the human skin.  The human iris comes in dark colors, clearly contrasting against the eyeball.  Our iris is smaller than the that of other animals, further increasing the visibility of the white of the eye.  All of this make it easy for humans to track each other’s eyes.  Even dogs have learnt to track human eyes (though, they can’t track the eyes of other dogs).

We have talking eyes.  Our sclera and iris are designed to talk and to be listened to.  Even infants can track eye movements.  They can track a care giver’s eye movement even before they can track their head movements!

Eye movement is very much a part of our body language repertoire.  For any body language to work, all of us must be using the body gestures the same way.  So, most of the body language gestures are common across our species.  In fact, many body languages are common across the species too.  That’s why we can clearly tell when a lion is angry.

Since the eye movement is part of our body language, we have a pre-defined vocabulary for our eye-talk.  Unfortunately, not much of it is well understood or documented.  Except for a bit of detective work done by NLP (watch this video).

Eye Accessing Cues

NLP has discovered when you try to recall a picture, your eyes move to ‘your’ left-top.  Or when you try to build a new image in your mind, your eyes move to your right-top.  Similarly, when you try to recall some sound you’ve heard, your eyes move to your left and when you are build up a sound, your eyes move to your right.  And when you are having an internal dialog, your eyes tend to move to your left-bottom.  When you get in touch with some tactile experience, your eyes tend to go to your right-bottom (more in this article).  So, when someone is describing about a fun conversation they had last night, and their eyes keep going to their right (and not left), then you know that the person is probably lying!

Our talking eyes are one more evidence that we have been mutually-cooperating social animals for millions of years.  If we had lived in a free-for-all, me-first, devious society, advertising your intent with talking eyes would be a bad thing to do.  If you can’t believe that next guy will do the right thing, you won’t advertise that your are looking at something interesting, like food or a potential mate.

Advertising your intent openly to everyone means (a) you believe that you will not be exploited and (b) your intent (to share the food, for example) will be returned when the time comes.  These two are social traits are deeply embedded in our genetic code and white sclara is just one such places where it shows.

It is in our nature to be social (see the previous post about our fundamentally social nature).  To say that humans need to be forced to cooperate, or that we should be bound by rules to act fair, or that we are selfish in nature, are all total hogwash.  Such claims are testament to lack of understanding of how we work down deep inside.

Down deep inside, we are cooperative social animals with a selfish me-first streak (more about this later).  We are neither this, nor that.  We are a fine balance between honey bees and leopards.  If that is not complicated enough, the point of equilibrium keeps shifting from time to time!

03 Aug

Refusing Anti-ageing is accepting Death

All Roads Lead to Death

For life to sustain, several million things must happen in a particular order.  But death can occur in any of the million ways.  There lies the secret behind the apparent immortality of mortality.  Death doesn’t have any special status in the greater scheme of things.  We just need to jump too many hoops to avoid death.  I believe that the Universe doesn’t care if we live.  And that It doesn’t care if we die.

We all avoid death for one reason or other.  For some of us, it is the fear of the physical pain.  For some, it is the pending responsibilities.  Others can’t bear the tears of near and dear.  Some don’t want to die without seeing the wonders that the future has to offer (detour: Isn’t it interesting that many of our reasons to live are driven by what we mean to others?).  And then, there are people who continue to live because can’t find a good reason to die.  I always find it surprising as to how so many people claim that they are not scared of dying.  Whereas, these same people won’t hesitate to kill if their life is threatened.

Even though everyone is scared of dying, we always ridicule the people who went chasing after immortality.  We have stories and legends where the chasers of immortality always have sorry ends (but often, in our legends, heroes who chase the noble are gifted immortality).  These stories are not far from reality.  People who went chasing immortality, longevity or youthfulness always failed.  It is nice for us to think of them as desperate and greedy.  It probably justifies our own laziness.

When it comes to wanting immortality, vast majority among us take the defeatist attitude.  Nothing else explains why we are uncomfortable with the idea of immortality.  After all, if we have a good reason to live today, there is no good reason to not want to live tomorrow.  Or the next year.  Why should it be OK for us to accept death in fifty years from now, when it not OK to want to die today?

Granted, in our youthful swagger, it is normal for us to want not to live into the frailties of senescence.  But when senescence creeps on us slowly, it turns out that it is not such an unbearable thing after all!  Our justification of accepting death on the ground that ‘senescence is unacceptable’ appears baseless.  But given that I am one of those people who vehemently cry “keep me fit or give me death”, I can look at this group sympathetically.

Modern anti-ageing techniques, though they are far from perfected as of now, can easily add one or two additional decades of healthy living to most of us.  But surprising number of people think too low of taking it up.  It is perfectly OK for them if the death creeps on them slowly.  But wanting to jump on the anti-ageing bandwagon is too painful to them for two reasons: One, it amounts to accepting our desperation to want to live another day.  Two, reminds us that death is real.

For the people among us who avoid anti-ageing, state of default seem to be safe and non-threatening. Having taken an emotional decision not to act, we go around inventing false justifications as to why we chose default over action.

Don’t.

Take anti-ageing seriously.  It looks funny to you because it is positive healthcare.  Healthcare is usually focused fixing things that are broken.  In other words, conventional medicine is about coming from negative to zero.  Anti-ageing takes something that may or may not be broken and makes it better.  It is a process where the final destination is positive.

Anti-ageing alone can add thirty to forty years to your life, at the very least.  You can absolutely not come across any other single action that can add so many healthy years to your life. Period.

01 Aug

John Galt was a Psychopath

Psychopaths

So was Howard Roark.  And, very probably, Ayn Rand was a psychopath too.  But they were all so called ‘high functioning’ psychopaths.  In other words, they have a psychopath’s psychological make up, but they have used the traits constructively.

For reasons that I don’t quite understand, twentieth century was the century of psychopaths.  May be industrialization happened too fast that we didn’t have time to learn to live with strangers.  Or the World Wars (another product of rapid industrialization) promoted leaders with psychopathic tendencies.   Or may be we were tired of living in a close nit society for too long that we were wallowing in our new found individuality.

Whatever may be the case, twentieth century idolized the lone wolves.  Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, we recognized our true social nature.  And we are just beginning to understand how important it is for our physical and psychological well being that we are emotionally connected to other people.

Few posts ago, we saw the SCARF model proposed by David Rock, which identified five central human drives (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness).  Couple of earlier posts addressed Status and Fairness.  This post is about Relatedness.

We are beginning to see research coming out from all over the world, showing that the quality of life and the longevity are tightly correlated with the quality and (to an extent) the quantity of meaningful relationships we have.  Meaningful relationships will include people with who we can have a real conversation or do something with full immersion, people who care for our wellness dearly and people we care for deeply.  People can have such relationships with pets or even plants.

Our default state of response to strangers is suspicion and fear.  Strangers are treated as enemies unless proven otherwise.  For our threat antennae come down, we need to know that the strangers mean no harm.  Hence, for a person who lives among people he or she doesn’t know well enough, the whole world is made up of enemies.  Everywhere they go, they are treated with hostility and the fear that others are always out to get them.

Add loneliness to this constant state of fear, it is no surprise that lone wolves are a bitter and unhappy lot.

Fortunately, a little while ago, longevity scientists have begun to notice a strange anomaly with the people who lived in well nit societies.  It appeared that they lived much longer and happier, and with far less lifestyle diseases, than the normal people.  Even tending to live plants seemed to have some positive effect on people!

And then, the internet and the social networks came along and the fabric of society changed once and for all.

Today, we are much more connected in every sense possible than we ever where in the past.  The trend will only continue.  Because the world is so very networked, we have more number of people to relate to than ever before.  Because we share more online, our relations are typically deeper than they were in the yesteryears.  Similar thinking people are now able to discover each other from different corners of the world.

Good practices discovered in one part of the world spreads to the other parts very swiftly.  More importantly, xenophobia is on the decline.  And meaningless or outdated taboos are falling down one after another.  Because the world is so well connected, there is a free flow of scientific and productive ideas and even the lay people are beginning to discover their creative and thinking skills.  And the world is going to become richer, and happier, by many folds over.

Because we have discovered the necessity and joy of relatedness, the world today is much happier and richer than it ever was.  Because we are so well connected, there is never likely to be a Third World War.  When it comes to networking, we have barely begun to scratch the surface.  What we have seen as the benefits of networking is nothing compared with what is waiting to happen.

Given how beneficial networking ‘among the masses’, isn’t it strange that lone wolves like John Galt and Howard Roark wanted to create an utopia that was made by, and made for, a handful of intellectually gifted people who had near zero social skills!  To understand this anomaly, we should take a quick look at the typical personality features of high functioning psychopaths (taken from the book “Wisdom of the Psychopaths“; a more elaborate character set is here):

  1. Ruthlessness
  2. Charm
  3. Focus
  4. Mental Toughness
  5. Fearlessness
  6. Mindfulness
  7. Action

Galt, Roark, Dagny Taggart or any other protagonist created by Ayn Rand almost always had all the 7 features given above. The epitome, I think, is the way she explains child rearing as an objective profession (or sorts) that one opts in!  Anyone who is oblivious to the magic of rearing having and raising a child, in my mind, must be a psychopath.

29 Jul

Naming a Brand

Naming a Brand

If you are, like me, don’t have an inheritance or a nest egg to see you through the rest of your life on this planet with your present level of creature comforts, it is a good idea to start a business, that is, if you haven’t started on already.  If you run a business or planning to start one, ‘how to name it’ becomes a frequently asked question.

Many seasoned business persons don’t sweat over this issue (what kind of a name is Videocon; and who will sell washing machines and smartphones under that brand).  May be they are right, may be it all depends on the execution.  But then, you will name a brand only once; but if you get a great name, you will reap the benefits through out the life of the brand [I wish my parents knew this :-( ].  Hence, not taking the effort to come up with a proper name is sheer laziness.

Here is a set of filters you can use while finding a nice name for your brand.  All of them are simple.  All you have to do is sit in a quiet place and scribble down a bunch of names.  Don’t be scared if you have to come up hundreds of options.  Then you start rejecting the ones that don’t pass through these filters.  I am sure you will come up with a name that you and your children will be proud of.  No creativity required!

1. UNIQUE SOUNDING

The brand name is the handle by which everyone comes to remember the brand. Some names are so generic, holding on to them is like grabbing an eel. A generic name easily slips from the mind. An unique name, on the other hand, is like an ergonomically designed handle. These are some of the unique sounding names that immediately come to my mind: 3M, RedBull, Minkle, Wipro and Tata.

2. ROLLS ON YOUR TONGUE EASILY

If you have an unique name that is difficult to yell out loud, it is not going to stay in people’s mind. For example, who remembers Minnesota Minerals and Mining (3M‘s real name)? Vedanta is to regal, though it’s tougher on the tongue than Sterlite (which is more popular). GMR is more easy on the tongue than GVK. Coke is better than Coca cola. Accenture rolls on the tongue too (even though it is a bit too long, in the Business Consultancy business, it is one of the shortest names). Better still, can you come up with a name that people love to pronounce? Something that people use often just because they love the way it sounds, like Jack Nicholson?

3. NOT TOO LENGTHY

If the name is longish, you are going to have a tough time while designing a logo. Moreover, with a long name, people are going to make up an acronym instead of using the proper name of your business/brand. And there is a very good chance that the acronym will sound horrible. Companies like 3M, Coke, Mac, Cat, GE, GM, IBM, etc. all had long names.  They are extremely lucky that their abbreviated names are unique and roll on the tongue. Not everyone gets that lucky.

4. USES PROPER SPELLING

Don’t pick name like Klassic or Classik. It’s too much of hassle to remember the spelling variation. All your customers searching for you in Google will land up at Classic Furniture, not Classik Furniture. By the way, Classik also fails the first filter (i.e. unique sounding). A name like Classik is worse than a name like, for example, Saravana Furniture!

5. COMMUNICATES WHAT YOU DO

If you have limitless advertisement budget, you can take a meaningless name like Accenture and spend cart loads of money to tell what you are doing. But if you are a small company or a start-up, the name of your business must describe what you do. Don’t name your business after God, founder, dog or other such irrelevant thing. It’s such a wasted opportunity. From this point of view, Coca Cola, General Motors, General Electrics, International Business Machine, FaceBook, Microsoft and Google are good choices. Pepsi, Saravanabhava, Sangeetha, Starbucks, Accenture and Minkle are bad.

6. COMMUNICATES WHAT YOUR USP IS

Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is the reason why your customers are doing business with you. If only you can find a name that communicates your USP, you can compromise on few other requirements. Accenture is a name that subliminally communicates superior capabilities. Lexus communicates luxury. And what do you think is the winning entry: RedBull, of course! If you are looking for names that don’t communicate the USP, they are there everywhere: IBM, Microsoft, FaceBook, Saravana Stores, GRT…

7. DOT-COM DOMAIN NAME IS AVAILABLE

If you can get the .COM domain of your name, without prefixes or suffixes, that is an wonderful advantage in itself.

8. SATISFIES NUMEROLOGICAL REQUIREMENT

I am not into numerology and I can’t tell you much about this filter. But if you believe in numerology, this won’t be a laughing matter for you.

By the way, there is also a 9th filter: Common Sense. Don’t forget it.

29 Dec

Who gave You Your Morals?

Fairness

In the last post, we saw SCARF model proposed by David Rock, identifying five strong human motivations (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness & Fairness).  The last post also discussed Status.  In this post, we will discuss the Fairness, or morality.

The most important paradigm shift on morality is this:

Fairness and other morals are hard coded in our genes!

The conventional belief is that the moralities have been given to us by religions.  But the more we understand how humans and other animals work, the more it becomes clear that

Religions have simply documented the moral values that we have inherited through our genes.

Unfortunately, religions have done a poor job of documenting morality.  Given that most of the religious teachings are hundreds or thousands of years old, they suffer from two disadvantages:

  1. The clarity of thought applied (while documenting the moral values) in the distant is substantially poor when compared with today’s rigorous standards
  2. The power of today’s science and mathematics to segregate the nuts and bolts of morality was not available in the past.  For the ancient thinkers, morality was too large to grasp, too dynamic to pin down and contained too many black boxes to make sense of.

Here is a wonderful TED video that shows morals are hard coded in the genes: Do Animals have Morals? (17 min).  The capuchin monkeys shown at 13 minute mark in the video have a brain that weighs about just 3.5% of a human brain!  Still, they clearly understand what is fair.  Understanding of fairness has been observed even in small fishes with pinhead sized brain, or in insects with no central nervous system.  If we know how to look, morality is seen in every animal.

Here is why the genetic origin of morality shouldn’t be surprising:

Proteins come together to form genes.  Genes, to chromosomes.  Chromosomes to organs to an organism.  Individual organisms come together to form a society/colony.

Each of these collectives has their own set of rules that must be preserved across time and generations.  Else, the process of formation of collectives stop from happening.

Chemical and physical rules govern the coagulation of organs into an organism (or upstream).  Morality is the rules that govern as to how individual organisms come together to form a colony/society.

Without morality, we will have no societies.  Because, morality is the fabric that holds us all together into a society.  The fabric of the society.

This idea has a few very interesting implications:

  • Since we don’t find many humans wanting to live in isolation for extended period of time, we can speculate that our ancestors who didn’t crave for fairness perished.  For today’s humans, fairness is a basic necessity.  Perceived lack of fairness and morality in other people can make us do funny things.
  • Since fairness is built into our genes, we should expect the world to become a more just place to live with time.
  • Morality is a component of the society.  Moral values usually give more importance to the society, than the benefit of an individual.
  • All agents of morality (including the religions) will mostly put the benefit of the society above the benefit of an individual.
  • We don’t need the religious teachings to tell us what is right and what is not.
  • Because of the poor standards of thinking of understanding involved in the religious teachings, we will be much better off if we replace the religious teachings with scientific understanding of moral values.
25 Dec

Seek Status. Be Happy.

Seek Status

If you are a corporate type, I am sure they have already bored you to death with Abraham Maslow’s human need pyramid.  Maslow proposed that human beings start addressing their needs from the bottom most layer.  Typically, after the bottom layer is addressed, they move to the layer above.  How-much-ever popular Maslow’s pyramid is, I can never figure out what self-actualization is!

Maslow's Pyramid

Fortunately, there is a delightfully alternative human-drive model that works for me.  Proposed by David Rock, the SCARF Model identifies five human needs that have huge impact on our decisions.  And it is not as if one of them is more important than the other.

SCARF Model

Maslow and all other teachers before him (including the religious teachers) completely missed the human hunger for status.  Almost every religion, without an exception, preach that status seeking is evil or trivial thing.  People readily die in order to retain their status.  In fact, almost every one is spending their whole life pursuing status.

With the help of modern science, animal studies and hard data, we now clearly know that having high status adds a few years to one’s life.  Not only that, we now know that the people/animals with lower status suffer much higher levels of stress and anxiety, making even their shorter life much less pleasant.

Status seeking is a selfish act, done to benefit the self and near-self.  Selfishness in itself is not a bad thing till such time it affects others in an unfair manner.  Unfortunately, status seeking is a win-lose game; for one person to win, other(s) must lose.  An individual’s status seeking threatens the status of (few) others in the group.  Sometimes, the entire group is threatened by an individual’s status seeking.  Groups almost always hate status seekers.

Religions are a product of group selection.  They almost always put the benefit of the group above that of the individual.  Religions always belittle an individual’s self-centered reward seeking behavior.  Ironically, religions smuggle an individual’s reward-seeking mechanism to serve the group.  If we look at it from this point of view, a religion is a parasite on its member, though a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with the host might exist.

Interestingly, status seeking is driven by sexual selection.  Status seeking is usually an expression of the mate selection drive.  An individual’s status seeking drives roughly correlates with the level of androgens and other gonadal hormones in their body.  People are most status seeking in their sexual prime.  Kids and elderly, with their low gonadal hormone levels, more readily cooperate.  Men, with their higher androgen levels, are much more competitive than women.

Summary:

  1. Seek, and win, Status; it is good for your health and well being
  2. Your status-run will threaten your peers
  3. Institutions put their selfish motive above your individual welfare when they teach you not to seek status
  4. As you grow old, your status-seeking drive might diminish.  And, you might think that the status seekers are all foolish.

We’ll look at “Fairness” in the next post.