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Father’s day musings: solution vs problem focus

  • WhatsApp Image 2017-06-18 at 3.08.01 AM

Today is Father’s day so I thought of sharing some past memories.

In our school days, we had 5 tests in a year. One half-yearly test preceded by two minor tests and annual one preceded by another minor test.

I have never been the topper of the class. I was always an average student. Average as in top 20% of the class, until I joined IIT.

The average pattern took a hit when in 7th grade I failed in mathematics in the first test. I scored 3.25 out of 10. I was clueless why it was happening. I was neither a sporty nor a spoiled student. I was not a student who would study all the time but I was not inattentive either. Was lack of retention in the memory an issue. Well, I remember most of content of my classes still, 30 years down the line.

Anyway, coming back to this small blip in my life which was such a great gift looking back. I told my mom, not to tell dad and she did not. I thought it was simple blip which would automatically disappear by the second test.

Two months down the line came the second test. I tried harder this time and again failed but the score was 3.5 out of 10, if that was any relief. This time I requested mom not to disclose to dad again but she felt it will go beyond control if she did not.

So she told him. I thought dad would get mad at me. On the contrary, he did not react at all. Love for mathematics runs in the family and you would guess that pattern would even shock him but on the contrary he was calm. For those of us who grew up in India in 80s know that dads being calm was unusual trait and even physically hitting the kids was more of a rule than an exception.

Dad reminded me of what I later came to know of as carpenter’s rule. He said “all you need to do is to be cautious at every step of calculation. Go slow (as in carefully slow not lazily slow) and pay extra attention to small mistakes being made which are leading the end result being wrong. In mathematics this extra caution is what makes all the difference”.

This small advice was life changing. I never had challenges in maths, at least not for regular one. I do feel challenged at abstract math (which is my hobby) but that goes to topics like Reimann hypothesis or how sum of 1..infinity is -1/12. Luckily rest of the humanity is also finds it challenging (may be divinity does not but another day, another topic) .

This advice extended beyond maths. Even for other subjects, somehow I had the impression that I should get (as in memorize) everything in one reading. I made it a point to read everything up to 2 times though most of the time 1.5 times was all I needed to get complete understanding.

Happy Father’s day everyone.

Equivalence principle, time and gravity

  • sphere is affecting space / time around it

Equivalence Principle

Einstein made the small observation that gravity in an inertial frame and acceleration in a non-inertial frame feel exactly the same.
So one could say that the effect of gravity on your body feels equivalent to the effect of an accellerating object pushing you away from the center of the earth, radially outwards. Being that you are standing on the ground, it’s the same effect we would observe if earth’s surface was accelerating away from the center of the earth, which, of course, it doesn’t… Or does it?

Hyperspace?

To entertain this idea, we have to consider movement in a 4th dimension. Since we can not observe any hyper dimension using any physical apparatus, what can we do? The answer comes from a fictional book which was written 50 years before Einstein’s discoveries. The book was “Flatland”. In the flatland, there are 2-dimensional residents like the circle, triangle and square. These residents do not know that a third dimension exists. One day they see a dot appearing somewhere. Slowly this dot becomes larger and larger, until one day when it suddenly disappears. What appeared to the residents as a dot changing size was in fact a cone passing through the flatland. Flat-landers did not know the third dimension in which the movement was happening but they did observe this passage as a function of time.

Black Holes, yet again

Near a black hole’s event horizon, the rate of elapse of time becomes zero that is clocks stop ticking. Now the question is: is gravity making clocks tick more slowly or is time dilation creating gravity or are both deeply intertwined?

Rethinking acceleration

Imagine you are a stationary observer on the surface of the earth. In reality, you are not actually stationary because the earth is spinning. This spin is giving you a constant change of direction even though you are at a constant distance from the center of the earth (we are assuming earth to be a perfect sphere).

Wait! Is it this torque which is creating gravity? Close, but no. In fact, the truth is the complete opposite. This spinning motion actually tries to throw objects away from the earth (centrifugal force) not towards it and is very small compared to gravity (around 0.35% at the equator).

So what is causing gravity? Einstein said that the presence of massive bodies create curvatures in the fabric of space-time and that leads to gravity.

Is time-dilation exclusive to accelerating frames?

Mystics in the deep states of meditation feel the same time dilation concept. Let’s just assume this to be true for now. A mystic is not sitting in an accelerated frame going from place A to place B. So what is causing this time dilation?

It is the consciousness at play here; as it moves from the physical realm to the non-physical realm, time slows down. Does consciousness not face the speed of light limitation? Maybe there is a deeper, yet-to-be-discovered concept whose projection in the physical space is speed?

What is time anyway?

We talked so much about time but what it is in reality? Is it simply a state machine. Think of a realm in which nothing changes. Nothing gets created, nothing gets destroyed. In short, no state exists or changes. There is no need of time there.

Why thinking is overrated

  • Thinking too hard

I always wonder why thinking is so overrated. The people who think most are generally found in mental asylums while the people who think least are mystics, visionaries & scientists.

A mystic sitting in the Himalayas. In a relaxed but attentive posture. Doing nothing, feeling nothing, being nothing. Not a focused but abstracted mind. In fact so feeble a mind that it is almost like there is no mind. There is no I, no ego. Not drunk, not in a delusion. Fully conscious but consciousness in it’s feeblest of the form.

Going over each thought is like going over spam folder. Yes, there is a chance something useful may come out of it once in a while but time wasted combing it is better spent somewhere else.

Most of the thoughts and their extension emotions are pure noise. We pay attention to thoughts because we think those thoughts belong to us. We somehow identify ourselves with them. In this wane effort, we ignore wisdom which comes if we identify ourselves with higher consciousness. Some people call it deep thought but that’s underrating it. Wisdom is not thought at all but the gem which arises due to lack of thought.

Where thoughts stop, wisdom starts. Most innovation & introspection happens in this blank space called quiet mind.

My latest interest in a meditative stage which sometimes is called nirvikapla samadhi. It essentially is the stage in doers and the act merge together or seers merges into the scenery.
Some people call it’s milder version “thinking time”. Thinking(less) time is the secret to most rich and successful.

Doing it vs doing it well

  • nothing happened

If you have worked hard in your carreer, you have heard some form of the phrase “80% of success is showing up”. Yet, you can probably think of a few situations where showing up didn’t do anything for you.

I think the phrase is very powerful, but it is oversimplified. There are things like meditation or exercise where the biggest hurdle is physical. In those cases, the more times you show up the better you will get as practice itself will make you better everytime. In fact, if you want to fail miserably at any of these, you should try to be a perfectionist (or better termed over-achiever.) 

There are other places where attention to detail matter. Look at academics: I showed up at school every day aside from maybe 30 leaves altogether in 13 years. And so did the students who are nowhere in life. So there: It was not just showing up but keen interest and attention to detail which mattered. Was I attentive all the time? I wish. But I was attentive more often than not. 

World Line Convergence

You must have heard the phrase "Being in the right place at the right time" "Being in the wrong place at the wrong time" and by extension "Being in the x place at the y time" I think this is the easier way I can introduce the complex phenomenon I am going to talk about in this blog. Let me...
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Drug Induced Valor

  • Born into Opium

In India, the concept of a stay-at-home mom is relatively new, at least in the masses. Two generations back, women had to work in blue collar jobs to support families. In the country, it would mean working in fields and in cities it would mean working in hotel kitchens like my grandmother did who was a single mother.

Most of these women had young kids and there was only one way to make sure kids do not disturb while they were working and that was opium. Though even in those days it was common held belief that opium stuns young children’s growth, it was definitely a better choice than starving. Luckily, my grandmom did not have to go that route as she had the luxury of leaving kids at the house of her brother ( who later adopted my father).

I have heard of a lot of folks from former ruling class who spoiled their lives by drinking. The reality is that consuming liquor is also a relatively new concept, while the history of opium use goes far back. The reason is obvious: Opium does not need a distillery and is produced from a plant that is abundant.

In the western parts of Rajasthan, there is still a tradition of daily opium consumption in the country. This tradition was very prevalent in troops and during war times, the consumption would increase 3-4 fold. This would help troops get rid of inhibition and they would push themselves into thick of enemy forces and get cut like vegetables. This valor which rajputs were famous for was essentially opium induced.

Was it a bad idea? not really. How else would you motivate hundreds of troops in days when there was no sophisticated weaponry?

 

Thuggery

  • Detail of Robin Hood statue in Nottingham, UK

You all know what is the world’s oldest profession. When it comes to second oldest, there are always so many contenders, so let me add one more: thuggery.

They have had different names, like “robbers” and “pirates”, in different times and places. Their nature of business, i.e. robbing people of blood or money or both, has not changed much. What has changed is fulfillment of their desire for legitimacy.

Thugs have always sought legitimacy. Since time immemorial, they were treated as outcasts except for when people were under their direct threat. Thugs never appreciated it and treated it as social aberration.

The first type of thugs who got legitimacy were dictators. This explains the huge popular vote whenever referendums were done during a dictator’s direct rule. Who would like to put his/her life at risk by sticking his or her head out?

The second type who got legitimacy in a select group of people were Robin Hoods. Though Robin Hood itself is a fictional character, every culture has had its fair share of Robin Hoods. I remember my grand mother mentioning one decoit who was very kind to poor people. Its good to be kind to poor but what Robin Hoods do is to use this kindness to mask their cruel acts.

It is important to pay attention to the second type as in modern society, only this “Robin Hood” type of thugs are thriving. The first type is almost extinct due to the spread of democracy. In contrast, modern democratic societies provide a perfect breeding ground for Robin Hoods. Now, they can live in society, they can get educated and they can wear suits. They use the legal system which to part is created to protect the weak to weaken the strong.

Who do these modern thugs target in the name of helping the poor and downtrodden? Their targets are small businesses, the real downtrodden class in America. Look at any doughnut shop or salon in America and try to do a back-of-the-envelope financial calculation for them. You will be surprised to see how tough it is to make profit every month. The only way for them to sustain is when only family members work there. Think what happens to them when wolves show up at their door wearing suits and calling themselves plaintiff lawyers.

Man’s quest for serotonin balance

It is not easy to look at all the faiths, meditation practices, yoga, and various other things from one perspective. Let me suggest one perspective, all of these are quests to keep our serotonin levels balanced.

Whether you are meditating twice a day, praying five times, or visiting a place of worship, all of these are focused on projecting happiness chemicals in our bodies to a balanced level.

Why is serotonin needed in our body?

Serotonin is known as the happiness chemical. It is a neurotransmitter and its twin brother dopamine is also discussed in the same context. Most people learn about serotonin when they or someone they know is suffering from depression. Prescribed Anti-depressant drugs are essentially serotonin inhibitors.

In a society addicted to consumption and over indulgence, it makes sense that more discussions are being brought up about depression over happiness and inspiration. Its analogous to talking about how to get rid of credit card debt vs how to save money.

Let me make an attempt to define the state of being inspired. One way to put it is as equanimous state of mind for the creative. Its not the state of happiness but state of calm. Left brain running at idle mode. Right brain full swing.

Limitations of electronic communication

Modern age makes us believe that technology can solve all the problems. It solves most of the problems except one and that is dealing with humans.

I read a quote somewhere sometime back and it was “If you can meet someone, don’t call. If you can call someone, don’t text or email”. Obviously it is little exaggerated but sends the point across well.

We can think of various reasons for it but first and foremost is that’s it’s very tough to be nasty when you are in front of someone. It’s very easy ( and would say cowardly) to sit behind keyboard and write nasty stuff.

Second as you can guess is body language. Body language plays almost 80% part in communication called non-verbal communication. If you take this part out communication is exactly  20% effective. On telephone you can introduce some body language so it’s definitely better than texting but does not beat in-person meetings.

I am not suggesting that all communication should be done in-person as that would overwhelm everyone but there should be a fine balance and you should err towards more human interaction than less.

I think it’s less of a problem for our generation but for the generation which is in school and colleges, they need to be taught emphatically about the limitations of electronic communication. If we do not do that, we will see many more jobs, relationships and marriages failing.

Electronic communication is a blessing for our times and I am in no way underestimating it’s importance. Mobile communication is another giant leap within that. It helps me stay productive no matter where I am. It’s just that it still does not catch all features of being human yet.

Demystifying Netflix

  • Cruise ship and iceberg

I had brief stay with Netflix many years back so I have a perspective. In a sentence, the whole company philosophy is based on the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.

First, let me start with discounting the value of culture. There is a lot that has been written and said about company cultures. Most of the time, it’s overrated. I am saying overrated is because it is claimed to be directly related to the success of a company, which is not true.

Culture has a marginal short-term impact and a substantial long-term impact. When a company like Netflix is facing a lot of tail winds, it does not really matter whether they are treating employees royally or have a quarterly ritual of layoffs. When a company like Yahoo is facing a lot of headwind — no matter how hard and how sincerely Marissa Mayer tries to change culture — it will not change the course of the company. I remember reading in an article that while a ship is going to hit an iceberg, you do not spend time arranging deck chairs. I am a big admirer of Marissa and maybe would have done the same thing as she did — since you have to start somewhere — but it becomes challenging when you expect a big short term impact from that.

Coming back to Netflix, the company has an amazing business model. It has faced continuous tail winds since Blockbuster has gone bust. This is what prompts everyone to look for reasons behind company success; and they look inside.

Netflix has an unwritten policy that they will give you complete flexibility and if they think you are abusing it, they’ll let you go. It works great in that the company does not build any deadwood. It fails when you throw a baby out with bathwater (because both stink same) every few months.  It’s easy to measure deadwood as productivity can be measured by various metrics, but it’s impossible to measure the loss of babies who were thrown out with the bathwater. One can also argue that maybe the loss is not much because it’s the business model and momentum which drive growth rather than few rock start employees.

The Netflix model is great when you are an established player and have a lot of money to pay. It’s like when you are young and hot, everyone wants to sleep with you. Companies that are not so lucky need to work on nurturing employees. You need both performance and loyalty. You reward performers for loyalty because they had the choice to go somewhere else but they did not.