Vulnerability of Tech Processes and Human Decisions

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Vulnerability of Tech Processes and Human Decisions
Here are two interesting incidents I came across online in the last week. One, about a seemingly harmless vulnerability in an online service’s process. The other, a possible vulnerability in human decisions in a human-dependent, traditional business.
First of, a French literary buff, conducted an interesting experiment. It was to check his hypothesis, that the standards of publishing have fallen significantly. Writer Serge Volle, took 50 pages of one of the novels of a Nobel laureate Claude Simon, and sent it to 19 French publishers as his original work. Interestingly, 12 of the publishers flatly rejected it. The others never replied.
While one could argue that publishers might have felt the content or style of this 1962 works, was not relevant for modern readers. However, one could also say that if these people can’t identify quality, how right are we to trust them with deciding if your works are good enough for readers or not.
You can read about the incident here: link
The other incident is even more amusing. An industry colleague of mine in the Design Thinking space shared this one on a group. A writer with an unusual name, Oobah (Butler), once upon a time, used to take small fees from local restaurants to write fake, glorifying reviews about them on TripAdvisor, even if he had never eaten at those restaurants.
And this seemingly huge chink in the TripAdvisor process, got him thinking if he could better himself. And he did. He decided to list his messy shed as a restaurant on TripAdvisor, and then made it London’s top-rated restaurant, without having served a single dish. How bloody cool is that?!
TripAdvisor folks later justified, saying their effort is largely channeled around eliminating fake reviews. Nobody in their right sense would create, or benefit from creating a restaurant that doesn’t exist. But it still is a gaping hole in the process.
Point being, as we continue to be wowed by the latest of apps that simplify our lives dramatically, teams at those companies need to be constantly aware of how their simple-to-use service can be abused.
You can read about the hilarious ‘Taking TripAdvisor on a Trip’ article here: link

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Ghost Rider

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Ghost Rider

India has seen a meteoric rise in the number of vehicles on its roads. And with it, driving sense and etiquette have disappeared into oblivion. I’ll agree I’m not too great a driver myself. But few things anger me as much as bikers riding on the wrong side of the road.

And it’s still ok if a rider only risks his own life. But many of them even dare with their family sitting pretty, pillion. And then there are those that ride on footpaths (sidewalks), risking lives of unsuspecting pedestrians too.

I’m not sure how you deal with them, but if it’s just a bloke riding alone on the wrong side, I normally go straight at them, with lights on high beam. I might swing out at the last moment, or just slow down but continue, making them stop and pull to the side as I drive past. I’m quite sure that makes no difference though. The cops don’t seem to be in any hurry to even start addressing these riders who risk lives to save insignificant minutes or fuel.

Ok, now imagine this. A holographic projector fitted on a car that creates a very real-looking holographic image of a bike or car next to it. The purpose being to deter bikers from riding on the wrong side of the road.

Obviously the image would be unbelievably real enough and appearing to leave no space for the bikers to squeeze through. The image obviously wouldn’t stop or slow down, just keep coming. I wonder if that could be enough to frighten the hell out of the rider? And while the rider would eventually pass through the image, it would hopefully frighten them out of their skin, leaving them puzzled and horrified enough never to ride on the wrong side again.

Sure it is a slightly more expensive alternative to good old effective traffic enforcement, but I’m sure it would be fun to experiment with while the enforcers get their act together.

And this below, isn’t a ghost car, just an insanely cool see-through 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six.

Ghost Car 1939-pontiac-deluxe-six-ghost-car

Image [source]

ghost carImage [source]

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Hope you don’t have a Rolled Model?

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Hope you don’t have a Rolled Model?

We all have role models? Well, at least most of us do. And can we ever admire them enough?

While it’s great if you have idols or role models, something I suggest to friends and acquaintances is that you should not be amazed by your role models. Instead, find out what it is about them that amazes you and earns your respect and admiration. Identify those specific characteristics in them, instead. We  don’t need ‘rolled’ [all-inclusive] models.

Why we admire someone could be something as lame as for their looks or acting skills. It could be their perseverance, or selflessness, truthfulness or their ice cold negotiation skills or the ability to win consistently. But whatever it is, instead of just staring with dropped jaws at a poster of your role model, sit and think about “why” you admire about them.

I’ll safely assume that your role model is human. That said, we all have our flaws; even our larger-than-life role models most probably do (perhaps with the exception of Mother Teresa). And therein lies the problem. People are a sum of their different characteristics, habits, behavior traits, etc. And some of those are excellent, some horrible.

So, whenever we admire a person, it is usually for one or more good traits they have. But since the selection happens on a slightly unconscious level, we tend to admire the person in their entirety, often accepting their negative or less desirable traits as part of the acceptable.  You’ll probably agree if you thought about the last time you argued with someone about why a public figure is liked, admired or hated so much. Blind admiration could cause us to unconsciously inculcate negative traits too; after all, our role models are just so great.

If we admire people specifically for certain characteristics they possess, we identify directly with those qualities in them; qualities that we perhaps desire to have. That, then lets us allow ourselves to be inspired and shaped by specifically those characteristics. 

While I was growing up, many of us dreamed to be like the classy and flamboyant Vijay Mallya. But after he denied his airline employees their salary for months on end, he suddenly didn’t seem so respectable. Tiger Woods will probably never get the admiration he once enjoyed, even if he were to play better than he ever has. Lance Armstrong is a classic example too.

Tip: Whoever your role model, also make a mental note of what skills or character traits make them your role model.

‘Details’ don’t complicate things. Instead, they provide a simpler view of how and why things are. Don’t avoid details, go look for them.

people-man-characteristic-attitude-pictogram-27880388.jpg (800×800)

Image: link

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Dark Knight Rising, Batpod Skidding

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Dark Knight Rising, Batpod Skidding

You know how we sometimes have a tendency to give our ‘expert’ views on something that already seems perfect, and how, according to us, it could have still been better?

Experts will agree that in areas of personal strengths and weaknesses, it is always better to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses. But in some other areas, the attitude can sometimes seem unnecessary. For instance, the way some people comment or curse when according to them, a sportsperson already giving his or her all, could have still done better. Where lazy beer-sipping spectators, with the other hand drowned in a bag of chips, somehow feel they know better.

In this post, I too am guilty of something to that effect. My views are about the Batpod design in a movies series that is already almost perfect. But don’t take it personally, as I am probably a bigger Batman fan than you are.

Christopher Nolan‘s franchise gave us the best 3 Batman movies ever. Apart from Batman himself, the brilliant plot, an eternally loyal Alfred, outstanding characters, an unforgettably dark Joker, Bane, Mr. Fox, and all the darkness; a treat for fans.

When it came to Batman’s crazy rides, I found something a little wrong with the Batpod, in The Dark Knight and in The Dark Knight Rises.

BatPod (1)

It is undoubtedly a neat looking ride, especially when you see it disengage from a badly damaged Tumbler. But there’s a scene almost immediately after that bit, that doesn’t make sense from the point-of-view of the Batpod’s design. You’ve noticed the guns on either side of the front wheel of the Batpod. And we’ve all seen how the Batpod skids to a halt, its wheels spinning on the axle. It looks especially neat when Batman comes out of a narrow alley, and you can see the lights on the forward guns spin with the tyre. In case that bit is a little hazy, here’s a video to jog your memory. [the spin happens after 0.55 secs into the video]

So, the bit I didn’t understand is, that when the wheels of the Batpod are spinning on a skid, how is it physically possible to do so with the guns present?

batpodwire

image: link

Because as soon is anything but rubber is in contact with the road, it would send the Batpod or any other vehicle, spinning anywhere but where you’d hope for it to go. No friction, right? And there don’t seem to be any rubber-like material on the outer side of the guns either. And neither are the guns shaped to make the cross-section circular, to make for a smooth spherical roll while skidding.

That said, I’d still most certainly own a Batpod if I could.

Batpod3

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A to B to C

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A to B to C

This one is in connection to some earlier posts on ‘Impactful brevity’ and on effective communication (So what’s your Point?). A friend recently sent me a hilarious video on WhatsApp that somehow reminded me of an incident from high school that I was surprised I remembered. Wonder how the memory had managed to survive in the junk in my head for so long.

Here’s what had happened. During a Physics lecture somewhere in high-school, our teacher was explaining to us, the oscillation of a pendulum. We drew the oscillating pendulum, which looked something like the one below, and we noted the definition as instructed, which read something like, “one oscillation of the pendulum, is when the pendulum moves from point A-C-A-B-A, or from B-A-C-A-B, or from C-A-B-A-C.” The definition seemed a little amusing, but I guess there weren’t many other ways to define it

image: TutorVista.com

While studying for the upcoming test, and this was probably the simplest definition; a realization hit me. It was that the definition completely depended on the drawing or image, and that it would be meaningless without it. Then another thought hit me. That I was probably really stupid to make such a big deal of something so obvious.

When we got our test scores, having scored reasonably well, I was quite upbeat. The teacher, while reviewing overall performance, mentioned the question on oscillation. I wondered, the definition couldn’t possibly have gotten any easier, so why was he bothering to mention that. He said, that a good number of students in class had defined oscillation with the ‘A-C-……’ definition, but had not drawn the diagram, and hence their definition was meaningless, and it didn’t get them any scores for that answer. Damn, I thought. Suddenly, my realization didn’t feel all that stupid.

Here’s the funny video that reminded me of it. Hope you enjoy a good laugh, like I did. And yeah, things aren’t always as obvious as they might seem.

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Love at First Bite

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Love at First Bite

While the title may be a little misleading to some, this post isn’t a vampire or cannibal’s love story.

With this post, I was thinking about some light topic to briefly change the tone on the blog. And recently while looking something up online, one of the Google search results was a link to one of my first few posts on another blogging site, posted way back in 2009 when I had first thought of giving blogging a shot. So thought I’d re-post it here, best served at room temperature for any foodies around. Here goes…

A music channel has this show where they show random people making some really outrageous dishes/ snacks at home. Something they accidentally stumbled upon as a result of a culinary catastrophe, or just something they made up along the way by mixing n matching different foods; perhaps in an attempt to be different, to prove their craziness to friends, or in most cases, to just survive the hunger when mommy wasn’t home.

It reminded me of my childhood, when I used to try my hand at a few such ‘snacks’ – sandwiches to be precise, to cater to the unbearable hunger somewhere between breakfast n lunch, usually on a Sunday afternoon.
Sandwiches were pretty much the only option, being the easiest to make,  n least messy food option of them all.
I’d start with a slice of bread, put a slice of cheese on it. Then another slice, this one laden with some mixed fruit jam. Top that with another slice with peanut butter on it, spread on fairly thick. And finally, the last slice with thick coating of Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) on it. Sometimes if I was hungrier, there could be an extra slice of cheese thrown in. And that surely was a treat of sorts.!
Now believe me, if you haven’t gotten nauseous, just trying to imagine all that, and you might just like it.
Like the saying goes,
“if it doesn’t kill ya, it only makes you stronger.” 😉
If you’ve got some of your own recipes for tasty food with odd combinations, let’s hear about it.
Dagwood

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Can You Handle This? Dangers of Bad Design

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Can You Handle This? Dangers of Bad Design

When making products, or even installing one, more often than not, haste does make waste. Some calmness and a little imagination goes a long way in avoiding the following…

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Above, is the inside of a rear door of a Maruti Eeco. I wonder how Maruti could  have designed the door handle to block movement of the window roller. You actually end up opening the door while attempting to roll down the window. Now even if I assume that the owner of this vehicle that I sat in, perhaps changed the angle of the door handle (by removing and fitting it at a different angle on the nut), Maruti should have ‘idiot-proofed’ it by placing the two handles sufficiently apart from each other. Yet, in the age of automatic locking and power windows,  this is what one of the auto majors in India has to offer.

This one takes the cake. I made a bunch of pit stops on a recent trip, so I’m still trying to remember at which hotel/ restaurant I took this picture, but it does make you wonder about what kind of thoughts could possibly have gone behind it. It’s funny for blokes like me, but wonder how women would use it. And I don’t know if the placement would make them laugh, or ”piss them off”.

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Brrre..witty

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Brevity #3

In continuation with my interest in the importance of brevity in communication (to a greater extent in  written communication, and to some extent for verbal),  this post is made up of some interesting quotes on brevity that I came across.

The quotes are in blue. Now after you’ve read each quote, I urge you spend a moment to reflect upon it.

Your objective, with every email (unless it is written for a lover or for an old friend), should be such…

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

And in case you can’t, here’s your excuse for sending insanely long emails…

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
― Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters

Here’s the kind of time you need to prepare, before addressing an audience…

“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
― Woodrow Wilson

Apart from the essence of preparation and importance of brevity, Thomas Woodrow Wilson very interestingly and brilliantly captured the 80:20 principle (Pareto’s) in the above quote.

Brevity #4

Now here’s a cheap shot at all the novels out there. Hollywood and Bollywood among others could get killed if a quote like this is taken seriously.

“A novel is just a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief.”
― George Saunders

Imagine the story-writer condensing his entire novel into a brief story of 5-6 sentences or less. The movie guys might wonder, “to hell with making the movie; after all, what would we put in it?”

And if you thought writing work emails is easy, well, here’s the effort that goes into it.

“Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.”
― Louise Brooks

And finally, the funniest and coolest one.

“Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Brevity #2

Now while I’ve been working on improving my email writing skills (mostly in my work emails) for some time now, I must admit that while it takes some effort to make all your content as concise as you possibly can, you must always be careful of not going to the other extreme, i.e. making the email so concise that the objective or purpose itself is lost.

If you liked this post, here’s one that you might find interesting too [So what’s your Point?]

brevity quotes

Beery Bad

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Here’s a first. A product review.

Several weeks ago I was at a Raymond’s store picking up a suit I had given for altering. On one of the display sections, a number of beer bottles caught my eye. Looking closer, they read “Beer Shampoo”. Hmmm.!

Now I’ve heard that beer’s really good for the hair, softens it and all that. I never really bothered, because apart from never wanting my hair to feel that I’m getting in its hair [pun], I always believed in two things:

  • going by my family history, I’ve come to terms with ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’, and
  • it’s a crime to pour beer anywhere else except into the belly

Anyway, the bottle looked really interesting, and it claimed ‘Made from real beer’, so I decided to buy one. On glancing at the shelf of bottles, first thing I noticed was that the quantity in each bottle was unequal. That isn’t very cool, especially coming from Park Avenue. So, I picked out the one which had the most beer shampoo in it. Obviously.

Used it, and. It smells like beer for sure, but the ‘wow’ ended with looking at the bottle from afar, and the smell of beer. The lid looked cheap and flimsy. The shampoo was nothing great, hair didn’t feel any different either. And [hic] it doesn’t even give you a high.

[1.5/5] And that too just for the look of the bottle and the smell of beer 😉

Park Avenue Beer Shampoo

English: At the Deep End

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A while back I was starting out on an email to a friend and was about to type the common “How are things at your end?” when I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend some years ago. Whether she probably didn’t think too much while replying, or was in a mighty hurry, we’ll never know. But it did however, remind me of how sensitive and dangerous a language English could be.

I happened to see this friend online on Google Chat, and it had been a while since we had spoken. Here’s how it went:

I inquired: Hey.!! How are things at your end? Been a while.

She replied: My end is fine. And you?

I: (almost fainted).

I replied: Yeah, I’m fine too. Good to see you online.

I was however, tempted to reply with something like: (Sure, guess I’ll agree. My ‘end’s’ fine too, the usual.. though I suppose it has gotten a little fat thanks to the bloody desk job) :O