Life is a Highway

India – More highways or Better National & Public Transport?
 
This is an email I had sent to our Minister for Road Transport & Highways in January this year. Of course I am still optimistic (or delusional) enough to hope for a response or an opportunity to further discuss this topic. Either way, I hope they at least consider it for a moment.
 
email–
I have two thoughts to share with regard to your ministry’s awe-inspiring INR 3.3 lakh crore highway development plan [23 highways, 4-5 years]. It might help to reconsider the scale of the projects.
 
Please consider these two historical events:
Scenario 1: In the late 1800’s, electric car prototypes existed [William Morrison and others]. But given limited research and push, fuel-powered cars won, leading to a century of polluting vehicles and climate damage.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the late 1800’s and electric vehicles were pursued and developed!
 
Scenario 2: In the 1950’s, a few leaders and businesses saw great potential for plastic in consumer goods. Almost instantly, entire industry sectors were created around plastic goods and packaging. Half a century later, our helpless dependence on plastic continues, and its resulting ecological disaster is becoming irreparable.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the 1950’s and plastic was to be used sparingly and responsibly!
 
Sir, we are now at a similar crossroads with regard to vehicles in India. And you have the power to choose one of two possible routes for us. Please let it be the one that remains relevant half a century later.
 
Here are two thoughts for your consideration:
1. As autonomous vehicles become prevalent in the next 1-2 decades, we will most likely shift from a car ownership to a Transportation as a Service (TaaS) model, taking the usage efficiency from the current ~10% to ~90%. With this, the total number of cars needed could reduce to 1/5th its current growing demand [Ref.: https://www.slideshare.net/Ideafarms/transportation-2050-the-future-of-personal-mobility ]
 While cargo related road expansion plans could continue as planned, if we only add sufficient road infrastructure for passenger cars to factor a future TaaS model, our planned highways might not need to be as wide as planned, and the project cost need not be as high as it is.
 
2. India, compared to North America, has four times the US population living on an area that is 1/3rd that of the US landmass. Therefore, higher individual ownership of vehicles made more sense in the US given the distance between people and places.
   The Indian scenario is quite opposite. Many people on a smaller land mass. This means, a world class national and state based public and private mass transportation would be a more logical option to pursue than individual car ownership. If we simply build wider highways and push car ownership from an auto industry that is largely dependent on a captive domestic market but struggles to compete globally, we would end up with (i) an inefficient auto industry, (ii) traffic-jammed cities and towns, and (iii) huge, inefficiently used automotive assets sitting idle at homes and offices. We might lose our global efficiency and edge due to challenges this inefficiency would present not necessarily now, but in the decades to come.
 
So, if we create more efficient public and private mass transportation infrastructure like Singapore today, we can save investments on the current highway projects by making them more future-efficient. And the saved funds could be diverted to boost relevant economy sectors that will give us a global edge in the coming decades, while creating more efficient lives in a cleaner and traffic-free India.
end of email–
 
Thoughts?

The Next Educational Diversion from our normal human behaviour

In my book, I briefly discussed the topic of quality in the world of innovation and automation.

My view was that through the quality revolution in the US and Japan and then other parts of the world, logically back then, someone visualizing the year 2021 might have assumed a world where everyone has quality integrated into their lives. From punctuality to cleanliness, to meeting deadlines and creating high quality products efficiently, and designing efficient processes and having employees adhere to them.

However, general human behaviour and smartphones really did a number on that possibility. Now, a lot of us tend to waste a lot of time mindlessly going down rabbit holes on the web. And how many of us are punctual? We also buy things we don’t need, and spend money we don’t have yet. And our general sense of quality isn’t much to aspire to.

So, what was the upside of the quality revolution, you might ask?
I think it was more of an educational diversion from our normal human behaviour so that we could then get our machines to be efficient instead of us.

And right now, I see something similar happening on the tech development front.

I recently got familiar with the project management software Jira. And user stories. And all I can think is, it isn’t going to be long before AI will handle a good part of all tech development. And we humans would simply have to communicate our tech requirements in a very simple manner to a system that will build it for us.

Tony Stark: Paint it.
Jarvis : Commencing automated assembly. Estimated completion time is five hours.

Imagine something similar with the next website or app you want to build in the coming years.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin, Bit(e)coin
 
I’ll start by saying that I clearly don’t know much about cryptocurrency.
I’ll also add that it would be incredibly beneficial to have a global currency that works securely without the need for intermediaries and their resulting transaction fees.
 
However, I find bitcoin a bit concerning, and here are my thoughts and questions around cryptocurrency in general and Bitcoin in particular. If believers would indulge me for a few moments and be kind to share their views.
 
When fully mined, there will be 21 million bitcoin in all. As of today (6 Feb, 2021), about 88.6% of them have been issued, leaving about 2.37 million to be mined (at the rate of about 900 per day).
 
Q1. How can bitcoin strive to be a truly universal solution with that limited a number?
It is my understanding that in most countries, the most commonly circulated currency denominations are in numbers that are few, if not several times the population of the country. For instance, US population in 2018 was 327 million. They had the following number of bills (by denomination) in circulation in 2018:
$1 – 11.7 billion
$2 – 1.2 billion
$5 – 2.8 billion
$10 – 1.9 billion
$20 – 8.9 billion
$50 – 1.7 billion
$100 – 11.5 billion
 
You’d notice the number of bills of each denomination in circulation was a few times the total number of people in the US (between ~4x and ~36x).
 
Compare that with the 21 million bitcoin (when fully mined). It is far from enough.
 
Now let’s take it a step deeper.
One Satoshi (named after the presumed person or persons who developed bitcoin) is the smallest unit value or denomination of a Bitcoin (BTC). One BTC = 100,000,000 Satoshis (100 million Sats).
 
If Satoshis are traded, my earlier concern of there not being enough bitcoin to go around is more than addressed, as there would be some 276000x Satoshi’s per person (based on 2019 world population of 7.67 billion. That’s a great number to have in circulation. But trading tiny fractions of bitcoin seems a bit inconvenient from a average person’s daily transactions perspective. So while it might seem more like buying a fraction of a mutual fund, buying something with bitcoin might be inconvenient for us common folk. Perhaps a bit easier with Satoshis.
 
Now this might have been fair if the world was uniformly introduced to Satoshi’s, and they were pegged at one global currency (say USD). However, till now, BTCs have been traded by a tiny segment of the entire population, which gives them a ridiculously huge early-adopter advantage, and would seem unfair for the rest of the world to simply adopt right now.
 
Which means there could be a huge likelihood that BTCs remain something highly limited and exclusive. And with the demand and spikes in price, it seems more like a rare collectors items. Or a club membership that sells for huge fees, and the waitlist could be several years long.
 
The intent behind bitcoin appears noble, and I was all for it even when I first read about it years ago. The world could have benefited hugely, perhaps if the accessibility was more inclusive from the early days, rather than after it has become a highly inflated one with low trading volumes.
 
While I wait for your thoughts, here’s some light humour by Naval Ravikant.
 

Segway

Not sure y’all heard, but Segway stopped production in 2020.

Founded in 2001, those incredible-looking, futuristic two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporters were priced at a prohibitive $5000-8000 a unit.
Probably why, despite their universal popularity and appeal, only some 140,000 sold in two decades.

Along the way, Chinese robotics startup Ninebot started selling Segway rip-offs.
They then raised funding (from Xiaomi and Sequoia), and acquired Segway in 2015, offering it as part of their mobility products portfolio.

However, as of June 2020 however, due to low sales and some past accidents, Ninebot decided to stop manufacturing Segways. They seem to be doing well selling their own range of kick scooters, go-karts and other personal transport products though.

An odd end for what was once a fascinating, seemingly ahead of its time, self-balancing personal mobility solution.
I suppose that’s how progress works.
And perhaps ‘affordability’ should be an important element of it? Especially if the product has a mass appeal and can be made cheaper than you are.

How much Attention do you pay to Detail?

How much attention do you pay to detail?
I had read about this somewhere and found the attention to detail unimaginably inspiring.

The sculpture of Moses by Italian Renaissance artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti has a slight indent in the forearm (yellow marker).

That indent is not random.

Such an indent is only formed when a particular muscle is taut, which in turn only happens when the little finger is extended, as is seen in the sculpture.
Try it out yourself to check.

The incredible attention to detail clearly differentiates legends from the rest.

The Paradox of Colour Choices

Many of us are familiar with the paradox of choice, whether or not we have heard of the phrase itself.

The paradox of choice, is our tendency to believe that more options or variants or choices in a given situation or purchase event is a good thing. After all, who wouldn’t want more flavours in a cereal or jam, or more accessory choices when buying a car or colour options when buying shoes or maybe laptops?

However, I think it was psychologist Barry Schwartz who first argued that for consumers, eliminating choices in fact dramatically reduced their anxiety as opposed to making them more content or delighted. It also simplifies our ability to compare and decide quickly, as opposed to being confused by the complexity of the multiple options presented.

I personally went through a similar experience with my calendar app. I think I installed it sometime in 2013-14. It had a few basic colour options for each entry. And since it was quite basic, I felt the need for some features, and the flexibility of some more colour options, to be able to categorize different priorities or types of reminders by colour. So I signed up for the Pro version.

All of a sudden, I got access to probably three times the colour options which, after an update in the recent months, has now become unlimited colours! There are the basic 11 Google supported colours, 39 more on the app’s extended palette, and the ability to create custom colours using the colour slider or by entering a Hex code.

And with all the options, came the chaos. In an attempt to highlight different types of activities with different colours, in the hope of remembering to get them done, the calendar started looking nauseatingly colourful. And chaotic!

And as the different colours overwhelmed the senses, it became increasingly tough to remember and understand priority.

So I regressed to a better format. I now use less than the initial colour options I started with. And, just as with the paradox of choice, clarity has improved. Now timebound or important matters are in red or green, and everything else is in one colour. So rather than depend on multiple colours fighting for attention while leaving me in a state of chaos, now I am required to pay attention to each to make sure nothing important gets missed out.

Have you faced any similar choice paradox that you solved by simplifying?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[the before & after screenshots are only representational. The actual calendar was far more chaotic before, & far clearer now]

Between Gender Pronouns and Spelling People’s Names

I had been seeing a lot of social media profiles with a ‘He/Him’ or ‘She/Her’ mentioned alongside the name, but didn’t completely understand the purpose. A close friend recently explained them as gender pronouns. Given in particular the LGBTQ+ community, the world needs to become increasingly sensitive to the different gender pronouns. Affixing it to one’s name could be considered a global effort towards creating more awareness about the diversities and subtleties of gender.

To make it a bit clearer, in the past, the powers that were, often kept pronoun references intentionally (and forcefully) simple (he/him and she/her), irrespective of how an individual identified themselves. However, with greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community across the world, we need to move toward a world that recognizes and appropriately addresses different individuals, so as not to be impolite. Currently, for those who don’t identify as male or female, use ‘They/Them/Their’ pronouns. Perhaps with time there might be more unique ways to identify each type in the LGBTQ+ community. The current habit of individuals mentioning their individual set of pronouns online is an effort to help sensitize the world community to pay more attention to gender differences. I have a lot to learn about this myself, but thought I’d share the little I know. And a question at the end.

In recent times, the world has become increasingly careless about people’s names – from not capitalizing the first letter, to getting the spelling wrong, or worse still, not realizing after having spelt it incorrectly (to be able to apologize and correct the mistake). Relatives sometimes misspell my name. And if you remove the last ‘n’, it is a girl’s name here in India.
Two amusing personal incidents came to mind around this.

I was once moderating a panel discussion around design thinking at a conference, and the organizers had managed to misspell my name on the placard and not realize it. I’m not affected by my name being misspelt, so I simply turned the placard away from the audience, lest they think that was my name.

The second was even funnier. One morning, I get a feedback request call (can’t remember for what service), the conversation goes something like this:

Woman: good morning, ma’am, I’m calling from XYZ business. This is a feedback call. Is it Ms. Shruti?
Me: [wondering wtf] Hi. I think you mean Mr. Shrutin. That’s me speaking.
Woman: [very confused] Sorry sir, is Ms. Shruti there?
Me: I think you have the name wrong. It is Shrutin, and I am the one you are asking about.
Woman: [even more confused] But it says Ms. Shruti?
Me: Ma’am, do I sound like a woman to you?
Woman: No sir!!
Me: Then try and understand this, the name is Shrutin, your rep might have misspelt it as ‘Shruti’, and someone entering it into your system therefore might have conveniently added a Ms., and you are looking at it and asking for a Ms. Shruti.
Woman: [sounding relieved] Oh sorry. Got it sir. I’ll make the necessary change. So sorry again.

Which brings me to my question:

In a world that, in part thanks to social media and also our own aimless hurriedness that causes us to pay less attention to people’s names (even if they are customers or guest speakers); how easy (or not) might it be for us to start recognizing gender based pronouns and addressing people accordingly?

– Shrutin Shetty [He/Him]

Rest in Peace, Dr. Kohli

Image source: here

Dr. Faqir Chand Kohli passed away today at the age of 96.

Founder & 1st CEO of Tata Consultancy Services (India’s largest software consulting co.), he is considered the ‘Father of the Indian Software Industry’ due to his significant contribution to the field.

Oftentimes legends like him are simply names and a string of achievements, for us humbler mortals to look up to and read or talk about. And many of them remain just that, achieving success and fame via their work, retiring, and receding into oblivion. But Dr. Kohli was very different. Which is why at least I will remember him for a long time, and aspire to be like him.

Two instances come to mind that showed the wonder that was Dr. Kohli.

Apart from consulting companies in the areas of innovation and growth strategy, every once in a while, I do think up either some way in which I can help a particular company, or a service that I can offer to a particular sector. Of course, most times the companies I write to are too big so I don’t expect a response, even though I almost feel like I’m the only one who could help save the company (in the past, I’ve written to & offered my services to Yahoo, HP, a bunch of VC’s, etc.; all in my blissful ignorance and confidence).

Anyway, one such exercise, to a broader audience, was when I sent out letters (the paper in envelope kind) to probably over a 100 b-schools and engineering colleges across the country, offering to help them create or shape their entrepreneurship ecosystem. I think three or four at best responded to the letter, all being top institutes who were already actively building their entrepreneurship cell. One was NITIE, Mumbai, and I had the privilege of visiting and checking out some of the work they do there.

Another response was an email asking me to get in touch with the Director of the institute I had written to, with the Director’s phone number on it.

A little flashback – After having selected those 100 institutes to initially write to, in the mundane task of finding the top person and address, what I didn’t realize, is that one of the people I had addressed a letter to, was Dr. Kolhi (Chairman of the Board of Governors of College of Engineering, Pune). And that email I had received with the Director’s phone number on it, was from none other than Dr. Kohli!

Can you imagine a 90ish year old god of industry emailing you to acknowledge a letter you had written, and guiding you on the steps forward?!

To give you some context to it. From the time my book was published, I have couriered over 60 paperback copies of it to various industry leaders with a letter addressed to them. These are people I felt whose businesses might benefit from the book. About 4-5 of their secretaries responded, acknowledging and thanking me for it. So, a 90+ year old gentleman responding to a letter from just another charged up chap who hopes to change the world could have at best landed in the trash. But that was not who Dr. Kohli was. And it also tells us that we have a choice on the kind of leader we want to be.

The second instance was a year or two after that. I was at an industry awards function with my folks, and I spotted Dr. Kohli. My mother was bored and feeling out of place all evening, so I tagged her along as I went to speak to Dr. Kohli. As I introduced myself and my mother, he complimented my mother on her purse, and my mother was beaming all evening. Just like that, in an event where everybody’s busy talking work and accomplishments and potential business, he made a homemaker feel comfortable and at home. I mentioned to Dr. Kohli about him being kind enough to email me, and he brushed off like it was no big deal, inquiring what happened with the meeting.

There are plenty of industry creators, company builders, the rich and the famous. And there are those that simply thrive under the legacy of those before them. And then there are those rare individuals who are so grounded, that they singlehandedly reinforce the idea of humanity and take it forward.

Immortals like them are never forgotten.

Rest in peace, Dr. Kohli. Until we meet again.

Towards a Better Mask – 3

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

This is post #3.

Post 1 listed some basic criteria and good to have features that served as guidelines/constraints and some initial sketches.

Post 2 factored in all the basic criteria and most of the ‘good-to-have’ features, in that it was transparent (though slightly off the mark) and had reasonably good circulation.

Based on the basic criteria, good-to-have features and general observation of regular folk preferring a handkerchief to a mask (walking through markets, handkerchiefs seem to be a preferred choice, especially for those needing to wear it all day), the next prototype has the following:

  • Addresses all basic features (though I didn’t have the time to cut out a section so it fits better around the nose)
  • Safety (basic criteria) is far higher than a handkerchief
  • Regarding ‘good-to-have’ features, it wasn’t transparent, but circulation was probably better than with handkerchiefs

What it is, is a section (slightly less than half) of a takeaway plastic soup bowl between the folds of a regular handkerchief.
Used a mini vice to hold the bowl in place, and cut it with a rotary tool.

Since a good number of people prefer a handkerchief (possibly due to convenience and affordability), but are probably not aware of the limited safety provided, this design simply offers a safer handkerchief.

Strings from the bowl (how about call it mask henceforth? 😁) run along the ends of the handkerchief folded in half (how people normally fold it before tying).
How it is different or safer than regular handkerchiefs, is the plastic over the nose and mouth section prevents any direct spit/particles from anyone nearby landing on the handkerchief from passing right through.

The bulge creates breathing room, something both handkerchiefs and regular masks don’t offer, and which is what causes a lot of people to slide them down or stop wearing them – the suffocation.

The small breathing space offered by the curvature of the bowl makes it more comfortable to wear, and the bottom section of the handkerchief can be partly folded into the bottom section of the mask, to allow for better ventilation while not giving direct exit to any germ from the user.

Let me know what you think!

Previous post Towards a Better Mask – 2

Towards a Better Mask – 2

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

This is post #2.

This was part experiment, part fun. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of using car components for things. For instance, a dream is to someday replace the sofa in the hall with car seats.

Back to the topic, affordability comes from using empty soup bowls from an earlier food delivery. 😛 

As for the funny white extensions on the sides, they are cardboard (from some box) and inside it lies the “protection” – A decent quality car air-conditioning filter. The entire AC filter comes for a few hundred bucks, and I barely used 10-15% of one. There’s a section of folded filter, and a second single layer where that white section joins the s̶o̶u̶p̶ ̶b̶o̶w̶l̶  mask via a ~1.2 cm opening [below].

So that’s double layer of protection! The plastic section wouldn’t allow the virus in. And the front is transparent to allow for better human interaction. With this particular prototype, the nose cut-out was not deep enough so the transparent section focused more on the beard, but ideally, it would give a view of the mouth and part of the nose.

If you’ve seen the criteria listed in the 1st post of this series, this one prototype addresses:

Among the basic criteria:

  • Protection
  • Affordability
  • Partly achieves ‘breathable’
  • Addresses gaps on the sides of the nose

And among Good-to-have features:

  • Transparency (almost on this one, but should be easy to fix)
  • Partly addresses good circulation (by being a few centimeters away from the mouth and nose, it allows for a more open, relaxed breathing setting as opposed to most regular masks)

Of course the air filtering packs on the sides are huge and unwieldy. General comfort too wasn’t great as I simply used the elastic bands from a used surgical mask so it was tight (to the point it almost took my eye out when the nose protection cushion slipped out and the strain of the bands pushed the jagged plastic edge in my eye as I was fumbling around trying to take a selfie with the mask on.

Anyway, till the next prototype…

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