Category: The known unknown

My Second Book – Main Batata Hoon

My recently published book, ‘Main Batata Hoon’, is now available in paperback and Kindle formats on most if not all regional Amazon sites around the world.

An aunt was so amused with the title, she said she couldn’t wait to read the stories themselves. I clarified that I had used all the humour in the moment on the title, and that the stories are more of the everyday variety. A bit amusing, but some also slightly serious.

 

In case you are wondering what the seemingly amusing title means; especially my foreign friends and connections,..
..In Hindi, depending on how it is pronounced, it translates to “I will tell you”, or that “I am a potato.”
It is a line I have used to get a laugh out of people from time to time, and it seemed to perfectly capture the underlying theme of counterintuitiveness of the stories.

You have probably heard the word ‘counter-intuitive’ a few times.

If you haven’t, or like me you aren’t exactly sure how to put it into context, here are some examples of counter-intuitiveness:

  • Some people assume that consuming alcohol will help fall asleep faster. In reality though, it affects your sleep patterns, worsening rather than improving sleep patterns.
  • When faced with a sudden tight deadline or exam preparations, most people jump right into the task, not wanting to waste any time on planning. However, spending a little time on planning usually improves your chances of finishing the task on time.
  • Or how you might assume that you get stronger soon as you start exercising, when in reality, you first get a bit weaker before you get stronger.

So now, what are the stories in the book about?

The book has about 56 short stories that bring your attention to different everyday counterintuitive realities that we are often oblivious to. And that affect our relationships, our investments, or environment, and our peace of mind.

And while you enjoy the conversational stories in the book, I also encourage you to use the counterintuitive ‘aha’ moments the stories might bring, to recognize and better deal with these situations in your life.

And more importantly, I am sure you will start noticing many more similar, amusing counterintuitive situations and behaviours in people and situations around you.

Do share some of them with me either here or if you know me and have my number, WhatsApp them to me.

I look forward to reading about your observations and experiences.

Get your copy here: link

A Possible Cause of Power Bank Fires

A power bank charging a mobile phone
A power bank charging a mobile phone. Pic: source

Given the random exploding or catching of fire of power banks on flights, airlines have either banned or restricted the carrying of power banks to hand luggage only.

According to an interesting article by Andrew Hirst in 2021, there were about 340 lithium battery related incidents on flights (presumably in the US only?) between January 2006 and August 2021.

I read a dozen or more random articles around this. Almost all of them ranged the causative factors from poor quality battery packs, to pressurized cabins on aircraft, to the possibility of the power bank getting dropped, damaged or crushed by luggage contents or by any heavy weight placed over them, as possible reasons.

However, I could not find one possibility on any of those articles.
Could users be plugging the power bank’s cord back into itself for convenience when traveling?

Based on the little reading I did on the matter, power banks have an operating range of around 3.7-4.2 Volts.
However, mobile phones need 5V to be charged. So when you plug your power bank to charge your phone, the power bank’s circuitry boosts that 3.7 odd Volts to 5V, also causing an energy-loss of 10-15%.

In theory, this also means that if you connected both ends of the cord to the power bank, while it would charge and discharge itself, due to the energy loss, it would discharge itself soon.

However, until that happens, I would assume that the 5V output voltage going back in the lower volt input, could cause its temperature to increase? Ever plugged a 120V product into a 240V outlet and seen smoke come out of the adapter?
Could that be a cause of the instances when power banks catch fire on flights? Perhaps in a work or home environment, users might not be as particular about the free end of the power cord as much as when they travel and would like the cord to still be with the power bank, wherever the their luggage the power bank might end up being shuffled around to.

Because if that is the case, it might simplify airline restrictions and checking to some extent, and the airline (and public service messages) could simply ask people not to plug both ends of the cord into the power bank when it is not in use.

Earth vs Jeff’s Trillion

When the population of animals or insects in a region grows substantially and causes damage, we call it an infestation.

Yet we humans have never looked at it the same way when it comes to ourselves, on how we grow and expand to displace and occupy forests, oceans, plant and animal territory.

And that concern is worsened multi-fold when public figures like Jeff Bezos say things like he did around 2018, that someday ‘a trillion people will live in space, there will be “a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts” and we’ll develop other planets, leaving Earth a beautiful place to be’, that isn’t coming from a place of need-based expansion, but rather a fascinating-sounding image to sell tickets on his spaceship.

Because then us common mortals start seeing the planet like we do an existing, well-functioning phone, when someone we admire gives us a preview of a fancy, upcoming phone. Our reaction is often reflected in what I call a ‘rolled model’ (as opposed to a role model).

We are suddenly even less careful with our phone. We don’t mind if it falls a few times, or if something we placed on it risks scratching the screen or leaking onto it.

Because someone we admire gave us a preview of what our world and life would be, with that upcoming new phone.

So what if that person we admire actually sells phones. So what if we are suddenly alright with our current phone getting damaged.

We are simply fixated on the possibilities of the new.

Only, in the case of the planet, the intention of the likes of Musk and Bezos is simply to sell tickets to space. But the effect of such previews don’t just influence our actions to affect our phone, but influence and magnify the damage we cause to the blue dot that’s home to a lot more than just us.

Here’s a very interesting article: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220905-is-the-world-overpopulated

#earth #population #ecologicalbreakdown #space #balance

An Indian Survivorship Bias Example

Many of you must have seen that drawing of a World War II plane with red dots on it.

It explains Survivorship bias, a bias that statistician Abraham Wald figured out.

Pic: source

Simply put, survivor bias is our tendency to view a situation or pattern as a comprehensive representative sample, often without considering what might be missing from that picture.

For instance, the WWII plane with red dots was a study Wald and his team carried out to determine which parts of returning Allied jets were hit the most by enemy gunfire, so as to reinforce those parts and make them stronger.

It was then that Wald realized that those parts were actually stronger, as all those jets had made it back to base safely. So instead, they focused on reinforcing the other parts, since clearly jets hit on other weaker sections never survived to tell their side of the story.

In India, there has been a belief among many of the older folk that children or people with big/long ears live a longer life, compared to those with smaller ears.

Interestingly, while most of our body shrinks with age, our nose, earlobes and ear muscles keep growing. Which means our elders had the concept backwards.

It was not that those born with bigger ears lived longer. But rather that those who lived longer, had ears that simply had a longer time to keep growing, and are therefore, relatively bigger in size.

#behaviour #behavior #bias #behaviouralscience #behavioralscience

 

Everything as a Service

Pic: source
 
Over the past decade, the business world has had a real attraction to making everything a service. And rightly so. Would you rather struggle to repeatedly sell your product to the same customer? Or would it be better to offer it on a subscription model where you can keep improving it over time, and charge users a regular fee for using it? From furniture and tech products to cars, web hosting and food apps. I’m all for the services model.
 
However, you can’t help compare the process of buying good ol’ products whenever you would need them, to subscription based services. Let me know what you think..
 
In FMCG products, larger SKUs are more expensive, but (almost) always cheaper per unit than smaller quantity SKUs.
Increased manufacturing, distribution costs, and profit margins affect the price of a product. But that price applies to all customers, new or loyal ones. As does any promotion, that does not differentiate between old and new customers.
 
Compare that with technology and web service companies. You pay a monthly, quarterly or annual fee for services they offer. Technology companies, like any other business, have costs that tend to grow over time. And their discounts to convert free-, or non-users to paid users are far more tempting than consumer product discounts. Rightly so.
 
But these discounts strain the operations of many of these tech companies, forcing them to create lean models of operations. That’s the upside! Is anything more fascinating than Uber needing only a 3-member team to manage every new location it expands to?
 
But once that discount period is over, fees of many tech services companies goes up, year after year. And similar to consumer product customers, there is no growing advantage of staying loyal (apart from a superior offering itself) to a brand. While customers of consumer products still benefit from any benefits offered to new/ non-paying customers, that often does not happen with tech services companies.
 
And therein lies the anomaly. Alert consumers of a tech service would find themselves reviewing the service and its benefits, comparing with competitors, or even just weighing the pros and cons of retaining any such service, each time it is up for renewal.
 
I’ve been using the MS Office 365 service for almost 8 years, and the older MS Office software before that. And while my subscription was on auto-renewal for many years, at one point I realized how the fee had steadily risen. While new users were still getting it at a price almost 40% lower (and as a friend mentioned, even lower on Amazon on festival days). It seemed unfair, and there was nothing stopping me from simply registering as a new user with a new email id, and simply moving files from one cloud to another.
 
Similarly, hosting is a ruthless market for service providers. All service providers offer heavy discounts on new subscriptions, but those fees skyrocket once that initial period is over. And in many cases, you don’t want to avail the heavy discount and commit to many years subscription without knowing the quality of the service and support.
 
I wonder if this anomaly seems more in price-sensitive markets like India, or it is a pattern across the world.
 
And I wonder if there is a better model that might help fix this apparent anomaly (for customers) and challenge that service companies face. One that is adequately fair to the service companies that work hard to bring incredible services our way, and to stand apart from the competition. And that is also fair to the average user of those services who is not thrilled about being fleeced for a service he or she has been using loyally for sometime, and then finding out that it is being offered to newcomers at a fraction of the cost they pay – with no extra benefits to show for the loyalty.
 
The ideal model would be one that adequately compensates tech service companies, while also avoiding the highly skewed pricing between newbies and loyalists. And tech companies need to lose any fat.
 
I am always reminded of Uber and Ola. It is popularly known that Uber just needs a 3-member team to expand to a new city. And in 2012, I remember forgetting an empty gym bag in an Ola cab, and ended up being sent to two of their sprawling offices in Mumbai!
 
The business model that extends from the founders’ vision and extends to become part of the culture of the organization, will determine how soon and how much profits your business can and will make.

Could Musical Roads address Global Speeding and Road Safety


Pic: source

There are roads in Hungary that plays music!
A musical road was first created in 1995 Denmark, by two artists. Given how brilliant a concept, I wonder why its Danish origins seem almost obvious. Just like the concept of hygge and especially Lego.

Musical roads also exist in other countries like Hungary, Japan, South Korea, the United States, China, Iran, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Many of these are either created by artists, or as in the case of Hungary, in memory of an artist. The Japanese interestingly stumbled upon it by a fortunate accident involving engineer Shizuo Shinoda, who unintentionally scraped some markings on the road with a bulldozer. Driving over that section created tunes.
[Read more on musical roads here].

Once you get past the amazement of musical roads in general, you can’t help realize the possible solution it presents for controlling speed on roads and highways across the world.

Imagine popular tunes are recreated onto roads notorious for speeding. Anyone going faster or slower than the popular tune that a road plays, which would be adapted for the speed range on that road, riding or driving outside that range would simply sound..wrong.
And it might nudge you to adjust your speed to within the prescribed limit! 💡

If the installations are affordable and convenient to install/remove, they could be updated with the latest tracks regularly, to keep up with times.

Another aspect that might contribute to its possible effectiveness is the fact that unlike the car music system, it cannot be turned off. The flipside of course, is the possibility of teens (the usual suspects and culprits of speeding) intentionally speeding to make the tune sound funny.

A subsequent study could perhaps look into finding any correlations between those who tend to speed, and those who don’t have a ear for music… 😉

[The musical road – Hungary](https://youtu.be/rM5oX0KbtUw)

How About a Mass Behavioural Improvement before India’s 100th Independence Day

 


The beautiful tri-colour waving at Connaught Place, Central Park, Delhi.

It’s 75 years since India got Independence!
A proud milestone for all of us Indians. Also one to reflect on and carefully choose the path forward.

I happened to read a 75th Independence Day post on Instagram a short while ago, that took a crude jab at the Brits.
What I found amusing is I believe it captures a common trait among many of us Indians.

This is obviously not a political post. It is a behavioural one though.

It has been 75 years!
Our media never misses an opportunity to find Indian connections to the Royal family..
There’s a massive Indian population living in the UK..
We dream of holidaying in the UK..
We dream of owning cars and motorbikes from the UK region..

..but still have this unaddressed anger of sorts. I mean come on, it has been 75 years ffs!

Thing is, I have experienced this type of misplaced emotion myself as well.
As a 7-8 year old, one of the early deaths of a loved one was that of my grandfather. He had already suffered a stroke, and subsequently died of a heart attack.

I remember struggling to come to terms with it, and told a cousin that I wish a person had caused it, so that perhaps I could find a rational channel for my anger and more importantly my sadness.

So I wonder, is it something broken in our education system, or in how we bring up our children, not discussing or not knowing how to discuss tough or uncomfortable topics, that causes us to grow up to become anger-filled, cynical adults who, as Steve Buscemi (Garland Greene in Con Air) describes someone saying,
“He’s a font of misplaced rage.
Name your cliche. Mother held him too much, or not enough.
Last picked at kick ball, late-night sneaky uncle. Whatever.
Now he’s so angry, moments of levity actually cause him pain.”

And this is not just the case with India. Other countries around the world, some in Europe and South America too, display a similar general trend of latent anger or cynicism amongst its people.

Better understanding of this behavioural pattern might help us address it, so we can reach our true potential, as individuals, and as a country. Let us improve multi-fold by our 100th Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

How the Future of Text Content Should Be

Pic: source

As our attention spans go from low to almost non-existent in an increasingly noisy world, I get especially wary whenever I need to read a verbose report. Especially ones with unusually large paragraphs. You know it might be important, but just the way it is structured makes it very difficult to read to the end. Not to mention all those hours of sleep you missed over the years seems to visit you all together.

When texting friends or colleagues about topics of interest, I tend to type some longish messages myself. But what I have been doing, is structuring them in a manner that I think makes it a little easier for someone to read. I’m not exactly sure how effective it is, but in my opinion, going forward, it might be easier for people to read text content across platforms (websites, news articles, blog posts, social media posts, tweets, etc.) if you toss the traditional paragraph and format it the way I have been…

This here is a paragraph I pasted from the Creative Commons site. And below it is the same paragraph in my ‘attempt to make it more readable’ format…

Original Format:
Use Creative Commons tools to help share your work. Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice. You can adopt one of our licenses by sharing on a platform, or choosing a license below.

How I think it should be to make it easier to read+understand:
Use Creative Commons tools
to help share your work.
Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses
provide a simple, standardized way
to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice.
You can adopt one of our licenses
by sharing on a platform,
or choosing a license below.

While this format would be horrible to available space and formats and layouts we are familiar with, it might just help your audience better understand more complex thoughts you are trying to convey.

Thoughts?

Even Flow

Image: source

In the past few months, I happened to come across some books and a lot of articles around habits.
What at least some of us who struggle to build a good habit (or get rid of a bad one) assume, is that habits are like finding a nice, quiet spot somewhere (at a beach, in the bus, or at the park). That once it’s done, it’s done.

What happens sometimes though, is that once you’ve found that spot, it suddenly gets noisy or crowded. Could be a group of people speaking loudly. Or someone on the phone, who forgets it is the phone’s job to transfer their voice to the person at the other end of the call, and instead they take it upon themselves to. Sometimes you can ask people to be quiet or more away, sometimes you can’t. So then you need to consider finding another ‘nice, quiet’ spot. And if you do, that spot might present its own set of distractions. So what started as a clear, single objective of finding a nice quiet spot, turns into a journey of staying in a nice quiet spot. I’d assume that’s how attempting to create habits is.

And I recently read the book ‘Flow’, where the author talks of something similar in the pursuit of flow – that it is not a destination that one arrives at, but rather a state that one must put effort into maintaining, despite internal distractions and worries, and despite changing and uncontrollable external environments.

About regular corrections or adjustments needed to stay on course. Like that saying, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Those of us who manage to roll with the punches, succeed with our habit or attaining flow. And those of us who don’t, are still assuming it is a destination rather than a journey.
[Random musings]

The ‘Sample Size of One’ Concept Simplified

Given my growing interest in behavioural science and behavioural economics, when there was quite some news about the replication crisis in the field, it got me wondering if there might be a better way to undertake studies so that they remain relevant, if not replicable.

The thought was triggered by a random interaction in the market [read here], and I shared more thoughts towards finding a solution in a subsequent post [read here].

I also shared the two posts with three respected behavioural scientists+economists, who felt my concept might work. And given that I’m not formally from their field, they didn’t have any professional obligation to suffer a fool. So their nods came as a reassurance that I might be headed in a positive direction.

It was still challenging conveying the problem and my solution concept to people. So I started working on a simpler way to do that, and here it is. Let me know if you still have questions or doubts.