Category: The known unknown

CoHid

Two days ago, I was reminded of a Medium post I had read in the early days of the pandemic. One of the interesting things about it, was that the author attempted to understand and explain how the Covid-19 virus might be acting; and therefore, what might be working as a line of treatment, and what might not. Whether the details were right or wrong, there was a sincerity in the author’s approach and intention in trying to explain the virus in more detail than most governments, world bodies and news platforms have in all the months since.

You would agree that since early last year, most of us across countries have been subjected to copious amounts of fake or unverified news – be it from country leaders, news outlets, world bodies or the garbage dump that is social media. And some of them have caused plenty of death and damage – from people trying to drink sanitizers to procuring or injecting medicines without it being prescribed to them; or worse, an overwhelmed medical fraternity trying to cope while perhaps governments and world bodies were not being as transparent about what they knew.

What is really surprising (more like concerning), was that in the days after I read this particular article, when I tried to look for it to share with someone, I could not find it. The post was not there, and the particular account on Medium had been suspended. A bit premature, considering nobody had the faintest clue about the virus anyway?

On the upside, two days ago, I realized I had saved a copy of it on an app. Using the post and author details, I even found a ‘True or Fake’ post about it that broadly rubbished it. And I found another article written a few days after the post was published that debunks it too. However, the fact that it was posted on April 05, 2020, and was taken off in 12 hours of being posted, seemed odd, since it was not exactly suggesting witchcraft.

Here are a few highlights from the post itself, that I believe could have been useful in the world’s attempt at dealing with the virus, and could have saved many lives since last year. Now I am not from the biology field, so pardon my attempt to explain this. You’ll also find the full Medium article in the link below.

Here’s what I understood from the Medium article:

Source: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/how-your-lungs-work/oxygen-and-blood
  1. How oxygen and blood works -oxygen enters the lungs, which has millions of alveoli (air sacs) which are surrounded by blood capillaries. The hemoglobin (iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein in the red blood cells) in blood helps with the exchange – it absorbs the oxygen from the alveoli and carries it in the blood, circulating it across the body. The blood also collects Carbon Dioxide from the body and transfers it via the same process back into the lungs that exhale it.
  2. According to the author, the Covid-19 virus enters the lungs and binds with the heme groups (a metal complex, with iron as its central metal atom that binds and releases molecular oxygen) in hemoglobin, making it unable to absorb oxygen from the lungs and supply it to the various organs. This in turn, leads to multi-organ failure as the organs are deprived of oxygen.
  3. One of the key points of the 8-ish minute read, was that a large problem with Covid, is not that the lungs are incapable of pumping, But rather, that the oxygen going into the lungs is unable to be carried to the organs. 
  4. The picture I got from the description, was that the virus that damaged the hemp groups, created a sort of layer on the alveoli/blood vessel interface.
  5. As the hemoglobin is permanently damaged, the kidneys release Erythropoietin, a hormone that instructs the bone marrow to create new red blood cells with functioning hemoglobin (elevated hemoglobin apparently being one of the indicators of the storm to come).
  6. It got into some more details around how the free iron from the infected hemoglobin is floating around the body, becoming increasingly difficult for the liver to deal with. The liver then secretes the aminotransferase (ALT) enzyme, another important sign to watch for as the patient’s condition grows critical.
  7. He then proceeds to say that the only solution left, is not a ventilator, but maxing out on oxygen given to the patient, even suggesting a hyperbaric chamber if one is available. A hyperbaric chamber is a pressurized chamber where air pressure is two to three times higher than normal air pressure. Used to treat conditions like decompression sickness, gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc., the chamber helps the lungs can gather much more oxygen than would be possible breathing even pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
  8. He highlights the importance of Hydroxychloroquine – In Malaria, the parasite targets hemoglobin as a food source, and hydroxychloroquine (or chloroquine) are used to treat the condition. Since hemoglobin is affected in Covid-19 too, the author believes chloroquine would similarly help guard the hemoglobin from being affected by the virus.

This article is important and it being taken down last year is concerning for 3 reasons:

  1. Even though there is some debate around exactly what happens to the lungs with Covid-19, this author’s theory is comparatively similar to the ongoing one about how the cytokine storm caused by the virus and the treatment (steroids) can cause multi-organ failure.
  2. It states that ventilators don’t help at all. Since it isn’t about the lungs not being able to pump (for which you’d need a ventilator), but rather the body not receiving oxygen. Yet countries like India scrambled to manufacture tens of thousands of them when perhaps they should have been looking for something that actually addresses the problem.
  3. It clearly highlights the need for oxygen, which is not a solution in itself, but seems like the last straw that patients need while the main treatment takes effect. Yet countries like India were caught grossly short of medical oxygen during the second wave.

Simply put, the medical community is overwhelmed with just saving lives. So it was up to world bodies, research labs, world governments and their medical advisors and others, to get information, study it, trawl the web looking for potentials and possibilities in the flimsiest of notions, and helping find solutions.

And yet, where we as a world were suggested the most absurd of solutions, from banging utensils, to lighting lamps and chanting absurdities like ‘Go Corona Go’, to having a bright or UV light inside the body to kill the virus, or injecting the body with disinfectants; I think it was criminal on the part of Medium and whoever else involved, to have taken down that post on 5th April, 2020, even though it has gaping holes in the theory or solutions.

Here’s the link to download the article: Covid-19 had us all fooled – Mycahya Eggleston
(I’m sorry there are lines missing on the top and bottom of each page, was quite a challenge to convert it to PDF)

Here are two videos you should check out:

  1. Managing COVID 19 Through Timelines I Dr. Mathew Varghese – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffqYYWY06rs
  2. Top scientists shaken by revelations that Covid isn’t natural but a lab-made virus that ‘escaped’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlO8sKRynBY

Don’t Worry, Nothing’ll Happen

What was missing before and during the 2007-08 global financial meltdown, and during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Or during the Spanish Flu? Or in Nazi Germany? Something that perhaps could have prevented the resulting tragedies?

 

In 2002, somewhere on the outskirts of Mangalore, I was part of the way through third-year engineering. One day, we had classes in an adjoining campus building, one we thought was exclusively for junior college which was also on campus.

After class on the first floor, a few of us close buddies were talking about random topic by a large open window. It was the first time we were in that building which seemed empty on that day. One of my buddies, this giant we call ‘Bear’, was suspiciously quiet through the conversation between the rest of us. Known for the occasional prank, it was almost as though he was concocting something sinister while the rest of us spoke. Then, and without warning, he picked me up, and held me outside the large window. It was a sunny afternoon, and I could feel myself slowly slipping out of the Bear’s hands. As I said, ‘WTF’ and asked him to pull me back in, he very calmly goes, ‘nothing’ll happen, man’. Horrified, my head was doing a ‘time-to-eventuality’ countdown, as I struggled without much success to get a grip on his arm. Finally, after the prank probably got boring, he got me back in. And while I was still breathing a sigh of relief, he seemed really calm, almost like he was confident of his estimates on the safety margin he had for that prank. And yet, I knew that I had little grip, and that I was mere seconds away from slipping to the tipping point from where there was nothing Bear could have done to stop the fall.

(Mis)calculations, and (over)confidence is a cocktail we humans seem addicted to. And sometimes we get the proportions right, and sometimes, terribly wrong. And the worst times are where we are overly confident of the proportions despite glaring evidence to the contrary.

This excerpt from the book ‘The Signal and the Noise’ by Nate Silver mentions one such instance. The global financial meltdown of 2007-08, triggered by the collapse of suspicious mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). [Excerpt at the bottom of the post]

As per this excerpt, apart from overlooking the obvious risks of these precariously balanced investment instruments, even as late as 2005, S&P conducted a simulation to assess housing prices. It found a potential 20% drop over the next 2 years. But S&P perhaps was content in knowing that their simulation successfully captured the risk. And that was it.

Cut to more recent times. There are far lower chances of a developed or developing nation getting into a full-scale war, than there is of a virus outbreak.

And yet, most countries across the world, many of whom probably have dozens upon dozens of battle possibilities and multiple theatre scenarios, most were caught with their pants around their ankles when Covid-19 hit. From delaying shutting down international borders, to shutting state-borders and trying to contain the spread.

Covid-19 was of course, a virus more dangerous than most the world has seen in recent times. But yet, the countries that did manage to contain it in the months that followed, were not the most confident or the ones most capable or equipped in containing it. It was almost in all cases, those countries whose leaders accepted (either publicly or in private), that they were dealing with something beyond their abilities and experience; so they followed a more basic, first principles approach to tackle the challenge. And emerged largely successful.

As is common knowledge now, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld). The quicker we accept the situation when something is outside the realm of our understanding, and resist the urge to apply our standard actions and reactions to it, the faster we can begin to deal with it.

The problem is, these instances keep repeating and will continue to repeat. In our personal lives, and also in more far-reaching world events. We are wired in such a manner, that each time a crisis is approaching or presents itself, we tend to react in the same manner. By wasting time in applying what we know, without attempting to first understand.

 

Answer: Humility

 

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the face of humble leadership the world yearns for.

 

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.
 

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.

Invade for Better Climate

Random musings.
 
Every once in a while, mom would pester me to explore opportunities abroad. Canada in particular for some reason.
 
And between my love for an imaginary idea called ‘India’, familiarity and wanting to do something in the country I was born in, among reasons not to look for opportunities especially in Canada or the US, was the weather. The American summer holidays, working out for the summer body, etc., etc., gave me the impression that people there merely just exist and go about 9-10 months in anticipation of the 2 months of life and warm weather.
 
And we have that here, at least in Bombay all year round. Apart from the monsoons that is. And the few days or weeks of light chill that is our equivalent of hell freezing over. 🤣
 
If you were to randomly consider invasions in the past few hundred years, I wonder if crappy weather might have been a big reason for people to invade other countries in the hope of better weather.
The Brits, the Mongols, the Chinese, the Japs, the Russians.
 
Those invaded or attacked: South America, India, Australia, Africa.
 
And why didn’t the other countries in the north invade others, you might ask? Maybe because they didn’t have the means or the inclination? So they more likely found simpler ways to co-exist…for 9-10 months in anticipation of the 2 months of life and warm weather? 😉

Behavioural Law

Classic economics started off factoring psychology and behavioural trends and shortcomings (biases) into economic understanding. However, through the ages, economic concepts and policies were built on the assumption that humans are rational beings. This was like putting a blanket over our susceptibility to biases and our irrational decision-making tendencies.

It took the path-breaking decades of work by 2002 Nobel Laureate (Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and a few others, to identify and document common human mistakes that spring from our heuristics and biases. This led to the importance of the field of behavioural economics which should ideally replace all economic skillsets.

Going by that logic, I did a cursory check on the LLB syllabus in India and that at Harvard Law School. I also came across research papers and articles around behavioural law at institutes like Yale, Harvard, Cambridge. However, a generic search for Indian LLB syllabus and the Harvard Law curriculum did not show up any subject dedicated to psychology, behaviour, or behavioural law. Stanford mentioned it. However Yale Law did have a fair bit of behaviour covered.

Harvard Law curriculum

While the Harvard program had some 55o study modules, and while they certainly might be including aspects of behavioural law, the subjects list did not include anything related to it or behaviour, despite the importance one might associate with it.

One would imagine that given all the business and personal collaborations and disputes that occur across the world, institutes should have at least by now made human behaviour, behavioural economics and psychology a key part of learning.

You might wonder what it might include? While I wouldn’t exactly know how, I do know that legal professionals are well trained in attack and defense, both in documentation and in fighting cases. And they are adept at understanding the opposition for defense or attack; and identifying potential risk scenarios well into the future. However, armed with behavioural knowledge, they might be able to influence collaborations and solve disputes amicably simply with a better understanding of behaviour and therefore a better choice of words and strategy perhaps. One that could benefit all related parties themselves fairly in the short term, but also steadily influence a more collaborative human race in the longer term.

Many of us have seen those videos of Providence, Rhode Island’s chief municipal judge, Francesco “Frank” Caprio, who metes out ‘human’ and ‘humane’ justice. Someone receiving a judgement from him, or someone simply being spectator to his judgement might have a very different view of humankind. One that is compassionate and optimistic. In a world itching to accuse and punish, imagine the mindset change an entire global legal fraternity might bring about, if they had the superior maturity of Judge Frank Caprio.

Cold Masks

Cold Masks

Late last year, the world (except probably Japan) would not have imagined that in a few months, they would not be able to see full faces in public. And yet, now most people are buying, and some people are making their own cool masks at home.

Over the last three months, I’ve on occasion thought about the design of masks. The N-95 mask (N in N-95 is for ‘Not resistant to oil’), has been recommended by some as being one of the better masks to defend against the Chinese virus.

In the world outside, we see everything from simple synthetic masks to the light blue surgical ones, fancy ones with respirators, and even handkerchiefs and dupattas being used as masks.

However, one problem with everyone wearing masks and makeshifts (kerchiefs, etc.), will be a possible deterioration of social fabric and societal behaviour. Because faces aren’t visible!
It is possible that society as we know it could slowly tend to become a bit colder and indifferent. Because social connects aren’t quite the same when you can’t see a full face and a smile. On occasion, we don’t recognize known people because they are wearing a mask. And far more often than that, a ton of non-verbal communication, the grins and smiles, all get ‘masked’. The inability to see faces could affect the quality of communication and connect. This could affect us as individuals and as a world considerably over the coming months.

Source: pic 1 and pic 2

Feel any difference when you see each Mona Lisa?

Let our masks not make us more cold and indifferent than we were.

The alternative: The only one I could think of, are Transparent masks.

Ashley Lawrence above, a college student studying education for the hearing impaired, designed this mask to help them lip read and follow expressions. Similarly, a few others around the world, a nurse included, have designed transparent masks in recent months. The current option of plastic for a mass market solution however, would be disastrous for the environment.
In labs, there seem to be some natural alternatives like transparent wood. But at the moment, they might be far from ready for deployment.

Q: How can we design an affordable mask that 
(i) protects us from the virus,
(ii) doesn’t harm the environment, and
(iii) helps retain quality of social interactions and connect (by being transparent)?

Thoughts?

Religious Fashion

Religious Fashion
 
Was chatting with a friend about religion.
 
I randomly correlated religion with fashion. Or people’s dressing sense, if you will.
People either have their own style, or in most cases, they follow one of the broader trends or safer dressing styles.
Which is all good.
 
Problems only arise when one or a few of them, for no reason, starts having a problem with what someone else is wearing.
If, or as long as that does not happen, everyone’s content with what they’re wearing.
 
If only that were as simple, with clothes or religion. Or race.
 

Shared Tables

Shared Tables

This amusing but perhaps effective picture I saw in this tweet last month got some thoughts rolling.

We could all use some personal space in public. Especially in countries like India. Where the population, combined with the general lack of regard for other’s personal space can be quite a challenge. Growing up, I have been in several queues, where, people behind you are far too much in a hurry. So they stand next to you. In rare cases, they might even try to get ahead of you when you finally reach the counter. Or they’re peering over your shoulder, as you ask the bank teller something, or pay for your train ticket, or are about to place your food order.

But that said, have you ever been to a restaurant where you had to share a table with strangers? Where, if you walked in alone, or with two other people, you could only occupy that many seats at a table. Because other customers would sit in the remaining available seats. Or they would ask you to scootch over.

And did you feel an invasion of your privacy? Did it make you uncomfortable? Or did it make you think, ‘what the hell, it’s just for a snack, so why not go with it?’

There are a few such places in Bombay, that I visit from time to time.

I am still confused if these are times of personal space, or the conceding of personal space to technology…But while we’re in that confusion, I have found such restaurants to be something that keeps us social. Even if for the brief time we are there to gulp down a milkshake or eat a quick bite between legs of shopping.

At such tables, we finally notice other people, even if for a brief moment. Out of curiosity, we might even peep at what they’ve ordered, how they’ve dressed, or how they eat. Some of us might feel a mental nudge to eat faster, so as not to hold up others queuing up outside. We might be polite to pass on the menu to someone seated at the same table. Or pass the salt or a paper napkin. We might even start a conversation, or join in for a shared laugh about something funny that occurred.

Most importantly, we notice other human beings almost uninterrupted, for a brief moment in time. And it is without the invisible glass walls around us.Something that otherwise takes an accident or mishap or an argument for us to perhaps notice.

Some of us might also be inclined to be a little more civil, and less noisy than we ordinarily are.

But in all, I think such places do the opposite of what technology is doing for us humans. These places bring us closer.

Shared tables at one of the Sukh Sagar’s.

I’ve created a list of the few restaurants I have visited, that have the shared table format. Here’s the list.

If you have come across this kind of a format in your own city or country, or during your travels, you could enter details about it below, and I’ll update the list above. That way, perhaps with time, the list could provide us with details about shared table establishments in different parts of the world.

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Venture Realty Capital

Venture Realty Capital

Back when I worked in the venture capital space, startups always came seeking a lot of investment. Often far more than they needed. We would sit with ventures we thought had some potential, and during the process, break down the investment needs. Eventually, we would arrive at a number that was close to what we felt they really needed. And that amount would often be far smaller than what they initially sought. In pre-dot-com Silicon valley terms, we removed the Ferrari and frills from the investment sought.

In my current consulting practice, founders sometimes tell me how investors nowadays really shred the business off of anything heavy. How they like to invest only in the brand if that’s possible. Even pushing the business owners to hive manufacturing or anything else even moderately heavy to another business entity. To an entity they don’t invest in, but which might eventually compete with other companies to supply to this brand.

Obviously logical. Except when it’s not. Sometimes, investors might lose clarity and hive off functions that might be critical to the eventual success (or failure) of the venture. And while restricting investment into a lean venture makes financial sense, it often seems greedy from a founder’s point of view.

Investors, even the most aggressive of them, look for anchors. Anything that will help them measure (or value) and hopefully de-risk the investment with reference to their firm’s or internal reference scale. Basically to give them a level of comfort or confidence in the investment opportunity. That’s of course, when they haven’t let blind optimism cloud their decision. Anchors could be anything from it being a venture floated by a seasoned serial entrepreneur, or the founding team bringing in a lot of relevant experience, big name clients already buying from this startup, a patented product in a big emerging market, etc. It could even be a model that has proven itself in another market.

However, in recent times, given the inclination of venture capitalists to invest in startups that are extremely lean, it is a little surprising to find ridiculous amounts of money being pumped in by investors into co-working spaces.

According to Wikipedia, WeWork (now The We Company) managed 10,000,000 square feet (930,000 m2) of office space globally. US-based Industrious has raised $142 million to date. Of that amount, it raised $80 million last year to double its co-working sites in the US to 60. In October last year, India-based Innov8 raised $4 million. It boasted of 4000 seats across 13 centres in domestic cities. The We Company has raised a heart-stopping $12.8 billion till date.

Even if these firms have artificial intelligence doing matchmaking and improving the quality of business networking that happens, which they don’t – it would still not justify the quantum of funding. And certainly not so if they don’t own any of the real estate that they sublet to businesses and solopreneurs.

I just hope all the investors are aware of that before investing. Because without any underlying realty, the investment is all about creating fun work spaces, events and workshops. In some ways, that could be comparable to a nice bar that organizes regular gigs, has a familiar crowd, and, and that is it!
Sure that’s worth a lot, but worth investing $12.8 billion dollars?

In many ways, it feels like a Facebook. Initially fun for users, but as the founders got ridiculously rich, all it served users beyond a reducing benefit of keeping pace with the lives or events family and friends, is be an advanced, high-tech, time-killer.

Is that what WeWork might be too? While giving members a wonderful feel-good environment, is it really serving that purpose well? Even offering a support ecosystem to businesses via these ventures seems like a complicated (and probably not very effective) way to add value.

VC’s have moved away from investing in core assets. Even to the point of stripping the business of anything non-core, including manufacturing. But they are alright with investing boatloads into tech-using real estate companies.

Venture capitalists seem to have traded the “venture” in their names by betting on owned or rented real estate as opposed to their fundamental objective of funding new age ventures. Sounds messy.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

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