Tuesday, February 23, 2021

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of US president from one who went out of his way to trash environmental commitments to one who seems to be making the right sounds so far, think-tanks focused on the post COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and catastropic climate changes in some parts of the world that are getting harder than ever to ignore even by the most entrenched naysayers and skeptics, the time seems ripe for change.

however, change is not as simple as it may seem at the outset. one wants change to have an impact, because anything else is simply a waste of time (and time, when it comes to the environmental-time-bomb, is obviously of the essence, as it has always been).

I have tried making changes personally over the years: reducing use when economically and logistically feasible (by buying non-perishable items in bulk without packaging, practically eliminating food wastage, etc), reducing my energy footprint, reusing whenever possible (I go through about 2 plastic bags a YEAR), have taken up upcycling and freecycling items when possible, and finally, recycling when reuse is not possible. but... and this is a big but: all my changes are practically insignificant.

worldwide, household waste is under 3% of all carbon emissions. and we were relatively carbon conscious all our lives to begin with (my energy footprint in Mumbai was so low, I did not have to pay electricity bills for over a year!). Right now, in the UK, I've survived 3 winters without using heating until outside temperatures dropped below 0 - barring January, my gas bill in the UK is the same as it was in Mumbai, despite higher taxes + rates per unit! Despite riding a high capacity sports tourer, my overall fuel usage is under 1/5th of what it was in India - simply because I cycle on a daily basis and ride about once a month (or maybe twice a month when we were not in a lockdown).

And so, it seems clear to me, there's not much more I can do personally by way of action to avert the climate crisis. The problem lies elsewhere.

For example, my personal network in the UK comprises of people who either walk, or (mostly) drive cars. and when they drive cars, they usually do so for short distances. one less family ferrying groceries by car for a month would save on more emissions than I have in a year of cycling! A family of 4 who switches to bulk-buying non-perishables without packaging would save twice as much plastic as I could have. But it's even simpler than that. I don't expect families to go cold-turkey and stop driving completely. Simply cutting down on trips by better planning would make a bigger difference than I possibly can. Families with infants switching to reusable diapers even a couple of times a week would reduce more non-recyclable trash than I produce in a year.

Obviously, nobody is going to wake up and make such changes of their own accord. Which is where influencing comes in.

100 people making a 1% reduction is probably better than one person making a 100% reduction (if that was even possible). 1% is such a small reduction, one may not even notice it! Something like a 50% reduction would be possible without significant impact to cost and well-being. And even that will do spectacularly if a significant number of people do it. The network effect can do wonders - when it actually takes effect.

The question is: how?

How does one motivate people to make changes?

Preaching doesn't seem to help.

Example doesn't seem to help.

Not doing anything (obviously) doesn't seem to help.

One area I feel particularly handicapped is: data. hard numbers. Or better still, tunable models.

If I could spend some time with each person in my network, I could actually help them identify easy wins. But without data, that's practically impossible, becase I'll be asking people to just go by my word. And my word might even be wrong - I am no expert myself!

If I could locate other like-minded and similarly motivated people, we could help each other get better at this.

My goal would be to get people motivated enough to identify easy wins and spread the word about techniques (as opposed to actions).

I'm sure there are many tricks I'm missing, but for starters, let's connect and figure things out.

After all, it's our world we're talking about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

thoughts about COVID-19

a pandemic, by definition, affects the whole world. and hence, gives us a chance to see how the world reacts to it.

my own thoughts about COVID are those of gratefulness - so far. I've not been personally impacted, the lockdown has caused some discomfort and inconvenience, but also a lot of benefits. my immediate family back in India are (mostly) being sensible and safe, although in some cases the impact of public opinion, and even pressure, is visible.

but in one sense, i've learned that it's best to let go, and let freedom run its course.

my parents gave me the freedom to make my mistakes and learn, even when they worried about my well being. I remember those overnight solo rides across the country, on lonely highways, with absolutely no idea of where I am, or when I will arrive. I remember my parents giving me their warmest hugs before I walked out that door, hoping that when they wake up they see a message from me saying i've arrived at my destination, and not silence. I think back sadly about the times I've rode off without even telling them I was, simply because I couldn't sleep and I'd like to see a nice sunrise somewhere. But I don't think they remember such days sadly. they accepted it, while reminding me it worried them.

just a few years later, I haven't even realized that we have switched places - I'm the one who panics when I hear for example that my relatives were over for lunch at Christmas, that my mom has to attend building society meetings, or that my in-laws have met their neighbours. and while I try not to show it, I'm sure my feeling of surprise and sadness when they take risks I wouln't is no more than what they have felt when I have done things that seemed unnecessarily risky to them, but felt right to me.

we all have to live our lives on our own terms. that's what my parents taught me. and that's what i have to let them do too, just as they did before I was a even glimmer in their eyes. and the same goes for the rest of the world - my family, my friends, and everyone else i associate my happiness with.

the only thing I can do from afar is be there from them in whichever way I can.

and in fact, that's one of the reasons I volunteered to participate in a vaccine trial last November.

for someone who has taken huge personal risks for only selfish gains, I feel this one selfless act might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but does give me reason and purpose.

and when I was watching a random video on youtube, where Bill Gates mentioned, just in passing, the name of the vaccine I'm trialing and that it seems like a promising candidate to be rolled out in developing countries, it just made my day.

I know that the point of a trial is to find out IF something works, and how well it does, if so. and every vaccine doesn't succeed in making it to the market. but I don't care. I'm happy because I'm part of the cause.

I used to feel weird when people would ask me if I got paid to participate in the trial - and I had to say I did not. or why i'm fine with not knowing if i've had the vaccine or the placebo. or dozens of other questions. but i don't feel weird any more.

All I want is for COVID-19 to end. and to be able to see and hug my parents again, more tightly than they ever did.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

If you ever had a bad motorcycle accident, what advice would you give to others?

I’ve had many close calls, and three accidents that could have been much worse if I was unlucky/less skilled. Here’s my advice, in (my) order of importance:

  1. Do not overestimate your abilities. Start with the assumption that you’re absolutely incompetent, and work your way up from there. But do make sure you’re working on “working your way up”.
  2. Do not ride when you are not at your mental best. Angry/tired/depressed/even overly happy! Anything that takes your mind off the road is a risk you take.
  3. Do not overestimate your motorcycle’s abilities - especially when it comes to emergency braking/steering in adverse conditions.
  4. Do not make assumptions about other road users. This is tricky in the UK, where most people do follow rules but are distracted/bored/inattentive instead, but having done most of my riding in India, where following the rules is a joke (most road users have never even heard the rules once in their life, and most truckers rely on alcohol to keep themselves awake on overnight long haul drives!) it’s basically what kept me alive.
  5. Take every close call as a lesson. Take every accident as an even bigger lesson. Most close calls are a result of at least one of the 4 above. Most accidents, at least two of the 4 above. Dissect each incident, by yourself, with trusted riding buddies, on quora. Internalize it. Make sure it never happens again. And thank your stars you lived to see another day.
  6. All the gear all the time. Motorcycle safety gear saves lives, reduces pain, and really is not uncomfortable/inconvienient/expensive when you get the right gear. All of my accidents where I sustained physical injury have been where I was not fully geared up, and where gear would have reduced my injury, and were on extremely short rides (within 1km of my destination!)
(posted this on Quora, but thought it was too valuable to leave off my blog :D)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

phone free

I'm preparing to go phone-free. I'm already down to using my phone for about 10 minutes daily, and my phone's battery life is down to about 20 minutes on a full charge.

I could theoretically purchase a new phone, but why? I don't even use my phone much any more. Yes, I know, it's because I'm working from home, and basically at home 99% of the time, and I might change my mind and buy a phone once we're back to moving around again. Who knows?

I'll still have my mobile phone number for calls and texts (unfortunately, my landline is only used by cold-calling scammers), but I am planning to not use my phone for anything else that can't be done without it.

So:

No more Whatsapp (oh yeah!)

No more Instagram (yeah, why not?)

No more Signal (sorry, all of you who just switched. Telegram is better because it doesn't exclusively run on a phone)

Possibly no more Google maps (we did fine without it for decades, no?)

No more photos of my food (let's be honest, how many of you cared?)

I'll probably blog more. Probably.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

the ice-cream fine

 i was riding through the outskits of navi mumbai, the bit where the urban sprawl starts giving way to semi-rural areas. i was riding alongside Apurva (or Unitechy as I'd usually call her), and we were "kinda" racing. it wasn't an all-out race (I was on Carly, she on her scooter :D) but we were trying to out-maoneuvre each other and get to a certain location quicker.

We came to an intersection where I decided to take a right turn, off the highway and through this village. Apurva continued straight on.

The narrow road (barely broad enough for two cars) through the village was lined with houses on either side, and quickly turned steeply uphill. I revved Carly with all my might, but she kept losing speed. As the slope steepened and the engine struggled more, my point of view began to change, forward and downward, until I could see from barely inches over the road. As the scenery rushed past me, the landscape changed abruptly. I was no longer racing uphill along a house-lined road, but through a flat marketplace. the raod was even narrower now (barely broad enough for a car to squeeze through between the stalls, if there were no people). The stalls weren't very densely packed though, and at one point they seemed to end. Instead, on both sides of the narrow road, there were white sheets of cloth hanging down on to the road. It was hard to tell if the sheets were hanging from stalls or some sort of structure, or off the heads of people - they almost had the appearance of flowing robes, uninterrupted from head till the floor. They were longer than required, and partly covered the road I was riding on.

I was conscious that I was riding way too fast for the conditions (despite having lost a significant amount of speed on the way up, that I somehow did not regain when the ground flattened). In fact, the sensory feeling was not so much riding as floating very close to the ground, moving at a good speed, with these robes stretching out across enough of the road to almost meet in the centre.

As I thought about slowing down, I heard a shout: "STOP! What are you doing here?"

I realized I must have broken some rule - was I going too fast? or was it some sort of pedestrian area?

As I stopped and dismounted, the surreal cloth-lined marketplace turned more normal, with stalls on either side, and my point of view shifted back to something more normal as well. I turned around to see a uniformed policeman, with another man in plainclothes.

I apologized for whatever rule I may have broken (I did not ask what rule it was), and explained that I was new to the area and was trying to avoid the traffic on the highway which was a few km away.

He said that's fine, but I would have to pay the fine any way.

The fine was I had to buy him and his associate an ice-cream.

I thought this was weird, but sure enough, the road had a stall right in the middle of it, right where we were (how did I not see it earlier? If I was riding fast I wouldn't have been able to avoid a very serious collision!). The road when around the stall and continued straight behind it, but seemed to branch off into very narrow passages between unkempt houses (almost like a shanty). So it was pretty much a dead end.

Without giving it much thought, I agreed to buy the ice-cream (for them and myself). They picked the cones: dark chocolate covered cones (covered on the outside and inside). I'm not sure how those cones were designed, but they would probably have been quite messy to hold as the chocolate covering ran all over the surface, with no uncovered surface to hold.

After they placed their orders, the lady at the counter turned to me. I was trying to pick my flavour of chocolate. There were two options: dark chocolate and chocolate with salted caramel. I was curious about the texture of both the varieties, so she let me hold the scoop and tease both the tubs pf ice cream to decide. I prefered the texture of the dark chocolate, as the salted caramel formed stretchy strands between the second variety of chocolate. While I was trying to decide, I noticed the lady at the counter was unlike the other peole around: while she spoke to the rest of the staff in fluent Marathi, she spoke to me in perfect English, without a trace of the accent most native Marathi speakers carry over to their English. She was also dressed very smartly - almost fancily, with a bit of make-up on too. Her appearance probably suited someone headed to a semi-formal function: traditional but not too elaborate. In contrast, her staff were dressed and looked like the villagers in all the other stalls in what was quite a busy market.

I made my choice, and she served the cone with the ice cream scoop in it, flat in a plastic tub. It was covered with a layer of chocolate sauce, and was to be eaten with a spoon. I now understood why the cone was completely covered with chocolate. I dug into my ice-cream, almost oblivious to the fact that the policeman and his plainclothes associate had walked away with their ice-creams. As I ate my ice-cream, I realized that if I ate a bit of cone with the ice-cream, there would be more cone than ice-cream.

About halfway through the ice-cream, I asked if I could get another scoop in the same tub to eat with the rest of the cone.

The lady responded that the cone comes with two scoops, but she didn't serve them together as they wouldn't fit well in the cone.

She directed one of the staff to give me another scoop.

As I walked back to the counter, I decided to pick the ice-cream with salted caramel for my second scoop.

I asked the man now at the counter if I could take the scoop out myself. I wanted to try to serve myself more of the caramel than the chocolate ice-cream, and I tried to scoop with a swirling motion. Before I laid the second scoop in the tub, I aranged the remains of my first scoop and the half cone still left. I then placed the tub at a point next to the counter where I could have all the available flavours in the background, and proceeded to click a photo using my phone. Instead of clicking a photo with the usual dimensions and cropping it for instagram, I swotched my phone to take photos in 1:1 and composed it carefully so I wouldn't need to crop it later.

As I put my phone away, I thought to myself that this was probably one of the better ice-creams I've ever had - this ice-cream fine had turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

And that's when I woke up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

20/20

 2020 was a strange year. started on a rather nice note - a ride across the UK, and then a week with Nickolai and Damian, with a few evenings out with other friends.

Back to Belfast, and we were already planning our next vacation: a trip to the Shetland isles for "Up Helly Aa", which is as far away from home I've ridden Vicki (our Honda ST1100) so far.

Back home, and we were already planning our next vacations: Amsterdam in April. Ameland in August (just realized they're all with A!). And to get a visa for both of them, Edinburgh in March.

Attended my first ever hackathon. Was a really energizing experience!

Obviously, Edinburgh in March was the only trip that actually happened.

One week later, we were working from home, and literally going crazy.

Cabin fever. Reading (books, Kindle, online). Streaming movies. Streaming music. Cooking. Eating. Drinking. A bit of blogging too.

At some point, we decided (or rather, realized) we were going overboard with the food, and our bodies and the bathroom scales were showing it.

Thus began the first notable achievement of 2020: our first "reset" diet. It worked for a couple of months. Our friends were surprised at the changes that were visible even in our photos. We enjoyed our new diet as well. We thought it was good enough to last for life.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.

By October, we were slipping up with regularity.

By November, I knew we had to "reset" again.

On Jan 1 2021 we were probably at the same state physically as we were on Jan 1 2020 - but with the experience to prove that it could be done quite easily.

That wasn't the only achievement of the year, of course.

I got back on board with Android development. Dabbled a bit with a few other programming languages.

Signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

A few day trips, which picked up towards the end of the year, when we realized COVID-19 isn't going anywhere soon, and we're going to have to make the best of the free time we have instead of planning vaactions.

A bit of hiking, which again picked up towards the end of the year.

A lot of video calls.

A lot of using grocery shopping as an excuse to get out of these four walls.

A lot of chat as a substitute for human contact.

A lot of mindless scrolling.

ONE lockdown vacation to Galway, when it actually seemed like Ireland and the UK were past COVID-19.

Lots of conversations with Shruti.

Lots of things to look forward to for 2021.

And above everything else, the realization that all assumptions about the future are pointless.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

the point of it all

 it's the second half of december 2020. the end of a rather different year. but also a year that has forced a lot of people to change the way they live their lives fundamentally.

and for some people, forced them to strip away a lot of the things that they got a lot of day-to-day pleasure from, possibly without really being conscious of the fact.

in fact, for most of us, 2020 and the associated restrictions has reduced our existence to the equivalent of "treading water" - just doing what we can to stay afloat.

which is fine, and probably even good - the personal equivalent of "gardening leave", that most people (including myself) would not experience unless forced to. some people took the opportunity to get fit(ter), others to take up new hobbies, and the few i'm envious of, actually took up creative pursuits that have borne fruit, like nickolai's book and grenville's album.

personally, i dabbled in a bit of android development, and am also brusing up my javascript skills.

but honestly, 9 months of "treading water" later (in fact, not that much later - maybe even as early as june?) i wonder how people who do not have such direction, get themselves out of bed every morning.

most people (myself included) have to focus on feeding themselves, literally and metaphorically.

many others with kids, have to focus on their development and future - the unique challenges and opportunities being locked indoors with their little future selves almost 24x7 present.

some people (the single, retired, those not living with family due to work etc) have to deal with the loneliness of it all.

of all these different aspects of being "locked down", the one that strikes me the most are the retired. because they represent our eventual future (except for those who hope to work till their dying breath, i guess - but even such hopes do not really turn into reality as intended).

one of my personal goals is to be at a point where i can live comfortably off my savings/investments, with a roof over my head, food on the table, and the level of luxury i find comfortable. if/when we have kids, enough money to guarantee their basic security as well (does the list ever end?). at that point i'd be more free to pursue things other than work for money's sake. because while my current work does give me some personal fulfilment (in other words, i don't detest my job :D) i know there are things i'd rather do, but they don't have the stability/income level to achieve my long term goals.

so that's work and money. but there's more to life. even with 8 hours of work, i always had plenty of time to do other things (even after vegetating on the couch just to "recover" from work). what I do with my free time now probably predicts what I would do with it if i was "free" 24x7. there's obviously entertainment: ther'es a lot of good movies and music out there. as i love to say about movies: "life is too short for reruns". but when it comes to music, i'm happiest listening to my favouites over and over again (yes, i have a lot of favourite music!). but either way, it's entertainment. about as fulfilling as a good meal cooked and eaten by myself, or with shruti. maybe a good drink to go with it.

but after a certain point, all of these things that feel good, do not give me that extra something to keep going. hiking, cycling, riding the motorcycle all help postpone that empty feeling a bit. but beyond a point, it's inevitable.

so, what then?

there's obviously charity. helping others not as well as myself in different aspects. and then there's something that's not so much "charity" as "networking" - helping others simplify/solve their problems.

but is that it? helping friends/acquaintances/charity network?

and what happens when i'm too old to do that? when i start feeling like i've helped all i can and am now being helped more than i'm helping? when my own knowledge is so far behind the times that my advice is more of a waste of everyone's time?

I can see it happening to a few people around me.

i'm trying to motivate them to do something to keep themselves active, mentally and physically. but as i try no motivate them, i can't help asking myself: why? and does what i'm asking them to do even make sense to them? they make sense to me, because i'm preparing myself for the rest of my life. for the things i want to do in the future. but what about when that list is empty? do i go about filling it for the sake of having things to do, although the only reason i'm doing them is to just keep going?

and if not, what?

we prepare ourselves for the end of our lives, but what happens when all of that preparation seems pointless?

i know some retired people don't feel the way i have just described. they busy themselves with their grandkids, books, or just slowing down and letting their daily routine fill their lives.

is that the point of it all? is that what i'm preparing myself for?

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of ...