Void

Tag: Musings

Blogs Versus Books

Long time back, in one of the social gatherings, someone asked me what do you do in your pastime? I said I read a lot. That person asked – What was the last book you read? I stumbled a bit and took a name. I realized that it had been quite a while since I read a book. Unbeknownst, I had gotten into the habit of reading blogs and articles online with social media and messaging boards acting as the source. There is always more than you can chew with articles touching a wide variety of subjects. Also, it feels a bit like going down a rabbit hole, one blog/tweet leads to another which leads to another and so on until you lose track of time.

I have been a voracious reader of books since my childhood. I got hooked onto online articles and blogs only during the later part of my life. This got me thinking about the difference between reading blogs versus books.

book-1659717_640

Even though most books revolve around a core central idea, the author takes the pain to reinforce this with varying thoughts and anecdotes. The author builds a structured case around the idea and presents a lot of scenarios leading to the core idea. Reading blogs and articles in most cases feels like reading a summary of a concept or just one facet of it.

When you read a book you are enjoying the journey whereas reading a blog feels more like focussing on the destination. Both have their own place but one should strike a balance between the two.

Advertisements

Pay The Price

money-767778_640

Obstacle racer Amelia Boone says that she is not able to devote enough time to friends and family due to the demands of her tough training regime. That is the price she pays for being on top of her sports.

In the movie HEAT, Robert De Niro says – “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” That is the price he pays for being a master thief.

Michael Mauboussin says his quest for knowledge means he misses out on latest series like Game Of Thrones. That is the price he pays for being a crème de la crème investor.

I feel one of the reasons why people give up something too soon or midway is they have not figured out the price they have to pay for doing it.

Everything that one does has a price. Sometimes it is implicit, sometimes not. Better to figure it out beforehand.

Oops, I did it again

It is a packed elevator. Occupants are rubbing shoulders. Stops at a floor. Door opens. A lady wants to get in but there is no room. Annoyance plays on her face. Elevator moves on.

anger-1428042_640

We all know that worrying over things that we cannot control is a pointless exercise. We are aware of the many cognitive biases that we have, we still fall prey to them. Why does this happen? There is a huge difference between knowing something and internalizing it.

Daniel Kahneman says that in spite of studying biases throughout his life, he is no better at avoiding them compared to others. Dan Ariely believes Kahneman was playing to the audience with that quote and we do get better at recognizing cognitive biases and sidestepping them.

Two simple practices that I find useful in becoming more aware of my emotions and biases:
1. Carrying out a daily audit. Every night, I go over circumstances that day where I believe I could have reacted better. Along with this, I also ruminate situations where my cognitive biases one-upped me.
2. Whenever I know that I am getting into an unpleasant situation, I keenly observe my emotions. This might be something as mundane as getting stuck in a traffic jam to dealing with an unpleasant situation.

I am not sure whether anyone will be able to completely eliminate these but I believe we can get incrementally better at it. Minuscule daily improvements compound to mammoth changes over a long time.

 

Luck

I read an interesting article by Richard Wiseman on luck, which I would highly encourage everyone to read. The gist of the article is that people make their own luck and being lucky is something that can be learned.

An excerpt from the article:

Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

horseshoe-504821_640

Patrick O’Shaughnessy, in his podcast “Invest like the best“, talks to interesting people. He mainly concentrates on investors who have made it big, but once in a while he also chats with people from other walks of life. A common theme that keeps repeating in his interviews is how these people jumped at opportunities which others had shunned, their optimism and an attitude that stresses on continuous learning and development. These qualities eerily match with what Richard Wiseman says makes one lucky.

In the recent Farnam Street podcast, behavioral economist Dan Ariely says the following – “I gamble with my time. I take risks, I do things that do not seem like the right things to do”.

Two of the most successful and rich people of our times, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are gung-ho about the future. Bill Gates actively champions positive thinking and wants all of us to cultivate this.

Probably luck is not luck after all. I am sure it is more nuanced than this, but something to ponder about.

10 things you did not know about Vietnam

Sorry, could not help with the snarky title. We recently took a vacation to Vietnam and this is a collection of unconnected thoughts and observations about the country and our journey.

poster-nva-1970-poster-usa-hueys

During our travel, we visited Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Halong Bay. In all these places, infrastructure was amazing, almost on par with western countries. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, there are abundant parks and public spaces. They are very well maintained too.

There are walking streets everywhere. Most of these are regular streets which get converted to pedestrian only movement during the night. You will spot umpteen eating and drinking options in these streets. These walking streets are not as scandalous as the ones in Thailand.

Food is a big part of the culture, street food is abundant. It is a paradise for non vegetarians, not so much if you are a vegetarian. Noodle soup(Pho) and banh mi are two of the most popular delicacies. Banh mi means bread in Vietnamese, usually it is sold stuffed with veggies and/or meat.  Banh mi is a relic of the French past like our Pav(Vada Pav). There is a version of noodle soup called hot pot which is cooked right on your table which is delicious. People watching seems to be a big thing, lots of cafes lined with chairs facing the street. I am in love with Vietnamese coffee, it is black coffee with condensed milk, tastes amazing.

Vietnamese seem to have a thing for “The North Face”. Fake North Face products abundant on the streets. Giving them company are Nike, Superdry and Under Armour. Adidas, Reebok and Puma are conspicuously absent.

Traffic is chaotic. Two wheelers zipping past everywhere breaking all rules. You can rent two wheelers in all the cities, which we did. There is neither license check nor passport deposit, it is a honour based system. Toyota is everywhere. We checked with a taxi driver as to why Toyota seems to be omnipresent. Since there are so many two wheelers, scratches and skirmishes are common it seems. Hence Vietnamese prefer Toyota which is easy to maintain and spare parts are economically priced.

Communication is a challenge. Google translate was a life saver. It was much easier to just type in translate and show to people.

Vietnam is blessed with abundant water, water bodies everywhere, in cities as well as countryside. From the 60th floor of Lotte tower in Hanoi, we could spot innumerable lakes.

Museums and historical places scream jingoism. Glorification of Vietnamese struggle against the French and Americans seem a bit in your face.

Vietnam seems to be on the path to becoming an economic powerhouse. Signs are everywhere, from the burgeoning constructions to commercial towers competing for the most number of floors title.

Vietnamese are a friendly lot, they try their best to make things happen for you. We have hardly had bad experiences with people apart from a parking attendant in Hanoi who lost his cool due to the language barrier.

All hotels including our room in the cruise had slippers as part of standard accessories which was new. Also, in some of the public toilets, you had to change your footwear to slippers present there, a nice hack to keep the toilets clean.

Indian cinema and tv shows seem to be very popular. Our van driver was glued to Telugu movie scenes on his phone and a taxi driver told us he is a big fan of Hindi movies.

Internal air transport is economical, couple of low cost carrier options.

Souvenirs and trinkets are sold everywhere. Propaganda posters are really cool. Vietnamese seem to have a soft corner for Tintin, various posters and fridge magnets of “Tintin in Vietnam” or “Tintin in Saigon”.

Vietnamese script is English with accents. A French person created the script for Vietnamese. Original Vietnamese script is long lost it seems.

Vietnamese seem to love kids, we had three toddlers in our group, they were greeted with chocolates and souvenirs by strangers almost everywhere.

From a cultural perspective, Vietnam and India share a lot in common. Vietnam has a rich cultural past, dating back centuries. In fact, at one point of time, Hinduism was the dominant religion in Vietnam.

While coming back, we took Malindo air. Malindo air was a pleasant surprise, friendly stewards, ample leg room and in flight meals.

When we told people that we are going to Vietnam, all asked us why and we did not have an answer. It was well worth it though.

Fighting change

Ninja Fighter Sword

In my new workplace, I was assigned a brand new shiny MacBook. My first reaction was to ask for an Ubuntu laptop. My brain justified by giving several reasons, it is developer friendly, software that you run on a server runs as is in Ubuntu, etc. I was almost about to voice this opinion, but system two took over from system 1. It started asking questions along the lines of is this the reason you want an Ubuntu machine or are you just trying to avoid the unfamiliar? You have not used a Mac before and are you trying to run away from something new? The two debated for some time and settled on giving the Mac a chance. So far, the experience has been, and I am learning some cool things like using gestures for different actions, etc.

Whenever something new and unfamiliar comes across, the instinct for most of us is to fight it. Take a step back, analyze whether this is the primal part of the brain trying to fight against the unfamiliar or you have a valid reason not to.

A little extra effort

I was sauntering on Church Street and came across a used book store. It had been long since I had been to a physical book store, hence ventured in. I started browsing around. I have been wanting to read Shoe Dog for quite sometime, asked the proprietor did he have a used copy of the book. He answered in the negative and got back to whatever he was doing before. I continued my aimless browsing and got out.

Down the road, there was another used book store. Again got in and repeated the question. The person searched, said no, but he put a new copy of the book in my hand and said he can give me a 20% discount. I am sure he knew before hand that he did not have a used copy of the book, searching was just a ruse. I made the purchase.

We tend to neglect the impact of putting that little extra in. Sometimes all it takes is a little extra effort for a great outcome.

The Expectation Test

I got a phone lying down on road. Since I could not unlock the phone, I waited for the owner of the device to call. A couple of hours later he did call and in his opening sentence started pleading to return it. Even though he was the rightful owner of the phone, he expected me to never return it to him.

I was stuck in a traffic jam caused due to BWSSB(Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) closing a section of the road to fix a sewer. This was on an afternoon on a main road in Bangalore and no wonder, there was a traffic pile up for close to 3 kilometers. I cursed myself for taking that road instead of some other alternate route. I did mentally spew venom at the people digging the road, but it never occurred to me to hold the authorities accountable for this and expecting better from them.

The curious case in both the incidents is the expectation. Even though the right thing to do when you find something that is not yours is to return it to the owner, people nowadays expect that not to happen. It is the responsibility of the government to execute tasks in such a manner that it causes least annoyance to the citizens but we no longer expect that from our administration. If things do happen the right way, we are mesmerised and think of ourselves as lucky, it does not occur to us that this is how it should be. This is not a good sign because when expectations hit rock bottom, it becomes the norm and from there on, it is a vicious downward spiral.

The same is true for organizations as well. Holding people to higher expectations and making them accountable is the key to success. If in an organization you are happy that your team members are not taking impromptu leaves, there is something really rotten. There is nothing stupendous about people not taking unplanned leaves, this should be the norm and if someone following the norm is an aberration in your organization, it is a warning sign that there is something deeply wrong which needs immediate fixing.

One of the tests for any organization to see whether it is on the path to greatness would be the expectation test. Mentally go through your expectations from employees/company and see whether these are really higher expectations or something that should have been the norm. If these are expectations that breach the bar, well and good, if not, do a reality check and fix them.

At what cost?

I happened to read the comic by zenpencil on Jim Henson yesterday while reminiscing on the comic by the same artist on Bill Waterson’s advice. Both the comics have the same essence of escaping corporate drudgery and following your dreams. Also yesterday, I watched Inside Llewyn Davis. Inside Llewyn Davis is a melancholic movie that depicts the daily struggles of a musician who has given up his job as a seaman to become a musician. Serendipitous right?

Most of the time, I get a feeling of disenchantment from people about their occupation. To put it bluntly, it is fashionable to be cynical about one’s job and complain about it. A lot of people feel that they want to do something different but most of them do not know what is this different path they want to take. And to fuel this fire, you have hundreds of books and blog posts which extol you to give up your job and follow your passion.

You go on a scuba diving holiday and all of a sudden you want to be a professional scuba diver. You do a couple of hikes and a la, you aspire to be a travel writer. You have started to cycle to office and you have this strong urge to start a bicycle touring company. You purchased this new DSLR and now your single aim in life is to be a wildlife photographer. An article about a so and so who gave up his cushy corporate job to start a local bike store or became a wildlife photographer reinforces these thoughts.

Even though these thoughts are romantic and warm the cockles of our heart, the reality is a bit different. When a hobby becomes a job, the fun aspect of the hobby goes out of the window and the boring part kicks in. When you do something repetitively, the novelty wears off. Some paragraphs from this article on becoming a travel writer:

But while free trips, global travel and your name in print sound glamorous, there are down sides. It’s hard work, hugely competitive and – unless you are the second Bryson – you won’t earn much. Roving overseas with a notebook, a deadline and a pack of other journalists can also take the fun out of travelling altogether. Not put off? Read on to find out how you can get this dream job.

Below is a paragraph from an article by a scuba diving instructor:

The job duties of an instructor aren’t what most newcomers expect, either. And to many it comes as a sad surprise. The reality of being an instructor at least full-time is that teaching is only a small portion of what you’ll do. Mainland-based instructors often work 40 hours a week at a dive store counseling customers or repairing equipment, then teach one or two classes a week on top of that. That means 60-hour weeks are commonplace. Think it’s easier at a resort? The norm for resort-based instructors is six days a week, and during busy periods seven days isn’t uncommon. Here, too, teaching is only a minor part of the job, but an instructor ticket is essential, if for no other reason than to get a permit to work in a foreign country. Many have left the industry disappointed that their dream of spending their days primarily as teachers never materialized.

And to top it all, you have to read this from a person who started his own micro brewery.

A lot of times, we misunderstand novelty for passion. You have a sedentary desk job and travelling once in a while looks like life’s calling, but the question to ask is, would it still be your life’s calling if you had to do it 24 by 7 while earning a substantially lower income? Would you not be more happy earning a good salary, enjoying the material comforts that your day to day job provides and travelling once in a while to break the routine?

In most of these offshoot jobs, the number of slots where you can be comfortable with the income is limited and the aspirants for these slots are unlimited. Also, in a majority of these, you have to be at the pinnacle to earn really well. We all love to think that if we are talented, success naturally follows, but I call this specious. There is more to success than just talent, success is mostly a factor of being in the right place at the right time and luck, not to say that talent and other factors do not help, but it is for sure not only talent. Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman expounds a bit on this.

The melancholy that sets in with a day to day job is our own making. If you are really interested in spicing up your work, there are innumerable ways to do it, it is just that effecting change is boring while cribbing about it is romantic.

Poor cannot eat roads

Rahul Gandhi allegedly made this statement. It is sad that an armchair, untrained economist like me understands the significance of good roads while someone who is poised to lead India does not. Check out this vice documentary on truckers in West Africa to get the connection between roads and economy. Jim Rogers, author of the excellent book Investment Biker also alludes to how Africa is rendered poor due to bad road connectivity. In spite of so much evidence suggesting good road connectivity being essential for a healthy vibrant economy, Rahul Gandhi makes this asinine statement and our so called independent media is busy discussing his dimples and his charm working up pubescent teenage girls.

A road is something that transcends socio economic, caste and religious boundaries. A road does not discriminate between a rich man driving his BMW or a poor milk seller riding his bicycle or a pandit riding his Luna or a moulvi riding his scooter. I do not for a second doubt the ingenuity of our so called secular politicians to come up with statement on the lines of Minorities have the first right to our roads, but until that happens, for all purposes, we can take rest in the fact that a road is a great unifier. 

How do good roads benefit the poor? Good connectivity makes the transportation of goods efficient there by negating the cost that would be introduced due to transportation inefficiencies. This is an indirect benefit that is enjoyed by everyone not just the poor, but let us take a specific case of how good roads will make the life of a poor auto driver better. If an auto driver drives his auto on pot holed roads all day long, imagine the toll it takes on his auto. This will directly reflect in the efficiency of the auto as well as the money he has to spend on maintenance, not to mention the umpteenth lost opportunity to make more money by ferrying more customers due to the reduced travel time. All in all, an auto driver has to gain a lot with smooth roads. Instead of working on these, our government is hell bent on extending the economic black hole of NREGA to urban poor and our media is a silent spectator to this theater of absurd.