Being a freak can be a good thing

Who knew that ‘freak’ – a common term with negative connotations, can turn out to be more than what it seems on face value.

At least that’s what the authors of Freakonomics and Super-freakonomics will have you believe. What else would you expect from them when ‘brand freak’ is at stake here.

Or, could it be really true? Is being a freak really a good thing to happen? Should you retrain yourself to be one?

The answers are nicely explained in an entertaining package that can provide enough material for your discussions at a party, water cooler, an intelligentsia get-together, or a big audience that is polite enough to not throw tomatoes when you are trying to fill-in the blanks between acts.

Seriously, it is excellent.

If you have not read freakonomics or its twin, you should be ashamed. You should close the browser, buy the book at your nearest book store, read it and return to this page. Or better yet, head over to Amazon and buy it on Kindle if you are indeed a freak.

‘Think like a freak’ did not have the same shocking factor as the first book.

think like a freak book

By this time, you would know the line of thought, how the facts are presented in the form of stories, and you are expecting some unbelievable things to be thrown at you in the commonest of scenarios.

All that excitement is very much part of the book.

The book answers some typical problems that would have nagged you when you are trying to think ‘intellectually’. Can’t remember when that was? Well, get in the line – you are in a well-populated place.

Without giving away spoilers, here are the three gems that influenced my thoughts.

Why do people predict things even if they don’t know?

The book convincingly explains how incentives have a role in making people predict things. If you are a economist, you will get a lot of fame and fortune by predicting doom at the end of century.

What happens if that doom never happens – well, no one really cares in the few weeks or months after your prediction. It it doesn’t happen, people will discuss some more and move on to the next big thing.

No one has a strong incentive to track everyone else’s bad predictions. There is also no strong incentive to say “I don’t know”. That would mean you are a person with no knowledge, and have nothing interesting to say.

So, people predict even when it is statistically proven that the future predictions seldom work in the context of the present.

Don’t be contained by your biases

There is always an interesting angle to look at the problem and solve it. But, we always gravitate towards the most biased.

People may take the road less travelled and have a better opportunity to succeed, but they seldom do that. The reason if you look back is quite evident – if you took a ’empirically accepted path’ and fail, you have tried hard enough. But the society will not be so kind if you fail doing something ‘stupid’. No one wants to be that guy even if dumb stats say on the contrary.

Freaks don’t need to be controlled by these biases, giving them more chances of success.

An example – the ‘hot dog eating contest’. Takeru Kobayashi, a new comer from Japan, did not think the 28.5 hot dogs was the upper limit. He ended up eating 50 hot dogs and set a new record that would not be beaten for the next couple of years.

Raw talent is over-rated.

Practice and you will achieve the most ambitious of the tasks that you wanted to master. Corelate and solve problems rather than thinking about how monstrous the problem appears and how many people who are supposedly smarter have not found their way out of its charms.

In Summary

Although the book is a quick read – it is well worth the 3-4 hours that you will spend on it. ‘Think like a freak’ may not revolutionize your thinking and lead you towards freakdom, but it sure initiate you to the process.

 

Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Evitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Learn to type like a pro

I have been associated with computers for more than two decades now.

During this time, I have typed programs, typed posts, typed emails and then typed some more. As you may have guessed by now – it is safe to assume that I have typed a lot during this time.

All this typing would have consumed time – ** a lot of ** time. If I had a paisa for each time I saved money while typing content of 100 words, I would have retired by now to Goa or Kerala as a billionaire.

Before proceeding further, let us delve into a bit of history.

When computers came to be, it would have been an ideal if computers would have understood lesser humans like me with some magic and a bit of science. But that was not to be.

The problem extended on the other side as well. The people who were frontlining our conversations with computers formed their own secret societies and started talking to computers faster than ever before. Normal people would have done all that through a brain-computer interface – but we are talking about the cream-of-the-cream technologists here. So, they went ahead copying the humble typewriter.

And, thus started our (and eventually my) hate-hate relationships with keyboards.

— end of history lesson —

Keyboards enable me to talk to computers, but I never really called that a proper conversation. With all the mistakes I make in my typing, my computer would have launched itself into space & exploring Andromeda rather than be a party to the conversation.

Suffice to say that my typing –

  • is not fast – nowhere near it
  • is not accurate – backspace key on my keyboard often gets worn out. So much so that I have a bunch of cheap keyboards I bought only to extract the backspace key

The natural question now would be – why the heck would I not learn “touch typing”?

Believe me, it was not for the lack of will. Each time I see someone typing like this, I would drown in pity for my computer.

fast typing

I wanted to be like the hacker who can complete a 100-line Perl script while using his left hand to drink coffee.

So, it would be with the greatest of urgency that I would swear to become a ‘typing emiretus’ fifteen days hence. I would restart searching for a good typing program. I would download at least three and try at least five including the programs I had downloaded in my last great attempt. I tried

I tried gamifying the heck of the system without luck, and did not achieve anything by measuring my speed with specific keys. I even tried following tips by nobel prize winning typists, and for sometime, I tried typing with my wrists tied behind my back.

All of them were disasters. I would simply jump up and down one day, and try to stare down the computer the next.

staring the computer without typing

I would simply get bored of the whole exercise and revert to my old style after unceremoniously dropping everything. I could not accomplish much beyond the up/down arrows and A, W, S and D keys. And, that expertise was because of a game that I couldn’t simply stop playing.

 

To make matters worse, the point and click configuration I was doing at work to be called as an expert was replaced by something that would need me to type long programs.

Surely, the universe was against me.

Or, was it?

It was not long before I realized that I was the universe. So, the act of typing, or the lack of it, was also the self. And, huzzah to self, I tried my luck at the finding out the shiniest new program that could lift me up to the level of the aforesaid hacker (but this time he would be typing Javascript).

You know what – this story does indeed have a good ending. I came across this website called keybr.com.

type faster like a pro using keybr

I suddenly was enlightened about what I had been missing all this while –

  • I get bored of repeated typing of characters like this
    fff bbb ddd kkk ili lll
    This does not make sense people – it belongs to the unfortunate souls who are learning to type on a typewriter.
  • Since I could not really pronounce ‘fff’ and its counterparts, I had a hard time retaining it in my mind.
    I am not that intelligent.
  • I am not a person who has problems locating a key. Remember, I had typed typing with wrists tied behind my back. My big problem was not using all the fingers as God(s) would wish them to be.
    I could not sustain interest if I had to start all the way from using only the index finger to my whatever the other finger is called.
  • I would get real emotional about a program chastising me by holding off on a key just because I did not type it correctly. I was equally unhappy with a program that would accept whatever junk that came to it after ONE MISTAKEN KEY PRESS and score me negative numbers just because it could.

Keybr was the panacea I was looking for.

First things first – I loved that the program did not start from the very basics. I get to see words that I can pronounce and remember them for typing. This would be  the natural way of learning to type since that is what I do all the time.

Next, the program would gently show me the way with animation that I did not take kindly to. More importantly if there is a significant time lapse ( let us say 4 seconds) of me typing in wrong characters, it would treat my decision of refusing to type a character and move on. So the characters I typed after ONE MISTAKE (again in caps), would be ok.

Finally, I would not choose lessons one after the other or put up with a program that dare says I was a failure and could not proceed. Instead, I would be led like a king into deeper and deeper typing knowledge until I was ready to fight the dragon.

Oh, for God’s sake keybr! Why did it take so much time for me to find you? Now is the time I become a typing God before the Cortana, Siri and the like take over the world.

Stay Hungry Stay Foolish – A good, quick read

I will be honest here.

I don’t read a lot nowadays – Indian authors included. Not that I am free of that habit, it is just a matter of being determined to find enough time in my 14 hours a day spent outside of home. But, fortunately, I did not consider the time aspect when I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited.

How can I?

One gets to be as ambitious as one can be – especially when a good deal is at hand (“so many books!”). As the things came to be – Kindle started recommending these books using the secret sauce that is Kindle recommendation.

It so happened I picked up this book.

stay hungry stay foolish book review

In hindsight, I would not have probably considered “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” if I had not been spending time on Kindle. In all honesty, I am still undecided whether that would be a good or bad thing.

To give all credit to the author, Rashmi Bansal does a good job of meeting a lot of “A-listed” entrepreneurs and getting their life journeys, their version of the story and mixes that well with the facts on the ground. Her passion to outline stories from 25 IIM-A alumni, who did not become a “slave to the corporate” world, shows.

The list includes who’s who of the entrepreneur club including Sanjeev Bikhchandani (naukri.com), Shantanu Prakash (Educomp) and lesser known ventures that a lazy person like me wouldn’t know. I had a ball of the time reading through the first 100 pages or so (my default device was my mobile phone, YMMV). For a few moments there I experienced their thrill of starting new ventures, was awed and captivated at their gritty determination and, in general, enjoyed a virtual entrepreneurial journey.

For a few moments, I experienced their thrill of starting new ventures, was awed and captivated at their gritty determination and, in general, enjoyed a virtual entrepreneurial journey.

The best read for me was the story of Narendra Murkumbi (Shree Renuka Sugars) – it was a old-world business for a new age entrepreneur and the business is huge.

But then, it became sort of repetitive – I marveled more at my feverish turning of pages (or swiping the screen) rather than the story unraveling in front of me. I became less and less patient of the text that went into the nitty-gritty’s and I probably missed a gem or two there.

At the end of the day, reading this book is a fairly good use of your time. “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” does showcase some good entrepreneurial stories and a few of them have indeed transformed themselves and their companies into amazing entities.

My quick recommendation – pick up this book if you are still wondering what kind of crazy people are entrepreneurs. Make it a quick read over a weekend and y’all be a-ok.

I am

I am is not a thought, it just is.

 

It is but a thought that makes me recognize the similarities among what Mooji says here, what JK says (equally kindly I might add), and what UG says in a “i couldn’t care less” manner.

It is good to see so many things that “I” sort of identify myself with – conditioning of mind? religious stories? the Advaita making me talking?

Take your pick – but it is simple. I am fortunate to be here, and now.

 

Books that are in the Cloud

I have been a technology person all my life.

Well, that does not say a lot more than..

I love to experiment with technology and choose what “just works” at any time.

and..

I adapt to technology as it happens.

At the same time, I accept the fact that this planet is comprised of beings who like to stay behind stick on to things that worked before and they came to love. There always are and will be people who reminisce about the days gone by and try to use the bygone products – people who –

  • use Gramaphone/Vinyl records instead of MP3’s
  • play Contra when they can play Just Cause
  • love taking notes in a notebook and read physical books

I have no qualms with them. We cannot have the world full of intelligent people after all.

A recent product I came by is the bridge that for the people mentioned in the first part of the third kind. What caught my eye during my sojourn on millions of web pages was the marketing.

mod books

The product in question is “Mod Notebooks [dead]”. It comes with a catchy phrase – “A paper notebook that sync to the cloud”. My initial thought after reading the phrase was – “WTH. I am again falling behind in my holy pursuit of technology for the sake of technology”. As you may take note (mentally, not physically or virtually) – that was not to be.

As you may take note (mentally, not physically or virtually) – that was not to be.

I heaved a sigh of relief as I read through what Mod could do. I looked kindly at my loved ones, neighbours and others who are technically challenged and made a note (again, mentally) of the newest enabler that could help them come up in life. Mod was indeed the bridge that could get them the bragging rights of being on “digital bandwagon”.

The way it works is simple –

mod notebook instructions

Mod is not the technology that digitises the content on the go. It is not some new device that provides that oh-so-good feel of putting ink on the virtual paper.

Mod is a “process” by which you take notes in the physical books and get it digitised later. It is cleverly packaged to include that end-to-end process of creating content on paper as you did for millennia and see it ported to the digital world ‘by magic’. Someone “out there” enables you to become a responsible member of the digital world.

I love these innovative business ideas. I admire people with these thoughts of general upliftment. Admit it – you also recognise the genius in all this.

I am not sure how effective Mod is – it is currently enabled for residents of USA (God bless their souls). I am not sure how the OCR works for the handwriting of my friendly neighbourhood doctor (give them back an image of their handwriting? – that is cruel).

I doubt whether I would give it a try if I did have the opportunity.

But, Mod did make an impression on me. It is the way the smart people make money out of the “tech have-not’s”. The bridge that few will take but will be extremely proud of taking the “bridge less taken”.