Is Food Crisis Real?

Food crises are never noticed for what they are when they start.

Good examples are the beginning of French revolution, and the American Dust Bowl. What started as “those guys don’t seem to have enough food to eat” led to some interesting changes to mankind – especially in the case of former.

As is the case with humans, we tend to notice the ebola “outbreak”, but not the everyday degradation that seem to impact us much more in the longer term. This is atypical “frog in boiling water” story.

So then, is food crisis really real?

Sometime back I read a free book – the name of which I could not recover. But it had amazing content on population growth, energy starvation, global warming, water wars, food famines and the like. The argument was that we are surely heading to a dystopian future unless we act NOW!

I agree in substance to the argument – we are taking this wonderful planet to something worse than it was. In fact there was a book back in 1960s that argued mass extinction of humans due to unavailability of food.

I had my doubts about whether the trends continue.

Humans are notoriously short sighted, and we cannot think exponentially. Even if you tell us that oil is going to end in 2040, and we will increase in numbers beyond sustainable food production – we will hardly give a rat’s ass to that thought. “That is for the future to decide”, we say.

But, even with all that – I think there is a greater pressure of nature to help regulate humans by themselves. This is inspired by the theory of Malthusian catastrophe. Availability of more food has encouraged population growth. That I can see, but what will happen to all the humans if disaster strikes *after* the growth?

First a couple of factors on why that may not be as disastrous in short time frames –

1. Population growth is decreasing

The growth in population is poised to decrease further till 2100 according to UN. We may hit the peak between 2040 to 2070.

World Population growth
src: wikipedia

2. Humans can survive on other sources of nourishment

Some argue that bugs may just be the next big thing in food revolution. Pressurized into surviving on less, humans can always adapt to eating what is not considered good food source today. That will not sustain long term, but may prevent large scale extinction within a couple of years.

Any such food shortage further negatively impacts the population. Less people need less food.

3. Environment degradation != Immediate food shortage

Even with the chemicals impacting cultivatable lands, and water shortage making it harder, I doubt whether this is going to manifest itself in food shortage in near term.

In fact global warming is causing some positive impact as well (if only in the short term). For e.g. humans can now settle in Arctic, melting Himalayan glaciers have resulted in more irrigation facilities downstream.

Food supply per person has stayed on course/increased in the past. I don’t see why we break up significantly in near term.

food supply per person

More such graphs at GapMinder.

Yes, there will be death and destruction similar to the two instances I mentioned before. There will be suffering. But, not to the scale we love to imagine (and did you notice that we always imagine famine hitting “them”, “larger humanity”  instead of “us”).

So, we as a species will thrive in the long term?

Not a chance. You cannot continuously abuse the resources you have, and hope to survive. But again, that is for the future generation to think about. Let me take my SUV for a spin to shake off all these thoughts.

After the SUV spin, should I care about the so called food crisis?

Yes, of course.

Anything and everything that you can do to avoid being a burden on the planet is welcome. You see that I am just a small part of this universe. Harmonizing my being with the rest of nature is going to make me happy and at peace.


Also, read some comics that are going to predict more dire consequences from food crisis than what I do.

Avoid sleep disturbance from computer monitors

If you are like me, you will be spending most of the time in front of your computer.

Along with causing wrist pain by continuous typing and other such exciting things, did you know that the light from monitor can cause you trouble while sleeping?

Blue light can impact the way you sleep, and cause disturbance in the pattern. Monitors are built for day light. They emit the same light all the time, while you do not need the same intensity during night times.

As is typical of guys with computers, the solution is not going away from computer. Instead, we invent an app to vary the light emitted by the monitor automatically so that you can rest in peace.. err, temporarily.

Flux is the answer to that.

flux control monitor light avoid sleep issues

The premise of Flux is very simple. It monitors the temperature of your monitor colours automatically depending on whether it is day or night.

Starting up with Flux is pretty easy. Just download Flux for free, and install it on your computer. Then, you set your location within the application – either search for the nearest city, or just put in your longitude/latitude. You are all set.

Depending on the light conditions, Flux automatically adjusts your monitor colour. Rest assured you will now get more peaceful sleep owing to two reasons –

  • You believe you are doing something good for yourself despite your die-hard computer habits
  • You are backed up by research that sleep does impacted by blue light

You can also disable Flux when you are working on colour-sensitive work.

Go ahead, install Flux and see whether it indeed helps. It is completely free of cost. If your sleep is still disturbed, you can always blame it on the latest bug introduced by someone else.

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App for multiple message apps – you got that

I am scary of the “new” messaging world nowadays.

At a minimum, I get to enjoy –

  • WhatsApp
  • SMS messages / Google Hangout
  • Viber
  • WeChat
  • Snapchat

This is in addition to the all magnificent social platforms including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This obviously is information overload. So, did you not at sometime wonder what if you could force all your friends, grandma and dog to the same platform? How easy life would have become – all in one place, neatly arranged, and quick to process/dispose and enjoy other aspects of what becomes life.

As if that is going to happen.

So you get the next best thing – an app to track messages from other apps.

Meet Snowball – the app that will not end all messaging apps, but help you dispose of messages quickly.

What Snowball does is simple enough

  • displays all messages from various apps on the phone at one window.
  • shows the sender, and the message.
  • allows you to mark messages as “read”
  • enables you to access the message quickly through the big buttons at the bottom of the screen

You can view the conversations across the platforms organized by person – which makes the absolute sense.

Do take note though – you can respond to the message only through the original app.

Snowball is available on Android.

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What is life without email?

For many of the folks out there, there is no life without emails.

I remember when there was one of the senior management “gyan” sessions when TCS went public. One of the questions was “how does your typical day look like”. The intent was to tell the ranks what their senior people do, how do they work, and what they can learn from them.

You have to give it to them for being honest. Almost 90% began their answer with “I come to office”, “I check emails” … What other inspiration do you need!?

For many in IT, checking emails is the part and parcel of life. After the advent of broadband at my home, I have never stayed away from email for more than 1-2 hours. Either I will be using personal email answering to my thousands of fans (ha ha!), or checking the official email that wants me to do a lot of things – including standing upside down for 10 minutes.

Emails help queue up my tasks in Outlook, and my zero inbox formula helps me stay sane with the 150+ emails a day floating around in a single inbox.


A plan to get rid of emails

When I had heard about Atos’s plan to have no emails for conversations amongst its employees. I knew this could be done with lot of discipline, but it requires a lot of re-learning and I was curious about the results. Atos wanted to do this within a time frame of 3 years. They even employed a “zero email program manager” to drive the task.

It is 3 years since that announcement, and Atos has announced that emails have reduced by 60%. In a recent conversation with PC Mag, Atos admitted as much and gave away the means they employed to reduce emails –

  1. Lync and SharePoint
  2. BlueKiwi

Lync is a great piece of software. It allows you not only to chat, but instantly communicate, video chat, and collaborate in real-time using screen sharing, taking notes, and white boarding. SharePoint can help store documents, and collaboratively work on documents – it isn’t my favourite document management system out there.

I knew little about BlueKiwi, but it looks like any other enterprise social platform. Think about Yammer/Chatter for the enterprise. It starts from 3 Euros per person per month.

By looking at what Atos proposed and what they have done, it looks like a big publicity stunt to me. Their BlueKiwi product may be the greatest of the social platforms, and Lync may have all the real-time collaboration features you need, but they have only been able to reduce email flow by 60%. Not that impressive, I would say.


Are Emails bad?

I can never agree to the statement of “emails waste time”, “emails harm productivity”. Emails are the very reason I and many of the people like us can do our job.

A lot of conversations amongst global teams are asynchronous, and does not need an immediate answer. A lot of communication happens addressed to the person, or addressed to a specific group. Action items are notified, views exchanged, and communication takes place.

Are we using emails like they were meant to be used? Yes, and no.

email productivity tasks

Everything evolves, and emails are no different. Emails were the best to do certain things, but technology has changed drastically.  As is the case with change, people are lagging behind in adopting them.

The following are things I would certainly do in emails –

  • One on one communication
  • Try to correct a person, or point out a problem attributed to specific person or group of people
  • Communicate with people who are outside the ecosystem

And, the following are something I would do on a different platform –

  • Group emails about a particular system problem, and solution options. Group collaboration tools including enterprise social tools are the best platforms to get this job done
  • Tasks to be queued up for your action. There are a lot of task managers out there, chose one (or two)
  • Instant communication, or request for action – use chat tools (e.g. Lync, or use Google Hangout)
  • Sharing of documents – SharePoint, or any other easy-to-use document management tools make it really easy to work on shared documents

Emails are embedded deeply in the psyche of modern humans.

email funny

It will take some time to introduce a change, however positive it can be. People tend to go back to “our old, trusted way of doing things” in spite of whatever advantages of the change.

But, change will come. You can be prepared now and enjoy its benefits, or suffer later.

Greatest Productivity Booster – Pain?

There are a million productivity boosters out there, and a gazillion books that tell you the ultimate secret to improve your productive life (including this blog. See, I am sneaky).

The end affect – zero, nada, zilch.

You end up with the same “I know everything that there is about productivity improvement”, “I am a bit more productive than where I was yesterday”, “It takes time..”.

No, it should not work that way.

That gets us to the greatest productivity booster of all times – pain, and beyond administered by your smart watch like device.

Behold – the Pavlok.

pavlok productivity booster

Pavlok is a new device being funded right now on IndiGoGo. The device works on a simple concept – it offers the other end of the stick to get you to do what you plan for yourself. See, there are too many “YOU”s, the product must be good.

Pavlok will pair with the app on iPhone or Android to appeal to your baser instincts (err.. get away from the pain), and make you get back on the track.

Say, you want to hit the gym for 1 hour, and you don’t do it. What will Pavlok do – zap you with static electricity. You did not meditate today for 10 minutes? Again, zap. You texted your ex – ZAP!

There are hundreds of other potential zaps out there including browsing time-wasters (not this website!), sitting near your window day-dreaming, and so forth.

Say, how about leaving the damn device at home – get a message on Facebook about your most recent bad behaviour, or even deduct money from your account.

You can also use it in a variety of other ways..

  • Improve your golf swing
  • Avoid nail biting
  • Avoid stepping into McDonalds
  • .. and so on. Read the IndiGoGo page for more information

Pavlok can also cause other things too – it can post to your Facebook page, beep loudly, or function as an emergency device to rescue you from frozen planets when you say “Beam me up, Scotty”.

(ok I admit, the latter was my feature request to the product owner)

pavlok monitors you to improve productivity

You got that idea. Pavlok is a lethal combination of responsibility and accountability infused in you, with the fear of pain, embarrassment, and financial loss.

Take my money already.


But no matter how powerful, Pavlok may not make you popular as the below video did for CEO Maneesh Sethi.