Turning the Page

I’m transitioning from an independent software developer to a new role as a small cog in a very large machine who’s intent is to digitize India. As every day flies by, the sights and sounds I see change dramatically.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for games that have successfully managed to compress vast timelines into gameplay experiences. Spore is one such game. In the game, you’re introduced to a world in the first person as a single-celled organism who’s species evolves with time. With each evolutionary cycle you can introduce mutations in your species’ gene code to better match the environment you’re playing in.

When playing with a concept such as evolution, the gameplay experience has to balance what’s happening now with long term goals that might not be directly apparent. Focus too much on survival and the game risks a common experience. Defocus and you’ll miss engaging the user entirely.

Spore’s gameplay designers have cleverly placed easter eggs that subtly motivate the player through the game. In the screengrabs below the player’s focus is on his survival in a sludge pool filled with potential opportunities and threats. In the background you’ll spot large multi-celled organisms that indicate what the player could evolve into.

Spore Gameplay Spore Gameplay


What I Wish I Knew When I Was …

The central question around contrast in cognition is that you’d never know what you’d know before you knew it. No matter how much we try, we can’t be perfectly immersed in a different way of thinking without perhaps a deliberate effort and a great deal of abstraction.

What if you could ask how Bill Gates felt about his two lives? One as the founder of phenomenal software company and the other as the eradicator of polio. Is the choice of his second life a subtle hint that his first life wasn’t enough?

A short snippet from his “Ask Me Anything” with Bill Gates:

dgeek: Mr. Gates, Any advice on how entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow should go about balancing business and philanthropy… or do they have to succeed first in order to give later?

Bill Gates: Just creating an innovative company is a huge contribution to the world. During my 20’s and 30’s that was all I focused on. Ideally people can start to mix in some philanthropy like Mark Zuckerberg has early in his career. I have enjoyed talking to some of the Valley entrepreneurs about this and I am impressed and how early they are thinking about giving back – much earlier than I did.

 


Irresponsible

“We are going to take percentage of Hindus to 100 in country …”,

– 22 December 2014, firstpost.com.

I don’t want to focus too much on what has been said or done in the past few months with respect to religious conversion. Who did what and which side is right or wrong. In fact I’d rather think of every conversion as unnecessary and not seek redressal but simply stay still.

But the heart desperately seeks a language to speak in. Religion is simply a matter of faith and faith by definition should not require a passport.

If we must indeed discover our identity as a nation, as Swami Vivekananda wanted us to do so. Can we not find it in our strength rather than our vulnerabilities?


Watching the Mind

I now have my hands on a working Muse EEG headset. EEG headsets are a reimagining of existing technology that’s been available for the last several decades. Interaxon’s Muse is one such headset.

With the Muse comes an opportunity to talk about the mind in meditation with objectivity that only data can bring.

I’ve meditated for over a hundred sessions of at least twenty minutes or more. I know that with practice comes change. I can feel that change. To help explain that change, I need a consistent method, vocabulary and reliable metrics. I believe advice ought to always be backed by a relevant model, that in turn is backed by data.

This morning I calibrated sessions for my better half and for myself. We both took turns trying out a session each. She’s never meditated before and comparing results gave us perspective. Although this isn’t the ideal scientific method, it did help get me thinking. Why stop there? I intend to broaden the circle and get you to participate.

In a nutshell, the Muse does the work of creating one such model of what your brain activity looks like when playing a simple game based on a bio-feedback loop.

The objective of the game is to go from active, to neutral, to calm and to keep a clear mind through distractions. To play, sit down in a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed. Bluetooth-couple the EEG headset with a smartphone and plug in a pair of earphones. The Muse smartphone app then takes over. Over the earphones you’ll hear different sounds that includes water splashing, wind blowing and birds taking off. As you’re presented with these sounds you bring your mind back to your breath.

To help guide you on how you’re performing, an audio feedback loop of wind blowing reflects the activity read. The more consistent the brain activity observed, the calmer the wind. As you play the app interprets and presents data from the headset as activity in three bands Active, Neutral and Calm.

Here’s one set of readings from an early morning attempt at playing the game.

17th Jan '15 0942 graph

17th Jan '15 0942 pie

Here’s performance from a second session that followed a very intense brainstorming session on a project that I’m working on. As expected, the first half of the session was windy and required an effort to calm down.

19th Jan '15 1050 graph

19th Jan '15 1050 pie

To have a look at what your mind looks like, get in touch and we’ll meet up in Pune for a short 12 / 20 minute session.


Digitizing the Long Tail of Ecommerce and Local Services

We’re going through a significant degree of change here in my home country. As far as historical trends go, this is the fastest pace for any change and we squarely blame technology for what’s happening. Oddly, one might live through an entire decade and yet not notice this change.

In a conversation last night with a friend, I learned a great deal through his outlook on how things are shaping up. His family is talented and have many gifts to share with the world. His Mother’s written several cookbooks and has deep insight into to food and lifestyle choices we make. He himself intends to create a niche portal to service pets.

Another friend of mine who has been tracking the growth of e-commerce in the United States from inside the industry alerted me to what’s actually happening here. While today, valuations are driven by captive e-commerce infrastructure, the more reliable metric is still lifetime value of the customer. Flipkart, Amazon and the other incumbents are essentially responsible for developing the long tail of e-commerce here in India*. To help understand the scale of change that’s needed, the contrast you need to grasp is that for every one e-retailer in India, there’s essentially a 1,000 and more in the US.

Another segment that’s changing rapidly are B2C services in India. They directly stand to benefit from the digitization of the last mile between the business and its customer thanks to mobile internet.

On my way to work, my auto driver started up a casual conversation with me. In the midst of the conversation, he asked me if I knew that Ola cabs had enabled auto drivers on their digital service. I had indeed. He then politely asked me if he could have my number to refer back to Ola and claim a reward of a hundred rupees. I said I’d gladly share and sign up.

Those drivers who go out and get themselves a tourist cab might opt-in to Uber and a myriad of other services. I can now hail a cab or an auto within 15mins no matter where I am in Pune. This is especially helpful late nights and in the outskirts of the city.

One place I can see where this’ll help is at our local airport. If you talk to the prepaid autos at the airport, they’ll often charge 1.5x to 2x the fare back to the city. The cops there don’t want to do anything about this as they’re looped in on the take as well. The justification for the premium is that all auto drivers need to pay a fee to enter the airport (to whom?). The next time I’m there I’m going to try hail an auto for myself using the App from outside the airport. I hope that’ll work.

The question “What’s the next $Bn startup out of India?” just got a whole lot more interesting!

* I am what one might call a skeptic, but its hard to argue against overwhelming evidence and specifically Amazon’s decision to permanently set up shop here having patiently waited since the mid-2000’s.


7AM

7AM

 

7AM (2)


The Transformational Gear

There’s some thing strange about waking up at 5am every day. It’s an hour where you’re truly alone. A daily opportunity to not speak and allow the routine turbulence of thoughts to clear out.

A long time ago, I started waking up at 5am out of necessity. I was in the Pacific timezone and I’d recently signed up on a project that required interaction with a team back in New Delhi, India. Due to time zone differences, I’d wake up early work on the project and then go on to my day job at 9am. I did this for about three months. The morning project would go on to become bookeazy.com, a venture that changed my life forever.

Back then, it was easy getting up early. I was single and was absolutely electrified by the idea of creating a service that would go on to change how movie-goers would buy movie tickets.

Now I get up early in the morning because I believe it’s a great way to work on things that have the promise to be transformational. If you don’t have a side project, you get to choose if you want to work on your health, wealth or anything else that you have in mind. I like to think of this as the ‘abnormal gear’, a mode that you can rely on to break out of routine quickly.

It’s also an opportunity to plan and prepare. I find my world to have many activities that beg for time with the promise of no return. Spotting them isn’t easy if you don’t plan. It’s easier to decide what you want from your day and then spotting distractions and side-stepping them is easy.

It’s difficult, but trust me on this one – 5am is where you have a say in what change begins and sticks.

 


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