Simplifying My Life

Last week when I was talking to my cousin and his friends about their board exam results, it hit me that it has been over a decade since I graduated from high school. Looking back at my life, I realized how simple it was and how focussed, productive and happy I was. There were no cellphones, the desktop computer had a slow 64 kbps internet line and no viral stuff to catch up to.

Planning events used to only involve fixing time and place. Everybody used to reach on time for that Sunday noon movie show that you planned on Friday morning during school hours. Nobody needed any reminders on phones or bloody text messages. Now, planning an event as simple as a movie show involves tonnes of WhatsApp and Facebook messages. You even need to send confirmation messages just before the event lest someone is planning of bailing out.

When you wanted to talk to a friend, instead of sending a stupid "Whaddup" on WhatsApp, you used to get on your bike, go to his place and shout his name till he gets out of his balcony to say "Wait, I am coming!" or his mom comes out to scold you. When you saw an exciting wrestling match on TV, instead of posting a Facebook status or a Tweeting about it, you called your friend on a landline phone and told him to check out the fight on Start Sports and discussed "how Undertaker kicked Big Show's a$$" the next day at school.

When you went out for a lunch or dinner or when you were just sitting with your friends after a match or a class, you used to talk via your mouths and not through WhatsApp messages. Now, when you hang out with your friends, everybody looks down at their smartphone screens. When you went for a trip, instead of clicking pics and posting them on Facebook with witty one liners, you used to enjoy and experience the scene. When you went out for a meal, instead of posting stupid food pics, you used to enjoy the meal. After reading a book or an article, instead of Tweeting about it, you used to think over it. When you had nothing to do, instead of staring at your smartphone screen scrolling through your Twitter timeline, you looked at your surroundings or talked to strangers or just did nothing. How hard is it to just sit and do nothing without staring at your smartphone?

When I compare today with my high school days, it feels that I have become a narcissistic droid. When I see an article or a post, my first instinct is to share it. I am bombarded with crap disguised as news and articles in real time. I have way shorter attention span and I can't focus for long hours. I could read an entire magazine in a single sitting, and now I can not even read an article without taking multiple breaks or without switching through multiple tabs on browser. When someone shares a joke with me, instead of laughing I am like "Meh! I've read it!".

When engineers see a broken thing, they try to fix it. I too will try to fix my life and it begins today. I have laid out some rules that I will try to follow.

  • I will try not to carry my phone with me all the time. I am not a doctor or a fire fighter that requires me to be on call 24x7. Not carrying a phone would also free me from staring at my smartphone screen when I am with someone or when I am sitting idle.

    I will have to carry a phone diary and rely on public phones. I might also start remembering some phone numbers.

  • I will use my computer / internet only for creating stuff (except for those occassional gaming / movie watching binges).

  • I will limit news reading and social networking to once a day. I will prefer if someone tells me about viral items (jokes) or I see them in newspapers or TV over checking them out on Twitter or Reddit.

  • I will use pen / paper instead of apps for simple tasks.

  • I will try to call / email my friends instead of sending a stupid "ssup" message on Facebook or WhatsApp.

  • I will read more books, magazines and newspapers instead of blogs and online sites.

As with every idea, this too shall pass the trim, iterate and optimize cycles.

Honeyguide - A Bird That Deals With Humans

Honeyguide birds are found in parts of Africa and Asia. Their main diet is beeswax. However, they don't have a beak strong enough to break beehives. Hence, they guide Honey Badgers - whose main diet is honey and who because of its tiny legs can not scout for beehives in large area - to beehives. When Honey Badger is done with eating honey, the bird feasts on wax.

This symbiotic relationship between Honey Badgers and Honeyguides has been known to biologists. However, in 1980's biologists found out that a similar mutual understading exists between certain African tribes (Borana Tribes) and Honeyguides. Borana tribal people summon Honeyguide by whistling a peculiar sound using both of their palms. A Honeyguide responds by making a specific sound which implies "Follow me!". A Honeyguide knows locations of all beehives within an area of 250 kms.

This is probably the only known example of animals communicating with humans for mutual benefits.

These two clips show recordings of such behaviour.

Evolution of Cricket Video Games

A guy made a video about his bike. Haven't seen such a good video in quite a while.

Humble beginnings of ISRO

Mangalyaan is on its way to Mars. If everything goes as planned, on 24th September, 2014, India will enter an elite club of nations (Europe, USA and Russia) who have carried out successful Mars missions.

Considering all the milestones acheived by ISRO, it is hard to belive the humble beginnings it started from. ISRO was in a literal sense a "Lean Startup".

It all started in 1962, when Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was formed by Department of Atomic Energy. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who was its chairman, assembled a team of some brilliant engineers and scientists. Some of them were handpicked by Dr. Sarabhai, while some were persuaded by Dr. Sarabhai to leave their plush jobs in western countries behind and work on national space programme.

In 1963, the team launched their first rocket from Thumba, Kerala. The rocket (Apache-Nike) was imported from USA, the payload was French and the range clearance was given by a Russian helicopter. The rocket was imported in parts and had to be assembled. INCOSPAR didn't even have a workshop. A makeshift laboratory cum workshop was setup in a church in Thumba village. Ours is the only space programme in the world that started in a Church :-)

Since the organization was given limited budget, there were no proper facilities for scientists and engineers. They stayed in a lodge near Thumba station. The only mode of transportaion available to them was cycles which also served as goods carriers. They didn't have a fleet of helpers and laborers, and they themselves had to carry the parts, fuel and payload on cycles to launch site.

In spite of all these difficulties, the team assembled the rocket and launched it successfully on 21st November, 1963. India's space programme got officially started that day. By 1967, we had a full "swadeshi" rocket - Rohini 75. A few years later, ISRO was formed and it carried us to space age by building super successful and efficient PSLV and GSLV rockets.

Update - This is the church in Thumba village where it all started.