Sunday, February 28, 2010

There's opportunity for a "safest path" featuring GPS in South Africa

I've been in Johannesburg for nearly 5 months now, and that crime is a huge problem in Jo'burg - and SA as a whole - is so well known that it's become common sense. Driving on SA's roads for 5 months has shown me a gaping hole in the GPS devices available here - the inability to specify "safest path" as an option.

Being new to Jo'burg, I really don't know which areas are (relatively) safe, and which are not. It has happened sometimes that I wandered-off into an area which I didn't know, and I didn't know whether it was OK to drive through that area (from a safety perspective). My GPS allows me to choose between "Fastest Time" and "Shortest Distance", but it doesn't allow me to choose "Safest Route".

I believe - with reasonable amount of confidence - that there's opportunity for a GPS device (or a feature in an online mapping service such as Google Maps) that provides such an option. How would this feature work? Based on historical records of crime-incidents and their respective locations, a "Threat Score" would be assigned to each area and recorded in the maps. The GPS would then not route the user through areas with a high Threat Score (or alternatively, a low Safety Score). For online services such as Google Maps, the maps could be live-fed with crime information as it happens, allowing the service to modify routes on a daily/hourly/whatever basis.

Such a device/feature seems to have opportunity not only in South Africa and the broader crime-ridden continent of Africa, but everywhere on the planet where crime is an issue.

Is information recall better in dreams?

I've been noticing this for years now - the ability to recall information seems to be better during dreams, than when I'm awake. I observed this most recently when I saw a dream. In this dream, I was traveling through my home - I was flying from room to room, watching the various objects where they actually are. When I try to do this in the awake mode, I'm not able to recall the position and shape of objects to as good an extent, as I'm able to when I'm asleep.

It's possible that this happens because when I'm awake, my concentration keeps shifting from one task to another, and hence the recall isn't as good (a related idea that I wrote ~2 years back is here).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Can a civilian airline be launched, only to unleash terror someday?

These thoughts are based on my current, incomplete knowledge about the process of launching and running an airline. As such, factual inaccuracies might be present.

In mid-January this year, I read the headline of a story on Reuters, which gave me this idea. Is it possible for people-with-malicious-intent to legally launch a civilian airline, and someday use that airline's aircraft for malicious purposes (similar to 9/11, perhaps)?

I tweeted about this, but based on my sister's request, I deleted the tweet (but saved a screenshot). Here's a sanitized version of the screenshot:

Is this possible? Can terrorists convince wealthy, orthodox individuals to fund the launch of a legal civilian airline, purchase of a few (large-sized) aircraft, and its operations for a few months, only to use the aircraft for destructive purposes someday? Have we already thought about this possibility? Do we have processes in place to prevent this?

Update (20-Feb-10): A news story in The Washington Post (annotated PDF here) and in The New York Times prompted me think - is it even required to launch an airline to conduct destructive acts? What prevents people-with-malicious-intent from directly purchasing low-cost, small-or-medium-sized aircraft from Bombardier/ Cessna/ Dassault/ Embraer/ Gulfstream/ etc., purportedly for business/personal use, and using them for destructive purposes? And this doesn't yet include purchase of second-hand aircraft...

Update 2 (20-Feb-10): A related article on a stolen Boeing on BBC (annotated PDF here)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Analysis of work-life balance; Introduction to work-sleep balance

Since I came to Jo'burg, I've sometimes thought about the concept of work-life balance. When can work-life balance be called OK, typically? When is it bad, and when is it worse? Does a very worse work-life balance call for a new term? These were some of the questions I thought about, and here are my semi-processed thoughts on these:
  • A typical weekday can broadly be divided into three parts: 10 hours of work, 6 hours of life, and 8 hours of sleep.
  • Work-life balance is defined by P, the ratio between the number of hours spent on work (W), and the number of hours utilized on life (L). Assuming that W>=10 always, the applicable concept remains 'work-life balance' till W+L=16.
  • The acceptability-level of a person's work-life balance depends on the value of P. The higher the value of P is, the poorer one's work-life balance probably is.
  • Work-life balance is most acceptable when W=10 and L=6 (i.e., P=1.67).
  • Work-life balance - as a concept - no longer exists when W>=16 and L=0, implying that a person works for so many hours that he isn't able to live any life, and probably isn't even able to get an adequate amount of sleep. In such a case, the concept changes to what I term as 'work-sleep balance'.
  • Analogously, the acceptability-level of a person's work-sleep balance depends on Q, the ratio between W and S, where S is the number of hours a person sleeps.
  • Work-sleep balance is most acceptable when W=16 and S=8. However, it has to be noted that the presence of work-sleep balance itself is alarming, since its applicability indicates that work-life balance has been disrupted completely.
  • Basic premise: The basic premise of this idea is that after a day's work, a person deserves some time to live his life, and thereafter needs a certain minimum amount of sleep. If the volume of work is large enough to eat into one's life, one's work-life balance gets poor. However, if the volume of work is so much, that a person is able to live zero life, and is not even able to get an adequate amount of sleep, it shows that work has now moved a step ahead and is also encroaching on one's sleep-time.
  • Relation to one's job: It's okay to work in a company where P>1.67 only sometimes. It's slightly alarming to work in a company in which P>1.67 many times. It's quite alarming to work in a company in which P>1.67 almost always. It's seriously alarming to work in a company, in which Q comes into action, and Q>2 many times. And it's totally unacceptable to work in a company where Q>2 almost always.
Update [Jan'16]: I dearly miss the five-day workweek and two-day weekend of the ways when I was a college student [including MBA] as well as during my job days at Grail/Monitor. Even though there's far more control and reward in one's own business, the six-day workweek is something I strongly despise, as it leaves very little time for enjoyment. Fellows employed in multinational firms have this important advantage over doing one's own business [not considering other things].

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some people's conscious efforts to exhibit "glorified" qualities

This post is my personal observation, which I'm listing here without any substantiation.

For a few years now I've been observing something peculiar exhibited by select people. In situations where these individuals - who I'm not going to name here - are confronted with making a choice between
  1. A: Accepting the rules, involving no risk, but involving an immediate compromise
  2. B: Breaking the rules, involving some risk, but no immediate compromise
these individuals loudly declare something akin to "Why should we follow the rules? We should break the rules. Rules should not be followed...", and then choose B. I find this expression quite unnatural, and somewhat bogus too.

The above example is just one of a number of different situations in which I've observed some people making statements, which reflect their desire to indicate that they possess certain qualities that we all have come to consider as qualities of great men.

My explanation: Upon giving some thought, I've come up with an explanation for this type of behavior. Years and years of our reading and listening to tales of great men, and their character/qualities, has built an impression upon our minds that there are certain specific qualities which all of these great men possess, and that these qualities themselves are great. Qualities such as defying the norms/rules, being courageous, taking calculated risks, etc. And in their attempt to mimic those great men, when they're confronted with situations in which it's possible to exhibit some of these qualities, the select people I referred to earlier loudly declare these qualities as the reason for they choosing B over A. It's probably also an attempt to build an impression about oneself - among friends and colleagues - that the individual possesses great qualities - qualities that are rare, and are symbolic of great men.

While it cannot be denied that it's probably these qualities that led to, in part, the success of great men. However, it's my belief/hypothesis that men who're truly great don't go around trumpeting a bunch of qualities. Perhaps they're unaware that it's certain qualities in their character that are leading to their success. They just act is a specific way - which is rare - without consciously declaring that they're acting in that way. They're breaking rules, not because they already know that it's great to break rules, and that great men have historically broken rules, but because they're like that naturally.

Just a thought.

Update (16-May-10): Observed two other qualities that people usually try to display:
  1. Being upfront: "I'm upfront about how/what I feel...", is something many people emphatically claim
  2. Being transparent: "I'm inside what I'm outside...", is another statement that can be heard from many people (it's related to 'hypocrite')
Additionally, it's important to differentiate between:
  1. A person who really is a 'hypocrite', but doesn't claim that he is not
  2. A person who may or may not be a hypocrite, but nonetheless claims that he is not
This post is concerned with the latter type of people.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Variation in claustrophobia, fear of dark with closed/opened eyes

Today we went to Sun City, South Africa. This popular tourist spot has a good collection of water sports, and we did quite many of these. Among the ones available was a water-slide made out of a closed, dark tunnel. Not a regular water-slide (this was absent at uShaka in Durban), since instead of a regular open-top, this one was completely closed/covered - essentially a narrow, hollow pipe, into which you're released to spend the next 60-odd seconds of your life in near-complete darkness, whizzing downwards through a highly-curved tunnel at a high (and increasing) speed, ultimately splashing into a pool of water. The image below is a decent approximation of what the slide looks like (from inside).

Screams were not uncommon (Source:

I took this slide and enjoyed it quite a lot. When I took it the second time, I conducted a tiny experiment. I compared the levels of my fear with my eyes closed and with my eyes open. I observed that I feared the slide relatively more when I would open my eyes, although there would only be pitch-darkness whether my eyes were open or not (it's not exactly clear at this moment whether the fear was claustrophobic, or only resulting from darkness, or both).

I hypothesize that when I opened my eyes and saw complete darkness, my brain actually saw this darkness. It concluded that I'm inside a narrow and completely dark pipe, and this caused me some fear. In contrast, when I had my eyes closed, the darkness that was visible now was the regular darkness when someone closes his eyes. In this case the brain probably doesn't conclude anything, since the surroundings are unknown to it. It probably doesn't automatically fear this unknown.

The above thoughts are crude and elementary. Further research is needed (if not already done) to understand if and how the brain interprets darkness in two different ways, depending upon whether an individual's eyes are open or closed.