Monday, May 27, 2013

Keep trying

Love this post by Seth again. Inspiring indeed. We don’t try half the things in our life because we set the bar impossibly high for ourselves. We wish to be perfect, give our best, and keep deprecating whatever piece of art we come up with (Yeah it may very well be the proverbial Lizard brain at work here).

May it be writing, singing, acting, painting or any other art that you wish to pursue there is a high probability that you would be very bad at it to begin with. But any art is 90% perspiration and hard work and 10% talent (yeah I made the stats up). So unless we try, suck at it and fail over and over again, we can never improve. Hardly anyone is born with a talent so good that they are amazing right out-of-the-box.

The trick is to never give up and keep trying. Someday you will improve a little notch better than yesterday and you suddenly realize, you are the best at what you are doing!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Forced self-control

The zoo in Singapore has a segment on a Sea lion's self-control. The trainer keeps a fresh juicy fish right in front of the sea lion's nose. Then she tells the audience that the Sea lion won’t eat it till she signals him to. The poor lion looks at the fish then at her and then back again at the fish. This goes on for several seconds, then she signals, he pounces on the fish and we, the audience clap! More information about this behaviour in this paper.

Sea-lion Self-control

Now for the last few days I have been consulting this Hotel. For our consulting assignment, we have been given a room to work from. And then, they serve the choicest food from the hotel (for their esteemed guests) right outside my room. Everyday morning breakfast, afternoon high-tea and evening snacks are nicely decorated and placed outside.


Then they make sure that some of that aroma comes inside so that I feel hungry. And they have put a clause in our contract which indicates “You shalt not eat whatever we serve outside”. So effectively, I see, I get enticed, but I can’t eat. And everyday when I walk past that food, I think of the sea lion. Someday, I will get my big fish too.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Neck pain saga

I take public transport everyday on my way to work. And I have been working long enough to see how people’s tastes and routines have gradually changed over time.

So I began working long long ago when MP3 players were the rage of the town. Everyone carried their own collection of personal music everywhere and entertained themselves with earphones in their ears and completely oblivious of their surroundings. Then after a few years came the handheld game consoles. People started travelling with the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP and everywhere you could see them play games. After a few years, we then got the smartphones. Initially people would Facebook and chat with their friends on the phones. But then came the games. We tried killing a lot of pigs for a while, then some of us gave up and others continued.

These days, when I travel I see everyone glued to their phone screens, maniacally playing Candy Crush Saga. In the train everyday morning, if I peek into anyone’s screen (mind you that’s just out of interest to see their progress, than anything else!) I can see them feverishly crushing candies as they tumble from above their screen.  I checked and indeed, Candy Crush Saga is the most popular game ever (May 2013). I am sure it will be superseded by some game in the future. I am also sure that if there is one disease that this generation is gonna suffer from is – chronic neck pain. We already have managed to damage our eyesight by too much eye strain and now we are complementing it by crushing candies.

Imagine if SETI could come up with a crowd sourced game that could somehow help us search for alien life forms. If it was as addictive for people, I am sure we would have met some aliens by now.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recommendation Engines

I have always been interested in how recommendation engines decide what I might like and eventually borrow or buy on a website or guess who are my friends and acquaintances and add them to my social network. My local Library recently updated its website and as a part of its new features, it also tries to recommend titles.

Recommendations are not easy. I know that Netflix and Amazon have teams of dedicated scientists working on their algorithms to tweak it all the time. Or for that matter Facebook and LinkedIn use extremely creepy measures to figure out who should be in your network. My local library however (I guess) has chosen the easier route. What it does is – it just shows what other books were borrowed by people who borrowed the book you are looking at.

Though this kind of system can work for movies, it fails miserably for books. So when I was trying to borrow the “The data warehouse toolkit” again, it ended up showing me the following:

Book recommendations

Now none of the books are even remotely connected to computing (forget data warehousing). It is just a sad reminder of the fact that everything you do anywhere these days gets tracked. 6 out of the 9 books recommended are actually what I had borrowed while I was reading the data warehouse book last time around. This just proves 2 things to me – the book that I am reading is not that popular anymore (cause no one else is reading it) and the other person ( the 3 other books) who is reading it has a kid.

As for me, I have a mom that shares my library card and she only reads fiction. So there you go. Books, unlike movies are read individually by each person in a family. So when Netflix recommends it assumes that the entire family sits together and watches the movie (along with a host of other statistical and creepy factors that it uses to determine your taste). However, library cards are shared across a family, and books that I read have no correlation with the ones that anyone else in my family reads.

I hope this data is not used any where else to determine my tastes. I do not read fiction at all. FYI only.