Sunday, October 30, 2016

Segregate at Source

We have been segregating our trash at home for over a year now. We make sure that we separate the recyclable items and don't trash them along with the rest of the waste (mostly organic). Then once a week we go deposit our recyclable items in the nearest recycle deposit box in our neighborhood.

While Singapore doesn't have laws for mandatory segregation of trash at source, I understand that many countries already have them in place. Even if not mandated by law, I believe that it is a good practice. Because, if you don't segregate at source there is a high chance that all your trash either goes to a landfill or is incinerated.

Since I started doing this, I have noticed that we have reached a point in our evolution where the amount of stuff that we can recycle is actually more than the amount that we can't. A lot of packaging material, plastics, glass and metal can be recycled. Also a lot of electronic waste is taken back by agencies these days. Also, if you have a garden or a plot of land you can actually compost a lot of your organic waste (unfortunately, we can't yet!).

As we inch closer to the irreversible effects of climate change affecting us. Let's all do our part by at least - reducing, reusing and recycling our waste! And that goes with the paper towels for drying your hands as well.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


The US elections coverage and the media in general seems to be increasingly focusing on hate. The problem with hate and fear is - they are self-fulfilling. If you get sucked into the spiral, you just get more hateful and fearful. I am amazed of how hateful we are towards each other on social media.

I have had the misfortune of having seen both the Holocaust Museum and the Cambodian Genocide Museum. After the mind numbing visits, I couldn't fathom the fact that we can be very evil, brutal and remorseless, if we wish to be. History can blame 1 person, but there was an army of people who did all that and I strongly believe that they were driven by fear and hate.

Anyway, I completely understand that I am incompetent to talk about all that. So, I am gonna share a beautiful video by Black Eyed Peas that I seem to like (Where is the love?), and then move onto something that I feel I can write more about - Altruism.

So, while browsing, I chanced upon this article published in New York Times about the power of Altruism. While, I would highly encourage you to go read it, here is a gist of my understanding.

Human beings are intrinsically motivated to help each other and cooperate. We are social beings and helping each other comes naturally to us. However, when an economic incentive is introduced for good behavior, it completely alters the outcome. This is because, the moment money is introduced, it becomes an economic transaction and all "altruistic" intentions are lost.

Whole of modern economic theory is based on the fundamental assumption that - human beings are selfishly motivated and can go to any extent to fulfill their  self-interest. In doing so, the society organizes itself to produce general prosperity (Capitalism in a nutshell).

To quote the article verbatim - By assuming that people are selfish, by prioritizing arrangements based on selfishness, we have encouraged selfish frames of mind. Maybe it’s time to upend classical economics and political science. Maybe it’s time to build institutions that harness people’s natural longing to do good.

I experienced a good example of this in one of my previous organizations. We never had a policy of producing a "Doctor's certificate" for taking one-off sick leaves. Almost all of my team members never took any sick leaves till they were genuinely sick. However, a new HR Manager came and she introduced a policy that even for a single day of sick leave, a "Doctor's certificate" is a must. What was an intrinsically motivated sense of responsibility to work, suddenly became an economic transaction. My team members started intentionally taking more leaves cause Doctors won't force you to work if you tell them you are unwell. What was an occasional time off, now became a regular affair for many employees.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Progress and Success

This blog post is being written from a budget airline cramped seat 40000 feet above sea-level with an outside temperature of -69F. I am in the middle of a 7 hour flight. Besides blankly staring at others and listening to my snoring neighbor, I have nothing much to do. It's 2 PM in the timezone my body is. So any amount of coaxing it to sleep ain't helping. There is absolutely nothing to entertain me. I don't have a book to read, and my office laptop has absolutely nothing not even a song! My phone without the internet is just a brick that I can browse for photos that I had taken (mostly receipts to claim). Overall I realized I am a very boring person. So I am taking this opportunity to bore you guys, my lovely blog readers.

This thought has been bothering me for the last few months. What exactly is success and progress? And why do we value materialistic comforts and achievements so much? Every "successful" person I get introduced to is - necessarily rich and got a lot of stuff to show-off. And then every city/ country/ society that has "progressed" has big tall buildings, expensive restaurants, big roads, and lots of cars running around. Hasn't our definition of success and progress just become a marketers dream to make us feel incomplete all the time?

There is this beautiful sleepy seaside town that I frequent. The people used to be happy, but didn't really confer to our commercial definition of "progressive". This time when I went there, I see that there are lots of tall buildings coming up. All of it's natural beauty (I mean raw forests, wild bushes, clean pristine beaches) is being rapidly replaced by man-made progress - read - resorts, casinos, golf courses etc. It has become tourist "friendly". Yeah I mean big hotels and other forms of entertainment (ahem). The people there think that now the town is finally progressing. But is it really?

Almost everyone I meet dreams of owning - big houses, drive fast expensive cars, wear designer watches, clothes, shoes. The people who are "successful" already seem to be "there" and we dream to emulate them. But why do we need to adhere to this convoluted definition of success? Aren't the clothes, shoes, watches and houses that we are currently staying in not good enough? Isn't the food we already eat amazing enough?

Why don't we define success as being - healthy and happy? Isn't that the most important thing as a human being? What is the intrinsic value to a human being in wearing expensive clothes, shoes and watches? Similarly, why don't we define progress in terms of how contend the city is and how happy and healthy the people there are (like the "Happiness Index"?) Why should consumption and construction decide the progress of a country?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Yahoo! Hacked

Towards the end of September, there was news that Yahoo! had a massive security breach. 500 million accounts of Yahoo users were compromised. Like always, I was hoping, I was not among the ones breached. Unfortunately, that ain't true. I got this message in my Yahoo! mailbox recently:

It further reads below:

Getting my password stolen is the least of my worries. Passwords are easy to change. And as long as you don't use your same password for different accounts, that piece of information is not much of use for the hackers (unless they physically logged into my account).

What really scares me is this - there is a database of 500 million people out there which contains our - Secret questions, Birth-dates, Telephone nos, and full legal names. That information is just enough to impersonate as me in this online world and then wreak havoc with my life. The hard part of this information is - I can't change my birth-date, my secrets and compromising this is pretty much something that can't be ever undone. The full impact of this hack will not be realized soon enough. And random identity thefts somewhere in the future will be linked to this hack.

I am assuming this is just the beginning of more ominous attacks bound to happen going forward on the internet (state-sponsored actors or not - doesn't matter!). Further investigation reveals that this might not be even the work of a state sponsored actor, and the database has already been put on sale for other people to have access to.

It's time companies are made liable for securing the information about the users that they possess. And if you can't protect it, then don't store it.