Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Fact of Factfulness

Recently I read a book called Factfulness. It is written by Hans Rosling, well known as a Statistician, Researcher, and Public Speaker. He was a man who wanted to see a change in the world, specifically to change the way we see and react to things, and our knowledge of the world around us.

In this book, Hans talks about how our view of the world, probably even yours right now, is distorted and not the real one. This can be credited to a multitude of reasons, according to Hans, one of them being the media. I would like to talk about that a bit, so below is my ‘rant.’

In part of the book, Hans talks about how the news provided by the media about the world is often, to put it bluntly, fake and outdated. According to research done by him and his team, the facts are mostly put out of proportion, appearing much bigger or smaller a problem than we realize. However, do not be quick to anger, for he is not to blame, and nor is the media. In fact they are both correct, in their own respect.

You cannot blame the media because, as reasoned by Hans, it is written by journalists. Journalists are also human beings. We all tend to exaggerate things frequently, such as the price of an item we think is ridiculous, or the number of people at an event, and so on. The people working at the media tend to do this very thing, just that unlike us they can’t help it. A lot of times, either they are simply writing the information they know (which, like any of ours, can be outdated) or trying to make it catchy for the readers (actually, the latter is the main reason, but let’s split even). Unusual things are more likely to kindle our curiosity than common things, as rightly stated by Hans. Here’s two examples of headlines on the price of apples:

“Apple prices rise by 2 INR, due to high demand by consumers.”


Probably not my best example, but you get what I mean. Come on, be honest, which of these articles would you be more interested to click on? You would naturally click on the second one because it is vastly out of proportion, triggers [mild] panic, and because IT IS WRITTEN LIKE THIS. This feed us false information on the price of apples, which then causes panic and makes us imagine a straight, never-ending price gradient for apples. This awakens our other instincts, such as urgency, blame and so on. Probably on Earth 5770, this same scenario caused a massive hysteria by its inhabitants, further prompting rebellions and riots, chaos, and eventually the collapse of the human race. And this is such a common instinct in human beings that we do it sometimes without even realizing it. In case you haven’t noticed, read this paragraph from the start once more.

So who’s fault is it? Is it ours, for not recognizing it as false news? Is it the journalists? Or maybe the CEO of the company for hiring them. Or maybe it’s their ancestors to blame. Maybe the whole evolution process is to blame.

The point is, no one’s to blame. We all make mistakes, and that is completely, understandably alright. However, to some extent, the first claim is correct. We should keep ourselves up to date with the current worldview, to check if we see something doubtful, and not immediately let the rest of the world hear about it through media of any kind. That pretty much sums up the first of many instincts which Hans wrote about.

Did you like it? If you did, that’s great. If not, then I have bad news; I intend to keep writing about this. Toodles!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Anything for you, honey!

(Across the vast, checkered board, two sides await the start of a war. The clocks start and a white pawn has advanced to e4)

White King: How is the situation, Queen?

White Queen: No movement from the enemy, sir!

White King: What! How can that be? It’s the first move!

(meanwhile, on the black side…)

Black Queen: Sir, wake up!

Black King: ZzzZzzz…

Black Bishop: Let me poke him with my sword, he will surely wake up then!

(The Bishop used ‘jab’ on the Black King. It was super effective!)

Black King (sleepy): Huh, what’s going on?

Black Queen: The game has started, and they have already made their first move! What are we going to do?

Black King (now wide awake): Okay team, huddle up, quick!

(The team huddle to listen to what the Black King has to say)

Black King: We are going to send out a pawn to counter his move. Then, we’re going to have B-Knight go to c6. We will see how things go ahead.

Everyone: Good call! Let’s go!

(An hour has passed, both sides have suffered severe casualties and exhausted)

Black Bishop: Sir! I see a weak point of our enemy near their king. Should I go in there?

Black King: Yes, light Bishop, you may.

Black Queen: I will go too, honey! I can end this game in the next attack!

Black King: No, it is too dangerous! It’s suicide to go there!

Black Queen: But you sent light Bishop in there.

Black King: Well yes, but-

Black Queen (interrupts): No ‘buts’. I’m going to jump right in and show them Queen Power!

Black King: Please don’t! We need co-ordination! That is the only way…

Black Queen: Here I go!

Black King: Come back!

(Black Queen enters the fray)

Black King: We are going to lose! We can’t possibly win…

(Suddenly, the arbiter speaks…)

Arbiter: Black has checkmated white! Black wins the game!’

Black King (confused): But, how?

Black Queen: You are very right, honey, teamwork is what drives us to victory. I thought that 
too, when I was in the enemy’s side. I thought for sure we would lose, and thought about you. What was I thinking? I was risking your life as well as mine. However, I knew we had chosen the time precisely, and the right move, which is why I had faith in my choice.

Black King: You acted wisely, Queen. Thanks to you, we have won the game. Had you not done as you did, our Queen-side would have been completely destroyed! Literally!

Black Queen: A wise man once said, "united we stand, divided we fall."

Black King: However, everyone must always be willing to lay down their lives for others. A sacrifice, be it a sad one, is necessary to gain an advantage.

Black Queen: Only if executed perfectly. Oh poor dark Bishop! Remember when he went for that pawn in the corner? He was trapped and killed. Oh, how I mourn for his soul!

Black King: Yes, it is indeed very sad. One should always work with a team or atleast take help from others, otherwise it brings nothing but trouble. You realized this when you attacked today, yet were able to bring about the desired result, For that, you have my respect.

Black Queen: Oh, stop it! Anything for you, honey!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

To Appa, With Love

Dear Appa,

I remember the time when we were coming back from Managalore by train some years ago. We got off at the station and were walking towards the exit, when suddenly, there was a massive crowd and a huge rush around us. I remember putting my arms around your waist and clasping on tightly, never letting go, so close that I could hear your heartbeat. You held onto me and made sure I was unharmed. I thought that we would never let go of each other forever.

Now, you will have to leave, and fly, fly far way from home to a new place, where a whole new future is waiting for you. Your dream to pursue further studies is admirable, and I wish the best for you. I do not, however, want to be turn away from my papa, who has been there with me by night for almost every day of my life. When I was small, I used to consider us as a unit, a team, in a cosy nest that we nurtured all these years, all three of us. All that changes now, when you go to your new abode.

I am not trying to be clingy and restrict you, although I would have  if I could. I see that it would be futile, and understand how much this means to you. Go to the places you want to go, do the things you want to do! Just don’t ever stop thinking me. Never change papa, and stay the way you are; soft, kind, determined and ambitious. Don’t hesitate to follow your dreams and go down this new path, no matter how challenging it may seem. There could be downs, difficulties and stones in your way, but do not let that stop you. You know your family is here to wish you the best. My little hands are waiting to be guided by you to the dream that we dreamt together. And when we miss each other ,we The Lion King, one of our favourite movies to remember.

“Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars... so whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I."

Love Anshu

Monday, 11 February 2019

A Day in the Life of a Marshmallow

Who says school homework is boring! The assignment was to write a monologue, 'Daily life of ___'. Here's what I did; what do you think? Do let me know!

I remember the day when I was just a semi-solid goo being prepared into a sugary treat. I was being heated to 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the final step in process. I was picked up tenderly by a little human girl, a bit too early. The heat made her drop me with a yelp, down to the kitchen floor, where I rolled under the space below a closet. Everything seemed dark, but then, suddenly, there were a hundred shining eyes boring into me. Upon closer inspection, they were fellow marshmallows who had been lucky to escape with their lives, like me. It heartened me to be with other melloes (the nickname for marshmallow), and I have lived with them since.

The day starts when a scout wakes up the other sleeping melloes from their slumber. Immediately, we get to work; I am also a scout, and I try and look for human activity in the vicinity. It is weird, but I seem to be an oddball; marshmallows normally detect predators by smell, but for me, everything is like a colourful world, every sound drifting towards me like a musical note from a child’s toy, a xylophone perhaps. Each footstep seems to have a rhythm and that makes my senses much more potent than all the others, making me ‘Captain Mello’. This takes up around 5 hours of my morning, as that is usually my shift.

Marshmallows have relatively quiet lives. We are not all that hardworking, and we loathe stress and pressure. You could say we enjoy the sweetness of life! Due to my ability, my favourite thing to do is to create music; simple rhythms, such as foot-tapping, snapping, clings and clangs of something metallic. After serving my duty, I run over the Sugarcoated Disco, which is near a vent and has cooling. It is where I switch from Captain to DJ Marshmello. I’m getting better at it, and the crowd also gets a wonderful and unique experience. They all fall in love with it, because their usual life is all about survival. That can be tiring, you know!

I think I’m forgetting something here. Why yes, food! It is asurprising fact that Marshmallows love, love, love food. In fact, we usually eat a cherry for breakfast (one serves a family of three) and cream for lunch. It is the night-time ‘snack’ that we adore the most is chocolate syrup, made by cocoa beans. Their silky, smooth nature is what delight us. Civilians usually raid the fridge to get the dry frozen cocoa, which must be left to warm, but the seniors, or melloes like me, get to have premium dark chocolate cocoa, extracted from the depths of the rain-forest. I do not know how they get, but considering the final product, I must learn!

At 11:00, our eyes begin to droop and our strength faltering. Some of us drag ourselves onto our beds, while other just awaken for their night shift. The poor soldiers, armed with their tiny forks, have to constantly be wary of other animals like rats, scurrying across the wooden floor. In the end, when the world of Marshmallows sleeps, there is deadpan silence and no fun in the world. There is a rural legend which says that melloes are the reason for fun in the universe. Most now don’t care for it, but I secretly believe it’s true. When all is done, I look up at the stars, thinking how other marshmallows across the world also look at it. After all, it is a magical and mysterious world, and a mello would be more than willing to forever explore it’s secrets.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Frederic Friedel - A Man of a Thousand Stories

Frederic Friedel is the Founder and ex-CEO of ChessBase GmbH, a widely famous Chess News Portal. Founded in 1985 with Garry Kasparov, he has carried the mantle for many years and is now retired at the age of 74. As a person, he is a perfect mix of humor and science, and has such a vast number of stories. Honestly, I could sit down and listen forever and ever. It was all even better when I met him in person in 2016, and now in 2019.

We had such a great time then...

When I first met him at Sagar sir’s house, I don’t believe I knew much about him at all. I did know that he was an important man, however, and I was nervous. I anticipated that it would be awkward and silent, but I was wrong. We got along just fine, and it was quite some time before I left. On the way back, I decided to check out the ‘biographical blog’ that Frederic had mentioned. It was a treasure trove of knowledge, and it got me hooked from the very first article.

...and such a great time now!

Fast forward to this year a week or two ago, when we met once again at Sagar sir’s house. We had been keeping in touch by mail for the duration of these years, and I have to admit there were some months-long gaps in our communication. It seemed strange, because at one moment, we had just greeted each other. The next, we were already talking in length about the evolution of computers, the people Frederic has met so far, and more. Uncanny!

I cannot understand it, and nor at times do I understand the true depth of something he talked about. He has a lot to say about every possible topic, and makes me realize the true vastness of the world and how we might or might not be truly alone in the universe. What I do know, is that it was great fun, and I await another such opportunity in earnest.

As a bonus, I would like to include a logical puzzle from one of Frederic’s articles, one of the other little things he is famous for. He says that half the people will get in a second, and the other half will agonize over it forever. I believe it is right, as I myself was part of the latter half. If you do get the answer, try not to give the answer away immediately, for it will ruin the true fun of the puzzle. Here goes:

Recently a friend told me the following story about the death of his grandfather: “My grandparents used to go to church on Sundays. One day during the sermon, which was long and dry, my grandfather fell asleep. That week he had been reading a novel about the French Revolution and began to dream that he was a rich aristocrat living in a beautiful chateau in France.

Suddenly there was a commotion outside. A mob of peasants appeared, stormed the house, grabbed him and tied him up, dragged him to the market square, where there was a platform with a guillotine set up. My grandfather was led up the stairs, a priest muttered a few words to him and then his head was placed in the cradle of the guillotine. A hooded executioner approached and reached up for the lever that releases the blade.

At that moment my grandfather was snoring loudly, so my grandmother reached out and pinched him on the back of his neck to wake him up. This was such a shock to my grandfather that he suffered a heart attack and died on the spot.”

If you did enjoy this riddle as much as I did, do check out Frederic's bio blog as well by clicking "here".

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Where Kindness has no Boundries

Kindness. The simple word has such a vast range of meanings and emotions. The act of being kind is a very important virtue, and yet there are so many people, such a large number of us that lack this virtue. We tend to ignore such petty things and over the years, forget the mere act of showing kindness. 'Do good and good will come to you' is one such true quote that partially conveys result of kindness. Those who really 'do good' will relate to this statement, and those that don't believe it as an utter lie and deception of the real world, where there is every man for himself. I believe in the former, that you will be re-payed for your actions in the same way you choose to perform them. 

Such acts may really be little, such as letting someone do something before you, or holding the lift/door for someone. It isn't as if such things go unnoticed either. Take for instance Robert James "Bobby" Fischer. Everyone knows he became World Chess Champion in 1972, his extreme skill in chess and his famous games against GM Boris Spassky, which at the time was considered an extension of the Cold War. In short, everyone knows him for his chess. However, if you were to ask anyone, "what was Fischer like as a person" a lot of people won't be able to give you an answer. Although he was possibly the finest chess player, he was arrogant and stubborn. He wouldn't co-operate until his whims were suited, and would rarely accept to a suggestion other than his own. His death, due to renal infection, could also have been prevented, had he allowed it to be examined, which he refused. No one remembers him for his character, simply because he didn't leave that kind of likeliness.

Skeptics may return, "what, then, is kindness?" It would be wrong to set a parameter of any sort to kindness, because there cannot be a limit to such things. When one person gets something in return for nothing, it is blackmail. When a person gets something in return for giving something of  his own, it is an exchange. However, when a person gives something and doesn't expect or want something  in return, that can be defined as kindness.

Kindness, to the right person, can be much more than what is seems like in passing. To the people, that need it, who have too less of it, such an act is more of a gift to them than anything money can buy.

To end, with a quote:

"...would it be asking too much to be kinder than is necessary?"- JM Barrie, The Little White Rose

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

An Open Letter to Sundar Pichai

Hi Sundar Pichai,

My name is Avathanshu Bhat. I am 13 years old and live in Mumbai, India. After a challenging set of assignments, I was privileged to be selected for #SummerCampWithGoogle Thanks to this wonderful opportunity, I traveled to Hyderabad on a full expenses-paid trip to visit the Google India Office. It is a great feeling to know what is behind the plain color logo which we all see every day! I got a chance to see where Google's services actually function. The Google Team handled the entire event excellently, from the airport to the stay to everything! Hats off to them!

 The thing I admire most about Google is how they introduce such vast ranges of products, all of which are extremely useful. Another is how products such as smart phones and smart speakers are all dominated by AI, Voice Control, Bio-metrics etc. all of which are giant leaps in the tech-world in quick succession. (I have seen all of the existing AI such as Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Bixby and I still think Google Assistant is smarter than them all by far. It is my personal favorite too!)

 What amazed me the most was the environment you provide to your employees; I haven't yet seen your HQ in Mountain View, but everything is so 'user-friendly'. Stressed out by work? Grab whatever you want at the cafeteria. Didn't get sleep? Take a nap at the Sleeping Quarters. Laptop forgotten or stopped working? Here's another one for you to use from the spare! What with the game room, gymnasium and much more, you make sure that no employee fails to work because of any of the reasons above. I admire that! I just want to thank you for creating something without which the world would stumble. I hope the Google Alphabet continues to expand and collaborate with other companies around the world.

 On a personal note, Google has been part of my life since as long as I can remember. When I grow up, I too want to contribute to society in the same way Google has been doing for the human race. To repeat what I put at the end of my fourth assignment, "Thank you Google, never stop to amaze us!"