Saturday, December 28, 2013

What I Learned From Deactivating Facebook for 83 days

That it is not about the social network, it is about me.

I had just one thing in my mind when I took a break - "focus on studying".
I thought facebook was the reason why I could not focus on textbooks, that I would automatically start doing better when I stop using facebook.

And boy, was I not wrong?

I started getting distracted by gmail!

I started to read more of the email subscriptions I have, I started visiting more and more online magazines, reading through them, article after article.

It only felt counterproductive.

What was missing?
Having eliminated what seemed to be the greatest distraction, I was still distracted, and I started wondering why. I decided to observe myself. And the results? Not surprising at all.

I simply could not read more than a paragraph of my textbook without getting distracted. Either I would start thinking about something in the textbook. Or I would start thinking about my college. Or I would get a great new idea which will change the way world works. Or I desperately want to visit some random website on the internet.

I simply could not read.

But why?
I don't know.

I know only one thing. That there is something wrong with my will. I have an obsessive disorder. I am addicted to distractions.

If all goes right, I will come out of this. I will curb that incessant urge to be in the know about everything. I will learn how to ignore some of the unread notifications. I will learn how to archive some emails without going through them. I will learn how to even check email only in two slots every day.

But I will still be spending hours to fix tiny errors on my blog template.

I know. I am crazy.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

How Journalism Can and Needs to Change and Adapt to the Web

Internet has made traditional journalism obsolete. But we have not realized it yet.

Newspapers in print were limited by space and functionality, which restricted the stories they covered to only those very few important ones and some fresh stories. Today's first page news would be buried inside the daily tomorrow, and will be forgotten the day after. There might be a follow up story, but it is published only if it is of enough importance to warrant another covering.

For the public, this means that there is no continuity. Stories stop abruptly. Promises are forgotten. Impressions fade. They are constantly distracted by newer, more exciting events. And they conveniently forget the older, more important ones.

  • What is up with the investigation of that infamous crime?
  • Where is that famous person now? What is she doing?
  • Which film is that controversial director working on now?
  • What happened to that sincere police officer who was receiving death threats from various points? Is he even alive today?
  • Where is that ground breaking cure for the terminal illness? Why can't I buy it from the drug store already?

That is where the internet comes in.

Blogging sites, and micro-blogging sites have up to an extent relieved the pressure on newspapers to publish all the stories they receive. What is not fit for the print edition, goes to the web edition. Permanent columnists are given blogs which they can update at their own will. And individuals can publish on their own, and link to their stories via micro-blogging sites which then take care of content delivery.

But it does not have to stop there.

Newspaper websites can change their form. They can switch to a publish-subscribe pattern. And it needs minimal change to the way they are already working. Here's how it goes.

Every news item will have a "subscribe to this story" button on it. A user (identified by emails, or by creating an account on the site) who "subscribes" to a story will get all the follow up items from that story. Those follow-ups which are not worthy for prime attention, will not go on the front page of the website, but they will nevertheless go to the feed/email/equivalent of everyone who has "subscribed" to the story.

Furthermore, there could even be an encyclopedic division of stories, which a new user can browse and subscribe. That is, on clicking "browse stories" the user would reach a page with many categories listed, like "movies", "celebrities", "politics", "crimes", "disasters", "accidents", etc. Under each category there could be sub categories, like for "crimes", there could be "rapes", "theft", "murder", "bribery", etc. and so on.

Essentially, this website will look like twitter accounts maintained by journalists. Instead of following "people", the user can follow "stories".

But isn't that what content aggregators do?
Yes, and no.
No, websites like reddit and stumbleupon cover only wide topics, not individual stories.
Yes, Google news has "See realtime coverage" button under each story, but this is "determined automatically by a computer" and doesn't connect non-contiguous coverage. For the time being, the function I'm proposing is best served by Wikipedia. Each notable event gets its own wiki article, and volunteers update the wiki with latest coverage of the story. This is unreliable, and not enough.

We need paradigm shift in how journalists cover stories.

If you are a journalist, and you covered a story once, you should make it a point to follow that story up till its end. You should make sure that promises are kept, that justice is served, that people are not forgotten. You should keep the timelines alive. And do not worry about having no audience, because if something is worth covering once, it is worth covering till its completion. If it is not, then you should not have covered it at first.

And media will rise as the relentless pursuer of truth.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Men May Now Wear Veils

The law is clear.

IPC 354A
1) A man ... iv) making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.
...
3) Any man who commits the offence shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
But it is not complete. What is a "sexually coloured remark"?
  • "You are looking gorgeous today" ?
  • "You look stunning in this dress" ?
  • "I would kill to be your husband" ?
If you follow this definition (which you're bound to by law), you cannot seduce a woman without sexually harassing her. If you can't seduce a woman, how can you ever dream of having sex with her? If you can't have sex with any woman, how can you satisfy your biological urges?

For resolving this Gordian knot, we shall take a cue from the Holy Quran.

  • 33:59 [edited for men] "Tell thy husbands and thy sons and the men of the law-fearing to draw their cloaks close round them."
  • 24:31 [edited for men] "And say to the law-fearing men that they cast down their looks and close their eyes to not look at women, and let them wear their head-coverings over their eyes, and not see anyone except their wives or their mothers, or the mothers of their wives, or their daughters, or the daughters of their wives, or their sisters, or their sisters' daughters, or their brothers' daughters, or their men, or those whom their right hands possess, or the female servants not having need (of men), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what should be hidden from men; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their manliness may be known"
  • 33:55 [edited for men] "It shall be no crime in them as to their mothers, or their daughters, or their sisters, or their brothers’ daughters, or their sisters’ daughters, or their men, or the slaves which their right hands possess, if they speak to them unveiled"
We shall walk around wearing veils. Not looking at any woman, not giving our natural tendencies a chance to arouse our masculinity. We shall refrain from talking to women, from thinking of them as potential mates for courting, from having romantic pleasure. We shall abstain from sexuality.

And we shall castrate ourselves.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

6 Things To Do When You Are Stuck In The Elevator With A Girl

For the introverts

1. Check your smartphone. See if someone has left you a message. If not, play "Temple Run 5" or "Angry Birds Lift". Act, the same way you would when you are confronted with someone you hate, like there is something really interesting happening on your 4 inch display and keep stroking it with your fingers.

2. Stare at the floor count. See if there's any change in the speed at which the numbers change. Think of what you will do if the elevator fails and shoots to the ground.

3. Think hard, or act like you are doing so. Assign yourself the task of saving the world from alien invasion or climate change. And rake your brains for a solution. If you are a dumb medical student, scratch your head and twirl your beard, as if you are answering an essay question.

For the extroverts

4. Talk to the girl stuck with you. If you don't know her, ask her what she is or where she is going. See if you can make her smile. If you do know her, just shut the fuck up and start talking to her already.

5. Flirt with the girl. There is nothing as boring as a casual conversation.
"Hi" "Hey!" "What do you do?" "I work in the grocery store, what about you?" "Oh, I work in the other department" Weird silence. Trnim... (Announcement) "Ground floor"
If you are good at it, flirt with the girl and make her eyes twinkle.

For the drunk horny extroverts who are single, or who don't mind getting their marriage broken

6. Hit on the girl. Compliment her and make her aroused. Make sure she is single and is up for a game. Exchange phone numbers. Make her feel comfortable and while parting maybe gently touch her on the shoulders and say "see you soon". Then follow that up with as much romantic foreplay as you can, and try to get laid soon.

But never ever go faster than how fast the girl wants you to go. This is what Tarun Tejpal and all other idiots get wrong. If she doesn't want to talk with you, stop talking. If she doesn't respond to your flirting, shut up. If she feels uncomfortable, stop the lift at the next floor and get out of it. Do not ever fuck things up by making any unexpected advance, because even if you do not end up in trouble you will ruin the chances of your entire gender on being comfortable around a lady.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On Facebook

Facebook is an excellent social networking tool. It has features that makes reconnecting with old friends nostalgic, sharing photos beautiful and staying connected seamless.

And that's where it ends. Facebook is not the best content discovery tool. It can show you news from only those people you know or follow. Technically it can show news from world over, but it doesn't by default. That immediately restricts the sample size of links you chance upon.

You can actually change the defaults and use Facebook like a feed reader, by liking pages of a good content creator or a good content curator. And then going through a myriad of settings to make all of their posts visible to you.

But Facebook defaults to "suckery". In an effort to make page owners pay for advertisements, Facebook buries page posts deep inside news feed.

And then, Facebook, by default, gives the microphones to all your crappy friends and turns the volume up on all of them, simultaneously!

Even if you quit reading twilight after the first few chapters, you can relate yourself on Facebook to Edward Cullen in classroom. You get to read everyone's mind, without even listening. Unlike Cullen here, you have to turn off each single person who litters.

And in such a system, diversity dies off. You post about what your friends post about which is what their friends post about which is what their friends post about which is what you post about. It's like inbreeding depression. And this leads to the same stories recurring on your wall day after day walling (pardon the pun) you from all the different, never-thought-about things that actually happen on the internet. You will be stuck with Modi's comment on Rahul and Rahul's comment on Modi and Modi's comment on Rahul's comment on Modi and Sachin Tendulkar's comment on Bharath Ratna, and Bharath Ratna's comment on Sachin Tendulkar, and your neighbour's comment on Sachin Tendulkar and your friend's comment on your neighbour's comment on Sachin Tendulkar and then Modi's comment on that. And to vie for your attention, each news source will add more masala, more drama to each story they post. While the internet goes forward with splendid things.

Click here to deactivate your Facebook account now.

And then, decide on one standard news site, one standard niche site and one standard content discovery tool, and live a beautiful life.

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Assorted List of Things 20-Something Should Know

This post on Making254movies: 26 Things Every 20-something Should Wish to Know

It needs a little restructuring so that we can actually remember it and apply to our lives. First, go read the post. Then, revise it below.

To begin with:
2. Invest in yourself.
23. Habits now, will stick till the end.
25. Don't worry about things that aren't good about you, spend time on the good ones.

Knowledge:
7. Get educated formally.
22. College won't take you everywhere. Educate yourself.
10. Keep a personal library.
26. Learn the art of rhetoric.

Health:
9. Take care of your body before it's too late.

Finance:
12. Have a budget.
24. Save money.

Relationships:
1. Don't feel urged to go behind a girl.
4. Don't cohabit outside marriage.

General social life:
6. People let you down. Expect it and learn from it.
20. Be charming, help others.
8. Put people together. 
19. Stop trying to save everybody.
13. Don't compare yourself with others, say on social media.

General life:
5. Don't necessarily go with hype.
11. College -> Confusion -> Real life. That's the order it comes in.

Innovate:
3. Take jobs that need travel.
15. Take values out of crappy jobs. 
17. Be passionate, be willing to fail.
16. Accept failures, move on.
14. Keep changing your plans, as needed.
21. But don't listen to unimportant people.
18. Explore.

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On Disposing Garbage From My Reading List

Up until two months ago, I would have been heading to facebook.com if I ended up in a long queue for chappati at the mess. No, I wouldn't waste a lot of time reading worthless status updates. I'd only click on external links and read articles (which feigned importance).

And then, I deactivated my facebook account (as I've described here on quora).

I started reading more of thehindu.com, and my textbooks.

And that's when I realized that there's a difference between articles that you land up on after surfing social media, and articles from high quality news sources like The Hindu.

For example, till a friend told me about how sad it is that naive criticism is floating over the web and social media about Sachin receiving Bharath Ratna, I didn't know that people could even think of blaming Sachin for being conferred a prize.

But did I miss anything by not reading such hate-posts? No. There will be thousands of opinions about every event that occurs. Not all matters. A vast majority of opinions are fit for not even the trash can. Unfortunately, we meddle ourselves in all that rubbish, all day.

If I go to Google News, it's again those articles which are "hot" that is displayed more prominently. And those are most often not the ones that are comprehensive accounts of reality. People tend to click on eye-grabbing headlines. And sites like NDTV capitalize on that by publishing "news" that sounds more like gossip.

A comparison
Hindu article:
Heading: C.N.R. Rao bemoans lack of funding for science
Relevant section:
For a brief moment, Professor Rao lost his cool and criticised politicians for having given "so little." "But for the money that science receives, India, I suppose, is doing well," he said.
 
NDTV article:
Heading: Bharat Ratna CNR Rao calls politicians 'idiots'
The same section:
Venting out the dissatisfaction in the scientific community over "inadequate" funding, Bharat Ratna awardee and eminent scientist Professor CNR Rao today had an angry outburst as he called politicians "idiots" for giving them "so little".
...
"....why the hell these idiots, these politicians have given so little for us. Inspite of that, we scientists have done something," Prof. Rao said, losing his cool.

This, as I come to know from wikipedia is called sensationalism.

Which of the two articles above are people more likely to share on facebook or google or twitter? We don't have to speculate. The answers are on those links for everyone to see. At the time of writing, there's 155 fb shares, 5 tweets and 3 google+ shares for one. And 1.3k fb shares, 200 tweets and 137 +1s for the other. Which's which is anybody's guess.

It's natural for any business to try and maximize their revenue. And we can't actually blame them for trying to entice us into reading their articles. We should blame ourselves for continuing to promote such valueless journalism. We should stop reading them.

I'm not here to blame media barracks for sensationalism. I'm here to help you out of it. Human beings are naturally curious. But we don't want anyone to exploit our curiosity for their ulterior motives. Let's preserve our curiosity and apply them to find solutions for problems that genuinely need our attention.

To Do
There's only one thing to do. Mercilessly prune your reading list. Whenever you find a sensational article, remember how the author of that article must have been forced to write insensible incredulities to vie for your attention. Then, simply ignore it. Ignore your urge to open and criticize and comment and share. Ignore it and keep your mind fresh; to read a beautifully written, thought provoking, inspiring, educating article. Like, this.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why Bother Writing?

Thoughts are vague. No matter how clear a thought is to you, it would not be fully formed. That is, till you decide to write it down.
When you write down anything, you assign an (imaginary) audience to it. And you start explaining your idea. Any explanation has to go down logically. Every digression will have to be thought through to its completion. But this is lacking in "just thinking" about it. Your brain deceives you into believing that everything is logical and that branches of thoughts are self explanatory or irrelevant, or somehow not any which require that it be pursued.

Thinking gives a false impression of completeness. Writing makes a thought concrete.

It is like a construction. You can plan everything down to its last detail. But it is only when you start building it that you realize which structures are vulnerable and what modifications are necessary in order to make the building stronger.

And that makes writing difficult.

So difficult that when people actually sit down and try to write, they give up, and worse, they think of writing as a futile exercise because they have "already thought everything about it".

You get my point. If you are thinking that you have thought everything about something, you should be able to write about it without any difficulty. If you find writing about it even slightly difficult, it means that you have missed out some critical piece of thought in your mind tree. It's only when you're forced to write, that it becomes complete.

So, write.

...

PS: Writing this made me consider another related process - "talking". Wouldn't talking also force us to solidify thoughts? I think the answer is "Yes, but...".
Pros of writing:
  • A written document can be read by anyone, any time.
Cons of talking:
  • Conversation gets very messy if you try to go back and delete a wrong word from one of your previous statements, and come back and continue the sentence and then change another word in the previous statement, and so on. There is absolutely no way to delete a paragraph.
Okay, from the above point onwards, I'm considering only digital writing. And I seriously don't think anyone will be writing with pen on paper any more.

Perceived pros of talking that is levelled by internet:
  • In a conversation with an interested soul, you might get help from the conversational partner to finish your thought. Blogs with commenting system set up lets anyone else forge a new direction from your idea.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Happy Teacher's Day

Disclaimer: This post is entirely based on the author's experiences in life, learning. It is not intended at any single person, neither is it intended to insult or hurt anyone.

I abhor the lectures delivered in my medical college.

No, I love medicine. I don't have any problem listening. And I don't have ADHD.

But I simply don't gain anything from hours spent listening to lectures. I think I know why.

When I was in my school, my teachers used to tell stories. They used to ask questions. They used to ensure that my mind stayed involved in the subject.

In college, I'm lost.
There are no stories, there is no logic, there's no participation of students in the class.

In the beginning I thought it was my problem, it was students' disinterest, them not asking questions to teachers, them not interacting. But today is teacher's day, and so, I'm attributing the failure of lectures to teachers.

Here is how a typical lecture goes:
A teacher comes in to the class. He writes down the title of the topic he is discussing on that day. And then he goes on - definition, classification, importance, prevalence, usage, mechanism, details, examples...
Somewhere in between there might be two questions asked "what are the examples of...?"

Just the way textbooks are written.
A perfect validation of the title "Reader".

But, who wants the details? Who remembers them?
And, more importantly, if they are just going to narrate the textbook, why do we need them, teachers?

Here's how my dream lecture is:
A teacher comes in to the class. He asks the class a question that is at the core of the topic he is gonna teach. He narrates an incident that is totally related to the question and the topic. And then he asks us to think about the possible causes, or treatment, or mechanism.
He listens to our responses and classify them. He tells us the various things that scientists have come up with in answering the same questions. He lets us relate with the solutions. He analyzes our response and tells us where it fits and where it doesn't with actual science. He drops in important details in between. He makes us explore, and think, and absorb in that process. He shares insights and not details.

No. Too much to ask for. Actually, I don't have any right to ask for anything, because I'm neither an expert in medicine, nor one in teaching.

But I can say what I can see. I see PGs who sit with students late till night to answer fundamental questions. I see one or two professors who set the mind of everyone in the classroom thinking hard about the problem and the solutions.

But then, I have to regard the advice of that senior on the first night at my hostel: "See the fingers of your hand? Teachers are like that. Each one is different. Do not compare." He followed that up with a warning, about how my life can be ruined if I do.

But then, I'm not comparing. There's nothing to compare against. It's all bad, worse and ugly.

You learn yourself in a professional college, they say. Yes, I'm better of teaching myself. And thus the title of the post.

-written during a lecture

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Save the Patient, not the Doctor

Recently a nation wide campaign has been launched tagged "save the doctor".

The cause: making life easier for medical students.

The appeal:
1) Increase PG seats
2) Include rural service within UG and PG course.

The arguments:
That there are 45600 UG seats and that there are only 12000 PG seats in clinical subjects. That this will make the UG doctor to work hard for years for a PG seat, based on the premise (one which I want to talk about in this post) that a clinical PG is absolutely necessary for serving as a doctor.
That one year of rural service will increase the time taken to start earning and start living.

The rural reality:
People die because there are no doctors to treat them.

The problem as statistics see it:
From Rural Health Statistics 2012, it can be slowly understood that around 25000 PHCs in India work with just one doctor where at least 3 are recommended.

About 5000 CHCs, with at least 4 specialists required, need around 20000 specialists, but only around 7000 are working as such.

The problem as Dr Deo, et al. sees it:
There are enough UG doctors, there aren't enough PG doctors.

Their solution:
Increase PG seats. Easy!

The way I see it:
Nobody likes to go to a village. There is no bus, no electricity, no roads, more mosquitoes, no broadband, no mobile coverage.
Naturally doctors do not want to go there either.

Everybody likes to enjoy life. Doctors too. And more the money, easier it is to enjoy.

When there are many UG seats, thanks to the competition in cities many MBBS doctors move to rural areas and work there.
When they get PG, they have better opportunities in the cities, more facilities, better way to work. They don't go to villages.

So, the 'fact' that PG is necessary for working as a doctor seems counter intuitive for me.

Of course you need a PG if you're interested in the academic curiosities and the such. But to work as just a doctor, all you need is a basic knowledge of treating cholera and pneumonia and a will to have a small life.

Save the doctor campaign seems misguided.

Ask me whether I won't enjoy life:
I just need broadband connection to enjoy life.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Doing Good is Bad For You

This is a choice that the social revolutionary in a not so bad democracy has to face. He is confronted with injustice or inequality that doesn't harm him directly, and won't harm him at all if he ignores it. But if he decides to try and eliminate that evil, his future will be in risk.

So, the revolutionist faces a dilemma. Options are:
a) Risk oneself and improve the situation
b) Ignore the situation and play safe

The potential pitfall a revolutionist might fall in is thinking that they must always act against injustice. The right approach would be doing a risk-benefit analysis.
The revolutionist will have a better chance of choosing the correct answer if he asks himself "How important is it to the world that this situation improves? How important is it to the world that I spare myself for better things?"

With those two questions, he easily reaches an answer.

To be precise, if there is sacrifice involved, spare yours for the biggest cause that you can win.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

If Childhood Could Not Influence You

I am going to take you through a very unfamiliar ride. You will have to trust me completely and prepare to be thrown around. The idea I'm about to give is going to shake your fundamental beliefs and core values. And that is invariable owing to the nature of it. So, if you have your seat belts on.

Let's start with a complicated question.
How much of her skin can a woman expose?

You might have an answer to that question. But that is irrelevant to me. I'm asking you to think of how many answers that question can have.

Men and women will have different answers. Those answers will vary from country to country, region to region, culture to culture. And within men or women, the young and the old will have different answers.

No, we are not here to resolve human morality. We are here to observe. Why do different people have radically different ideas about something as simple as clothing?

[Think for a minute]

I am going to propose an answer very soon. Before that, let's explore one more question.

What do you eat? Fruits and vegetables? And milk? And eggs? And meat?
Why do people have preference for different food based on where we get it from?

[Think for another minute]

Here is the answer.

Your childhood.

Not as ground-breaking as you thought? Think again.
All your biases, all the unconscious decisions you make, your intuition, and emotion -  everything is a learned response. Your brain which was more or less like dough when you were born has been getting remodelled and shaped ever since.

And anything that you do, is only an output of all the existing logic gates the stimulus has to pass through.

You have now begun to question. You are now claiming that all your decisions are built upon carefully weighed out reason.

Ah, now you realised the folly of that argument too. Even the way you reason depends upon how you have learned to reason, when a child.

Any statement that you make now is a product of the neurobiological circuits already in place in your brain. There is no way you can escape the clutches of your past.

Or, wait, is there?

Is there a way by which you can get rid of all the unconscious influences on you and think with purest reason?

There is, albeit a difficult one. All you have to do is revisit all the assumptions that you have made in your life. Go back and recheck each and every "fact" that has been thrust upon you when your guards were down. Meet the defences of your own mind with the spearhead of question. Persevere in eliminating all those contaminant ideas that have occupied your brain/mind without a reason. Challenge all existing presumptions. Keep questioning the integrity of every single thought that comes to your mind.

"Have I thought about the validity of this thought, or is it seeming naturally true for me?"

If the answer is the latter, you need to think, examine, dissect that thought. Make it answerable to all the assumptions it thrives on. Do not let it survive if it does not have strong pillars of undeniable logic supporting it.

Keep doing this for a while.

"Why do I feel my country is better than any other?"
"Why do I feel my culture is better than any other?"
"Why do I feel passionate about this particular job?"
"Why do I have faith in this?"

Keep questioning.

Slowly, you'll evolve into a fully grown man.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Lot Can Happen Over Coffee

Yesterday, I met two scientists. One is a neuroscientist about to join Yale, the other, her husband, an immunologist in NY.

And they changed my perception about how I should pursue my higher studies after MBBS.

No, the meeting wasn't a coincidence. I'd never be in CCD on any given day unless someone invited me over there. But the events that led to it, was undoubtedly a long chain of logical but random choices (even involving a confessions page in facebook).

So, what was so earth-shattering about this meeting that my career plan has to undergo a complete overhaul?


***

Here's a slightly modified transcript of the conversation:
(KI = the neuroscientist, AG = the immunologist, ASD = me, SSB = my friend)

KI: So, how are you liking MMC?

ASD: To answer that, I'd have to go back in history. Till about the end of grade 10, I was going to be a Professor of Mathematics. Because back then, I liked and understood the subject really well. But at the end of grade 10, I decided that I had to do something relevant and of importance to the world (not that Mathematics is pointless). I decided I'd do MBBS. And after MBBS, I'd choose IAS and enter social service; or do DM in Neurology, so that I'd be doing some research in brain and cognitive sciences later on.

And then, at the end of grade 12, I had a real chance to pursue Computer Science and Mathematics. But then I stick to my ill-logic of practical importance, and choose to satisfy my curiosities in CS and math as a hobby while I become a doctor.

And what makes me confident about this all encompassing polymath style approach, is the over-confidence that my study technique lends me. I believe that even in a fact-oriented subject like Medicine, when you go deeper with your understanding of the concepts (sometimes hypothesising on things) you'll have made facts intuitive, thus avoiding the need to memorize them, and at the same time making you very good at the subject. That's why I started learnlearn.in and I'm just waiting for the results.

So, in short, it doesn't matter to me, the college. I like it, because I'm in it.

AG: So, you thinking of developing a brain-machine interface, or the like? You know what, the research on all those is going full swing right now, and probably by the time you reach there, it'd all be over. They're mapping out all the connections in the brain, and the US government has given nod to a $300 mn bill already for the 'connectome' project.

ASD: Okay! But that's so going to fail.

AG & KI: If you look at it, it's much like the human genome project. They're just trying to figure out the connections as perfectly as possible, and once we have it, possibly we'll end up with a whole lot of applications of it. You know how the CNS pharmacology is not based on our knowledge of the brain, but on pure luck.

ASD: Okay! I meant it wasn't going to solve consciousness or intelligence or anything. For health, of course, yeah. So, tell me your stories.

KI: I did my MBBS starting in 1999, while AG started in 1996. Towards the end of it, I realized that writing an entrance examination after graduating, and then getting into post graduation rate race, was so not going to happen for me. But, I also knew that to get into research positions abroad or in India, I needed to have something in my c.v. So, I went to the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore during my internship and stayed there for 3 months, doing their work, closely learning how the entire system works. And I convinced the director there of my commitment to do science, that they wrote a recommendation letter for me.

And with that I could join a neuroscience research team. In essence, when you apply to universities, they ask you what you have already done, because they need some way to separate the grain from the chaff. They need to find out who is really committed to doing this, who is capable of doing this, and who knows what they're going to do.

But that's not an excuse to neglecting your academic performance in college. They really aren't waiting for a guy who took 5 years longer to finish medical school just because he was interested in doing much cooler things. They want someone who is good at whatever he does.

And, you gotta compartmentalize your academic studies from the things that you learn for your research interest. Because they could well be at odds with each other.

And then +swathi sb comes in after finding her lost scooter key.

SSB: Sorry I'm late. I know you're talking about career. I wanted to do something in public health, for the poor who are suffering. So, does this all apply for me?

AG: Well, we aren't pretty confident about that sector, and there are people who're better qualified to answer that. But still, there are a lot of ways you could help the community. You needn't necessarily be working at a rural setting, because that'd only make you a practising doctor in rural areas. You could gain experience while working as the doctor for NGOs that operate in rural areas. That'd fetch you insights into how things work or doesn't work there. Then maybe you can use it to do some work from the cities.

SSB: Okay. Forget about me, continue your story?

KI: Ha, so I did some work on astrocytes, the glial cells. Now, to do my post-doctoral work I'm joining Yale Medical School.

ASD: Wow! The Yale?

AG: Yes, the Yale. Like I'm joining Sinai for getting some clinical practice.

ASD: Okay, you haven't told us your story.

AG: Ah, I finished MBBS, like she already told you and then I went to Bombay to stay with my mother. While doing MBBS, I had done some studies in P&SM, and with only that experience I went to the nearby Tata Hospital. And I didn't know whom to meet there. So, I went to the Director directly, and told him "Sir, I'm a medical graduate. I am interested in doing research." And he was amused. He talked with me for a while. And then he wrote a note.

I took that note to the lady it was addressed to. And she was an immunologist. They were working on genetics and stem cell therapy. And I worked with them. And I was among the team which discovered a therapy for ADA deficiency, which was also first of its kind.

ASD: That is the example for stem cell therapy in biochemistry.

AG: Yeah, so you know how important that was. And then I was thinking of doing some stuff, when I stumbled upon the much cooler stuff that one of my colleagues were doing there. He was trying to make changes in dendritic cells that'd enable them to better identify cancer cells. And then the T-cells would be able to identify them and kill them naturally. So, I'm working on it, now.

ASD: So, what progress are you making on it?

AG: In research, you usually do not make any perceivable progress in a short term. That's, maybe, one disadvantage of it. But you shouldn't really get bogged down by that. You will build on someone's work, and then someone else will build on your work, and maybe credit you. That's how progress is made.
And if you ask us whether we've made the right choices, we are not old enough to say so, but so far so good.

***

Thinking of it, my idea of doing a DM in Neurology is stupid, when all that I want to do was research on the brain. The most natural thing for me to do is, after MBBS, to join some institute where they do some actual research on the brain.

And so is it going to be.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Two Ways to Go Crazy

Yesterday was a Sunday entirely different from the hundred before it. I did two things.

Quizzing
8 hours of questions and answers (and excellent guesses) with my partner - Shruti parimoo
General Quiz #1: At NIE, Mysore. We reached about an hour early and talked about neuroplasticity, and the like. Then, the first round started. There were about 14 teams and about 24 questions. Some of them:

What does the following cartoon represent? (Of course it wasn't this easy in the actual event)


feet-to-meters cartoon no. 1

Whose old logo is this?
http://media.gizmodo.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/18afup0k2v6oqpng.png
Cricket question.
"I would say the difference between the two side is the fielding. England are an all-round good fielding side. I do believe that India have few...3 or 4 very good fielders and ... X"
Fill X.

Which phrase in English owes its origin to the fact that density of water at 0 degree Celsius is 0.93 g/cu cm and that of water at 4 degree Celsius is 1 g/cu cm?

And, we didn't get selected for the second round.
But we watched it along with very active others.

Dry round - a lot of questions based on "pounce and bounce" format (That is, after the question is read out, every team has a chance to write the answer and "pounce" on it, getting +10 for correct and -5 for wrong; and then teams who haven't pounced will get the questions in infinite bounce format)
List it - to list all the 13 individual olympic medal winners of India, all the 9 movies of Ranbir Kapoor, and all the Shiva temples based on 5 elements.
Short Visual Connect - A set of images on the screen, find what connects them.
Long Visual Connect - A long set of images coming one by one, find what connects them at the earliest. This one was about Raghu Ram

Having been only to quizzes where the quizmaster rein and the participants open their mouth only to answer or "pass" this first quiz in two years was mind-blowing, not blowing, mind-expanding for me. I'd never thought quizzes could be fun too (and not just exciting)

And then General Quiz #2 at SJCE Mysore
Here's where I got really surprised. Not just that all the teams who participated in the previous quiz was here, one of the QMs at the previous quiz was a participant, and one of the participants there was the QM here.
For now, this is the longest (5 hours) and the most interesting (unlimited fun) quiz I've ever been to.

Questions have all been uploaded to slideshare here.
The preliminary round was much easier (in terms of the number of questions we could answer). My personal favourite would be:


What is this? :D (See how the big circles are linked)

And all the 9 teams participated in the second round (which turned out to be a wise decision, because the teams left out would have to watch from outside the rest of the quiz)
In the second part, I started with a -5 for pouncing. I said "simple majority" where it should have been "The common parlance for the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly (a body that uses parliamentary procedure, such as a legislature) necessary to conduct the business of that group and its requirement is protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons"

And a lot of questions later, including one that looked very similar to this tricky graph question I found from Quora, the Sheldon Cooper round started.
We had to give the Latin phrases for the descriptions. And Shruti absolutely rocked.
So did she in the round about books, and also the Southpark round.
The LVC about Cricket stumped us, but those about buildings were easily solvable.

And then it was late night, they had already began singing songs at Jayciana outside. So it was time to find out the winner, and as there was a tie between KP's team and the other awesome team. It couldn't be resolved even after a few questions, so everyone left in a jovial mood.

But here is a way to conduct quizzes that I've never experienced before. Find excellent questions. Pose them. And let everyone have fun. Get up from the seat. Argue with the QM. Argue with other teams. Go touch the projected image, just to see if the texture gives any clue. Look for clues in all the words spoken by each member in the hall. And successfully spend a lot of time into something that's well worth it.

And, Rock Music
If I had returned to hostel straight away, it would have been an above average Sunday, but not an exceptional one.
There was some kind of musical show to be expected later in the night. So I stayed back to join my friends. And after the fashion show, beauty pageant, results of previous events, etcetera, it started. A sexy male voice attracting crowd like shit does to flies. +Akshaya Fadnis and I climbed inside the VIP section with the first song. And within minutes we were right next to the stage. And the crowd was going crazy. The music would awaken even the comatose. Hands would not agree to stay down. And the rhythm shook the whole body.

After being completely lost in that experience, I spoke: "Buddha calls it meditation, we call it rock music"

Now, that tranquillity was thanks to Underground Authority.

And that was a Sunday truly worth its name - Sunday. :P

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Things You SHOULD Learn from M K Gandhi

I woke up today morning reading this on Quora: What are the biggest mistakes of Mahatma Gandhi?

The answer tells that the British were comfortable with Gandhi heading India, and that complete non-violence was probably a big mistake. Two things.

  1. Non-violence works in international affairs. Especially after the second world war.
    This must be self evident. Today's wars cannot be won with weapons. It is won only through diplomacy.
  2. Non-violence works even better in interpersonal affairs.
    This goes without saying. Getting angry and not cooperating with nasty people is how we've learned to do it. But that is violent. A better way to do it would be by helping the nasty earnestly, and sternly but politely making them a request to stop being nasty.
But that's not what surprised me. When someone pointed out in the comments that Gandhi had also told that non-violence is better than cowardice, the answerer said: "Well this shows that he was totally confused".

People, it's not just fine to change your convictions with time, it is sometimes necessary to do so.

That is one great lesson from Gandhi that not many have heard of or practise. He conducts experiments with his life. And he corrects himself when he's proven wrong. Like his U turn on milk, he just needs plenty of reasons.

We form most of our convictions in childhood. The same childhood when we are not even eligible to vote. And amusingly, we carry these convictions to our adult life, unquestioned. Think of it. Would it be clever to make the same choices in food, clothing, dreams, hobbies, and lifestyle as those you made when you were much younger and more stupid?

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Difference Between Interesting Things and Useful Things

How many times has this happened in your life?
You're travelling in a bus, and the person sitting in the first seat at the front suddenly puts his face outside and looks at something. Within milliseconds, people sitting in the window seats in the 5 rows behind him do the same. And in the next few milliseconds, others who can't just turn their head and see outside, stand up and do so.
Sensing and responding to changes around them as quickly as possible, gives monkeys a survival advantage. And there's a monkey carrying out its survival trick hiding inside all of us. He guides our senses towards all stuff that's different from the normal - a cool new gadget, random shit facts, photoshoped images uploaded in facebook, utterly useless questions on quora, the gap that a broken tooth leaves, a friend's new haircut, uncovered body parts - any stuff that's new. These are the interesting things.

Unfortunately for us, interesting things most of the times aren't useful things.

Books, subjects, exams, practice, revision, exercise - things that happen everyday, the normal things. They are what turn out to be useful in one's life.

It's only been a fraction of a second since that first person turned his head. You still have a choice - whether to turn your head or not.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year, New Heights, New Directions

It's often good to be resolute even if it doesn't last in you for more than a few days, because you end up doing something rather than waste your potential.

I've made a few impossible resolutions which will let me have fun for the next week at least.

I'll be getting a mountain bike from Schwinn or Giant tomorrow. That'd be in line with a resolution I made last year.

And I'm gonna be blogging a bit more frequently thanks to my resolution to quit fapping which was more or less a daily practice.

And then I need to think of some project to be done for ICMR STS.

Then in the self improvement sector, I should break out of my addiction to routine. (If anything irregular happens, I get disorganized badly)

Should learn English. It so happens that since I'm an Indian, a lot of words would have wrong pronunciations associated with them, in my little brain. And I've decided to look up the dictionary wherever a doubt arises.

And I recently noticed that Ubuntu is indeed an African word meaning "humanity to all" and that the operating system was named after the concept.

Still making up resolutions. Are you?

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