An Interweb of Things

Since the time I wrote An Internet of Things narrative, its trajectory and pace has seen tremendous acceleration, to an extent where TC has claimed that it has reached escape velocity. Indeed, there is a whole lot of activity happening that would back this claim – startups, larger companies getting interested in the space, geographic expansion and so on. In fact, the article has what seems like a comprehensive chart on applications, platforms etc.

In my earlier post (linked above) I had pointed to the distinction between the Internet of Things and the Web of Things. What was then a nuance seems much more wider now and is even more relevant. Another article on TC, titled The Problem with the Internet of Things is actually about this. One of the products that has fascinated me for a while is Mother, from Sen.se. To me, it aims to solve this problem, and the last two points in their ‘Creating the Internet of Life’ document is proof of it. (Like wearables in 2014, I plan to get a consumer IoT experience in 2015, and this is most likely going to be my preference) Another simplistic but potentially very useful product I have seen is Flic. The last example is Signul, which uses a beacon system to automate things used in daily lives. (both on Indiegogo)

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The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

The Last War

Sandipan Deb

Sandipan Deb’s rendition of the Mahabharata in Mumbai. This is obviously not the first rendition of the Mahabharata in contemporary events – Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi, Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti – but this one manages to shift the scene to what seems like an apt arena – the Mumbai underground. Bombay is Kurukshetra and Bombay is the prize.

As with all the other renditions, it is practically impossible to fit all characters and events into the new canvass, so the author has been clinical in removing characters and reshaping events to fit his narrative. On a positive note, the interpretation is not altogether flawed, but is written very clearly on a simplistic level. Many characters have been well etched and can be seen as very close parallels of their originals. There are also contemporary incidents like match fixing, 9/11 etc which have been woven into the plot.

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Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right

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The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.

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Vapour

There’s some sort of race going on between Indiranagar and Koramangala on the number of microbreweries. Vapour has been around for a while, but we had delayed the visit because of mixed reviews. But on a Sunday when we just didn’t feel like having Koramangala versions of craft beer, we decided to check out Vapour. Located on 100 feet Road, it’s actually difficult to miss! (map) It’s spread across four floors, and since we wanted à la carte, we had an option of sitting on the terrace or on the 2nd floor. Given Bangalore’s random rains, we chose a table on the second floor with a view of 100 feet Road. The decor seemed to be industrial. Pop culture wall art under the a/c to add to the coolness. ;)

The menu is pretty elaborate and has everything from North Indian to Chinese to Continental. We first asked for a beer sample set (You can choose 4 from the 5 available) We visited on the week they had launched a new beer – the Gotze Blonde, so we ended up with samples of the Dark, Wheat, Ale and the Blonde. The Blonde turned out to be the best of the lot. Wheat, Ale and Dark in decreasing order of preference. Beef wasn’t available so we ordered a Fish Chilly Pepper Dry, which was quite spicy and went very well with the beer.

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Change Strategies

It was mid last year when I wrote The Change Imperative, which was as much a note on massively changing business dynamics as it was a note to self. I thought the new year was a perfect time to revisit and explore how brands and business can use change as an opportunity. The new year sees a glut of predictions, trends, insights etc, but the one I look forward to is the JWT Future 100. This year too, it impressed me with unique insights and potentially far reaching consequences. But in the change’ context, I found slides 33 and 52 most interesting. Both of these were related to brand strategy – 33 (Third Way Commerce) was about how millennials were looking for brands with clear values, and 52 (The Long Near Game) was on brands taking a dualist approach to balance short and long term goals.

In my mind, they are related, as brands are making efforts to maintain/create business models that are buffered from current and future shocks and can remain relevant now and later. I found an intersection of the two thoughts in a couple of places. The first was in this post by David Card on new models of  disruption. The first model brought up in this is “Adjacency Platforms”, which is about platforms migrating into new markets or industries. Apple’s iOS moving to payment is the example given here. This thought is also echoed in slides 24-28 of this trends presentation – the phrase used was Startups going ‘Full Stack’. I particularly liked this framing of the thought – It’s not like a brand like Virgin diversifying to follow an audience, it’s diversifying to follow an expertise. Both fantastic approaches, I must say, because they’re based on consumers who believe in the brand’s values. [I believe that Uber is a brand with much potential in this respect – check this]

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The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux 

Across Europe and through Asia in the mid seventies! Now that’s what you call travel – time travel for the reader. The journey begins in London, and after a bleak journey on the Trans Siberian express, ends there as well. There are thirty trains in this amazing chronicle, and they are as much about the travel experiences as they are about the culture of the age and the milieu of the countries they pass through. There are some excellent quotes I could identify with too eg. One always begins to forget a place as soon as it’s left behind. At one point, he also begins a short story that I have read in his later works!

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Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Tim Tai

Residents of Koramangala would remember Ping, which rose to stardom and fell from grace all in a few years! The same vicinity now hosts Tim Tai, which calls itself an Asian Deli. (right next to bon South) It exudes fun, from the moment you see its bright signage from the road. The interiors have a high ceiling, a tree almost smack in the middle of the floor (around which there is some seating available) and functional, yet chic decor. The general cheeriness is also evident from the ‘Gurus @ work’ sign above the kitchen. Having read that it gets crowded by 8, we arrived early and managed to get a seat in the alfresco area, which even has a little waterfall.

Though they don’t serve alcohol, there is a drinks menu with a fair amount of choice. (menu, incomplete) There is also a separate dim sum menu as well. Another thing that reminded me of Ping. When there’s Tom Kha, there are no discussions. We asked for two small portions, and I also decided to check out an Asian Mary.  (that’s a drink!) That, and the Banana Wrapped Grilled Chicken with Sambal’ made up our starers. The soup portion size worked just right for us and it was excellent in terms of taste as well. It was actual coconut milk (not the stuff made from powdered versions) and had a nice kaffir lime tang for some flavour in addition to the galangal and lemongrass. The drink was guava based with tabasco and a pepper rim that made it spicy, sweet and refreshing all at once. The Chicken starter should not be attempted if you don’t have a tolerance for spice. But if you do like spice, you’ll love this one! The menu also has satays, Asian salads and cold rolls.

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Chasing the Monsoon

 Alexander Frater

The monsoon – a phenomenon that has India in a tizzy every year. To me personally, the monsoons are a treasure trove of memories, associated with the various Junes that have been part of my life – childhood, college days, work – different places and different times. So I picked this book with quite some interest.

Frater’s prologue tells us about his intent and motivation, but I’m afraid it tends to get a bit technical and I wouldn’t be surprised if people stopped reading the book because of it! But the chapters that follow are completely different, so do persevere. The first chapter is all about the immediate trigger that made the author set out – chasing the Indian monsoon from “where the rain is born” (to quote Anita Nair) to the wettest place on earth.

Trivandrum is where it all begins and the author captures the tension across the country around the beginning of the monsoon pretty well. The weather forecasters, astrologers, politicians, and even regular folks – all have their theories and perspectives. One of the things that makes the book really good is the author’s reading and chronicling of the milieu he has been pulled into – sociocultural, economic, political and so on. His meeting with Kamala Das, the death of John Abraham, (Malayalam movie director) the Ambassador car’s preeminence, all add flavour to the narrative.

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Artificial Humanity

In Natural Law, I had touched upon the idea that we will have to make choices as a species in the context of the role of artificial intelligence in our lives, and how/if compassion towards each other would play a part in these decisions. As I watch thoughts and events unfolding around me, I am beginning to think that it will most likely not be one crucial decision later in time, but a lot of smaller choices, made at individual and regional levels now, that will shape our society in terms of acceptability, morality etc. And so, just as I wrote in a post around five years ago, that we might not be able to recognise the final step we make in our integration with AI, there might be an increasing inevitability about our choices as we move forward in time.

What sparked this line of thought? On one hand, I read a New Yorker post titled “Better All the Time” which begins with how a focus on performance came to athletics and has now moved on to many other spheres of our life. On the other hand, I read this very scary post in The Telegraph “The Dark Side of Silicon Valley” and a bus that’s named Hotel 22 because it serves as an unofficial home for the homeless. It shows one of the first manifestations of an extreme scenario (the nation’s highest percentage of homeless and highest average household income are in the same area!) that could soon become common. The connection I made between these two posts is that increasingly, there will be one set of humans who have the will and the means to be economically viable and another much larger set that doesn’t have one, or both. This disparity is going to become even more stark as we move forward in time. I think, before we reach the golden age of abundance, (if we do) there will be a near and medium term of scarcity for the majority.

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