Excursions by Amit Gawande

Walking through a foggy street

Making attempts to understand what the future holds is understandable, but it is pointless to think too much about that. Thinking about all the possibilities of things going wrong. Or even right, for that matter. It is especially important to not do so when that train of thought derails your now.

I would be the first one to accept that am prone to falling for this way too often.

What would happen if the task at hand goes through as planned? What if it does not? How would my current decision play out in the future?

And there is possibly a stream of such questions clouding one’s mind at any given point.

What matters is to realise that there are no easy answers to these questions. May be there are no answers at all. Of course, it doesn’t mean one should not think of future at all. It is important to appreciate the effects that one’s today is going to have on his or her future. But that thought can’t be a deterrent to the movement, to progress.

It is like walking through a foggy street. Sure, you can think of all the unknowns that may lie ahead on the path. But that can’t make you stagnant. Else you reach no where.

And unlike fog, future never clears out to reveal what lies ahead.

Sat, Aug 17, 2019 thoughts

Nature paints in so many colours - but it pays special attention when it paints in white. It is gorgeous, it is healing.

Sat, Aug 17, 2019 thoughts

Silence Within

What is silence? Is it the lack of any sound or is it the lack of any discernible sound? What do you need to attain calmness?

Today, I sat alone, reading for around an hour - time that I was the most focused in a very long time. I felt I was alone, I physically wasn’t. I realised this only once I was out of my trance.

I was surrounded by a persistent hustle-bustle of the regularities of a working day. People chattering over a cup of coffee. Muffled, at the same time distinctly recognisable, voices of the labourers working outside the window. Rambles of the passing trains every now and then.

There was a lot of sound, a lot of noise around me. But there was silence within - I have come to realise it works way better to calm one down than the silence outside.

Fri, Aug 16, 2019 thoughts life

Terry Pratchett's artistry with words

It is the passages like these from Terry Pratchett that leave completely in awe of his imagination. He can dream up craziest of the crazy, stupid ideas and completely word them into a believable prose. Brilliant!

The forest of Skund was indeed enchanted, which was nothing unusual on the Disc, and was also the only forest in the whole universe to be called — in the local language — Your Finger You Fool, which was the literal meaning of the word Skund.

The reason for this is regrettably all too common. When the first explorers from the warm lands around the Circle Sea travelled into the chilly hinterland they filled in the blank spaces on their maps by grabbing the nearest native, pointing at some distant landmark, speaking very clearly in a loud voice, and writing down whatever the bemused man told them. Thus were immortalised in generations of atlases such geographical oddities as Just A Mountain, I Don’t Know, What? and, of course, Your Finger You Fool.

Rainclouds clustered around the bald heights of Mt. Oolskunrahod (‘Who is this Fool who does Not Know what a Mountain is’) and the Luggage settled itself more comfortably under a dripping tree, which tried unsuccessfully to strike up a conversation.”

Fri, Aug 16, 2019 opinion likes

The Promise of “instant”

Patience is a virtue that is rapidly getting extinct within us. Everything digital has trained us to expect everything instant. You want to read, watch, listen to, learn, earn? There’s an app for that.

We were ruined, further, by the advances in efficient service distribution at scale. You need things delivered - there’s a service for that. Groceries? Yeah, those are covered. Food? Cab? Stationery? Yep, we got those covered too.

Services would reach you earlier after a week or more, if at all they could reach you. It became days. One day was a stretch goal that was soon met for many. And next was hours. For many services, it is minutes now. 30 minutes or free.

We have all been ruined by this promise of instant”. A detour of 15 minutes before the food is delivered is worthy of a lengthy rant at the service provider now. A delay of a day before one’s headphone is delivered is intolerable.

Days of patiently waiting for things we need, we want have long been lost. We are ruined by our lack of patience.


Martin Weigert has an interesting take on this - this is what he wrote while sharing this essay as part if his weekly newsletter at Meshed Soceity.

(…) there are at least 2 types of patience: Waiting for the pay offs of one’s work (whether on oneself or external projects), and waiting for things one needs. I consider the first type a virtue. The latter type however, seems to be mostly a mental hack to make a virtue out of necessity. Have to wait for 4 hours to get your 5 minutes at the doctor? Be patient! Have to wait one week to get the thing you bought online? Be patient! Have to wait one day until your bank transfer has been processed? Be patient! In these cases, there is nothing inherently virtuous or positive in waiting.

I do not disagree with any part of this. And I was indeed focused on the second type that he talked about because that’s primary what he face more often and so is what that tests us the most. It is important that we do not lose our sanity if things do go wrong while we wait for things and have to wait longer.

Thu, Aug 15, 2019 opinion life

How ergonomical are the ergonomic mouse in reality - especially the vertical ones? I am seriously considering buying just to see if it helps. I am worried the frequent pains in the wrist are only to increase further. Not something I can live with given my profession.

Thu, Aug 15, 2019 thoughts

I have decided that I will skip the iOS public betas this year. iOS 13 betas just haven’t been stable enough right from WWDC time. And the dark mode can wait. Sure, would have loved to get used to iPadOS early - but am not ready to pay the price for my impatience.

Wed, Aug 14, 2019 thoughts

The concept of dreams always fascinate me. There are dreams that jerk you out of the sleep. And there are those that make you put yourself back to sleep, if you leave them unfinished.

There are dreams that can give you sleepless nights. And there are those that can make your sleep the happiest phase of your day.

You follow some dreams with a wish that someday you will fulfil them and they become fact.

You run away from some facts, some realities of your life, hoping that they were, well, mere a dream.

Even with all the scientific advances we have made, we can’t make up our minds about whether the sleep session full of dreams is better or one without any.

Some say dreams are mysterious. Some say mysteries are dreamy.

Dreamy - do they mean dreamy” as in marvellous or dim, vague?

Whatever, dreams always fascinate me.

Wed, Aug 14, 2019 thoughts

It is tiring to make decisions. Because the judgement that follows after every decision invariably forces one to question whether it was worth the enforced change. I published some quick thoughts recently on making decisions.

Tue, Aug 13, 2019 thoughts

Making Decisions

It is very tiring to make decisions. There appears to exist a popular perception that decision, once made, leads to some irreversible change to the currently working state”. What, then, one has to decide is whether the change was good or bad, and so whether the decision made was right or wrong.

This judgement that follows after every decision invariably forces one to question whether it was worth the enforced change. The fear of making the wrong decision is the reason, more often than not, behind the lack inclination to change.

You can be deciding what gift to buy for someone or who to choose to be your life partner. It does not matter whether the decision to be made is critical or trivial. Our subconscious is always at work, judging our every decision.

However, it is up to you to not let this fear of judgement drive how you lead your life. It is easier to overcome the wrong decisions you make than to lead a life being too indecisive.

Mon, Aug 12, 2019 thoughts

Being Digital Literate towards Privacy

My sister recently bought a new iPhone - her first, switching over from Android - and was happily setting it up with all the apps she had been using. And many more new ones. I did observe one bothersome behavior while she was using her device. She was happily tapping around whenever iOS threw a permission prompt at her, without paying any attention to what the prompt said. Sure, have all the access you need.”

And I do not think she is in minority here. I observe this behavior very often and every single time, I am left completely befuddled. Why would you not read what permission the app is asking for and why would you not question why it needs that?

For me, no app gets any permission the first time it asks for it. Everything is disabled by default. Especially the access to my location, microphone or camera. None. You need to convince me to the core at the right moment that you deserve this privilege. I prefer veering towards extreme stringency of access to my device.

As more and more connected, data-hungry devices surround us, it is becoming important to instill awareness amongst the populace of the fallouts minor negligence while using these devices can lead to. Not provoke moral panic, but train to be cognizant towards one’s privacy and security. If we ourselves don’t put price on our data, we have no right to expect the organizations to lend respect to something that is a primary and sole fuel to their profits.

Sun, Aug 11, 2019 opinion privacy

Stealing Hours from Sleep

There is no point ignoring sleep - you can’t steal hours from what the sleep deserves. You can be happy for a day because you got some extra hours in your day to work on things you enjoy. Or to relax” by watching some mindless videos that YouTube’s recommendation engines serve you. Or to read those articles you have been adding to your Instapaper queue. Or to binge watch and complete that one season of the show you enjoy on Netflix.

Sure, you can do all this on a late night by stealing some hours from sleep. But it vehemently gets back at you. If not on the very next day, you have to pay back in the week that follows. For days in a row. It is better to let sleep carry on with its routine.

Sun, Aug 11, 2019 thoughts

I went very conservative while setting the reading challenge for myself this year - I have been very poor recently in completing any books. Was pleasing to find am 3 books ahead of schedule already. A routine with less podcasts and a lot more Audible gets the credit.

Thu, Aug 8, 2019 thoughts

After months of neglect, I finally updated my /now page today. There have been too many updates recently. Plus too many things on my mind that I had to put down. Enough that many of my thoughts have missed their chance to be on the archive space. Whatever.

Tue, Aug 6, 2019 update

This is the snapshot of my daily habit tracker for August. I have started with a smaller list — but I want to make sure the task itself doesn’t become a burden.

  • Morning walk/run
  • 100 words published
  • Measure weight
  • Three meals a day
  • Regular sleep routine
Tue, Aug 6, 2019 thoughts journal

The Hidden Costs of Automated Thinking

A brilliant essay at New Yorker on A.I. and intellectual debt, output of an often employed approach to discovery — answers first, explanations later”. I was aware of, but never thought in detail on what would be the implications of letting independent, isolated machine learning models interact freely. This example is indeed eyeopening.

In 2011, a biologist named Michael Eisen found out, from one of his students, that the least-expensive copy of an otherwise unremarkable used book—“The Making of a Fly: The Genetics of Animal Design”—was available on Amazon for $1.7 million, plus $3.99 shipping. The second-cheapest copy cost $2.1 million. The respective sellers were well established, with thousands of positive reviews between them. When Eisen visited the book’s Amazon page several days in a row, he discovered that the prices were increasing continually, in a regular pattern. Seller A’s price was consistently 99.83 per cent that of Seller B; Seller B’s price was reset, every day, to 127.059 per cent of Seller A’s. Eisen surmised that Seller A had a copy of the book, and was seeking to undercut the next-cheapest price. Seller B, meanwhile, didn’t have a copy, and so priced the book higher; if someone purchased it, B could order it, on that customer’s behalf, from A.

Each seller’s presumed strategy was rational. It was the interaction of their algorithms that produced irrational results. The interaction of thousands of machine-learning systems in the wild promises to be much more unpredictable.

Yep, indeed. May be such interactions need more control? May be we have one more thing about AI to worry about?

Much of the timely criticism of artificial intelligence has rightly focussed on the ways in which it can go wrong: it can create or replicate bias; it can make mistakes; it can be put to evil ends. We should also worry, though, about what will happen when A.I. gets it right.

Tue, Aug 6, 2019 links