Excursions by Amit Gawande

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

Black coffee or a green tea - what would sit next to me as I get started on my next project? Uhmm … nah. Got to be the good old regular chai! ✍🏽

Mon, Aug 5, 2019 thoughts

I’m seriously considering buying an instant camera — thought of having an analog note of a memory is genuinely appealing. However, I do wonder what am I signing up for? Would it stay locked in a drawer somewhere? What should I even look out for if I do decide to take the leap?

Sat, Aug 3, 2019 thoughts

The Trouble with Emoji

Written languages based on alphabets are one of the great human accomplishments. (…) when I write the word human” you can fill in what you imagine a human to look like. The word itself carries some fundamental attributes of being a human but the rest is intentionally underspecified. This allows us to use a single word that applies independent of gender, nationality, race, clothing, etc. That is the power of language based on alphabets, because the letters themselves carry no meaning. Even the meaning of a word can evolve over time. For example, the word couple” at one point might have meant a male-female couple but is now used to describe any two people who are paired.

A thoughtful essay, but I completely disagree. There is an innate assumption here that everyone can read and write English alphabet. It is, in reality, not the case. There are tons of alphabets across nations and regions. In India itself, there are 11 alphabets. My mom can fluently read and write Devanagari, but that is not the case with English alphabets.

Emoji cross the confines of regions - primarily because it is visual. Is it perfect? Of course, not — we have managed to mess up the standards in implementation across platforms.

However, at least, I can send my mom a smile” emoji without spelling it out in Devanagari. It was the first thing that lent her confidence to start using smartphones, way before Devanagari support was even introduced.

Fri, Aug 2, 2019 thoughts

A couple of my colleagues have been debating on since how long the dinosaurs have been extinct — one claims it was 200 years. Another says 2000 years. And am wondering who should I correct first? Or should I even correct anyone? Because I think it is completely meaningless.

Fri, Aug 2, 2019 thoughts

Given a choice, would you prefer a prepaid unlimited plan for something or pay as you use? More things I review recently — mobile data plans, cable, broadband — I realize pay-as-you-use end up being costlier. I do not understand the business sense behind this.

Mon, Jul 29, 2019 thoughts

I came across an interesting project - rwtxt - which is now serving the ideas subdomain of my website. I was, since long, in search of a simple writing pad to capture quick thoughts - light enough to be accessible from mobile. This fits the bill, so in trial mode now. (h/t @eli)

Sat, Jul 27, 2019 thoughts