Search

Insight

Make an impact

Wisdom at the top of a mountain

I had my second visit to the top of Mcafee Knob this past weekend and we found a letter guarded by tiny rocks, keeping it in place against the wind and the rain and everything bad in the world. (Given the location of the letter and the precipice there, my first thoughts were…well less enthusiastic…but still). So here goes…

 

Once every so often life provides you with a moment, a moment of clarity. It’s in this moment that you need to be absolutely present and let the calm of just being roll over you. This is what it feels like to watch a sunrise, an unexpected sunrise, take over the horizon, from a vantage point that very few people will ever experience. So when these moments of clarity and calm come, be ready and willing to be present.

 

– Scott Aloway Grouten

[The 22nd day of June 2017]

 

-Akshar Rawal

Humpback Rocks

I’d seen a lot of good pictures of this one. And this time it was a new group I was going with. So, even though the ones I’d already done were AWESOME, I didn’t want to repeat any of them. To my 3 companions, Sean Dyke, Kwan Shin, and Kim Bowman, any hike was going to be new. SO we decided on Humpback Rocks coz I hadn’t been here before. And this was on the 26th of March.

Nothing crazy on the drive up, we just had to take 64 and then Blue Ridge Pkwy and that took us straight to the parking lot. But this time we started at around 8 in the morning from Richmond and I had not yet completed my beauty sleep. But anyways, the parking lot is a bit off from where the trail starts. And the walk from the parking lot to the base of the trail was interesting. There were some peculiar buildings, well…they were rooms/huts rather than buildings, but peculiar still. Clearly abandoned, there was this one that kinda looked like what could have been a bathroom at some point and Sean used that to imprison himself (and then me too, insert racist joke here).

We started the hike. It was going to be fairly short, only a mile one-way. But the elevation, oh the elevation. We had to stop oh so many times on the way and we had used up most of our water by the time we reached the top. We stopped a few times on the way to take a breather, but mostly because of Sean, coz he is not as fit as he looks (not that he looks super fit :D). But it was quite a hike. The elevation gain in the 1 mile of trail is almost 800 ft. So I don’t blame him.

We reach the top after a mostly uneventful hike. But there were soooooo many people up there. I suppose it’s popular coz it’s short and it might also have been so crowded coz the real estate up there is pretty small. Once you reach the top there are 2 rocks that you can set camp on (well not literally). We took the one on the right coz it had more people (more people = better view logic).

The view of the surroundings from there was good at best. But we still hadn’t seen the “humpback” view of the mountain, the view we had gone there to see. It was supposed to be all spiky on the back but we saw none of that. However, it was a really good spot for a “standing on the edge of the world” photo. So we did that and set up camp for a bit, given how exhausted we were from the hike.

We had some food there. Had a long entertaining conversation with this random yet friendly couple thanks to Kwan. Sean played with their dog. It was funny too. The dog had a stick that it would place in front of Sean and as soon as Sean would even move a muscle to pick it up it’d grab it. Sean eventually learnt to trick it by using one had to distract and the other to pick the stick up. So that was an entertaining little show. The dog kept going towards the edge and almost slipping, giving all of us a heart attack a few times.

We then decided to switch rocks. And it was the second one that had the “humpback” view of the mountain. We took a lot of pictures there. Found a bunch of off the road spots to take really good pictures. And I realized that surprisingly not everyone can do a good french model pose as easily (I can , of course :)). This part of the hike is better explained with pictures.

Once we had our fill of taking pictures, we started heading back, took a few detours from the trail on the way back. Sean even fell, but apparently we all missed it. Once back to the parking lot, we all wanted to use the bathroom, BUT IT WAS CLOSED. We could’ve waited until it opened but it was going to open in May and I didn’t want to miss watching the snow melt in the Walmart parking lot. SO…

We had another leg to the journey, but I don’t recall a whole lot from it. So I will write about it if I do end up remembering anything significant. But that was our day at Humpback rocks. Enjoy the pictures!

-Akshar Rawal

Basic Income! The good, the bad and the ugly!

I wrote yesterday about some of the basics of Basic Income. And I promised more. So here it is.

The GOOD!

  • One universal unconditional welfare program instead of the multitude we have today
  • Lower cost of administration as compared to current welfare programs
  • The potential to eradicate poverty
  • With a basic financial backing (to not worry about survival), people are expected to invest in “themselves”. They’ll likely allocate their additional financial resources to pursuing higher studies in areas of interest, work in jobs that interest them.
  • Philippe Van Parijs has argued that has argued that basic income at the highest sustainable level is needed to support real freedom, or the freedom to do whatever one “might want to do.” All people should be free to use the resources of the Earth and the “external assets” people make out of them to do whatever they might want to do. Money is like an access ticket to use those resources, and so to make people equally free to do what they might want to do with the external assets of the world, the government should give each of individual as many such access tickets as possible—that is, the highest sustainable Basic Income.
  • (I’ll let you take that last one in)
  • Some supporters have argued that Basic Income is needed to protect the power to say no, which these supporters argue is essential to an individual’s status of as a free person. If some other group of people controls resources necessary to an individual’s survival, that individual has no reasonable choice other than to do whatever the resource-controlling group demands. Before the establishment of governments and landlords, individuals had direct access to the resources they needed to survive. But today, resources necessary to the production of food, shelter, and clothing have been privatized in such a way that some have gotten a share and others have not. Therefore, this argument goes, the owners of those resources owe compensation back to non-owners, sufficient at least for them to purchase the resources or goods necessary to sustain their basic needs. This redistribution must be unconditional because people can consider themselves free only if they are not forced to spend all their time doing the bidding of others simply to provide basic necessities to themselves and their families. Which to me is freedom in a true sense.

The BAD!

  • FREE MONEY! Who need to work right?
  • Less work = Less tax revenue = Less money to give out as Basic Income = Back to Square one, or worse (The counter-argument being, this would depend on how generous the payment is)
  • What do you think food stamps are most widely used for now-a-days, huh? Well, now everyone gets food stamps.
  • If the traditional welfare schemes are known to create a disincentive for work, how do you think this is going to fare?
  • Preliminary studies have indicated that even though the incentives weren’t permanent, participants showed a reduction in the work ethic

The UGLY!

  • Where do the funds come from?
  • Who manages the funds? What about corrupt officials?
  • How do we EVER settle the debate of whether it’s good or bad? How do we get consensus on getting it approved for universal (or limited to the country at least) use
  • How do we know its going to work without trying it out?
  • What about loopholes in the system that people leverage to obtain fraudulent incomes?

So, while there are a number or open questions yet to be answered and settled, the concept of Basic Income has been gaining traction lately, at least as a limited trial option. A number of visionaries have been citing/supporting the idea including Elon Musk.

To me it most definitely is an interesting concept, one that would likely restore some of the natural balance that has been tampered by capitalism. More information on Wikipedia.

-Akshar Rawal

Equal Income to all, Basic Income that is!

Finland is going to test Universal Basic Income (UBI) or so the news say. Finland is going to be choosing some 2000 people at random, irrespective of their financial or educational backgrounds in the working age group (25-58) to receive $581 each month through the end of 2018.

The idea of UBI is fairly timed, with some of the discussions dating as back as the 18th century (Thomas Paine seems to be the person to bring it up apparently). The idea here is that every citizen receives an equal pay, NO QUESTIONS ASKED! You can still keep your job(s) and get the Basic Income.

What caught my curiosity was HOW, just how would it work? Who’s going to pay for all that money. We’ll it’s all grounded in a theory and we’ll get to that. But before that let’s settle the question of the numbers. As it turns out,

  • Social Justice Ireland estimated that it would be affordable with a 45% tax rate.
  • Charles M.A. Clark estimates that the United States could support a Basic Income large enough to eliminate poverty and continue to fund all current government spending (except that which would be made redundant by the Basic Income) with a flat income tax of just under 39 percent.

Doable, huh! Now, now, before you go on ranting about an even higher tax rate, let’s get the theory straight.

The original theory behind UBI is that nature was created equal for all. Over time, privatization has left more natural resources with a select few. So with a UBI scheme, the “holders” of the resources will, through taxation, share the resources with the rest. UBI will enable anyone and everyone to have the absolute minimum to sustain basic life. Moreover, as more and more jobs start being replaced with automated versions, unemployment might be heading upwards. UBI would reform social security to make it equal for everyone, no discrimination.

Here’s the sequel on the possible consequences, pros and cons of the strategy.

-Akshar Rawal

AI in the works

Guess what I ran into in today? AIExperiments with Google. AI has been the talk of the town for a while. While it has been doing a lot behind the scenes, developers have been providing more and more hands on applications to see how it works, what it “sees”. AIExperiments is just that. I’ve only played around with Quick, Draw!. But it really gives you a feel for how AI does what it does. Aaaannnnnd there goes my evening.

Another project that Google made public recently was an AI system that created its own encryption algorithm. Basically, it consisted of three systems. System A would try to get an encrypted message across to system B. System E would intercept the message and try to understand /decrypt it. A would need to modify its encryption algorithm until E could not understand what it was trying to say. Now given that the communication only involved a 16 bit message and that it took 15,000 messages for A to be able to send the message with E able to guess 50% of the message (which is as good as flipping the coin on what each bit could be), nevertheless, the applications of such a system could be tremendous. More @ Wired

And that was demonstrated by another project that they released shortly after. A system creating it’s own language. To translate text from Portuguese to Spanish, the AI was taught to use the Portuguese to English translation and then translate the English phrase to Spanish. Over time, the AI learned to translate Portuguese directly to Spanish without any intermediate English translation. Meaning, the system learned to represent the concepts it uses to translate between other languages. More on Research @ Google.

A core part of AI is feedback. If it makes a decision, it needs to know whether or not it was right. It can then use this feedback to improve on its next decision because it has a little more idea about what is “expected”. So while AIExperiements might be “experiments”, ideas like this can be used to crowd-source information that can be used by AI systems to better our everyday lives.

Also, while you’re at it, there some other cool experiments folks have built for Chrome, Android and Arts & Culture. And what’s more, you can contribute too if you can build something along those lines.

-Akshar Rawal

 

There’s a reason for everything

Did you know that you can tell whether the next exit is going to be on the right or the left WITHOUT reading the “LEFT EXIT” sign? Just look where the exit number is relative to the exit destination sign.

 

Or how about the prescription bottle? Isn’t the child lock the worst? It wasn’t designed to make your life ****. They always had a plan. All you have to do is turn the cap upside down. It is threaded on the outside to be used as a normal cap.

 

Checkout the post over at Cracked for more hidden design features in everyday life objects.

 

-Akshar Rawal

Space travel posters for the taking

NASA’s giving away space travel posters (digital versions…for downloads only). Check’em out @ thedrive.

-Akshar Rawal

Sesame credit…Who’s in?

Credit score is too … 20th Century. How about a new score? What if you could get the score to decide on the benefits you’d get. So you missed a payment, so what? Why should my future credit-worthiness be judged based on just this one miss, right? So how about we include more factors that would decide how you are treated, in a more real-world scenario, more like how your friends treat you. So what would we need? How about:

– What kinds of people you hang out with (from social networks)

– The kind of items you buy online (from the million e-commerce sites you visit)

– Your browsing data (if that isn’t already tracked all over the place)

– Basically any activity that you do online

AND LET’S GET THIS ALL OVER TO THE GOVERNMENT

 

Interested? Sounds awesome, right? Why wouldn’t you want to let the government judge you based on your online behavior? Let’s get onboard…no? Not interested?

 

Well if you are a citizen of a “certain” country (no names here, search for sesame credit), you won’t have a choice by 2020. This “certain” government has partnered with Alibaba.com and Tencent to track it’s citizens across their online footprint, from social networks to their online purchasing patterns. Users will be rated on their “patriotic” selves. What this translates to is, to level up, do, see, buy, take part in only what is approved by the government. Or else, your score goes down.

 

Well if that doesn’t scare you, here’s more. Your friends, people you hang out with, people you interact with impact your score. So, if you hang out with people that have a low score, your own score is weighed down. AND THEY SHOW YOU WHO’S BRINGING THE SCORE DOWN. All you have to do then, is get rid of that person from your life and you’re all set. Fascinating, isn’t it?

 

Early adopters, the people who already consider themselves as patriotic, have already started to embrace this new credit system. It’s a gamified version of life. I don’t know about you but I’d be terrified of such a system. I’d love to have a discussion on where things might end up 10 years, 50 years or 100 years down the line, if such a system was actually put into place. I’d like to see where other people see this going and how, if at all, they can survive hiding from such a system (basically just go offline, I guess). There’s all these sci-fi movies and series that portray outlaws in a highly regulated system (think firefly, star wars). What would constitute an outlaw in this scenario and how would they survive? Reply below and we can have a conversation going .

 

(Credits: Extra Credits)

-Akshar Rawal

Quote for Week 4 Feb ’16

Love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑