Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Ghost Alarm

The arrival of spring signals the arrival of pollen. To me, it means allergies. I am allergic to tree pollen and avoid going out during pollen heavy days. This past weekend was nice and sunny, and we thought of taking the kids out to play in the park.  However with the air heavy on pollen I had to stay back while my wife and kids went out. With the kids out I sat down to watch a science fiction horror movie. Over the course of the weekend, I ended up watching 3 horror movies, 2 of which were recommendation based on my previous watch item.

My allergies were acting up by the time I reached home from office yesterday (Monday). I took an allergy medication before going to bed, which as a side effect causes marked drowsiness. The medication helped me breathe easy and I was asleep soon.

I was woken by the sound of an alarm this morning. The sound was not defying to get me out of the bed, but was enough to wake me up. I looked around and it was still dark. There was heaviness in my head due to the allergy medication but that did not bother me as much as the alarm did. The alarm bothered me because there is no clock in our home which makes that particular sound. So where was this sound coming from? I looked around in the dark but could not make out anything. The alarm suddenly stopped sounding. I thought maybe it from our neighbors’ house and went back to sleep. I was woken up again with that same alarm sound and this time too it was still dark and no sign of where that sound was coming from. I thought I was dreaming and rubbed my eyes but I could feel my hands and face. So I was definitely not dreaming. The alarm sound stopped again and I quickly pulled the blanket over my head and tried to sleep. It was complete silence but I could not sleep this time. That alarm sound however faint it was, felt sinister.

I was trying to put my thoughts to rest when that alarm started again. I sat up on the bed and looked around. It was dark and nothing was moving. There was suddenly a sound of someone running which came from the living room, but I recognized that sound. It is from the dog which stays in the house above us. But what if that sound was not of that dog but actually came from within our house? I thought of getting out of the bed when the alarm stopped again. I wondered what to do next when I noticed a faint white light at the other end of the room. Just like that alarm, the light went on and off maybe 2-3 times. Was this some kind of a game? What was happening? At some point both the alarm and the light stopped; and the whole room was quiet and dark again. I quickly went back to bed and pulled the blanket over my head. All this was new and had never happened to me. In a moment every scary scene from each of those horror movies played through my mind.  Was my blanket getting pulled? Am I hanging in the air as they show in the movies? Was that a ghost standing at the corner? I tried to tell myself I don’t believe in ghosts and all this was just a bad dream. I had started to calm my mind when I suddenly heard a sound and felt like someone was standing right next to me and I could feel his breathing. It sent shivers down my spine. I lay still on the bed with the blanket over my head. The scariest scenes from the horror movie were now replaying in my head.

This is not me; I told myself. I don’t believe in ghosts and a horror movie cannot scare me. I pulled the blanket off and stared in the dark. There was no one next to me. I could almost hear my heart beating. I am better than this; I told myself. I got off the bed. The air from the AC duct hit my head; a sign of relief. Suddenly I saw the same white light at the corner. I went to check and it was my cell phone. I had put my cell phone on silent mode and face down when I slept and it glowed every time there was a message. I put the phone face down again and went into the living room. There was no one there. I switched on the light and looked at the front door and the porch door. Everything seemed fine. I was about to switch off the light when that alarm sounded again. It was loud and seemed to come from the play room. My kids use the play room to play but sleep in their own room. So no one should be in the play room yet there was a sound. The door of the playroom was closed. I slowly opened the playroom door and switched on the light. There were toys scattered but no one in the room. The alarm sounded louder and closer now. I looked in the direction of the alarm and there was a bag.

It suddenly occurred to me what might be making that sound. My wife had brought a watch as a gift for someone; maybe it was that watch alarm sounding off. I tore the wrapping paper and pulled that watch out. The watch had different alarm modes and it was indeed set to go off at 2:48 AM on Tuesday, with a 10 sec snooze mode. So this was the problem. Today being Tuesday the alarm went off at 2:48 AM and it snoozed every 10 seconds. I fiddled with the watch for some time but was unable to switch off the alarm. The only option left was to go through the user manual. I patiently went through the user manual and finally at around 3 AM this morning I was able to switch off the watch alarm putting an end to that ghostly sound.


~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The humbling experience


I recently attended a meeting of a small group of technology and domain experts. The meeting was to focus on a problem statement and dissect it under different technology and domain lenses. Each person was from a different field and bought a unique expertise to the table. It was evident they had spent years in their focus area assimilating and growing their knowledge. Very quickly I had realized ‘expert’ was too modest a noun to describe them. The meeting which had started as an amazing experience had soon turned into a humbling experience for me.

I have been thinking about that experience for the last few days and seem to have found a correlation between that meeting and Expert systems/Artificial intelligence-Machine learning (AL-ML) system. That meeting to me resembled an expert system building pattern where experts pour their knowledge and experience to solve a complex problem.

As I thought more, my mind started drawing random parallels between that meeting and expert systems and generally wandered into the direction of the expert systems. Every expert system (or an AI-ML system) when introduced, first sparks a sense of bewilderment. It is approached with a set of presumptions and questions, bordering disdain. As the expert system proves and grows with promise, the disdain soon turns into an admiration for the expert system. The user starts appreciating the system and its potential. Often the admiration might even give way to distrust. A distrust might arise from a question of job security or individual well being or even from a question of ultimate survival. Take the example of Self-driving cars; they were initially struck down as a work of fiction. But as the self-driving promise held ground, it turned into an admiration. Distrust too found way in the hearts of the car enthusiasts who hated the very thought of sitting in the back seat and not at the wheel.  Isn’t it a similar pattern for most AI-ML systems, maybe with only slight variations? But one stand out feature among all these systems is the sense of humbleness that they evolve. Once you accept and understand the power of expert systems, they undeniably lead to a sense of humbleness. The user is humbled at the sheer talent of these systems.

As my mind searched for parallels, some things started falling out - the non-parallels. The non-parallels in terms of human emotions, or spontaneous thoughts, or even simple non-verbal expressions. Are there parallels to these? Even two humans can rarely experience the same levels of emotion. Any level of admiration, distrust or even humbleness that the AI-ML systems evoke, cannot replace these simple non-parallels. It is these subtle non-parallels that defines us as humans, and separates us humans from the AI-ML systems.  Maybe at some point in the future when the AI-ML systems have significantly evolved, they too might hit a point of humbleness. The humbleness that might arise in them from the fact that non-parallels exit between them and the humans.

~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The White Blanket

We had record snow of almost 8 to 10 inches in our city this week. It snowed nearly the entire day covering the streets, lawns and trees like a thick white carpet. It was a beautiful sight, to see everything white and glowing. But that sight was short lived. The walk ways were quickly cleared and people thronged the lawns to play in the snow. The beautiful snow carpet was trampled and almost destroyed. The temperature increased today and all snow melted. I am now waiting for the next snow.

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The lawns and streets looked carpeted white;
With snow stuffed trees on the sides glowing bright.
The snow had covered every inch of the land;
Eclipsing the earth at the stroke of its wand.

The men soon arrived with shovels and salt;
To clear the snow and bring its spread to a halt.
Children and families swooped to capture the enthralling sight;
Trampling the snow which was laid picture perfect right.

The earth showed again as the day grew old;
Bursting with colors as the snow started to unfold.
Despite all colors the earth missed its glow.
Waiting to be painted with a fresh coat of snow.



~Narendra V Joshi

Friday, November 17, 2017

The price of 1 smiley

We love to shop at a particular warehouse chain of which I am a member for several years now. If we need something and it is available at that place, we buy it; no cross shopping, no price comparisons and no second thoughts. I love this warehouse to a point where if I have nothing to do, the first thought that comes to my mind is to take a stroll at this place. My wife and daughter are not so much of a fan, but my 3 year old son seems to like going to this warehouse. The attraction for him seems to be the smileys that the associates draw for him on the sales receipt. He almost snatches the receipt from us and rushes to the store exit to get a smiley on it.

I was looking for something a few days back and had called the warehouse location I frequent, to check if they had it in stock. I was told, that location had ran out of stock and was directed to a different location. My wife and daughter stayed back, and only my son and I went to the other location. I found what I was looking for and bought it. My son promptly took the sales receipt from me and handed it over to the associate at the exit. The associate checked the items and gave back the receipt without drawing a smiley. My son took that receipt and turned it over looking for the smiley. He handed the receipt back to the associate, but the associate gave it back saying it was reviewed. My son started crying that there is no smiley on the receipt. There were not many people in the line behind me and so I requested the associate to put a smiley on that receipt for my son. The associate shook his head and said he was busy.

I remember my daughter used to look for smileys on the receipt when she was little. We have been to several locations of this warehouse across the country and in a rare instance when the associate forgets to draw a smiley, they would always put it once the kid requests for it. It only takes a few seconds to draw a smiley. I have seen associates draw a smiley every time a kid hands them the receipt, however long the exit line is. This is the first time I have seen an associate return the receipt to a kid without putting the smiley even after been requested. I tried to console my son as we walked back to the car but he did not stop crying. Once I put him into the car seat I drew a smiley on the receipt and give it to him. He stopped crying only after seeing that smiley.

I had forgotten about that incident until this last weekend when I told my family that we will drive to this warehouse. My son heard me and said he did not want to come as there is no smiley. I was surprised and ignored at first, but he did not budge. He was clear he will not come and we finally decided not to go.

I have a membership at a large online retailer. I also have membership with 2 different traditional warehouse chains. In addition, I have a membership with a traditional bookstore. I prefer a brick and mortar store over an online retailer, unless I am in a hurry, or there is an extremely good deal online. I have an e-book reader but I prefer buying books at the traditional book store, unless I specifically need an e-book. My reason for this preference is that, the way the online retailers are growing, my kids might not have anything called a mall or a brick and mortar store by the time they grow up. I have nothing against the online retailers, but I am ok spending a few $ more at a brick and mortar shop just to continue seeing them around.  

I did a little thinking about the smiley incident and my shopping preference. A traditional store can provide a personal experience to the shoppers which is not possible in online shopping. This I think is the single biggest advantage they have to attract kids, the next generation shoppers, and addict them with shopping at a traditional store. Hooking the next generation to a brick and mortar store is the only way traditional stores can ensure survival. And, scribbling a smiley on the sales receipt for a kid is a great easy way to attract future shoppers.

Since we did not go to the warehouse last week, I bought the items at the online retailer and they were delivered in 2 days. I actually saved money and time doing so. If it continues like this, I think I may cancel my membership at all these traditional stores and shift to a complete online shopping.  I know I will save money doing so; but these brick and mortar stores will lose 1 current customer and a potential future customer. And all this for 1 smiley, or lack of it. Wonder what is the price of 1 smiley?

 

~Narendra V Joshi
 
 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The tunnel of life


There was eagerness and fright in equal parts;
As the kids inched into the school wearing out their hearts.
Nudged by their parents to take a bold forward step;
Into the classroom to their teachers welcoming prep.

It was the parents who struggled to let their children go;
Clinching their hand as they tread their kids tow.
Futile they knew, yet struggled to break that bond;
But it was time for kids to see the world, family and parents beyond.

Our schooling system I think, is an inevitable trap;
Where futures are chalked on preset map.
Our birth on earth and the walk into school themselves are a tapering path;
The education degrees and careers are just a narrow aftermath.



~Narendra V Joshi

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My son started going to school this week. It was a big day for him and more so for my wife and me. We went to drop him at the school on his first day and this poem is about the thoughts I had about the kids, the parents and our school system in general.

Of all the planets in this universe we are born in this solar system, on this earth, in a specific city, go to a specific school, get degrees and create a specific career. From the moment we are born, our life passes through a broad set of ‘universal’ possibilities to a narrower path, down through a funnel finally converging to the point of final rest.

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Learning with kids

It’s amazing how quickly kids grow up. What’s really funny is that I realize my kids are no more those tiny cuties, when we go to the shoe store every other month because they have outgrown their shoes; Or when we order pizza home and I realize I had to order a bigger pizza or an additional pizza compared to the previous order. J

I think the best part with kids is when they ask questions and I have to research to give an answer. While I feel proud, it drives home the fact that kids entering our lives is not a time to teach, but a time to learn and relive our lives.

This poem is for my kiddos who have given me a new opportunity to learn.


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It still seems yesterday they came into our lives;
Years have rolled they remain the twinkle of our eyes.
Deep inside they are still those cute bundles of bliss;
Until I pause to wonder when did they grow and how did I miss.

The time together has been a joyful ride;
With teachings and learning of equal stride.
Often their questions ignite our thoughts;
Making us proud of our amazing mascots.

Again as I think, it might just be every parents dream;
To see their kids in adept gleam.
The arrival of a child heralds a subtle truth;
It’s time for parents to learn, and relive their youth. 


~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Can humans really have a peanut sized brain?

In my personal opinion, maybe years from now, YES, humans may end up with a peanut sized brain.

I had posted my thoughts on Artificial Intelligence in my previous blog post. In an extremely subdued way, I had focused on the economic aspects of AI particularly in the areas of employment in that post. Even after several weeks of that post, I have still been thinking about the topic of AI. My current thoughts have been on the advancements in the field of Internet of Things (IOT), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their effects on humans as ‘beings’.

Every advancement throughout the human history has been logically/technically next step over the previous way. If something was done in one way, the advancement was to do it in a better way or a newer efficient way to achieve the same thing. Most advancements have been excellent and much needed; bestowing humans with luxuries their previous generations had not seen. However I think every advancement also took away something from that generation of humans. In most cases that adverse side effect of advancement took its toll on the knowledge, or a process or just the general way of life. For instance, people mostly forgot how to read latitudes and longitudes or even navigate looking at the stars, after the advent of GPS. As cell phone use increased, remembering 8-10 phone numbers became a big thing. Starting a fire rubbing stones which was once a part of daily life is now limited to museums and end of the world survival lessons.

Extending this thought of side effects of technology to humans as ‘beings’, I think technology advancements will have a direct impact on the human brain. As we continue to see advancements in the fields of IOT, AI and ML, I think most people will start using their brains less and less. Computers and AI algorithms will continue to learn and improve to ensure they serve their human masters well; while humans will use their brain less and depend on the AI algorithms more. Truly speaking isn’t that the real reason for AI? To take away the ‘human’ element to maximize safety and efficiency? However, going at this rate I think humans will very soon reach a point where most of us will use our brains primarily (or should I say ‘Only’?) for watching TV, using cell phones, eating, sleeping and such basic activities. Machines will do all the heavy lifting ensuring humans do not stress their brain.


Similar to how a Giraffe got a long neck, I think the human brain will slowly shrink and might become a ‘vestigial’ organ. A vestigial organ as per the dictionary, is an organ which had a use once but has lost its use now.  So a human brain might, in my opinion become more like eyebrow or appendix, a vestigial organ. I do not think humans will end up brainless as we will continue to use our brain for basic needs, but I think as the usage of the brain reduces maybe our brain will shrink in size. If our brain is the size of 2 apples today, maybe it will reduce to the size of 1 apple and gradually to the size of a walnut. Over the next several centuries or millennia’s our brain might eventually reduce to the size of a peanut.

~Narendra V Joshi