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.


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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My ‘Artificial Intelligence’ dilemma

My daughter came back from the school the other day and asked me if my father and his father also used to work on computers. I think it was related to some activity they were working on in the school. I explained to her what my father and my grandfather did for a living, which by the way, was not computers.  As I went further in my explanation she seemed surprised and amazed that back in the ‘olden’ days, ‘people’ used to do things and not computers.

I could not get over my own thoughts even long after my daughter had stepped off once she had found her answers. I was intrigued by the thoughts of my childhood. There were not many devices or machines or cell phone apps to do things. Most chores had to be done manually. The most important point, in my opinion, was that back in the ‘olden days’ people had to ‘know’ how to ‘do’ things; unlike today, where people have to ‘know’ how to ‘use’ things. A finance person back then had to write up a journal, a ledger, a trial balance to get to the balance sheet. Today all that a finance person has to do is provide raw data to a software which throws out a balance sheet. Teachers are now ‘virtual’ and ‘online’; while signal lights, cameras and radars are the new age traffic cops. I wonder how many bankers now actually know how to write a balance sheet or how many students know how to write a sick leave letter or how many industrial workers know how to work on lathes and milling machines.

Slowly my thoughts strayed into the world of ‘Artificial intelligence’ (AI), the supposedly next big revolution. With the advancement in the areas of machine learning, self-healing, self - cloning-and-shut down; things are no more just programmatically done. They are now programmatically discovered, built, advanced, cloned, rebuilt and even destroyed. Humans are no more needed in many of the processes. Self-driving cars and trucks are replacing human drivers while ATM’s and teller-bots are replacing banking staff. Robots are replacing human workers in industries, in hospitals and even in armed forces. Maybe 20 years from now, people will have their own robots which will work on their behalf. Maybe ‘my’ robot might take my place as a programmer and program on my behalf; while a ‘farmers’ robot might do farming on behalf of its farmer owner and a ‘lawyers’ robot might argue in the court on behalf of its lawyer owner.

The more I thought about the possibilities of AI, the more endless that list seemed to me. I was amused, fascinated, intrigued, and also terrified at my own thoughts. The opportunities seemed limitless.

As I thought through, one question came up often and has remained unanswered in my head. Assuming that the intelligent humans will get into the task of building even powerful AI systems, what job will an average human do, say 20 years from now? Going by the rate of growth in the field of AI, most jobs that average humans do today, might be done by ‘AI-Bots’ in future. So what will a regular guy like me do?

On a lighter note -
I feel there is 1 job which cannot be take over even by the best AI-bots. Throughout the human history, there has almost always been 1 kind of people who have made their presence felt in almost every culture, in almost every civilization and in almost every country – ‘the politicians’. I think politics is one safe career that the next generation average humans should think about until the intelligent folks come up with something that the average folks can look into.

~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The quest for the eluding happiness

We received a huge cardboard box for a shipment we had ordered online. The box was taller than my son, and we actually had trouble getting it through our door due to its wide width. Both my kids were excited looking at that huge box.

I got the box inside and emptied its contents. I was thinking of flattening the box and throw it out, when my daughter asked me if she could play with it. It was much wider than her and was almost at her shoulder height. We removed the sticky tape and cut a part of the opening before my daughter pushed the box to her room.

We had our friends with their 2 kids over at our place that day. All 4 kids were soon playing with the box. We could hear them laugh and shout. The box which I was planning to flatten and throw out had now become their doll house. My friend’s wife had helped them cut a square on one side and a circle on the other side, and those were the windows to the doll house. The kids had used the circle cut out to write their names on it. So it was no more just a box, it was the house of the kids. Looking at them engrossed with that box, I decided to wait for them to tire and throw out the box later once they were done with it.

Their interest with that box did not lessen one bit. I saw more improvements to the box over the next few days. They pasted stickers and drew images. They arranged their dolls and toy cars inside. The doll house now had a kitchen, a bedroom and a TV room. They had tied a thread with a small strip at the end and called it the doll house elevator.

In short, they had built a new world using that throw away box.

As I watched them enthralled with the box, I couldn’t stop myself drawing comparisons with us adults. The kids had made a world out of that cardboard box which I would have otherwise thrown out. We adults are not satisfied even when the world is given to us. If we have a 2 bedroom house, we desire a castle. If we are given the world, we desire the universe. The desire never really stops.

It’s just amazing how much we can learn from the kids. Yet, rather than learning from them, we want to teach them. We want them to go to school and learn from the adults to be happy. To me, it seems our education system is designed with the sole end goal of teaching us make money with the assumption that money will keep us happy. But the stark reality we miss is that, the kids are happier than we adults.

As I thought through all this, at some point my adult ego took over and justified the schooling system, the grades, the certifications, the money and that eluding happiness. As that ego hastened its grip, I no more could see the happiness which they already had. Just as every parent, I wanted my kids to go to school, focus on their grades so that they learn to make money to reach that mysterious happiness which is supposed to be waiting somewhere.

~Narendra V Joshi

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A giant leap in learning parenting

We had been to a picnic last week. It was a nature trail with different adventure activities for big kids and adults. My daughter wanted to do the rope way activity but we weren’t sure if she would be allowed given the age and height restrictions for the rope way. Once we were there we were told she had just the exact minimum height and that required an adult to accompany her. So I signed up with my daughter for the rope way activity.

The activity is spread over a wide area with metal cables and ropes connecting tree to tree. The cables were maybe about 15 to 20 feet above the ground, and once up, the only places where we could comfortably stand were the wooden planks which circled the strong tree branches. We had to put on a safety harness which ran from shoulder to waist. We had 2 safety belts one end of each tied to the harness and the other end had a special hook which we would latch to the metal cables as we moved along. We were given a demo and instructions and I was asked to follow my daughter so that I could help her if required. Once we were up, we were pretty much on our own unless we called for help.

We choose a path which was completely empty. Each section between the trees had different types of hanging planks and seem to require an increasing skill. We made through each of the section and finally came to a tree which had only 2 metal cables connecting to the next tree. The next tree was about 20 feet away. The 2 metal cables were one above the other with a gap of maybe 4 feet. Essentially it was a tight rope walk with our safety belts latched to the top metal cable. My daughter asked me if she can go and I told her to go ahead. I helped her latch the safety belts to the top metal cable and guided her to walk on the lower metal cable. She had to stretch and hold the top cable and started walking on the lower metal cable which was about 15-20 feet above the ground.

When she had walked for about 5 feet, I suddenly realized what I had put her to. She was actually walking on a cable which was maybe 20mm (2 cm) in diameter holding a similar cable over her head. The 2 safety belts were latched but they were not for supporting her. They would only hold her if God forbid she slipped. I almost froze thinking about it. My entire life flashed in front of me at that moment; the first time I held her in the hospital when she was born, the time I walked her to school,.… I was praying as I watched her every step on that cable. Once in a while she would ask me if she was doing alright and I had to gather courage to even sound normal and tell her she was doing great. A small crowd had gathered below watching her as she walked on the cable. She finally reached the other tree and I heaved a relief thanking God for ensuring she did not miss a step.

It has been almost 5 days but I am still not able to get past that day. The steps she took as she walked still flashes in front of my eyes. I have been asking one question to myself – How did my 7 year old walk on a cable 20 feet above the ground? She did not walk because she had done it earlier or because she knew how to do it.

The only possible answer I have is – She had walked because no one told her she could not do it.

As I think about this answer, maybe, if there is anything stopping our kids from achieving what they dream, its parents like me. How many times haven’t I stopped my kids from doing something just because I have not done it or someone had told me not to do it? I still sometimes feel it was foolishness of me, but if I had stopped her that day, maybe she would never have found courage to do what she did. Kids stop not because they cannot do something but because someone tells them they cannot do it.

This has been probably the biggest parenting lesson I have learnt.
PS – I followed my daughter and walked on that cable holding the top cable, exactly how my daughter had done. I know I had not walked on that cable for the thrill of it. I had walked on that cable only because all I wanted to do at that moment was to hold my daughter.  

~Narendra V Joshi

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Mirror of deeds

My daughter celebrated her birthday last week. Her birthday was something she had been eagerly waiting for. More than the cake and the gifts, she was excited to tell everyone her new age J. She used to add up her age even before she actually celebrated her birthday. I used to be like her when I was a kid, waiting for birthdays to tell my new age. But at some point, the interest in looking forward for my birthday to celebrate a new age diminished.

The world is new and there is so much to be see.
To experience and grow what they choose to be.
Yet of all, growing up fast seems their only wish,
Bumping up their age like some race to finish.

When in the middle age you feel you are growing fast,
The world is the same and you should slow down to last.
Lowering the age might help only a bit,
But growing with the age takes a long grit.

Old age I am told is a different ball game.
When you know life is not just name and fame.
And age is a number to your destiny it leads,
For life is a mirror of your own deeds.

~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Learning management through skating

I enrolled my kid into a skating class last month and she has so far been having a good time learning to skate. After watching her enjoy the skating I finally braved myself to enroll into the classes. For me, it has so far mostly been a painful process but with a lot of learning and unlearning. For the unlearning part, skating is not as easy as the movies show. Every fall is painful…believe me. As for the learning part, other than the skating itself, I found an unexpected learning subject through the skating lessons – Management.

Here are my 5 skating lessons (and my management learning's through them) -

1)      Lesson 1 - Everything is not about health (or Money) – The first question my friends asked me was if skating is a good exercise and if it will help them lose weight. I had no clue. So I told my friends to think skating as entertainment rather than as exercise. If watching TV or even sleeping can burn calories, maybe skating burns calories too. Like in Management, money should not be the only expectation. Learning, and the satisfaction of building something is also equally important.

2)      Lesson 2 - Skating (and Management) is all about flair, and grace – Both Skating and Management start with struggle. Struggle to be brave, to learn, to keep inline. But once you move up, it’s all about achieving the balance and maintaining the balance as you move ahead. It’s how gracefully you skate (or Manage) and go along with others.

3)      Lesson 3 - Know who does what in the system – In skating, the head thinks (see, processes…) while the upper body helps a bit in turning but mostly sweats. It’s the hip which guides and controls and takes the hit when you fall, while the legs do the skating.

In Management too, the head thinks (sees, talks, plans….) while the upper management mostly talks and sweats for nothing. It’s the middle management which does all the steering and balancing taking blame as well, while the worker takes direction. Remember, the salary structure follows a descending pattern from the head down. Look closely and you will notice the sour spot (or sweet spot; depending on how you look at it) - Upper management - High salary, all talk and sweat for nothing. Know those sour/sweet traps as you choose your career.

4)      Lesson 4 - Watch and learn but don’t get overexcited – The most important part of skating, in my opinion, is to watch and learn. Watching others skate teaches you a lot of tricks because not everything is in the books. But look out for the trap. Skating looks easy when you see those kids skate. It’s the same in management too. Don’t get excited when you see people reach plum posts or when your friends race ahead. Remember, everyone has a different skill. Believe in your skills. You work on your plan at your pace.

5)     Lesson 5 - If you fall, fall with grace. But it’s important to remember, not all fall is because of you – An important lesson in skating is how to stop or slow down and how to fall. If you cannot avoid a fall, you are asked to bend your knees and fall back on your hips (butt) with hands up. Avoid falling on knees or landing on your hands. In simple words; fall with grace! Management too is similar. Use your head wisely and balance delicately to avoid a fall. But if you cannot avoid a fall, fall with grace; and try to be up and running quickly.

The most important of the fall lessons I learnt, is that not all fall is because of you. In one of the class, I fell 3 times at the same spot for the same reason. The first two times, I felt it’s because of my lack of skill. But when I fell the 3rd time (I hurt myself really bad) the coach asked me to step out of the ring to check my skate. Seems the wheels on my right leg were tight compared to my left leg. So this made my left skate go faster than my right skate leading me to the fall. In management too, even if you are doing fine, you might fall because of market forces or external changes. So don’t always blame yourself. Learn to fall with grace and get back on feet quickly.

~Narendra V Joshi