4,000 Kilometers Through My Own Country – An Engineer’s Viewpoint

5 years ago, I went 4000 Km-ish on motorcycles, trains, planes, and buses through India.
I hadn’t been back to India in over a decade.
If you were to travel my country as an systems engineer, you would be well accustomed to infant mortality, coal skies, lignite coal plants, distillation towers that were unmaintained, power grid failures, medical triage, and how India has become a country that’s unable to cope with its growth in a healthy way because of a lack of access to clean Nuclear energy.
By 5/6, I witnessed the first farmer suicide. Dead bodies still don’t shock me. I’ve seen so many at this point.
At 7, I was making ice cream with rock salt, sugar, and vanilla during power outages.
At 11, my Uncle died from lung cancer.
I wanted to do something about it.
At 14, I supported a corrupt US congressman in the hopes of manipulating US political tectonics to expedite Nuclear policy in India’s favor.
Tom Delay was indicted and now re-elected. He didn’t do anything, he was just trying to lock down the Indian American vote.
At 24, I coughed my way asthmatically through my own country pissed off at the fact that even decades later, we still didn’t have Nuclear energy at the scale that would make a difference.
At 27, I sat depressed as I read the reports of soil where I grew up for periods of time being polluted with high salinity, lead, chromium, nickel, zinc, arsenic and cadmium.
If you ever ask yourself why doesn’t X country have Z.
The answer is almost always primarily —- Energy. Energy is the source code for Nitrogen and Steel, the base chemical feedstocks of progress and scaling. 
It is not religion, or that we are ass-backwards, or that we don’t have the intellectual capital. It is almost always a pure and utter lack of energy.

My Thoughts On Black Lives Matter

Condoleeza Rice taught me something a few years ago. She was blabbing but in there was some gold. She declared that “The story that’s easiest to retell usually wins.”

There are stories that are hard to tell and retell.
The complicated story of what it is to be black in this country is not one that can be easily retold or shared.

There are stories that are easy to tell, retell, and sell.
The story of the common person in the USA being thrown in jail for simple traffic violations is easy to tell.
The story of Big Government versus the common man is far easier to retell and resonates with an idea that Middle America will back more easily.

The story of non-violent drug violations sending people to jail with violent inmates is an easy story to retell.

Why the pitch is relevant: 

It avoids racially divisive context while still having an output that creates more equality for the person of color. The two issues above heavily afflict the minority population in the US, but notice how I avoided mentioning that.

When we think about high efficacy protests with clear and present ROI. It is highly relevant to think of the easiest story to tell that will sell to the largest population.

A Note On the Police: 
If you run the demographics on cops, there’s 1.1M police in the USA. They have brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, and people whom they take care of. Hating on police is likely not an effective strategy given the size and breadth they represent of the population. Especially in parts of the USA where being a cop is a highly respected career choice.

About A Year Ago, I Met Someone Who Saved Millions of Lives

About a year ago, I met someone pretty interesting. I think his story is one worth sharing.
He spent the last 8 years figuring out how to save Indians from roadside disasters after his nephew died in a roadside accident where good Samaritans didn’t step in.
At that time, India did not have forward thinking Good Samaritan laws.
This man spent 8 years…think about that… nearly a decade fighting to issue a hard-reset in one of the world’s most difficult bureaucracies. His name is Piyush Thewari. He’s the founder of SaveLife. 

One of the World’s Addressable Problems: Indian Roadside Death Stats
  • 1M+ people in India have lost their lives to road accidents in the last 10 years.
  • 10% of total global road deaths occur here making India the leader in roadside deaths.
  • In 2013 alone, almost 140,000 people were killed and close to 500,000 were seriously injured or permanently disabled
  • 50%: Number of road crash victims who die of treatable injuries
  • 74% of Bystanders are unlikely to assist a victim of serious injury
  • 88% of Bystanders who are unlikely to assist a victim of serious injury, stated that they were reluctant to help for fear of legal hassles, including repeated police questioning and court appearances.
  • 77% of Bystanders who are unlikely to assist injured victims also stated that hospitals unnecessarily detain Good Samaritans and refuse treatment if money is not paid for treatment.
If you want to read more about him, here it is:

Westerners and Their Negotiation Capabilities

Westerners on the whole are pretty lousy negotiators, not because they’re incapable of being good negotiators, but because the vast majority of them have never truly negotiated a multitude or variety of things outside of a car, house, or salary.
In America, consumers go to the grocery store and prices are static/set/non-negotiable. The negotiation muscle isn’t being worked.
Most of the American books I’ve read on negotiation are a disservice to anyone trying to negotiate prices and consist of pretty hit or miss tactics like quoting an extra high price or never saying a number.
I *think* great negotiation is based on the fear of missing out, urgency, data arbitrage, experience fragmentation, perceived value, perceived notion of competition, a desire to be draconian, existential pain, grit, stoic capability, ROI leverage, acquired philosophical alignment, and non-existential-threatening deception.

The best negotiators I’ve met in the USA have distinctively been 2nd generation Americans/Immigrants and people who sell art/music, but they also workout their negotiation muscles weekly on increasingly larger ticket items.

For low-life-time value deals and low alignment, I know I’ve failed if they’re still smiling at the end.

The Broken Egg Theory

I think grit is a fundamental resource to survive. I have this theory called the “broken egg theory.”
If you help a chicken break out of its egg, it will die. You cannot use a silver spoon crack the egg. The chick has to get its heart rate high enough by itself otherwise it dies.


I think this is true in life too. People who grow up without struggle never experience the joy of cracking the egg.

They go on, cracking the egg, live on a sort of constant life support, never establishing the deep independence and happiness that they could truly achieve. 
I call it the broken-egg theory.

Sounds weird, I guess, but I always appreciate grit in people. I have deep appreciation for people who have had to crack their own egg and develop grit in the process.

Even those with silver spoons, suffer in the end.

Why You Should Write

Most people don’t ever put themselves in a very public position to be challenged.

That’s what writing does.

Without writing, we may go on believing everything we think is true. It’s one thing to discuss an issue and even orally, but your cognition has no permanence it isn’t crystallized like writing is.

I think writing publicly to an audience that can critique us shows us the fragility of our cognition and just how weak we really are mentally.

Writing is a form of spartan training for your brain in a lot of ways. If you’re willing to try nootropics to try to get smarter, you should definitely experiment with writing too.  Try writing and getting it heavily critiqued.

It’s a form of improvement.

Most people would never put themselves in a position to have their cognitive understanding of something challenged by a large group of people.

To get smarter, educate yourself, and educate others, but be open to correction, critique, being challenged, and evidence when it’s presented.

What College Taught Me- Realizations Post Graduation

What College Taught Me- Realizations Post Graduation

tldr: After college, I learned a few lessons about the world, work styles, happiness, persistence, and grit.

I went to Georgia Tech, a difficult engineering school in the Southeastern United States featuring a highly competitive batch of international students. IMHO, the difficulty of a school is proportional to the number of international students.

School Was Hard.

By no means was Georgia Tech easy, trivial, or a cakewalk coming from a US high school education. It gave me persistence that I didn’t know I had. I studied Industrial Engineering & Polymer Engineering. I blogged about the curriculum of Georgia Tech Industrial Engineering here.

I got to work on exciting technologies, meet incredible people, and eventually find other consummate creators. I learned a lot along the way.

Lessons I’ve Learned.

The lessons below continue to guide the way I think about how to treat teammates, being analytical, the best way to make a viable impact, and how I spend my time.

Context Switching Costs are High.

Prior to being out on my own and starting LeanBelts, I was literally working 5 jobs. Each semester I’d take 5 different subjects.

The mental and physical toll of taking several different subjects was huge. I’d gained weight, looked unsightly, and had Al-Pacino bags under my eyes.

After leaving college, I lost weight, felt healthier, and had a lifted mental acuity. It was only after college did I appreciate the high costs of context switching. I also noticed that this high speed switching between subjects and organizational systems had an effect on the LTV(Life Time Value) of the knowledge I was studying).

In short, do not look at life after college under the same lens of self-scrutiny. After college, you should have a greater capability to dive deeper into the things that are meaningful to you. As well, you might find yourself actually enjoying learning in some scenarios.

Retention is Low.

The end result of high switching costs was very little of the knowledge I studied in college was immutable. For the most part, it was forgettable, and I found this to be true for many of the top GPA’- scorers in my class as well.

I noticed that very few of the Engineers who left engineering school will be the real sort of engineers with the skills, chutzpah, guts, and the tenacity to tackle new problems. What’s more shocking is the number of engineers who graduate who probably aren’t able to score at least 50% on the ABET examination.

The best engineers I’ve worked with include Rob Rhinehart and Hunter Scott whom I founded LevelRF with a few years ago, today it is pivoted into Soylent, a major revolution/pivot. Hunter & Rob are both consummate engineers, builders, tinkerers, creators and it’s evident in their projects. They are both undeniably the engineers’ engineer and have ravenous curiosities. (http://hscott.net). It is rare for me to find such high quality engineers.

I found that contingent upon the engineering discipline, the number of engineers worth their weight in engineering skill was surprisingly low.

Clearly, subjective data based on looking through my LinkedIn.

  • ISyE — 1/30
  • ME — 1/25
  • ECE- 1/10

I’m sure engineering schools would be mortified if they were measured by pseudorandom ABET examinations of graduates who have a 3.5 GPA or higher. In other words, the chips are in favor of students who are great managers of time, but potentially awful engineers.

GPA is a false proxy.

Progress of the World is a Function of Technology. To be Relevant, You Must Embrace it.

The sole benefit of being human as opposed to another species is that we are capable of recording and repeating information. This has changed the way we progress as a species.

The schooling curriculum in the USA never adapted to the following realities.

The only constant in technology is change.

The cost of memory:

1950- $10,000/mb
1990- $30/mb
2004- $1/Gb
2011- $0.035/Gb

The cost of Internet Bandwidth:

1999- $1245 / 1000Mbps
2012- $23 / 1000Mbps

Transistor cost:

$222 / 1M transistors (30 years ago)
$0.05/ 1M transistors (Today)

Talk is Cheap. Analysis is Valuable.

In short the above numbers mean that the search for data, storage of it, and recall of it is not worth nearly as much as it used to be.

The ability to comb and analyze data is most valuable.

The source code for the future of humanity is built upon an understanding of math and science.

IMHO, to be relevant, you must understand math, science, communications, and human behavior. It is becoming increasingly difficult to be relevant without these skills.

There’s now a micro-generational gap between people who are as few as 4 years apart. Look at the mobile apps of 26 year olds and 22 year olds. The differences will shock you.

In short, learn a science, and if you struggle to do this, then at the very least obtain scientific competency.

Sleep Schedules are not Humanistic.

Humans didn’t start sleeping 8 hours a day straight until the late 17th century. This pattern of behavior is born out of electricity and the lightbulb.
In other words, don’t be surprised if you don’t hit your peak productivity at the same time as everyone else.

All of us have high performance and low performance modes contingent upon the type of work, rest, and play that we engage in.

Commute Time is a Huge Factor in Work Happiness.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 00.57.51

I can’t underestimate this. Commuting is a grinding waste of time in many cases.

Don’t Waste Time with Doryphores.

In life, you will encounter people who issue non-constructive critiques to your efforts. As soon as you encounter these people, identify the situation, and constrain your communication and listening.

The definition of Doryphore is “a pedantic and annoyingly persistent critic.”

Simply walk away from the table when you encounter one of these pests. This extends to meetings too—- if they waste time, leave. Some companies today have policies that meetings are optional, and you can leave when you feel that they no longer effectively use your time.

Measure of Persistence is Proportional to Low-Performance Mode.

A person’s persistence is best measured by their ability to get over seemingly indomitable tasks and hurdles by sheer will and effort. Grit is directly proportional to the extent to which one is in low-performance mode in a task.

A horrible example: I love Nutella and eat it all the time. Measuring my persistence by the extent to which I eat Nutella would be a false positive.

Greatness is Born of Obsession.

I write about this in more detail here. Many times in the US Education system there’s a lot of emphasis put on ‘diversity’ and the importance of being ‘well rounded.’

This is mostly bullshit. I’m curious to hear opinions and views on this.

Everyone I’ve ever met who is interesting in life pursued their craft with ambitious zeal and sometimes an unhealthy level of it.

What is Power.

People often talk about power and nepotism in Silicon Valley, where I live.

I’ve come to understand that social power is a function of 3 things.

  • The extent of one’s ability to not give a fuck what other people think.
  • The ability to work relentlessly for what you want in life.
  • The ability to call upon people for favors. Likeability isn’t a must, but the ability to call on favors is huge. As well if you’re highly likeable, people will offer to do you favors.

Emotion vs. Logic

The ability to decouple emotion and logic to solve problems is a tough one to have. It’s an evolution in development for many people that may or may never happen.

An Egyptian Chip designer gave me a great analogy.

Your emotion is an animal.
Your logic is an person.
The person rides the animal.

Some people have a wounded tiger of emotion.

This means jostling the tiger or saying something remotely offensive will jostle their emotions and kill the person.

How do you Know if You’ve Reached Them?

To find out if you’d like to work for someone, slap their emotions with a simple phrase, and see if their logic keeps their emotions in check. Drop a line like “Why did you do things that way? That doesn’t look like a good solution.”

The reaction 1 minute, 10 minutes, and 60 minutes after this question is key in understanding how far down the line they are in this evolution of decoupling of emotion vs. logic.