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Category “notes”

Strategic Time

We often think of quantities in a linear way. We know that a thousand millimetres go into a metre, and that a thousand kilograms go into a single ton. We know that a ten-by-ten centimetre square equals one hundred square centimetres, and that when we add ten centimetres of height, you get one thousand cubic centimetres, or one litre.

We often apply this logic elsewhere in our lives. We think expensive products are superior, that bigger engines make cars faster, that more time spend at work means more productivity. We think that wealth means success, and that success means happiness.

But while time, money, distance, and other resources increase in a linear way, their values often don’t. This principle was introduced to me by Ross Brawn, a former team principle in Formula One.

Formula One is a good metaphor, because at first glance it seems like a linear challenge. The winning team has the fastest car, which is the one that travels a set distance within the least amount of time.

This challenge is set within regulations, stating that for instance, the wings on the car can’t exceed certain measurements, and that the engine capacity can’t be more than 1.6 litres. But teams have plenty of variables left to achieve time reduction.

And you could argue — following the linear logic — that all time reductions have the same effect, and that it doesn’t matter whether you reduce the total race time by one second through aerodynamics or mechanical grip.

But in the book ‘Total Competition’, which he co-authored with Adam Parr, Brawn highlighted the importance of time gained during pitstops over other time gains.

Strategic timeDuring races, cars enter the pitlane to be fitted with new tyres, and once on fresh rubber they rejoin the track, often neck-and-neck with competitors, coming out narrowly ahead or narrowly behind.

While half a second reduced from total race duration might not make a huge difference, half a second gained during these pitstops can be decisive. Brawn thus refers to this time as ‘strategic time’.

The principle is interesting, because the value of this time is higher than the same amount gained elsewhere. It’s non-linear value to something as linear as time.

This asymmetry also applies off the racetrack, and we see it happen often. Some beers sell well, not because of their taste, but simply because they have a quirky name. Some movie reel in profits, not because of the quality of the writers, but because a famous actor plays in it.

Applying this to life clarifies how, when meeting new people, first impressions are more valuable than other impressions. It clarifies how, when writing an essay, the conclusion is valued over other chapters. And the principle also clarifies how, when giving a presentation you’ve worked on for days on, arriving just ten minutes earlier allows you to check to see if the screen and sound works, instead of fumbling during your presentation.

And so, while time’s amount moves linearly, its value does not. It’s as George Orwell would say: ‘All time is equal, but some time is more equal than others.’

 

iRacing screenshot contest winner!

A sense of time

In the first two weeks of this year, I’ve often looked back on my life in a very practical, non-philosophical way. I revisited my former schools in Google Streetview, I went through designs made years ago, I played a video game which the teenage-me also played, and I read emails sent a decade ago.

Perhaps what triggered this, is that my sister and brother-in-law are expecting a baby. It’s wonderful, of course, in nearly every way. Yet in some ways, it’s frightening.

New life confirms the feeble nature of time. Until now, I don’t think I’ve really understood this, but it’s something everyone has to understand at some time in his or her life, and a topic on which poets and writers have emptied their pens on for centuries.

We often measure time in minutes, hours or years, but when we zoom out and look for measurements like generations, that’s when we can understand time.

My parents will be grandparents soon. What makes it scary is not the associations I have with the noun ‘grandparents’, but the fact that in the past month, not only the year has changed, but also a generation has passed.

The good thing of looking back on life is the appreciation for all the places in which we’ve lived, the things we’ve done and made, the people we’ve met.

When you add it all up, it’s mind blowing. And it somewhat soothes the passing of time, up until the point were it’s, you know, totally acceptable.

Man at the bay

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The man next to me took his phone from his shirt pocket and aimed it at the sun, which was setting into Mumbai’s bay. It was of no use; the sun, red and bright in front of our faces, was barely noticeable on his phone’s screen, reduced to a mere pixel. He threw his hands in the air, and saw that I saw it. He sighed and laughed, and we started talking.

He was forty-five years old and wore a green polo shirt with black horizontal lines. His hair was grey, his face friendly. He had grown up in a village in rural India, which nested on a beautiful hillside, or so he said. Some two thousand people lived there. He was the only one with an education — even his wife didn’t speak English.

Clearly he could see I was not from India: “Traveling is so good”, he joyfully said, “To connect with someone from another culture, it teaches you about people different than you, how they think differently, how they believe different things. And at the same time, it teaches you that we are all the same”, he concluded as he pointed at his nose, ears, and eyes.

I told him I felt the same about Mumbai. To me, Mumbai was a blend of familiarities and otherworldliness. The way people interact with each other is no different than at home, but the setting in which it takes place is vastly different. I told him I had seen a boy who lived on the street, who played with a stick in the mud, enjoying every second of it. I told him I had seen a girl in a with a shirt ‘Don’t Facebook your problems, face them’. And that I had seen groups of people without a house, having recreated somewhat of a living room on the side of the street.

I told the man that human behaviour seems to follows the same principles everywhere, no matter the climate, the culture, or the history, but the expressions vary vastly. I felt there was an absence of rules in Mumbai. Traffic is anarchy, slums are dwarfed by skyscrapers, and every where you look you’ll see a crowd of people. Yet somehow it all works, as a hugely diverse population of nearly twenty million peacefully coexists.

Although the man had never been anywhere outside India, he knew about the Netherlands. He had seen it in Bollywood films, and had also spoken with a Dutchman five years ago, on a train to Ahmedabad. He knew about Amsterdam, the canals, the bikes, hagelslag, and tompoezen. Again I spoke about the differences between our countries, now inverted. Amsterdam was quiet and cold compared to Mumbai. It felt a lot smaller and dense too, despite having a population density four times lower.

The man again spoke about his birthplace, the recurring theme: “If you want to make a phone call, you have to stand on the highest hill to receive a signal”, he said as he pointed out at the bars on his phone: “There’s no commercialism, people live and work together. Mostly from the land. There is no water, except from the rain”, he said: “Living in the village means everybody’s connected to nature, and to each other.”

How different to Mumbai, that was. Every material need one can possibly have is within a hands reach, yet emotionally, each is on his own. It’s painful to see, I said. I still didn’t know what to think of people who slept on the streets. How can one rationalise this to oneself? Especially as a tourist it feels unjust, visiting and looking at it, doing nothing. Among beauty, the world is packed with misery. It would be so fair if everybody in the world could go to sleep without being hungry. Yet, like a deer caught in the headlights, I feel overwhelmed, and I’m left with inaction, not knowing where to start.

And then, suddenly, the man had to speak about the problems that weighed on his shoulders. And so he spoke.

After his education he found work at a pharmaceutic company in Mumbai, so together with his wife and two children he moved from the rural village to the city of Mumbai. After nine years at the pharmaceutical company, the company changed hands and he lost his job. His wife, son, and daughter, had moved back to the village. That was three months ago. He had remained in Mumbai to find new work.

He applied to many jobs, hoping his experience and education would help. So far to no avail. Without a penny in his pocket, he sometimes couldn’t even travel to the application interviews. In the meantime he did day work, but the pay was poor, and because the municipality distributed the jobs fairly on a large group of people wanting them, it meant he could only work one in four days. He had slept the night outside, he said, and hadn’t had a good meal in days. But he didn’t give up. He was mixed with sadness and hope: “I like coming to the bay, because when everybody looks at the sunset, they can’t see whether I’m laughing or crying.”

As he told all of this, the contrast of our situations dawned on me. He was drawn to Mumbai to seek a better future, and was unable to make ends meet. I merely visited Mumbai as an escape, a leisure trip. It make me feel uneasy, ashamed of myself almost, being so privileged. Should I give him money? My mind raced.

At the same time, I feared that he would ask money, that our conversation just served him this purpose, but I instantly felt bad just to think that way; he never asked me for it.

Our conversation had started because he tried to photograph the sunset. We had connected on a personal level, and I had enjoyed every second of the discussion, for its only purpose had been to talk about life. We were equals.

Abu — I think his name was — brought forth the suffering of millions, in the shape of an individual. Until then, it had always seemed abstract to me. But now, I could relate to those troubles, because I could see the same patterns of thought in myself.

We chatted for only a bit more, until I shook his hand and left. By then, the sun had firmly set in the bay, reducing all individuals to mere silhouettes against the skyscraper-led-skyline of Mumbai.

They say India stirs your stomach, but much more than that, it has trembled my heart.

The painting, not the frame

There’s an increasing amount of stuff that makes our lives easier, all of it increasingly within hands reach. We get taught how to write essays, how to use hashtags, how to get your crush to like you. All within minutes and digestible steps.

The risk of this is that we tend to focus on the easy stuff. When you read an article on how to run a successful social media campaign, you’re just reading the preconditions, the very basic outline that would make such a campaign possible.

Many people or companies can get that right, but don’t go further. They make what everyone can make.

The basic stuff tricks us into thinking we’ve done enough. We’ve applied the filter, and now our picture is pretty. Yet, what makes our work go beyond the average, isn’t captured in ‘Five ways to get more Instagram followers’, or any short cut which is just a search entry away.

By definition, the average is easy and obvious.

At the heart of anything creative — the stuff that surprises or shocks us, makes us wonder, or sticks to our mind — is the opinion, the idea, the craft. We see the author back in his or her work.

It’s not about tuning the strings, but about the playing of them. Let the things you create be evocative, pretty, hopeful, rude, or even ugly. Let it be an extension of yourself. But most of all, let it be something only you can create.

 

From 'Killing my darlings', by Daniel Forero.

From ‘Killing my darlings’, by Daniel Forero.

Holy Shit! We’re living in the future

An answer to this question on Reddit.

This was twenty years ago, I was seven. At school, the teacher asked whether any of us knew someone with an email address, I was the only kid in class who did. The next day I brought my dad’s email address on a piece of paper, and the whole class sat around me as I wrote the silliest email, saying something like ‘Hi dad, I’m writing you now’. My dad replied a day after, again the whole class sat around the computer as we opened this new ‘digital post’. That felt like the future, yeah.

How do you make people care as much about the world — even a fraction of how much you care?

An answer to this question on Quora.

What I would like to see is more positivity. Right now, we see melting ice caps, drowning polar bears, factories blowing plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. And the more you read about the climate problem, the more distressful you get. We hear that the economy must shrink, and that we need showering shorter. That’s not all fun. Even in victories we look for the downsides, by stating the new agreements aren’t enough to prevent drastic climate change. We get it, but in this respect, the reporting on climate chance is like visiting your dentist: no matter how you brush, it’s always wrong.

Instead, can’t we focus on the dream, instead of the nightmare? You know, to walk barefoot in the grass, having rustling leaves over your head. See white beaches with blue water, snowy peaks above dark green forests. If we’re ever to inspire people, the love for a healthy planet should be the message. As Wubbo Ockels once said: “If you love something deeply, you’ll do everything to protect it.”

Seven billion religions

Christianity, Islam and Hinduism occupy the minds of nearly two thirds of the world population. It’s easy to bash them, but are vegans, motorcyclists or foodies — in all their fanaticism and fantasy— any different? Atheists’ preaches are no different than the proverbial Jehovah’s foot in the door.

Merriam-Webster defines religion as ‘an organised system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods’.

Change ‘god or a group of gods’ with ‘football club’ or ‘tech company’, and little changes to the definition. There’s spirituality involved in all of them.

The bastion that once was religion is crumbling, as data shows a worldwide decline. Yet we’re getting many ‘religions’ in return, be it people who feverishly fill their Pinterest boards with wedding pictures, people who workout and want the world to know, people who support Apple, Disney, BMW or Lionel Messi. Heck, what about environmentalists?

The way to divide the world, those who believe and those who don’t, no longer works. We all believe in something. Whether that’s a spiritual wasteland, or absolute freedom, I’m not sure. Yet I see it as a welcome change.

Now on Instagram

Say hi & follow me hereUntitled-1

 

Don’t ask, don’t tell

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” was the slogan used by the Clinton presidency in 1994, to resolve the issue of gay acceptance in the United States military. It seemingly solved the problem, precisely by leaving it unresolved.

It’s exemplary for the past decades. In an unprecedented way we’ve seen social, environmental and political problems succeed each other in rapid succession, as we’ve commenced our slow decent into oblivion.

There was the Ukraine crisis, civil wars in Libya, Iraq, Nepal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt, the revelations of Wikileaks and Snowden, and the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran. There was violence in Boston, Utøya, Ferguson and Paris – terrorism all across the world. We’re still seeing a refugee crisis, growing income inequality – and of course the climate problem. Also, among various epidemics, there was the outbreak of Ebola, and more recently the Zika virus.

Really, the typicality of all this, is how these problems have been festering for decades, systematically being ignored, left unresolved like the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” phrase. Problems left to erupt violently, as they have indeed done so recently.

The world is trembling, shaking – yet it seems problems are also being solved.

In 2015, same-sex marriage was legalised nationwide in the United States and Africa was declared free of Ebola. Libya, Egypt and Morocco gained democratic governments and for the first time the amount of children who go to bed hungry is lower than when the counting began. Now, over 86% of the world population under the age of fifteen can read and write, and that percentage has never been as high. Protest against the freedom of the internet where successful, and during the Climate Summit of Paris there was a binding agreement to finally address climate change. China is closing over one thousand coalmines in the next few years and the price of renewable energy is continuously dropping, the price of solar energy has now decreased by sixty-six percent in the last six years alone, and the amount of electric cars on the road is doubling each year, as is the households with solar panels.

Problems rarely exist isolated, like nature, everything seems interconnected. I take a lot of energy from Naomi Klein’s quote, who said: “What if confronting the climate crisis is the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world?

Halting climate change can coincide with energy poverty (and poverty in general). Educating the world can be a part of solving its income inequality. On a much abstracted level, solving problems can make a better world for all of us, putting global turmoil to rest.

And there’s Ban Ki Moon’s quote: “We’re the first generation that can end poverty and the last that can end climate change.”

I think we have a good shot at all of these things.