Tughlaq Returns

Mohammed Bin Tughlaq was the last king of the Tughlaq dynasty and ruled from 1325 till his death in 1351. He ascended to the throne in Delhi. On a whim, the man decided to move the capital of his empire from Delhi to Daulatabad which is located in Maharashtra. He supposed being centrally located in India would give him greater control over the kingdom. He ordered the entire populace of Delhi to shift to the new capital in Daulatabad. Thousands died of heat exhaustion and starvation on the way from Delhi to Daulatabad.

He then set up the city from scratch, he realised that his northern borders were far more exposed to attacks and decided to move the capital back from Daulatabad to Delhi. The result was that thousands more perished and it left the empire diminished and weaker. He lost wars and he died. With the death of Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the Tughlaq dynasty also ended.

In 2014, we put the Tughlaq of our generation in power. In 2016 India underwent the most radical demonetisation that any country not suffering from uncontrollable inflation underwent. The Prime Minister came on television and announced that from 8 PM that day, all hundred rupees and five hundred rupee banknotes would no longer be valid tenders of exchange and to submit them back to the banks within a period of 2 weeks. There would be new banknotes that would be designed and issued thereafter.

Ostensibly this was done to eradicate black money. The wealth, which went undisclosed to the government to avoid taxes. 99% of the cash that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) knew of, was collected back. If there was any ill-gotten wealth, they could not trace it.

While black money was the purported reason, rumours have it that the move was made to starve the opposition parties of cash during the 2017 UP legislative elections. The ruling BJP had not held power in the states since 2000 and came to power in 2017.

The people suffered.

Many had to stand in queues for hours to deposit their money in the bank. Most of these people were neither rich nor had any ill-gotten wealth. During those days, there would always be hundreds of people standing outside ATM machines. Queues would start forming at 7 AM. Bank employees got the worst end of the deal having to deal with the large influx of cash and their customers’ corresponding frustration and anger. The new banknote that they designed was of a different dimension and hence over 350,000 ATMs had to be reconfigured across the length and breadth of the country so they could dispense the redesigned bills. 

It was a masterclass in engineering hardship. 

What was utterly befuddling was the decision to issue new two thousand rupee banknotes. This would make money laundering easier. If someone had to hide cash, larger denominations made it easier to hide it. It is like the Americans deciding to solve the gun problem by taking away all the revolvers and making sure it was easier to buy machine guns.

So it came as no surprise when…

India will withdraw its highest denomination currency note from circulation, the central bank said on Friday. The 2000-rupee note, introduced into circulation in 2016, will remain legal tender but citizens have been asked to deposit or exchange these notes by Sept. 30, 2023.

Source: Reuters

Much like the shift that was made by Tughlaq was destined to fail, the introduction of the 2000 rupees note was destined to fail.

Tughlaq is what Tughlaq does.


ONDC – A solution that will create many problems

In 1950, Frank McNamara noticed a problem. He was at a restaurant and found that he had forgotten his wallet back home. This gave birth to the idea of a charge card. Wealthy customers could charge their expenses to the card and pay for it at the end of the month.

He started a network called the Diners Club. This gave birth to a new industry called the Revolving credit industry which we today call the credit card industry.

Banks saw the rise of the Diners Club and thought they needed to get in on the act. The purpose of a bank is to lend. This is the best kind of lending. Small sums, high volume, high interest, high throughput, the holy grail of finance.

One of the banks that went after this business was Bank of America and in the late 50s they launched “Bank Americard”. They started an experiment in Fresno, California and distributed the cards to all of their customers. The experiment worked and soon they expanded this card distribution all over California. And like that, the police were introduced to a new kind of crime – Credit card fraud.

Playing loose and dirty, Bank of America had managed to corner a huge market share but had a 22% delinquency rate, not to mention the frauds. Joseph Williams who masterminded the Bank Americard was promptly fired.

A few of his associates decided to clean up the program and put financial controls in place. By late 1960, the program was profitable but Bank of America let the perception of troubles linger so that no new competitor got interested in the sector.

In 1970, they decided to open up the program for other banks to participate. A manager at a participating bank Dee Hock identified that there needed to be an independent company that managed the rails. That way, all the banks could participate in the wealth creation opportunity. Bank Americard was spun out into a separate entity. Eventually, in 1974, BankAmericard along with Chargex, Barclaycard and others would come together to create a single internationally accepted network for money movement called Visa.

What they provided in essence was a trust layer for money movement.

This layer was insanely complicated back in the 60s when computer penetration was basic at best, but with greater computerisation, it became easier to run and scale this layer.

Today nobody from Visa visits any of the stores to ensure that the operations are run smoothly.

When you come to a country like India, one of the problems is micro-transactions. Traditionally, Visa would charge 5 cents and a 1.5% commission. But what is the transaction itself is 10 cents. While Visa did localise, this was insufficient.

India created a body called NPCI to take care of the needs of the country. They successfully created National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT) and Real-time Gross Settlement (RTGS). Then they meandered through a series of missteps including Mobile Money Identification (MMID) and finally pivoted that system to arrive at Unified Payments Interface (UPI).

In 2015, Paytm which had started merely as a phone recharge business was ruling the micro-transaction market with their wallet. Their success was in no small part paved through insane customer service. If your transfer was not processed or hung, all you had to do was drop a tweet. An actual human would respond to it and make sure that the problem was resolved in a timely manner.

Mobikwik, Freecharge and even Ola tried their hands at it but were getting nowhere. This was the time at which UPI was introduced. A government-aided trust layer, where Paytm had done all the handwork to earn the trust.

In no time, everyone including Google had a UPI app. The unassailable Paytm was left in the dust as UPI transactions soared to hundreds of billions of dollars amply aided by the demonetisation. Today, close to 10% of India’s GDP is transacted through UPI.

UPI much like Visa does not have an operational layer today. You need to be sufficiently bourgeois to acquire the license and you can set up an app.

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.

~William Pollard

Having worked with startups for over 10 years now, I know that it is rather easy to engage in intellectual masturbation in an air-conditioned room. It is another thing to translate that into real-world impact.

In the case of UPI, the real-world impact was primarily delivered by demonetisation and the subsequent hardship that was imposed on many. In addition to that, all the “fintech” laggards who were in no position to catch up with Paytm got on the bandwagon and put thousands of people on the road to onboard shops and distribute their QR codes so their apps would become the preferred destination. Not to mention, offered insane discounts and cashback offers to users.

Now, the likes of PhonePe are figuring out how to monetise and all roads lead to debt.

By any metric UPI was a wild success. The government helped spread a trust layer and it has brought so many people who were previously unbanked in the banking net. Along with fintech, delivery was another segment that rose and rose over the last decade.

In January 2013, there were NO services for food delivery in India. There was no Amazon in India. Uber had not been launched in India and Ola was an inter-city cab service provider.

This changed rapidly and it created opportunities for retailers, wholesalers, restaurants and gig workers. Nobody is happy with the kind of commissions that Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Uber or Amazon charge.

The question was – Can we do to delivery business what UPI did to transactions?

In 2021, a private company with the blessing of the government launched the Open Network for Digital Commerce or ONDC for short. The idea was that if restaurants, shops or even delivery networks were free agents an application layer could connect the restaurant or e-commerce companies with the people who undertake the delivery.

They imagined that if a store had a delivery fleet of its own, it could take care of delivery itself and if a consumer app brought the customer to the store, ONDC could effectively be the intermediate layer that enable the transaction. The trust layer.

Much like UPI, which connects all banks with the consumer app which in turn enables the consumer to transact.

The problem is trust.

In the case of UPI, the trust layer simply is the technology and it should work.

Have you been at a restaurant with only your mobile phone wondering if you will have to wash plates when UPI fails you? Or at the end of a cab ride with an irate driver who wants to proceed to the next trip but cannot because your payment is not going through?

UPI is far from perfect and fails when you least want it to.

The reason it has gotten as big is the network effect. It is also extremely safe, almost all of the frauds are socially engineered it is not like someone hacks the system and keeps bleeding your account. You have to enter the code of your own volition on your own phone. Also, despite the fact that it fails to deliver at times due to server issues, you will not lose your money.

ONDC by comparison has a human aspect to deal with when it comes to trust.

What would happen when your delivery boy does not show up? When he delivers the wrong item and leaves? When he calls you up and says he has a puncture and cannot come? This trust layer is far more complex.

Amazon runs the warehouses, the delivery fleets and the logistics from city to city. Replicating this will not be easy.

There is a huge operational layer at work. People, call centres and sometimes just absorbing the loss when the delivery guys go astray. ONDC just assumes this will all go away. It has taken Swiggy, Zomato, Flipkart and the like decades to perfect the operational aspects of the business. Drawing a line between customer service and the asshole who will call up and ask for a refund even though he has got the delivery.

Even if restaurants and the like get on this bandwagon for now, when they calculate the amount lost to all these kinds of “operational challenges” and money saved from not having to pay Swiggy or Zomato or whoever else; they are probably going to want to stick to the aggregators.


Black Widow | Learning by Proxy

Latrodectus is a genus of Spider that is well known for the red hourglass-shaped marking on its back. The female spiders of the Latrodectus genus engage in sexual cannibalism; the female spider eats the male after sex. The spider is therefore known as Black Widow.

Black Widow

Disney has had a marvellous run with the Marvel Cinematic Universe grossing Billions of dollars through the movies and other shows that it has released around each of the characters that are part of the universe. In addition to this, they make money from merchandising which is just as profitable across decades. Steve Jobs learnt it the hard way when he signed off the merchandising rights for Toy Story which Pixar co-produced with Disney.

The company recently got sued.


I had written a blog on the subject in November 2014 in reference to Music.

The Film Industry uses this thing called ‘Windowing’.

A movie makes its money from various ‘Windows’. The first window is the Box Office, then the Cable Rights and then finally the rights to Internet and CD distribution. By the time the box office is done, the producers have recovered the production cost along with a sizeable profit, so the monetary losses that they take due to the copying and piracy of the digital format is not as hurtful to them.

At the beginning of the last decade, theatres had a window of up to 120 days when the movie would be exclusively available in theatres. They would move to satellite TV and then finally to CD. There was not much streaming back in 2010.

That all changed in 2020. Disney launched Disney+ in Feb 2020. With a lockdown in force across the world, they could not have found a better time to launch it. In India, they inherited Hotstar which fell into their lap thanks to the acquisition of 20th Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch.

The cinema owners went from dictating terms to begging for content. Some even accepted simultaneous releases at theatres and streaming. This would have been unimaginable at the beginning of 2020.

Star Compensation

After the success of the first Iron Man movie, Robert Downey Jr negotiated a contract with Disney that involved him getting paid a percentage of the box office receipts as compensation. It has made the man who was once imprisoned for possession of drugs; into one of the richest stars in Hollywood.

Many of the stars who sign multi-year contracts with large studios opt for this sort of a deal. They are restricted from taking on roles and deals with competing studios when under such contracts and even if they do not like it, have to most likely stick it through.

Daniel Craig, the British actor who will be appearing as James Bond for the fourth time in “Spectre” released later this month, has told an interviewer he would rather slit his wrists than play 007 again.

“I’d rather break this glass and slit my wrists,” Craig, 47, told an interviewer for Britain’s “Time Out” entertainment magazine, when asked over breakfast if he would sign up for the role again.

“No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. All I want to do is move on,” Craig said in the interview which was posted on Time Out’s website this week.

Source: Business Insider

Over and above, actors are required to travels to several continents to promote the movies these days and worldwide releases have (had) become commonplace. The schedule for the actors used to be gruelling often spending a day in three time zones. It was only fair that they are paid appropriately for the effort that they put in to make the film a success.

Magic Kingdom

Disney likes to maintain a very family-friendly image. They derive a lot of revenues through their merchandise sales as well as the sales at their theme parks; tickets and stay. The theme parks conceived by Walt Disney himself were meant to be a real-world interface for people with the characters that the studio produces.

As the pandemic started last year those who were working at the Magic Kingdom were magically furloughed (leave without pay). And then the CEO and the executive team paid themselves a huge bonus for the remarkable work that they had done over the year.

Disney is the embodiment of everything wrong with executive compensation. On this subject though, nobody has been more scathing than Abigail Disney, the daughter of Roy Disney, the former President of the Walt Disney Company and brother of Walt Disney.

Gender Inequality

Across the entire acting business, it is common knowledge that women are paid far less than their male counterparts. This has been shown time and again, in survey after survey. This is a conscious bias amongst studio executives.

Black Widow is only one of two superhero movies to be based around a female character.

Black Widow Movie

The movie was green-lit in 2017 and work on the production began in 2018 which culminated in the shooting in 2019. It was supposed to hit the screens in May 2020 but was delayed due to obvious reasons. As the vaccines rolled out across the US, seeing a window of opportunity in the summer as the mask mandates were being removed, Disney decided to go for the release.

The contract that was signed with Scarlet Johansson was probably done with windowing kept in mind. She should have been able to get a percentage of the income from the theatrical release of the film.

According to Johansson, her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment stated that Black Widow would play exclusively in theaters for 90-120 days. The lawsuit says that making Black Widow immediately available to rent on Disney+ put a big dent in Johansson’s potential earnings, since her salary was based in part on how the movie did at the box office.


The suit also notes that annual bonuses for Disney chairman Robert Iger and chief executive Bob Chapek are tied to the performance of Disney+ and cites that as further motivation for putting Black Widow on the service. Disney disclosed in its 2021 proxy that Iger and Chapek both received bonuses for the success of Disney+. “In short, the message to—and from—Disney’s top management was clear: Increase Disney+ subscribers, never mind your contractual promises, and you will be rewarded,” the suit said.

Source: Quartz

Since the theatres had been brought to their knees, Disney was able to simultaneously release the movie on theatres and Disney+.

Although Disney charges $30 for renting the movie on Disney+, the argument is that 20 people could be sitting in a room and watching the movie, where they would have instead had to buy 20 tickets at $20 apiece to watch it otherwise. This causes erosion of income to Disney as well as the star. But in the case of Disney, they have long term gains that they are focused on. The users acquired through this release might go on to pay a subscription of $10 a month for many many months to come. Which is free money for all practical purposes. Scarlet Johansson at whose expense this money will be made does not get compensated.

Thus far, Black Widow has fallen short of expectations. The $319 million it has earned internationally makes it one of Marvel’s worst performing movies. The film, which cost Disney+ subscribers an additional $30 to stream, earned $60 million in its opening weekend on the streaming service. According to anonymous sources cited by the Journal, the decision to open the movie on Disney+ has cost Johansson $50 million.

Source: Quartz

In the meantime, Disney obviously denies any wrong-doing

Disney, meanwhile, denies breaching the contract terms and says that the hybrid release was actually good for Johansson’s paycheck. In a statement, the company said that the move “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.” In its opening weekend, Black Widow made $80 million in ticket sales and $60 million in streaming rentals, the first time Disney has offered that kind of breakdown.

Source: Quartz

Disney made it a point to tell the press that they had paid $20 million upfront for the role and that she is getting the proportionate cut from whatever they are grossing. This is to ensure that when people read about it, they think Scarlett Johansson is an ungrateful bitch.

This is a not-infrequent problem when it comes to celebrities battling for their piece of the pie, particularly in industries like entertainment and professional sports, where the amount of money involved can seem staggering. If you’re a person who’s living paycheck to paycheck or struggling with unemployment or student-loan debt, the issue may not be whether Johansson deserves to get shortchanged (no!), but why we accept a system that assigns outsized value to certain professions.

On the other hand, most people agree that pay should be fair within an industry. When Ellen Pompeo spoke in 2018 about negotiating a $20 million contract for Grey’s Anatomy, she pointed out how much money Grey’s had made for Disney. “When your face and your voice have been part of something that’s generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, ‘OK, maybe I do deserve a piece of this,’” Pompeo told the Hollywood Reporter.

Source: Quartz

Ultimately, Disney may be right. Those who were sceptical of going to the theatres would have still not gone to the theatres and that revenue would have been lost had it not been for the Disney+ release.

The last instalment of the Avengers series grossed almost $2 Billion so the $300 Million is quite underwhelming by comparison. Also for Scarlet Johansson, this is the last of the Marvel films, her character dies at the end of the movie. This is the last hurrah!

The real thing I think Scarlet Johansson should be suing Disney for is the absence of a worldwide release. Black Widow did not release in India. Disney+ does not have the rental model in India and the pandemic ensured that all theatres were closed. The truth is even if you were willing to pay money to watch Black Widow online in India, you could not have. You can’t; even today!

I don’t know how many other nations were skipped in this release.

A copy of the movie leaked out onto a torrent site and everyone who is really interested has probably already watched it. That revenue loss to the movie is far more grave than the reluctance to ‘Window’ the movie in the US.

What was the right thing to do

Releasing Black Widow on Disney+ right away was certainly more convenient for people who have grown accustomed to streaming movies at home. It’s likely that a lot more studios will be pursuing this route going forward. If they want to avoid a clash like ScarJo vs. Disney, they’ll follow the lead of Warner Bros., which agreed to give Wonder Woman 1984 star Gal Godot and director Patty Jenkins substantial bonuses when it decided to release the movie on HBO Max.

Source: Quartz

That was the right way to go about it. Cough up Disney, cough up!

Energy Conundrum

If I had the occasion to ask Elon Musk a question it would be this – “If he had realised after sinking half his wealth into Tesla that Hydrogen Fuel Cell was the right thing to do, would he have admitted it?” Of course, rhetorically, the answer will most certainly be a lie.

Two countries – Japan and Germany have been far ahead of the curve in terms of solving the road energy consumption issue. They also knew that Hydrogen Fuel Cell was the right way to go. Both countries also have the highest density of Hydrogen Fuel pumps in the world.

They say that in a meeting, you would often find that the Americans just can’t stop talking and the Asians would almost never talk. They just listen.

Here is one instance, where that has driven things in a fatal direction. Elon Musk was rabble-rousing, standing on the town square with a plate and spoon in hand saying battery-powered cars are the way to go (metaphorically and perhaps a little literally as well). And the Japanese were sitting around doing their zen thing instead of their Shaolin thing.

So now,

According to TheNew York Times, a top Toyota executive has met with congressional leaders behind closed doors in recent weeks to advocate against the Biden administration’s plans to spend billions of dollars to incentivize the shift to EVs. The executive, Chris Reynolds, has argued that hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, as well as hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles should also be in the mix.

In addition, Toyota is also pushing back against EV-friendly policy through the auto industry’s main DC-based lobbying group, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The group, which represents the major car companies and their suppliers and is chaired by Reynolds, has been arguing against the Biden administration’s plan to adopt the so-called California compromise as its official position, the Times reports.

Source: The Verge

At a time when half of the US is burning while the rest is submerged, it seems like the wrong thing to be lobbying for.

The real thing is, there is only enough lithium in the world to last us another 10 years. Tops. After that a shift to another energy storage source is inevitable. Musk is hoping to be on Mars by then, while simultaneously having contributed to making earth unliveable.

A Chinese company became the first major car battery manufacturer to unveil a sodium-ion battery last week. CATL, China’s homegrown lithium-ion battery giant, counts brands like Tesla and Volkswagen among its customers, and plans to set up a supply chain for the pioneering technology by 2023.

As clean energy technologies become increasingly important in the global economy, demand for critical materials like lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt is expected to surge. Lithium is expected to grow fastest, with electric vehicles and battery storage technologies already accounting for 30% of total current demand for the metal, according to the International Energy Agency.

As it becomes harder to source, automakers and battery manufacturers are looking for alternatives to lithium, to hedge against supply disruptions and price spikes. Higher material costs could make lithium batteries more expensive, and lower demand within the industry.

Source: Quartz

The Asians are able to see what the Americans just do not seem to possess the smarts to. They are being led by a charlatan into the abyss much like the pied piper’s story.

While lobbying America on the one end, Japan is moving ahead with a Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered future.

Japan’s largest hydrogen plant powered by offshore wind energy is set to open on the northern island of Hokkaido as part of a national effort to slash carbon dioxide emissions.

Scheduled to begin operation as early as the year ending March 2024, the plant will produce up to roughly 550 tons of hydrogen a year — enough to fuel more than 10,000 hydrogen vehicles, according to plans.

The effort represents a step toward creating a homegrown supply of hydrogen that is “green” — made using renewable energy.

Source: The Nikkei

Space Pollution

Nope. Not the pollution in space. But the pollution being caused by the need to venture into space. I recently read a book called Ignition (should not have). What I learnt was that for the last 90 years, scientists have been burning all kinds of chemicals to find the right fuel to get to space. They started out with really toxic stuff like red fuming nitric acid (yeah there is a thing like that) and then settled on Hydrazine for a while before moving on to kerosene and eventually hydrogen. What we use today is mostly kerosene, hydrogen and oxygen as a catalyst.

We have Hitler to thank for all this, the Americans would have never figured it out all by themselves.

Bezos boasts that his Blue Origin rockets are greener than Branson’s VSS Unity. The Blue Engine 3 (BE-3) launched Bezos, his brother and two guests into space using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants.

VSS Unity, on the other hand, used a hybrid propellant comprised of a solid carbon-based fuel, hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), and nitrous oxide (or laughing gas), while the SpaceX Falcon series of reusable rockets will propel the Crew Dragon into orbit using liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Source: TED

The pollution that each of these launches causes is phenomenal. The greatest thing is SpaceX burns kerosene in the upper atmosphere and Elon Musk is able to talk about saving the planet with a straight face while at the same time sending these vehicles up at increasing frequencies.

So what happens exactly?

Burning these propellants provides the energy needed to launch rockets into space — but it simultaneously generates greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Large quantities of water vapor are also produced by burning the BE-3 propellant, while combustion of both the VSS Unity and Falcon fuels produces CO2, soot and some water vapor. The nitrogen-based oxidant used by VSS Unity also generates nitrogen oxides, compounds that contribute to air pollution closer to Earth. Roughly two-thirds of this propellant exhaust is released into the stratosphere (12 km-50 km) and mesosphere (50 km-85 km), where it can persist for at least two to three years.

The very high temperatures during launch and re-entry (which is when the protective heat shields of the returning crafts burn up) also convert stable nitrogen in the air into reactive nitrogen oxides. These gases and particles have many negative effects on the atmosphere. In the stratosphere, nitrogen oxides and chemicals formed from the breakdown of water vapor convert ozone into oxygen and deplete the ozone layer which guards life on Earth against harmful UV radiation.

Source: TED

So while the billionaires are sitting around writing business plans to rake in Billions more while they send tourists into space for a period shorter than a good orgasm, they are also going to be hurting the upper atmosphere of the earth.

During launch, rockets can emit between 4 and 10 times more nitrogen oxides than Drax, the largest thermal power plant in the UK, over the same time period. CO2 emissions for the four or so tourists on a space flight will be between 50 and 100 times more than the one to three tonnes of emissions that are generated per passenger on a long-haul airplane flight.

Source: TED

There is a special place in hell for these guys.


On Vaccines


How I lost 10 Kgs in 5 Months

The Outcome

My journey started on the 26th of December 2020. Why not 1st Jan? Because almost no resolution taken on the 1st reaches fruition in my experience. Also as Kabir said…

Kaal Kare So Aaj Kar, Aaj Kare So ab; Pal Mein Pralaya Hoyegi, Bahuri Karoge Kab

(Instead of tomorrow do today, instead of today do now; in a moment destruction could arrive, when will you do it then?)

Simply put, now or never.

Here is what happened

I went from being 83 Kgs to 74 Kgs

From 23% body fat, I came down to 17%

And the muscle mass went up

In terms of exercise, I did about 95 workout sessions across 150 days. ~30 Mins of workout on Nike Training App per session. 2 out of 3 days I did exercise. I did not use any other app or workout. Just what the app asked me to do.

This was more like 1 out of 2 days in January but increased as it went along. As you can notice, not by too much. Instead of 3-4 days a week, I started working out 4-5 days per week.

I burnt north of 850 Calories on average. Exercise days obviously topped 1000 active calories, other days because of my walking, I would hit about 600 calories.

Also, I walked a lot. Walking inside your house as you talk on the phone is not the same as walking outside. I walk a lot inside the house and this probably helps burn 20 calories in an hour. Walking outside for an hour can deliver 100 calories in an hour.

Just for comparison –

From June 2020 into 2021

Some basic facts

There are two types of calorie burn that take place – Active and Passive. Passive is the number of calories it takes to keep you alive, heating your body, etc. Unless you live in Siberia, have to cut wood and hunt animals every day, your passive calorie burn will be between 1500 and 2000 calories. The colder the weather you are exposed to, the more calories you burn. The Siberian lifestyle will suck out 5000 Calories a day.

To mimic this people like Chris Hemsworth walk in a refrigerated pool for an hour every day. Forget about looking like Thor, unless you don’t have any other work to do.

Diet alone is not going to make you lose weight partly because you are not going to end up consuming 200 Calories a day. Even the most paltry diet will end up contributing 1000 Calories a day. A Kg of fat can generate about 7700 Calories. Another way of saying this is, you need to burn about 7700 calories to lose 1 Kg of fat. Do the math, it is going to take years of living like a rag picker to lose weight just by dieting.

Also, the colder your body is exposed to, the more of the white fat is converted to brown fat. Brown fat is how you ensure that your passive calorie burn increased. I read a book about Wim Hof a couple of years ago. He has a lot of videos on youtube and I would recommend watching them. He teaches how to expose your body to cold to increase fat metabolism. I have been taking cold water showers every day even in winters since I read that book. It has markedly changed my body composition.

This is a graph from 2015 to 2021 of my body fat. The sharp drop in body fat is when (2018) I started taking cold water showers.

This brings us to exercise.

Exercise comes in different forms and not all are equal or the same. But ultimately you are looking to burn as many calories as possible while at the same time creating an impact on various parts of your body where fat has accumulated.

I have been exercising off and on for the last 10 years. I have lost as much as 20 Kg in the past going from 93 to 71.

The one thing that I can tell you is that fat burns from the extremities to the core. If you think you have a lot of belly fat and start crunches, you are just going to have a bigger belly. A belly with more muscle and the same amount of fat.

The key to losing fat is the begin by making your hands and legs as strong and as lean as possible. Almost every exercise on the planet will depend on using your hands and legs effectively. Yes – even those crunches. Also if there is no more fat to burn on the hands and legs, the body has no other choice but to dip into other stores of fat.


When you exercise you are straining the body. If you lift weights, you are causing tiny lacerations on the muscles so that they tear and regrow afresh and healthy. You need to rest your body to give it enough time to heal and grow.

When it comes to startups we say, the go-to-market strategy that got you 10 customers would not get you, 1000 customers. Much the same way, pick an exercise to get started, to break the inertia but don’t bank on the same thing to take you all the way to your goal. Start by just walking 30 minutes, if you have been doing nothing, it is a great start. But thereon, you will need to keep evolving.


Food provides us sustenance. But not all food is the same. All of us know the various components of food. Fats, Proteins, Carbohydrates, Vitamins and Minerals. Apart from this, we have water and roughage, which is good for the body in any quantity.

Nothing is good or bad until such time that it becomes excessive.

Two things that you must avoid are Salt and Sugar.

The only thing that I would like to say from my own experience is that fat gets a bad rap for no reason other than the fact that Kellogs waged a huge war against fat so that they could get you to buy more corn flakes. A lot of nonsensical studies have been published over the years to back up these claims often by torturing the data until it admitted.

Carbohydrates are readily converted by our bodies into glucose. If your blood is awash with glucose, there is no need for the body to burn fat. Cutting down on the amount of carbohydrates that we supply to our body is important.

Fats stored in the body have already been converted, so think of it as ready cash available to spend. But carbohydrates supply more cash to the system. The body will never dip into its own reserve. By comparison, if you supply more fat to the system, it is like providing a cheque that needs to be cashed – in other words, the body needs to work hard before being able to use this energy.

Further proof that fat is not all bad is how a croissant is made.Tasty @tastyHow Croissants Are Made May 19th 2021572 Retweets1,639 Likes

There is a slab of butter in there. If fats were all bad, French people would be all fat and unhealthy.

Food loses nutrition the more it travels. So buy stuff that is locally grown. There is no need to import food from across the globe because someone told you that it has great qualities. A kiwi that has travelled 10,000 kilometres is just empty calories.

Your stomach has Gut Bacteria, which plays a very critical role in digesting your food. That gut biome is developed by the food that you habitually eat and the work that your stomach does and the microbes that it meets. If you do something repeatedly, you get better at it; similarly, your stomach gets better at absorbing the nutrients from the food you eat, the more it processes it over and over.

Having a standard diet or standard set of ingredients that you consume repeatedly enables your body to get better at digesting those ingredients. You do not need a non-vegetarian diet necessarily to build muscles. You just need to help your body learn to process vegetarian proteins effectively by subjecting it to them routinely.

What I did


If you are to maintain a workout, you would find it hard to do it unless someone is setting the agenda on what to do. You would not be able to push yourself to the limit all by yourself. I, therefore, stuck to the Nike Training app and let it set the agenda every day. I would provide it with certain constraints like 5 days of workout each week and the amount of time I wished to spend exercising. Apart from that I just blindly followed what the app asked me to do.

I have lost weight in the past just sticking to the cross-training machine and the spin cycle. With lockdown and covid in our midst, I had to resort to something that I could do at home. The more diverse the workouts are, the more areas of your body you are able to impact.

Throughout, I have maintained a workout routine that is spread across 4 to 6 days a week. Typically between 30 to 60 minutes in duration. In addition to this, I walk for about 1 hour in the night after my dinner.

Generally, keep moving through the day when taking calls, I would not just sit in front of a system the whole day. The idea would be to get about 500 steps in each hour of the day. This could be while taking calls or reading or just sending replies to emails, etc.

Food and Diet

After my workout in the morning, I have a standard diet of 4 slices of bread with 2 eggs. Eggs prepared however I like and a cup of tea. Sometimes I would throw in some veggies if I was cooking an omelette but otherwise just that. This was not a poor breakfast, the bread would have generous slathering of butter, eggs also prepared in butter (if not boiled).

My eating pattern was not too different from an intermittent fast. This was not by design.

I had breakfast by 10 AM and hence skipped lunch and went straight to dinner which I would normally have at between 4 PM and 7 PM. Dinner was not standard but often things that you would find in any Indian household. Roti/Dal or veggies; Dosa; rice perhaps once a month; chicken perhaps once a month.

All the food was cooked as richly as I wished. No compromise on butter, milk, cheese, ghee, creme. You won’t believe it, but I consumed 3 Kgs of butter during this period. 6 half Kg slabs of Amul Butter in 5 months.

The only thing was that I used portion control. I would not eat more than a small bowl full of whatever it might be. If roti, not more than 2 Rotis.

What not to eat

Frankly, this more important than everything that I wrote above.

Juices – Almost everything on the spectrum from Pepsi to so-called “Real” fruit juices is loaded with sugar. Orange juice is probably the worst thing you can buy off the shelf, you could just eat a cup full of sugar instead. Even Raw Pressery is loaded with calories. Paper Boat has very few variants that have low calorie. The best thing is to buy tender coconut water if you have a strong craving for drinks.

Make Orange juice at home if you love it a lot. For that matter apple juice or anything else. Have it with the fibres, not strained.

Anything that comes out of a packet – Almost everything that is ready for consumption is shit. In order to preserve it, they use the two things I mentioned you should avoid – Sugar and Salt.

Cook. Make the richest white sauce pasta and have it, would not hurt you as much as a packet of potato chips. This is after having spoken to people who manufacture these things. There is one exception which is if you can see the ingredients they claim to put in there. Some energy bars are good. You can actually see the ingredients and you can tell that they have not been excessively processed.

There are still things like bread, butter, milk, cheese, curd that you may have to buy. A good test is, leave it out for 2 weeks. If there is no fungal growth or it has not gone bad, avoid the brand. If even bacteria does not want to eat it, should you?

I think part of the reason I put on all the weight, to begin with, was the flavoured yoghurt by Epigamia.

The Faster, the worse – Fast food is horrible. All of the ingredients are processed to be frozen, heated and served. The faster they can make it, the worse it probably is for your health. You can eat out, but in moderation – twice a month and at places that are healthy. Not every kitchen is a shit show. If the food is freshly cooked, it should be fine.

Nothing fried, anything baked.

Personally, I avoided rice. It does not help me. Maybe your metabolism might be different. Test it.

If you have questions, please put them in the comments section. I will be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.

My Resources

I use the Withing Body Cardio scale for measuring my weight, fat, etc.

I use the Apple Watch to record exercise and calories consumed

I used the Nike Training App for exercises


What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength by Scott Carney

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-Rated Organ by Giulia Enders

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

Hear Your Body Whisper: How to Unlock Your Self-Healing Mechanism by Otakara Klettke

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.


Carbon Markets | Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy is a weekly newsletter that covers things happening around the world, along with some context that helps you understand it better. This is the 61st edition of the newsletter.

I am going to try to take something insanely complicated and make it as simple as possible. I hope to get some distance to it if not all the way. Carbon markets are a complex construct stuck in myriad legislative hurdles and national agendas. What makes it all the more challenging is how it is thought about or implemented.

Carbon Markets

The World War came to an end in Asia with the dropping of two atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It takes about 1.5 hours for Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to travel from Hiroshima to Kyoto.

In 1997, at Kyoto, 84 countries signed the Kyoto Protocol which laid the framework for global action against Climate Change and also created certain standards which we are fighting with even today.

One of the terms agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol was called Assigned Amount Unit (AAU), which we today refer to as a Carbon Credit. A Carbon Credit represents the allowance to emit greenhouse gases comprising one metric tonne of Carbon dioxide equivalents. This is calculated using the Global Warming Potential of the gas being emitted. For this purpose, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has created several tables.

The Agreement also created three groups of countries – Annex I, Annex II and Non-Annex. Each would commit to differing emissions from their economies. Most of the countries were part of Non-Annex, which commit to nothing, including the US. Almost every other major western economy is part of either Annex I or Annex II including Russia.

As an incentive to those countries that were part of Annex I or Annex II, a proposal was put forth to make it possible for them to trade the accumulated AAUs that they were able to generate through their commitment to reduced emissions to countries that were producing excess AAUs.

The Challenges

  1. There was no formal agreement between all parties on how this would work
  2. There was no standard price that was fixed for the AAU and the hope was that the market would help define it
  3. Haggling over how the initiative would be executed continued for years
  4. A horrible patchwork of schemes began to emerge from the Annex I and Annex II countries but nothing centralised or connected.

The formal crediting period for Joint Implementation (JI) was aligned with the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and did not start until January 2008 (Carbon Trust, 2009, p. 20). In November 2008, only 22 JI projects had been officially approved and registered. The total projected emission savings from JI by 2012 are about one tenth that of the CDM. Russia accounts for about two-thirds of these savings, with the remainder divided up roughly equally between Ukraine and the EU’s New Member States. Emission savings include cuts in methane, HFC, and N2O emissions.

Source: Wikipedia

The Sinister Mind

Now, this political complexity is further complicated by what constitutes the accumulation of an AAU. Most companies are helmed by those who would like to pay themselves 300 times what they pay their average employee. They have to have some of the most sinister minds.

Classically, Carbon Emission Reduction should mean – I was using fossil fuels for this activity, now I am using clean energy and hence have reduced carbon, so I should get carbon credit. Say you got Solar Panels for your house.

Slightly sinister interpretation – I was running a coal-powered plant, it was anyway going to shut down. But because I shut it down, there is so much reduction in carbon so I should get carbon credit.

Incredibly sinister interpretation – I could have grown my business 100% and used only carbon sources and since I am not going to be growing my business and doing that damage, I should get carbon credit.

This makes the entire carbon credit business that much more challenging. A company like Shell can say that they are not drilling an oil well that they could in Alaska and therefore should be rewarded for avoiding a profitable activity that they would have otherwise undertaken.

Further, you have cases like Tesla. Tesla claims every car that it puts on the road takes out one petrol vehicle and should get equivalent carbon credit. And that carbon credit is the only reason the company is profitable and solvent. The truth is the electricity that is used to charge the Tesla often comes from coal-powered plants.

We even have the country of Brazil asking for ‘protection money’ for not cutting the rest of the Amazon forest!

More specifically, there are things like this that start to happen.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society has long managed its land in western Massachusetts as crucial wildlife habitat. Nature lovers flock to these forests to enjoy bird-watching and quiet hikes, with the occasional bobcat or moose sighting.

But in 2015, the conservation nonprofit presented California’s top climate regulator with a startling scenario: It could heavily log 9,700 acres of its preserved forests over the next few years.

The group raised the possibility of chopping down hundreds of thousands of trees as part of its application to take part in California’s forest offset program.

The state’s Air Resources Board established the system to harness the ability of trees to absorb and store carbon to help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

The program allows forest owners like Mass Audubon to earn so-called carbon credits for preserving trees. Each credit represents a ton of CO2. California polluters, such as oil companies, buy these credits so that they can emit more CO2 than they’d otherwise be allowed to under state law. Theoretically, the exchange should balance out emissions to prevent an overall increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

The Air Resources Board accepted Mass Audubon’s project into its program, requiring the nonprofit to preserve its forests over the next century instead of heavily logging them. The nonprofit received more than 600,000 credits in exchange for its promise. The vast majority were sold through intermediaries to oil and gas companies, records show. The group earned about $6 million from the sales, Mass Audubon regional scientist Tom Lautzenheiser said.


But it didn’t work out as well for the climate, unless Mass Audubon actually intended to start acting more like a timber company. The project wouldn’t achieve anywhere near the claimed levels of reduced carbon emissions if the nonprofit was getting credits for forests that were never in danger of aggressive logging. And every time a polluter uses a credit that didn’t actually save a ton of carbon, net emissions go up, undermining the point of the program.

Source: MIT Technology Review

This is tantamount to extortion!

Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets are derived from activities that draw carbon out of the atmosphere—forest conservation is the most common—and ostensibly allow their purchasers to move toward decarbonization while continuing to produce an equivalent volume of emissions. Oil companies, airlines, and other high-emitting sectors have touted the purchase of offsets as a promising way to make immediate progress on climate while technology catches up and the fossil fuel market winds down. In early May, for example, the US gas company Cheniere Energy said it had sold a “carbon-neutral” shipment of liquified natural gas to Royal Dutch Shell—one matched with offsets.


Companies are clamoring for offsets, and more are becoming available. In the first quarter of 2021, 38.6 million metric tons of offsets were purchased globally, according to the analytics firm Ecosystem Marketplace, a record. That’s equal to the annual emissions of 10 coal-fired power plants and a jump of 81% compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, the volume of new offsets “issued” (certified in some way and available for sale) globally jumped 76% in 2020 from 2019, and 2021 is well on track to break another record. Analysts predict offset purchases could reach the equivalent of 500 coal plants by 2030, growing the market 15-fold in value to more than $50 billion.

But just as they’re stepping into the spotlight, carbon offsets are facing more challenges to their credibility than ever. In the last few months, one investigation after another by journalists, environmental groups, ratings agencies, and even offset-brokering companies themselves has unearthed dubious assumptions, willful misrepresentations, and systematic accounting errors in the offset market that ultimately drive emissions up, not down—and permit offset purchasers, intentionally or not, to greenwash their image without actually addressing the climate crisis.

Source: Quartz

And then came the Paris Climate Agreement. While it was obvious that something needed to be done and soon. The Agreement produced little value. In Promised Land, Barack Obama writes how he tried to explain to his European counterparts that he would be unable to push the Agreement with strong words through his senate. But weaker words meant more countries signed up.

The idea is that, under Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, if one country pays for carbon emissions to be reduced in a second country, the first country can count those reductions towards its own national targets. If done right, analysts at the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) say this international emissions trading could almost double global emissions reductions between 2020 and 2035. It could also cut the financial cost of meeting current Paris Agreement emissions pledges, which aim to keep global average temperature rise well below 2 degrees over pre-industrial era, by 59% to 79%.

But Article 6 is controversial, which may be why it is the last section of the Paris Agreement still under negotiation. If the rules governing the emissions trading market are lax, it could become a “massive loophole” for emitters, allowing them to continue polluting at home without taking serious action, says Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Markets Watch, an international NGO. That would severely undermine efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change that would result from missing the Paris targets.

Source: Time

And as a result

The world has never had a global price on carbon. Instead, more than 60 emission trading systems and taxes have been stitched together by national governments pricing a ton of CO₂, anywhere from less than $1(Poland) to more than $120 (Sweden). A coordinated international carbon price has been stymied by bureaucracy, jurisdictional disputes, industry resistance, and worries over international competitiveness.

Source: Quartz

A combination of the Paris Agreement and the number of carbon exchanges that are starting to pop up has resulted in some even more painful situations.

But one small Island nation is using everything in its power to create a global solution for this. The country is trying to push through a standard USD 100 per ton carbon tax. At the very least for one industry.

Global shipping accounts for 3% of the world’s GHG emissions, mostly from dirty bunker fuel burned by bulk cargo carriers, oil tankers, and container ships. By 2050, this could exceed 20% of global emissions under a business-as-usual scenario, predicts the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which is based in London.

For the Marshall Islands, a string of 29 coral atolls in the middle of the Pacific, global warming is an existential threat. Home to about 58,791 inhabitants, and only 10 meters at its highest point, the islands could be inundated by rising seas by 2080, researchers predict.

While the island nation wields little political power in international climate negotiations, it commands enormous influence in the International Maritime Organisation. The Marshall Islands’ ship registry is among the world’s three largest with more than 3,200 ships flying the country’s flag, including the world’s largest fleet of oil tankers. The RMI is now using that influence to push for climate action through the IMO, the only international body able to sanction such action.

Source: Quartz

Using this clout the country is trying to push to get the Carbon taxes on the shipping industry started at $100 and then push it up to $250 – $300 over the coming years at which point the price will be at parity with the zero-carbon alternatives such as Ammonia, Hydrogen and Batteries.

If the proposal is implemented, shipping will have the first meaningful price on carbon beyond national trading schemes. Aviation was long seen as the most likely candidate to price its international emissions. It officially launched its own pricing mechanism this year. Airlines planned to establish a 2019-2020 emissions baseline, then purchase carbon offsets for any emissions that exceed it for international flights (domestic flights are excluded).

But the industry backtracked after the pandemic wiped out airlines’ revenue due to travel restrictions.

Source: Quartz

There will be a huge pushback because taxing shipping for Carbon. It would mean that almost every industry that moves goods will be affected. The costs will percolate down to all. But that is the hope. If the cost of buying something goes up, hopefully, we would not buy it unnecessarily and wastefully, thereby reducing emissions.

The Solution

In every way imaginable, the source of all of the problems around the world is capitalism. Capitalism demands near-infinite growth and in order to deliver that growth, there is a need to exploit every resource on the planet.

For all the chest-thumping about how good Tesla is for the environment. The car is made of steel which uses very Carbon intensive means of production.

Looks like capitalism is going to deliver the solution as well!

By making economies rich, they have in part made sure that very few want to have kids anymore.

All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

Source: New York Times

Certain estimates say that by the middle of this century – in another 30 years – the world will start inexorably slipping towards depopulation. This is going to be especially pronounced for the richer economies. Japan is already contracting. Europe is hanging on to parity thanks to immigration, which they detest. China pursued a two-child policy over the last 40 years which now seems impossible to reverse.

In Capracotta, a small town in southern Italy, a sign in red letters on an 18th-century stone building looking on to the Apennine Mountains reads “Home of School Kindergarten” — but today, the building is a nursing home.

Residents eat their evening broth on waxed tablecloths in the old theater room.“There were so many families, so many children,” said Concetta D’Andrea, 93, who was a student and a teacher at the school and is now a resident of the nursing home. “Now there is no one.”

The population in Capracotta has dramatically aged and contracted — from about 5,000 people to 800. The town’s carpentry shops have shut down. The organizers of a soccer tournament struggled to form even one team.

About a half-hour away, in the town of Agnone, the maternity ward closed a decade ago because it had fewer than 500 births a year, the national minimum to stay open. This year, six babies were born in Agnone.

Source: New York Times

Unintentionally, modern economics and capitalism may have delivered a solution to the problems that they helped create. Although the New York Times articles takes a very sad tone, I think this is a matter to celebrate.


I had written a piece earlier this week about Poverty Line and how it had been artificially kept at such a low figure as to be laughable. The economists use this ridiculous number to write tomes about how the world is improving.

In India, a company launched a home test kit for COVID. It works a little bit like a pregnancy test and if it gives you a positive result, you should go get an RT-PCR test.

As the number of cases has risen in India, the country faced shortages in testing. MyLab Discovery Solutions is one of the labs processing tests that has been overwhelmed with demand, and hopes to produce 7 million of the at-home kits per week, going up to 10 million, to help fill the diagnostic need.

The test can be purchased online or at pharmacies without a prescription. It is fast, well-designed, and even linked with an app for traceability. It’s also priced far out of the reach of most Indians, particularly those who need it the most.


Rapid at-home testing is important to identify existing cases while avoiding unnecessary exposure to testing sites, to contain the outbreak, and to improve on the country’s poor performance in data and tracking. Yet the test is very limited in its potential reach. Priced at Rs 250 per test (about $3.40), it is just above the average daily income of Rs 271.

Source: Quartz

You cannot realistically expect a company to research, manufacture, distribute and make a profit at a price less than Rs. 250. The problem is not the price but the refusal to accept the fact that most of the people in the country are living at a level below the poverty line.

The problem is that once you have wrongfully determined that a problem no longer exists, you stop solving it. Not very dissimilar from the decisions the Indian govt took in March vis-a-vis COVID.

Then a blockbuster report surfaced from the New York Times, which estimated the best and worst-case scenarios of COVID deaths in India – till now.

Source: New York Times

The conservative scenario assumes a 0.15% mortality rate. The likely scenario assumes a 0.3% mortality rate. They have a great tool to project various degrees of infection.

I think the infection rate is 15X what has been reported and the mortality rate has been at 0.5% especially due to the lack of oxygen needed to save the people.

Also, looking at most investigative reports from Gujarat, MP, etc. The number of death seems to be at about 10X – 15X what has been reported. According to government records, 0.15 Million deaths were recorded in the last 45 days.


On April 27, over three months after the vaccination drive first commenced in India, Pathan took his first shot at a vaccination camp organized in his village. That day, health workers managed to inoculate 65 residents of Janefal, or 100 percent of its eligible population, setting an example for other rural residents of the country, and prompting vaccination drives in 16 nearby villages.

Janefal stands out as a role model, says Sunil Chavan, collector of the Aurangabad district, where this small village is based. Chavan, who heads the administrative affairs of the district with 4.5 million people, lauded the initiative of local leaders and health workers in Janefal, stating that they started creating awareness when the vaccine rollout was only beginning in India, marred by staunch resistance in its rural pockets. “Now, every village wants to be Janefal,” says Chavan.

Source: National Geographic

We did it once with Polio and we can do it over and over again. Just as long as we keep political lunacy away from it.

Would love to hear what you think about it, do leave comments below.

Share if you like it.

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts at


Book Recommendations 2020

About 9 months ago, my sister decided to start a book club. The idea was to read one book a month. She and all the other members fell behind after the first month. There were many spirited efforts made to keep up with reading. Ultimately, since we all shared her Kindle account, it turned out that she ended up buying a lot of books for ME to read. 

Here is the list of books I read this year as a part of the ‘Buy books for Vivek Club!’

Atomic Habits by James Clear – It was a quick read. Atomic Habits talks about how to develop a habit in small steps that many would find very useful. I enjoyed reading the book. Some of the tips were already known to me, but the how is what matters and the writer does a good job at it.

Einstein by Walter Isaacson – I have always been fascinated by Physics but this book is not so much about the Physics as the man behind the physics. It is a fascinating read like most books by Walter are. This book dives into the nuances of the discoveries made while at the same time discussing the myriad flaws that made up the person. It was an enjoyable read.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – Shoe Dog is an autobiography by the founder of Nike. Set in a time that many of us may not relate easily with, the book traces the rise of the company and the challenges that it had to overcome to become what it is today. Phil a runner himself co-founded the company with his coach. A fascinating read spanning decades. I absolutely recommend it.

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance – Elon Musk is a very controversial figure and this is an authorised biography of his life. As you might expect, it paints him in rosy colours. The book traces his childhood, the founding of Paypal and all the rest thereafter. It is quite an inspiring book and a quick read.

The Brain: the story of you by David Eagleman – While an interesting book, ‘The Brain’ simplifies the science behind how the brain works. It is certainly not the best book I have read this year but I would certainly recommend it if you want to learn the inner workings of the human brain. 

The Ivory Throne by Manu S Pillai – The Ivory Throne is a book that takes you through the last 100 years of the Travancore Empire. While it goes further back at times to set the context, it is a very detailed and an unbearably biased retelling of the decline of the throne. Filled with painful details of the intrigues that made up royal life. This one took me the longest to complete also because it is so damn long. My advice read the short description on Wikipedia.

The hidden life of trees by Peter Wohlleben – You will not see another tree the same way! Peter loves the forest and having spent so much time in the woods, he explains how trees behave. This is a deeply insightful book that explains a lot of the biology of how trees grow, communicate and thrive. When you read this book, you will learn about the feelings that trees have. I highly recommend this book.

Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark – While the book is meant to explain the maths behind the physics, it is written delightfully. Max writes with wit and it makes the book fun to read. He is also incredible at explaining the concepts from the sub-atomic to the intergalactic. I would certainly recommend this book.

Measure What Matters by John Doerr – The legendary Investor behind Google, Facebook and several other startups; John Doerr shares what all these startups have in common. Objectives and Key Responsibilities (OKR). A management style first pioneered at Intel; this book takes you through the process of setting up OKRs. It also shares case studies of products like Google Chrome and how OKRs played a role in their success. If you are starting a startup or struggling with managing one, a must-read. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – The book is an autobiography of a surgeon who does not manage to realise his potential because he contracts cancer just at the verge of the completion of his internship. The book is about his struggles with the disease and his perspective of what his life would have meant. A short and breezy read.

Behave by Robert Sapolsky – Humans are capable of incredible violence but at the same time we are also capable of great kindness. What triggers one decision or the other? Robert attempts to answer such questions through the analysis of the processes that go in the brain that precipitate them. 

The Moonshot Game by Rahul Chandra – This book is the biography of a fund. Rahul lays out how Helion VC got started, the challenges that they faced on the other side of the table and how the firm finally met with its end. If you want a closer look at the workings of a VC fund, it is worth a read.

Kohinoor by William Dalrymple – There were three books by William Dalrymple that I read this year. Kohinoor traces the history of the famous diamond from India to Persia, back to India, and then to the Crown of the Queen. For any Indian, it is a painful read because it chronicles the subterfuge and theft that the British engaged in. While it is a history book, it feels like a novel. Beautifully written. Must read. #ShortRead

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker – A researcher, with 20 years of research in his bag explains sleep and its importance in our lives. I think this is the most important book that I have read this year. The awesome part is that he does not stop with the science, he does into its implications on business, policy and life.

The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato – Most of the biggest innovations are seeded by the government. The companies normally figure out the application and scale part of it but rarely do they invest in figuring out the science. This is the foundation on which the book is written and provides example after example from America of how the exceptional companies were able to take advantage of investments made decades ago, whether that be clean energy, the internet, AI or several other things. Also makes a case for why it is fair to tax these companies more heavily.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil – Algorithms determine so many things in our lives today. How much credit do you get? Whether you get recruited or not? Are you suspected of a crime? These algorithms are all fundamentally biased and we live in a world with the bias is hidden by making it sound like the algorithms are complex impossible to understand code. Cathy rips apart the bias and showcases what far-reaching effect that has on the lives of people.

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple – This book is an ode to Delhi by the author who moved to the city in 1989. The book describes the Delhi of 1989 and traces the history that brought it there. Each chapter takes you back a few hundred years and shares the stories that make Delhi what it is today. If you have ever lived in Delhi this is a book you just cannot miss.

Anarchy by William Dalrymple – This is the first of the three of his books I read this year. Anarchy charted the rise of the East Indian Company from 1600 to 1800. He stops just before the revolt of 1857 which led to the nationalisation of the company. It’s a book that should be made a mandatory part of school syllabus in my opinion. History is told like a story and is incredible.

Range by David Epstein – In a world that appreciates and sometimes even pushes people towards specialisation, how important is the breadth of knowledge? With several examples from the past and the present, he makes a case for generalisation and the need for knowledge from across streams for us to be able to pick out the right analogy to understand what we are faced with.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – A veritable genius, Leonardo da Vinci had several achievements. Walter Isaacson does his best to trace and put together the life of the artist and scientist also taking the time to describe some of his greatest achievements. Absolutely worth the read. 

How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky – A book that is right for the times, this book takes you through the evolution of the political system in America since the Civil rights movement. It provides an insight into what guardrails protect democracy and how they have come apart in the past and how those are beginning to come apart in different parts of the world.

Eight Lessons on Infinity by Haim Shapira – This book is a journey through numbers. Eight different mathematical challenges and how to understand infinity. It is a short and quick read. Most of the mathematics is simple and fun to engage with while all of them related to the single concept of infinity.

Refuge by Dina Nayeri – A novel that is perhaps quite auto-biographical. The story of a refugee from Iran whose father is still left behind. The challenges that the family faces, the lack of personal interactions over the years and a sense of the difficulty that her father would have, trying to integrate as a refugee at an old age. It is the moving story of the evolution of a relationship. 

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh – Set in Colonial India, the book traces the stories of several lives that converge towards a ship due to circumstances that are beyond their control. It is an interesting read that paints a picture of life in those times and the uncertainty of things in those days. It was interesting in parts but is not something that I would highly recommend. 

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells – This book is a balanced portrait of the climate crisis that we are currently faced with. Instead of diving into the science of climate change, this book goes into the effects that are obvious for everyone to see. It also tries to look at the actions that we can and need to take to keep the earth a habitable place.

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson – I read this book rather slowly but enjoyed it much. While the book is meant as a biography of Benjamin Franklin, it also provides great insight into why America is the way it is. What were the seeds that led to the formation of the country and how divided they were. Another incredible book by Walter Isaacson. Highly recommend.

Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams – I read only the first part of the 5-part trilogy as he describes it. Set in a Universe where Earth is destroyed to make way; the book is the story of an earthling who manages to escape the planet and takes a sojourn across the universe with his alien friend Ford Prefect. I have heard a lot of high praise for the book, but I have to admit, I did not enjoy this one all that much.

God by Reza Aslan – God is an attempt to explain the thought process that led to the creation of God by mankind. While the book starts out well, it leaves much to be wanted. First of all, it is far too short and never gets into the depths of any topic. I would not recommend this book. 

Failing to Succeed by K Vaitheeswaran – The book chronicles the rise of the first e-commerce company in India – Fabmart. Starting in 1999 the challenges and the difficulties that the team faced and what eventually led to the failure of their e-commerce business. A book filled with startup insights while at the same time sharing more than a decade long story. It is also a useful lesson in what happens when you get too attached to your business and do not know when to quit.

Breath by James Nestor – James dives into how important it is to breathe and how we do it wrong all the time. He illustrates the same through an experiment he puts himself through and explains how various traditional techniques change our bodies and the power that they hold within them. I enjoyed reading the book and would certainly recommend it.


Learning by Proxy | Farm Bill

On the eve of Guru Nanak Jayanti, a group of Punjabi farmers camped at the border of Delhi cooked food for the night. The government asked them to move to designated areas so that talks could be held on the 3rd of December. A couple of days before, the Prime Minister of the country flew to visit vaccine labs across the country rather than visit the farmers to help them understand his vision.

What is the point all the marketing this government engages in if you are never there when trouble foments?

Farm Bill

When the European first came to India, they lusted after the Indian spices which were of very high quality. Also, they could not grow them locally in Europe and trading with India became a necessary evil. Indian farmers and kingdoms were able to quote the price they wished because the demand was high and farm output was not as much. 

Over time, as the British chased all the rest of the Europeans out and consolidated power, they started forcing farmers to produce crops that they needed. Apart from food grains, poppy, tea and cotton were important for the British trade. What was the point of consolidating power if the Indians could charge what they wished? 

For this, the first regulated market was set up in the Hyderabad Residency in 1886. They also passed the Berar Grain and Cotton Market Act of 1887 which allowed the British to declare any area as a market in the designated region and also set up a committee to regulate the trade (and prices). 

The Agri-markets were tools of oppression. After Independence, a new argument took root that preserved this institution; that farmers would not be able to find the right price for their produce and would be required to sell their produce at throwaway prices. The supposed high cost of marketing resulted in the Agriculture Produce Market Committee which each state government could setup. This may have also been true! Half the country depending on farming for their income; most of the rest were also poor and we were copying USSR at everything.

Since Independence, this has been true, till the Farm Bill 2020 arrived. First of all, the manner in which the bill was passed did make the contents of the bill seem far more sinister.

On Sunday, things hit a new low when the Bills were passed by a voice vote despite opposition MPs asking for a division, i.e. a recorded vote – which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) clearly was not in a position to win.

The stubborn stand taken by the regime in the Rajya Sabha on September 20 against the demand of opposition parties, including the Biju Janata Dal, to refer the farm Bills – The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 – to a select committee of the House for better scrutiny and examination, is reflective of its unwillingness to subject those Bills to deeper levels of deliberation and consultation, eschewing party perspectives.

Source: The Wire

So what does the bill actually say?

The Bills which aim to change the way agricultural produce is marketed, sold and stored across the country were initially issued in the form of ordinances in June. They were then passed by voice-vote in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha during the delayed monsoon session this month, despite vociferous Opposition protest. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows farmers to sell their harvest outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis without paying any State taxes or fees. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, facilitates contract farming and direct marketing. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, deregulates the production, storage, movement and sale of several major foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, edible oils and onion, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances. 

Source: The Hindu

There has been strong opposition to the Farm Bill from the time that it was passed. A huge portion of the opposition has been based on the fact that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that was guaranteed by the APMC erodes with this new bill. Over the years, the APMC has reduced the farmer’s ability to find new markets where higher prices could be found.

Going back to the 1500s when the Europeans arrived in India, if the Europeans were allowed to buy at MSP in APMCs, they would have been none too happy. The farm sector has been stuck because of the APMC Act. Farmers’ produce can only be sold in a designated APMC within the state even though there could be shortages elsewhere in other states which could fetch them a better price. 

But farmers are fearful that without the APMC monopoly, the state governments might no longer find it viable to run the APMCs and they will lose the security that this offers.

Truth is, the current generation of farmers have known no other way. This is the only reality that they have ever known.

The farmers in Haryana and Punjab are some of the largest producers of staples in India and they have been dependent on the MSP to get through times when market prices are depressed. The problem is with the way the market is currently set up. If you and everyone around you are producing the same thing and selling at the same place at the same time because these are seasonal crops; supply is bound if overtake demand at some point. The government is no fool they offer the MSP because they can then move that produce to other parts of the country and sell it.

State governments generate a lot of tax income through the APMC. They do not want to encourage their farmers to sell in other states, this will impact their coffers. While this is another knee jerk change which is typical of this government, I DO believe this is for the best.

Imagine a farmer in Indiana having to sell all his corn only in Indiana to the government of The United States of America at a preset price!

The farmers in Punjab decided to sit on railway tracks and protest. The central government one-upped them by stopping all railways and bus services in and out of Punjab! After protesting for a month, the farmers decided to move the theatre of protests to Delhi. They felt their voices were not being heard; which they weren’t. The government decided to stop the protests from reaching Delhi. The protesters were hosed down by water cannons and the highways leading up to Delhi turned into trenches.

First of all, it does not makes for great optics and it is not really inspiring trust.

The Farm Bill is one of the few pieces of legislation that I believe is a right step by this government. I was quite excited to see what impact this has on the agri-tech startup scene which is currently playing either the role of the middle man or flirting with more tech and little with agri. 

The trouble is that farmers are seeing the situation as one where the market is limited and everyone seeking to minimise the price. While the fact is that there is a potential to grow their market far beyond their state borders and open up a lot of opportunities which can drive prices up. Instead of having a dialogue and explaining this, the government is busy treating them as miscreants and trouble-makers. 

I often ask these questions on pricing to aspiring entrepreneurs:

You could sell a cup of coffee at Rs. 10 and get 1000 customers OR

You could sell a cup of coffee at Rs. 100 and get 100 customers OR

You could sell a cup of coffee at Rs. 300 and get 30 customers;

How can you maximise profit? What price would you sell it at?

The right answer is all of these price points. Practical execution – Coffee Day vending machines in offices; Cafe Coffee Day stores and Coffee Day Square.

The farm bill provides farmers with the same opportunity. Cooperate, consolidate, find the right markets and sell it at a price that fits. We could see many Amuls emerging in the coming years. Instead, we are having a shitshow at hand because of improper communication.

On that note

Hypocrites will be hypocrites

Canada has a large number of Sikhs that live there. They represent 1.5% of the Canadian population and therefore are an important voter base. Consequently, the Canadian PM is prone to making a lot of stupid statements to appease them, including pushing the idea of a Khalistan.

Canada may have voiced concerns over the ongoing farmer protests in India against the central government’s three farm bills, but in the past, it has never left any opportunity to challenge India’s farm subsidies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

On Tuesday, while addressing members of the Sikh community in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situation of Indian farmers agitating against the farm bills is “concerning” and that his country will “be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest”. India, however, rejected the comments as being “ill-informed”.

Source: The Print

The same country acts as if it is at the forefront of the green movement and highly concerned about climate change while at the same time promoting the extraction of oil from Tar Sands (the WORST way to produce oil) and then promote the Keystone pipeline as well which will cause further environmental damage along the way while hurting the sentiments of indigenous people.

Amazon is on a tear

Last quarter when Amazon reported its sales numbers, the executives said, these numbers would be high for December quarter. The restrictions coupled with fear and empty toilet paper category in many supermarkets pushed shoppers online. Amazon has grown its revenue number phenomenally during the pandemic and has been perhaps the greatest beneficiary. Its argument at most anti-trust hearing used to be that in the entire retail business it occupies a small percentage, that has changed.

Source: Benedict Evans

For all the automation, the company is still heavily dependant on people to run its warehouses.

The hiring has taken place at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, at its hundreds of warehouses in rural communities and suburbs, and in countries such as India and Italy. Amazon added 427,300 employees between January and October, pushing its workforce to more than 1.2 million people globally, up more than 50 per cent from a year ago. Its number of workers now approaches the entire population of Dallas.

Source: New York Times

Amazon now has half as many employees as Walmart and the window is closing on its ability to escape greater scrutiny but lawmakers. In that way, the pandemic has brought the reckoning closer for Amazon.

Guess Where this photo was taken

Whatever you guessed, you are probably wrong. Click here


By the time you read this a sample of soil from a meteor would have landed in Australia[email protected] @haya2e_jaxaIt’s now less than 2 weeks left, and under 4,500,000 km to Earth! The current plan for the Earth return (in JST): ・December 5, 14:00 – 15:00: capsule separation ・Dec. 5, 15:00 – 17:00: orbit change for spacecraft departure ・Dec. 6, 02:00 – 03:00: capsule landing November 24th 2020262 Retweets1,128 Likes

What if you were served coffee in a cup made with coffee?NowThis @nowthisnewsInstead of dumping leftover coffee grounds, this company is turning them into coffee cups November 27th 202045 Retweets279 Likes

You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. Please do subscribe! 

If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha