Musing #39: Reflecting on Marx, Nietzsche and Freud

I presume it wouldn't have occurred to me to mention these personalities in the same sentence, were it not for the 3-part 'Genius of the Modern World' series. Having not read the works of these authors, I never had the opportunity to develop a perspective of the ideas coming from these great minds. Hence, it was nice to finally understand the life and the works of these personalities. It is true that my opinion is now based on the portrayal of these minds in the TV series but I can't imagine getting a better retelling and interpretation than from historians and scholars dedicated to the subject.

The common thread across all 3 episodes is that while the ideas emanating from these minds were revealing, they were extremely controversial for their time and continue to be so. Of the three, history has been kinder to Freud than Nietzsche and perhaps to a lesser extent Marx. Yet, their ideas continue to be as relevant today as it was when first put forth. The basic structure of the society hasn't changed much over a century and a half with religion still occupying a prominent place in society and the capitalistic economy being still driven by the masses for the lopsided benefit of a select few. Thus, it is very easy to understand where these thoughts are coming from and where they are leading to.

However, what history has taught us is that things take a turn for the worse when ideas change to ideologies. That was precisely the case with the Bolshevik revolution that provided a new lease of life to Marxism and the unfortunate perversion of Nietzsche's Ubermensch by the Nazis. On the other hand, war proved to be of much more beneficial to Freud's psychoanalysis with the discovery of PTSD. History has since been more focussed on the political impact of these ideas than the ideas themselves which has perhaps lead to a lack in appreciation of these ideas and the circumstance surrounding them.

In our hearts, we wouldn't wish for the dystopia that is associated with the works of these authors. Yet, it is simply impossible to not ponder whether we are already on that path to self-destruction. While the last century witnessed the worst of humanity through two world wars, it is very unlikely that the world would need another war for humanity to dive deeper in to the abyss. Humanity is numbing itself through distractions rather than facing up to the challenges that the world poses. While religion has been the predominant sanctum of distraction in humanity's history, burgeoning means of entertainment have taken hold in recent years as a means of escaping the drudgery of life. That makes it all the more pertinent to question the meaning of life as we live through it, not only as an individual but as a society at large.

Musing #37: Revisiting the Bitcoin Frenzy

I always thought that I was a bit late to the uptake of Bitcoins when I made my first purchase in 2015, having read about it for a long time as a technology enthusiast. However, I never imagined that the real frenzy would come much later. Along with it, comes the regret of immediately selling off the miniscule number of bitcoins I had purchased. Perhaps the bigger regret should be of not purchasing more of it and just letting it sit idle. If I remember it right, bitcoins were around the $300 mark at that time and what else would have ever provided a 10x return in less than 2 years?

While regrets live and die with the sole purpose of being detrimental, my purpose then was served which was understanding the workings of it. Of course, it came with the added benefit of arbitrage for back then the merchants that accepted it had a lower rate for BTC than for USD when converted from my local currency. My focus and hope for bitcoins was that it would be an effective alternate payment channel. Unfortunately, recent developments have shown it to not be the case.

Throughout this year, bitcoin has been in the news for all the wrong reasons which culminated in the forking of the currency earlier this month. It was this event that made me revisit bitcoins. What is now truly evident is that bitcoin has passed the point of no return in terms of being a viable alternate currency. Rather, it has become an instrument of speculation and greed. Merchant adoption has diminished with the passing of the day as the long waiting times and high transaction fees have made it the antithesis of what an ideal payment instrument should be. The only ones really vested in it are hoarders and miners who continue to thrive with each executed transaction.

For some, it would still make sense to purchase bitcoins even today, despite the fact that it saw a swing of 40-60% just in the past month (or may be because of it). A scarce resource will see appreciation in time as long as the want is there; want since no one really needs it at the moment. The association of idealism, freedom and anarchy with bitcoins has long passed. Now it is only about greed and nothing else. This is precisely the reason why I don't wish to purchase bitcoins again. However, I still see a transactional value for it since the world needs better cross-border instrument than PayPal.

This also gave me a reason to login to my years-old accounts in Indian bitcoin exchanges and see how they have fared over time.

1. Zebpay: The reasons why I had registered for it in the first place were its accessibility on the mobile, purchase price lock-in and vendor offers. Unfortunately, none of it seems to be of any value at the moment. While the main attraction in terms of purchase price protection has been discarded, it would have mattered if I could access my account in the first place. Despite contacting customer service, they haven't been able to unblock my account for over a week. The unblocking from the app fails to work as the SMS is never received (probably being sent from a number on the TRAI DND list) and the call option leads to an app error. While "caveat emptor" applies to any purchase, it seems to be particularly relevant here when you also consider the non-transparent fees and high purchase/withdrawal limitations. Definitely, a no-go for me.

2. Unocoin: You can never be too careful and in my case, it meant having to get 2FA disabled on my account, having long deleted it from my Authy accounts list. The call from customer care came within 24 hours which was a good sign considering that most wallet credits used to take a significantly long time. However, I would put this down to the fact that I did it when bitcoin trading was suspended for the fork and the customer service might not have had anything better to do. The big change that I was looking forward to was the support for PayUMoney which I hoped would finally enable me to bypass the frustrating wait for the amount to be credited to the wallet. Unfortunately, my spirits were dampened the moment I saw the 1.9% transaction fee. It just lobs the ball in my court once again and I can't simply figure out a better use case for considering Unocoin over other options.

3. Coinsecure: Since I only intend to use bitcoins for transactions, time is of the essence considering the volatility of bitcoin. In that respect, coinsecure performs really well even though it doesn't have the same accessibility due to lack of an app. The Material Design interface gets in the way more often than not, especially when there are notifications flying all over the screen like the persistent one about the fork and subsequent closure. However, my deposit through IMPS was registered in a matter of minutes and subsequent withdrawal of the same amount was executed during working hours. The real trouble was finding the matching order volume which in the least was for a few thousand bucks. I remember that in the past I could place a buy order without a matching order volume hoping for it to be fulfilled some time later, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Despite this, I prefer it over the other exchanges.

There are other references that I came across such as bitxoxo but I can't be bothered to test them out for as I said before I am out of the bitcoin bubble for good. It certainly feels odd to not be part of something that is going to appreciate monetarily but then it is a matter of principle and belief, the belief that bitcoin could have been a low-cost, global payment channel. The soaring prices have tilted the scale against currency arbitrage; the high transaction fees would put PayPal to shame and the transaction times are nothing to write home about. Thus, bitcoin has become analogous to gold as a hoarder's asset, only difference being its wild swings lending it to immense speculation. Bitcoin's relative anonymity has tilted more in favour of the dark side rather than the envisaged utopia of freedom and invisible borders.

Bitcoin's lasting legacy would be the blockchain which still has a significant potential in having a real-world impact. Bitcoin itself is now no more than a game of timing and pricing, leaving the scope for the rise of a true nationless currency that is without its pitfalls.

Musing #36: The Next Big Thing


I just started reading 'The One Device' the other day and have made it past the first couple of chapters wherein the book briefly touches over Apple's transition to innovation after its lost years. Of course, this is not the first time I have come across the story as the Steve Jobs' biography covers it in much greater detail. However, the underlying message to take away is that well-executed ideas can make a huge difference to the fortunes of a company, even though the innovation may be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Although the situation is far from similar, reading this phase of Apple's history makes me ponder over the flux the Indian IT industry finds itself in now. If anything, the requirement for innovation in the industry has been expedited. However, what comes around in the public domain sounds more like Orwellian Newspeak. The mention of AI, Automation, Cloud, Digital, Agile in the broadest of terms seems to have little more intention than to placate the shareholders. After all, shareholders in India seem to be a particularly emotional bunch going by the swings that take place after an obvious piece of news is shared by the media. This has necessitated the use of these terms along with others like Big Data, DevOps which have been in circulation for a pretty long time, enough for them to not be considered as part of a novel strategy. Yet, it forms the basis of optimism for a huge industry and its employees.

Ideas need execution to be successful. The basic tenet of the Indian IT industry has been cost arbitrage and providing services for cheap. Unfortunately, the same strategy seems to be permeating itself in the “new” fields. Hence, when the industry speaks of AI, it isn't referring to top of the line machine and deep learning. Instead it alludes to automation of basic operational tasks based on limited algorithmic branching. Even the innovation that does occur in this space is not happening here in India but through talent hired abroad with the usual instruction based implementation being passed on to cheaper coders in India. Similarly, the digital revolution through products and platforms is based on imitating the functionalities of well-established software at a fraction of the price. It is thus a case of simply picking the low hanging fruit.

Establishing any roadmap is based on industry trends and a fair bit of optimism. One certainly must move along with emerging technologies but the success of any buzzword isn't guaranteed. Case in point is that of Virtual Reality. Not until a few years ago, it was seen as the next big thing. Cost has always been attributed as a key factor in the uptake of VR. However, that isn't the case for something like Google Cardboard. It certainly offers a basic experience but at the same time illustrates the fallibility of VR. Beyond the initial novelty of the experience, it becomes very difficult to get people to come back again. One can only take so many rollercoaster rides, scenic walks and museum visits in isolation. Gaming and interactive story telling might be expected to alleviate this but VR has become part of a vicious circle wherein it has been unable to attain critical mass which has in turn kept content creators from investing too much in it. The VR industry is taking recourse by cutting hardware prices for high-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive but unfortunately it seems destined to be niche. As has been the case in the past, mobiles will have to lead the way. However, it seems inevitable that AR experiences as those that will be provided by Apple's ARKit will be the mainstream option for once again it is just a case of incremental innovation.

This brings me back to the Apple and iPhone story. All the pieces of the puzzle were long in existence but none of them were put together in the manner which made the iPhone seem like magic. The next big thing might will not be a revolution but a simple evolution that seems like magic. Being ahead of time is as much as a failure as being late to the party. What one needs is a bridge between the present and the past such that people find the journey to the future much more exciting than the destination itself.

Musing #35: An investor's dilemma

Time is an ethereal dimension. Here on earth, it is imperceptible and yet so vital. None so heed it as the sanguine investor. This is not to say that we shouldn't be optimistic about the current state of markets, which is at an all-time high. However, it comes with its own set of dilemmas that we need to address.

On one side, there are those who can't wait to exit for this is as much faith as they have in the markets. They may be right in assuming so, considering the fact that the market always seems due for a correction when there is a spurt and things seem too good to be true. Doing so however, is dependent on when you entered the market and what your needs are. Too often, the only reason for exiting is that you are finally in to the black.

On the other hand, I have friends who can't bear to see the single digit returns from their fixed deposits and in their desperation, have broken the same to invest in to the market at any costs. For them, is it unreasonable to expect the market to hit 50,000 after the next general elections? I think not. But, does it make sense to do so when you have an imminent expense hanging over your head within the next year? Is it rational to expect your money to grow by double digits before the year is over? The answer to both is no but few would feel the need to justify these decisions.

It is inevitable that for most, judgements are based on the past. History is a great teacher but you need to know which lessons to learn and which to ignore. The financial crisis of 2007/08 was a humbling lesson for many and is bound to repeat itself, for greed will manifest itself in another form. Most of the lessons learnt are also steeped in the past and wouldn't catch up to the future in the way ingenuity would. Hence, the only insurance is to be able to ride through the bumps.

The best investment strategy then is to have a strategy. Setting up a target, time horizon and understanding the means to get there is all that it takes, all of which requires immense discipline. Hence, the oft repeated suggestion of starting out with a SIP at the earliest is still the best one. It relieves you of the most important decision that one has to make - timing the market. Time, the most agnostic of all entities. Yet, it is with time that your accumulated fortune compounds and helps you attain the target that seemed too farfetched in the past.

However, investment discipline also involves setting up the right mix of products along with the horizon. Contingencies need to be provided for which the pithy savings account comes to the fore. Short term fixed deposits provide the stability needed to meet near term life goals that cannot be gambled with. Then, there is the safe discretionary investment, the good EMI that you need to forget altogether when putting in to a long-term SIP along with regular bumps that become possible as you move along in life. Lastly, if you are up to it or really have a person dedicated to it, comes the direct investment in the stock market. One must understand that all expert opinions are lagging indicators and hence not the guidance you should take up when doing in alone. Instead, leave it to the experts.

As is the case with life, simplicity and planning is the gateway to successful investment.

Poetry #11: Unbridled sadness


Sadness pours through the eyes
Staring in to the deep void
The moment shall not freezeth over
For comes the piercing light

What ought to heal the plight of all
Brings misery to the haunted soul
Knowing what’s to be known
Is respite not - for the tale is never told

A moment of hope as despair fades
Lasts not long enough to force a smile
For what the world sees true
Is a facade to all that’s vile

The mind pierces through like a sword
Relentless in its evisceration of reality
And the heart throbs beyond normality
For the hurt just grows in the throes

Musing #30: 101


Milestones are an important cornerstone of any human endeavour, though it seems to be best valued in competitive landscapes involving sports. I wouldn't consider blogging in the same ballpark but a numerical milestone needs to be acknowledged nonetheless.

I am of course speaking of the number of posts breaking in to the 3-digit mark. A keen eye would immediately notice that this post is the one after the century mark and the title acknowledges it as such. The idea is to mark the beginning of the next century rather than celebrate the old. Even then, I can't help analyse what's already in the past.

My target has always been to post once per weekend or numerically 0.5 posts per weekend day. As it turns out, the 100th post was posted on the 129th weekend day at an average of 0.78 posts per weekend day. I guess I can live with that and aspire to perhaps hit 1 post per weekend day. Whether that happens is to be seen because I prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity which in turn ends taking up more time, somewhat of a precious entity on holidays.

I hope to be able to continue writing regularly for time to come, irrespective of the circumstances. However, the content is rarely pre-meditated and often follows a chain of thought (or purchase!). Hence, I am excited as much as anyone else in terms of uncovering what the future holds.

Poetry #10: Long road to change


Waking up on your morning bed
As if you are full of dread
Why don't you lift up your head?

Knowing what you already know is the same
It can never be your claim to fame
Unless you have a wild beast to tame

Pacing all across the room
Is a one way ticket to doom
So why don't you beat the gloom?

Watching the pendulum go back and forth
Is as mesmerising as a sloth
It's time to shake the dust off your cloth

Running from what you have left behind
On to a road that's completely mined
Isn't it best to just turn blind?

Staring at the tranquil vista
Fearful of slipping off the cuesta
Isn't it better to slip in to a siesta?

Lying flat on the ground
And letting the worries hound
Rather be best to enjoy the bird's sound

Passing by the fangled grange
Finding all things really strange
It's indeed a long road to change

It passes off as a poetry on my site but it is more akin to lyrics that I end up making on the fly. It's wonderful how it fits in to different songs though I suppose there is too much focus on the rhyme.

Musing #18: Memory and Nostalgia

As someone raised through the 90s with Walkmans, Mix Tapes, 8 & 16-bit consoles, VHS tapes and the rise of the WWW; the nostalgia is always far too strong. It provides welcome relief when the mind decides to stray from the humdrum of every day life. Hence, it is not a surprise to see serials, movies, games, music trying to milk this in a big way and let's be honest, there is no guilt in getting milked. It is for nothing then that nostalgia is said to be opium for the masses (I am sure Karl Marx wouldn't object to this subterfuge).

While I initially wanted to delve on nostalgia, my thoughts have since strayed on to the subject of memories itself. Nostalgia to me is simply a product of memories which puts forth the question of whether life itself is all about memories. Just think of it for a moment, every pleasurable and recollectable activity has the sole purpose of creating memories that we can reminiscence about. While the experience wears off with the snap of the fingers, the memories live on through photos and videos. This establishes the chain of posterity that strings generations together. As much as one lives a moment, the ultimate goal is to relive it for self and others.

This may be too simple a way of defining life but still not a difficult tenet to live by. The beauty of it all is that the quality of the memories truly lie in the mind of the beholder. One may argue that this quality doesn't exist and is nothing more than a product of rose-tinted glasses, but that may be digressing from the topic. Memories and by consequence nostalgia may exercise a function no different from opium in attaining a higher sense of euphoria but while opium may be the same for everyone, memories truly aren't.

The harmful effect of this "drug" is that you end up living in the past and of not being able to just let go. However, that again would just be a generalization for it really comes down to how you utilize it. Brooding over may not be a great idea but to recall it for a brief moment of elation ought not to scorned. I have somehow ended up defending nostalgia when in fact it was a spontaneous outpour of my thoughts at having just experienced it. I am not one to complain about something that brings a smile to my face and makes me look at the passing world in pictures of emotions.

Review #20: Life is Strange


There are always some highly rated games that you are ignorant about but have to compulsively purchase on a Steam sale. For me, Life is Strange was one of them in this year's summer sale. I had already picked up Episode 1 as part of a Humble Bundle much earlier but never played it, so it seemed apt to complete the collection. I usually don't like being left stranded at cliff hangers, a reason why I don't usually watch in-progress TV shows, so starting off with all the episodes in my kitty felt good.

However, I made the purchase with a certain degree of trepidation because I haven't had the most enjoyable of experiences playing episodic, multi-choice games. I played Season 1 of the Walking Dead earlier in the year and it unravelled the workings of the episodic formula to me. It goes something like this. You will have to wander about a scene speaking to all the people to find the right clues or equipment. You will make a lot of life-death decisions that seem huge for the moment but turn out to be a bit trivial in the larger context of things. You will have extremely emotional conversations between the characters that ought to wet your eyes and set tears flowing. Rather expectedly, Life is Strange turned out to be true on all those accounts.

However, where the game differs is in closely knitting story elements like photography and time travel within the story. Being able to rewind time would seem to take a lot away from the decision making as it allows you to undo any mistakes but this aspect is in fact encouraged within the game, even offering you critical new dialogue options. The game doesn't feature puzzle solving in droves but being able to use time travel to solve them seems cool. The deduction puzzles that feature towards the latter part of the game seem to be more of a chore as it isn't too challenging and may lend to players adopting a trial-error approach. The game feels best only when it simply tells you the story and the music really takes you along for a ride.

The game's redeeming moment is when it manages to pull off a twist towards the end of Episode 4 but it leads to a somewhat disappointing final act. The stealth nightmare sequence felt like a rip-off of Max Payne's dream sequence and a desperate attempt to break the flow of the game and introduce something different. The game leaves a lot of unanswered questions as it jumps across alternate realities. Also, it feels a bit too scripted to the point where dialogues trigger a "who's that" reference after you have already identified the person. The fact is that the game is set up to only tell you a story and the gameplay elements just don't seem that integral.

To be the devil's advocate, the story, an emotional one, is par for the course for games belonging to this genre. The game really works if you can relate with the protagonist Maxine and her friend Chloe, but for me that wasn't quite the case. Max's character is well laid out but I found the voice acting to be quite cringeworthy for the most part, especially during emotional scenes. Also, I could not generate any empathy for Chloe through the story and it didn't take me a second to *spoiler alert* sacrifice Chloe to save Arcadia Bay. Hence, the game really fell apart for me towards the end. Also, the time rewinding and the story going back to the beginning at the end means that the choices made throughout matter precious little and the game offers little replayability.

On the whole, however, I would leave a recommendation for this game because it will appeal to a lot of players, especially casual ones. It certainly achieves what it sets out to do, though the gameplay falters a bit. Depending on how you approach the game, it might even leave a lasting impression. As for me, I can forget the game this very moment as I move on to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided whose story telling and gameplay feels more up my alley.