Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Education (IISc, IIT Indore top Indian institutes for physical sciences), Technology (Indian student's algorithm helps in leading driver directly to empty parking), Lifestyle (How our careers affect our children), Work-life (Beating burnout with Lawrence Levy), and Social Media (Facebook can cause depression), among others.

Published: Nov 24, 2018

g_111031_reading_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and encapsulate them in our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Education (IISc, IIT Indore top Indian institutes for physical sciences), Technology (Indian student’s algorithm helps in leading driver directly to empty parking), Lifestyle (How our careers affect our children), Work-life (Beating burnout with Lawrence Levy), and Social Media (Facebook can cause depression), among others.

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended November 23, 2018.


1)    How US economy changed after World War 2 [Source: Collaborative Fund]
In this piece, the author throws light upon how US economy has changed since the end of World War 2. The US took various steps to create jobs and keep the economic wheel churning. There were certainly ups and downs. These can be gauged by: 1) Low interest rates and the intentional birth of the American consumer. 2) Pent-up demand for stuff fed by a credit boom and a hidden 1930s productivity boom led to an economic boom. 3) Average wages doubled from 1940 to 1948, then doubled again by 1963.  

4) Debt rose tremendously; but so did incomes, so the impact wasn’t a big deal. 5) Short-term interest rates hit 8% in 1973, up from 2.5% a decade earlier. 6) In 1984, GDP growth was the highest it had been since the 1950s. By 1989 there were 6 million fewer unemployed Americans than there were seven years before.

7) Rising incomes among a small group of Americans led to that group breaking away in lifestyle. And others to live the same lifestyle to on debt which they couldn’t handle. 8) A lot of debt was shed after 2008. And then interest rates plunged. Household debt payments as a percentage of income are now at the lowest levels in 35 years. 9) The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Brexit, and the rise of Donald Trump each represents a group shouting, “Stop the ride, I want off.”

2)    The world’s most desired motors [Source: veygo.com ]
If you were given an option to choose a car that you desired the most, which one would that be? A study to discover the most desired car brands around the globe, by analyzing Google search data from past 12 months, yielded astonishing results. The Keyword Explorer Tool at ahrefs.com was used to find the average monthly Google search volume for 42 of the world’s most popular car brands across 171 countries.  

As per the results, Toyota dominates the global map, as the most searched brand in 57 of the 171 countries used for this study, with BMW leading 25 countries and Mercedes-Benz 23. Toyota was also the most searched globally with 7.8mn searches per month, followed by Honda (7mn) and Ford (6.4mn). While the majority of countries search for the cars that they’re likely to actually buy, 12 countries around the world conduct more searches for the luxury sport car brand Lamborghini, than any other.
Seven countries have embraced Elon Musk’s eco-friendly alternative, with Tesla their most searched brand (including Norway, the Netherlands and Hong Kong). Just five countries searched the most for a car brand founded in their own country (France – Renault, Germany – Mercedes-Benz, India – Maruti Suzuki, Malaysia – Perodua and Sweden – Volvo).

3)    How our careers affect our children
[Source: HBR
Have you ever missed out on your son/daughter’s soccer game or piano recitals? If so, most probably it’s because of your work. You couldn’t make up for it. But, it isn’t the quantity of time spent with your kid that matters, it’s the quality. About two decades ago, in a study that surveyed approximately 900 business professionals ranging from 25 to 63 years old, across an array of industries, Drexel University’s Jeff Greenhaus and Stewart D. Friedman (also the author of this piece) explored the relationship between work and family life and described how these two aspects of life are both allies and enemies.  

So what did they find out? How did parents’ career affect children? Children are negatively affected by their parents being digitally distracted, also known as “technoference,” and by the harmful effects of stress at work on family life. For both mothers and fathers, the study found that children’s emotional health was higher when parents believed that family should come first, regardless of the amount of time they spent working. They also found children were better off when parents cared about work as a source of challenge, creativity, and enjoyment, again, without regard to the time spent.  And, not surprisingly, children were better off when parents were able to be physically available to them.

Children were more likely to show behavioral problems if their fathers were overly involved psychologically in their careers, whether or not they worked long hours. For mothers, on the other hand, having authority and discretion at work was associated with mentally healthier children. To conclude this piece in line, the author thinks, if we care about how our careers are affecting our children’s mental health, we can and should focus on the value we place on our careers and experiment with creative ways to be available, physically and psychologically, to our children, though not necessarily in more hours with them.

4)    Tricycle Talks: Beating burnout by just being [Source: tricycle.org]
In this podcast, Tricycle editor and publisher James Shaheen talks to Lawrence Levy, former executive vice president and board member of Pixar and co-founder of the Juniper Foundation, an organization devoted to making meditation and the buddhist teaching accessible in a modern context, about the importance of continuous self-care in a mutually supportive environment and how meditation, learning, and connection can help us tend to the conditions that lead to burnout.

According to Mr. Levy, burnout is a sign that our human needs are not being met and it’s often caused when our life’s narrative are out of sync with reality. Prevailing narratives such as the belief that perfection is possible that cognitive intelligence is more important than emotional intelligence and that certainty is always a virtue prevent us from seeing the stress in our environment and from paying attention to our lives.

When asked to elaborate on why burnout is not a shortcoming or failing, but a healthy response to an insane world, Mr. Levy says that he has spent a good part of his life studying burnout strongly within the field of medicine. And he came to the conclusion that we look at burnout as negative thing almost as though it’s a weakness or something. But it’s not a weakness at all. In fact it’s a healthy response to a toxic world and environment. Burnout is a signal that says our needs as a human being are not being met. For him, burnout is like a fever you get when you have an infection. You don’t look at a patient that has an infection and say boy that really weak because they got a fever. You just see fever as a sign that something isn’t right. And that’s how a burnout is for Mr. Levy. It’s a sign and symptom of something being wrong.

He further elaborates on the causes of burnout and how we can counter it by meditation and other means. He also stresses upon the need to unshackle away from technology, which is controlling our lives and avoiding negative people. When asked to throw light on Buddhist meditation and how it helps in coping with burnout, Mr. Levy says, Buddhist meditation has been the subject of his study for the past 20 years. So, how do we move to a healthy narrative? How do we move to a healthy way of being in a toxic kind of culture? First thing to notice is that there’s no magic wand or there’s no quick fix for this. Self-care and self-nurturing is the antidote to burnout. It has to be a continuous habit of self-nurturing. It needs to be done with others in a mutually supportive environment. It’s like food or exercise. It’s no use going to the gym once a month. It has to be regular.

5)    Indian student’s algorithm helps in leading driver directly to empty parking spot [Source: The Hindu
Finding a parking place is really a task. But, an Indian student has found a solution to it. Sai Nikhil Reddy Mettupally studying at The University of Alabama in Huntsville has also won second prize at the 2018 Science and Technology Open House competition. He has created a space-detecting algorithm that can help tackle the problem of finding a parking spot by using big data analytics and save a person’s time and money. Mr. Sai’s creation relies on big data analytics and deep-learning techniques to lead drivers directly to an empty parking spot.

Big data analytics is a complex process of examining large and varied data sets to uncover information including hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends and customer preferences. Mr. Sai conceived this idea shortly after the university transitioned to zone parking. He feels that finding a parking spot as soon as a person enters the parking lot is essential. All he had to do was finding empty spaces and then direct the driver to that location.

Also, he wanted to create a simple app that won’t installation and maintenance of expensive in-ground sensors. To make this a reality, Mr. Sai turned to Vineetha Menon, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science. As the director of UAH’s Big Data Analytics Lab, Mr. Menon also had access to the high-performance computing power that Mr. Sai needed to create and train his machine-learning model, which relies on a robust parking-lot data set provided by the Federal University of Parana in Brazil. The app that he would develop would be named InstaPark, which will display the real-time grid layout of empty and occupied parking spots using the phone’s GPS.

6)    What if the Placebo effect isn’t a trick? [Source: NY Times]
What if you could heal without any medicine? Yes, the placebo effect can do it. The phenomenon whereby suffering people get better from treatments that have no discernible reason to work — to call it “fake medicine,” and to add that it probably works because “people like to be cheated.” People are motivated by a conviction that the placebo is a powerful medical treatment that is ignored by doctors only at their patients’ expense. And after a quarter-century of hard work, they have abundant evidence to prove it. Give people a sugar pill, they have shown, and those patients — especially if they have one of the chronic, stress-related conditions that register the strongest placebo effects and if the treatment is delivered by someone in whom they have confidence — will improve.

So placebo effect is all about deceiving a patient. Tell someone a normal milkshake is a diet beverage, and his gut will respond as if the drink were low fat. Take athletes to the top of the Alps, put them on exercise machines and hook them to an oxygen tank, and they will perform better than when they are breathing room air — even if room air is all that’s in the tank. Wake a patient from surgery and tell him you’ve done an arthroscopic repair, and his knee gets better even if all you did was knock him out and put a couple of incisions in his skin.

Depression, back pain, chemotherapy-related malaise, migraine, post-traumatic stress disorder: The list of conditions that respond to placebos, as well as they do to drugs, with some patients, is long and growing. But, the placebo effect has yet to become part of the doctor’s standard armamentarium — and not only because it has a reputation as “fake medicine” doled out by the unscrupulous to the credulous. It also has, so far, resisted a full understanding, its mechanisms shrouded in mystery. Without a clear knowledge of how it works, doctors can’t know when to deploy it, or how. Whether the placebo effect can be used in the mainstream is yet to be seen.

7)    Science proves Ayn Rand wrong about altruism and Laissez-Faire economics [Source: evonomics.com]
According to Ayn Rand, “Selfishness does not mean only to do things for one’s self. One may do things, affecting others, for his own pleasure and benefit. This is not immoral, but the highest of morality.” Rand notoriously loathed and demonized altruism. In her 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, she claimed that altruism was not only immoral, but impossible. By Rand’s reasoning, because altruism exposes the individual to exploitation, selfishness is the best protection.

The problem is that while a given individual can benefit from cooperating, he or she can usually do better by reneging. In that case, the recipient gets all the benefits, while the altruist suffers all the costs. The end result is that altruists go extinct. Rand also believed that the primary role of government was to arbitrate and enforce such contracts. In other words, Rand clearly expected government to play a role in maintaining fairness in market transactions, a cornerstone of laissez-faire capitalism.

The annals of history show that even if one is talented enough to create enormous wealth, monopolizing that wealth for oneself is a dangerous course of action. Or as billionaire Nick Hanauer puts it, “Beware, fellow plutocrats: The pitchforks are coming.” Wealth is never created in a social vacuum. You may have the genius to design a better mousetrap, but you will inevitably depend on the work of others to implement and distribute your produce and the income of others to enable them to buy your product.

8)    Balance Is Underrated [Source: intelligentfanatics.com]
This article talks about what’s important in life and how important it’s to have a balanced life. We need to understand that career is only one factor of life. It is merely one element on the periodic table of life. Also, family, friends, love, community, etc. are on the periodic table of life. While time is finite, every day we choose what we spend time on. We can’t do everything. Having an unbalanced life can be fatal. For example, many of the greatest musicians died before age 40 due to hard drugs and alcohol. Without health, all is for naught.  

Even Jien-Wei Yeh, a researcher at National Tsing Hua University, realised that balance is the key to all. He created high-entropy alloys by mixing equal quantities of 4-5 elements. The strongest metallic alloys are composed of five or more elements with roughly equal proportions. Yes, balance can lead to breakthroughs. Jaap Haarsten created Bluetooth technology in the summer of 1994. The 31-year old Dutch engineer credits his balanced lifestyle to helping him with his invention. He never worked weekends or more than 40 hours a week. Every weekend he immersed in nature with his wife and three young kids. He added, “It’s a very important part that you balance between your work, which can be very stressful.”

Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman led more balanced lifestyles. Each was wildly successful in their respective field. Each spent only a few hours a day focusing on their most important work. The rest of their time was spent hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. To go all in on one element you become soft, weak and ephemeral. That is why pure gold (24 carats) is rarely used in jewellery: it cannot survive much wear and tear. Want to live an interesting life? Balance is the key.

9)    For the first time, researchers say Facebook can cause depression [Source: marketwatch.com]
Everyone’s hooked on to social media today. Everyone’s on Facebook and people spend hours on these social media sites. But, do you know that Facebook can be the cause of depression? Yes, a new study conducted by psychologists Melissa Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson and Jordyn Young at the University of Pennsylvania has shown a causal link between time spent on social media and depression and loneliness. Also, it concluded that those who drastically cut back their use of sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat often saw a marked improvement in their mood and in how they felt about their lives.

It’s possible that lonely and depressed people use sites like Facebook more because they are seeking social connections, says Hunt. The new study suggests that Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat aren’t just popular with the lonely and depressed: They’re also making people more lonely, and more depressed. So, why does social media make so many people feel bad? The study didn’t analyze this, but Hunt offers two explanations: 1) “downward social comparison”, you read your friends’ timelines. They’re deliberately putting on a show to make their lives look wonderful. The result: “You’re more likely to think your life sucks in comparison,” says Hunt. 2) FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

Social media sites have become such an integral part of the modern world that many people simply can’t cut them out altogether, Hunt says. That’s why the study focused just on cutting back. It’s significant that restricting use to ten minutes per site per day helped those with depression so much. You don’t have to give it up altogether to feel better.

10)    THE WUR 2019: IISc, IIT Indore top Indian institutes for physical sciences [Source: Business Standard
India has some great institutions which are now being recognized globally as well. Two Indian institutions have been ranked in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings (WUR) 2019. The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru has once again topped among Indian institutions for ‘physical sciences’ and ‘life sciences’. The institute has been ranked in the 251-300 band for each subject. Also, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Indore has also debuted at the first place joining IISc for physical sciences in the 251-300 band. Besides these two, in the ‘clinical, pre-clinical and health’ category, Mysore-based JSS Academy for Higher Education and Research is the top ranked Indian institution, followed by Panjab University.

While these were the institutions getting recognition globally, this year, too, not a single Indian institution was ranked in the top 200 globally in any of the three subjects released by the Times Higher Education. Apart from IIT Indore, Pune-based Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) also debuted in physical sciences in the 401-500 band. Another noteworthy change in the category was the rise of Savitribai Phule Pune University, which rose from its 501+ ranking last year to the 301-400 band this year.

At the global level, Harvard University, University of Cambridge, and University of Oxford maintained the top three rankings as last year in life sciences, whereas Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University took up the top three positions in the THE WUR 2019 for physical sciences.

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