Surfing & Entrepreneurship

My concept of having a good time on the beach is to find a good spot, lie around all day reading a book, and soak in the nice ocean view. I might even take an occasional dip in the water or at least get my feet wet, but I can’t be in the water for long. I found it too boring, that is till our recent trip to Santa Catalina. I got myself a six-foot surfing board, and didn’t know that would make such a difference. I found surfing to be fun and addictive. My wife had to literally drag me out of the water every day. For a beginner like me – the learning curve was huge, but the joy of standing up on the waves, even if it was for fraction of a second, kept me going. Another interesting aspect about this experience was the number of parallels I found myself drawing between surfing and entrepreneurship. Here are a few:

Inspiration is better served up close and personal
Its a thing of beauty to watch a crafty surfer dance on the waves. While you can certainly watch youtube videos and get inspired, there’s something different about watching a master practice in person. Perhaps it has to do with getting a full experience and not just the highlights. You get to see their imperfect attempts and the efforts they continue to put. Its the same reason I find myself more inspired by the entrepreneurial ventures of my friends. I see them fighting their battles every day, and can relate.

You will fall down
It is a sure thing in surfing. Falling down is an integral part of the surfing experience. It is not looked down upon as a failure. What matters is you get up and go back for another wave. You try again, fail again, and try to fail better the next time till you succeed.
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Book Notes: The Design of Everyday Things

This is an excellent book for those who aspire to do good work in the field of design, engineering, architecture, consumer products, or anything creative. After reading the book, you will have an enhanced appreciation for everyday things around you – things as trivial as a toaster, refrigerator, and pen. You will learn what separates a good product from a bad one. Dan Norman, the author is a renowned cognitive scientist and usability expert. He worked as a user experience architect at Apple, and popularized the term “user-centered-design”.

Notes from the book:

Far too many items in the world are designed, constructed, and foisted upon us with no understanding for how they will be used. Three key things stand out of the book:

  1. Not the user’s fault: If people are having trouble with your product, its not their fault – it’s the fault of design
  2. Design Principles: Don’t criticize something unless you can offer a solution.
    • Feedback: The user must be able to see the effect of his action. If he presses something, let him know through the design interface.
    • Constraints: The surest way to make something easy to use, with few errors, is to make it impossible to do otherwise. e.g. Battery of memory cards go only one way in properly designed products
    • Affordances: A good designer makes sure that appropriate actions are perceptible and inappropriate ones invisible.
  3. The power of observation: The path to be a good designer, starts by learning to watch, and learning to observe. Yogi Berra said “You can observe a lot by watching”. Problem is you have to know how to watch.

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Book Notes: The Willpower Instinct – Kelly McGonigal

Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford. She created a course, “The Science of Willpower” which has become one of the most popular courses offered by Stanford. This course brings together insights about self-control based on research work across psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine. The book has ten chapters which reflect her ten week course. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of how Willpower works, then this is a must-read. It is quite practical and hard to put down once you start reading it.

Notes from the book:

To succeed at self-control, you need to analyze how you fail. Smokers who are most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are most likely to relapse. Overoptimistic dieters are least likely to lose weight. Why? They fail to predict when, where, and why they will give in.

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A Sure Way To Make Tender & Juicy Chicken Breast

Chicken Breast is the ultimate food for a fitness enthusiast. It is low in calories and high in protein content. But none of that matters, if you can’t cook it right and it comes out tasting like a leather shoe. After enjoying a few different shoes, I gave up and embraced the lovely boneless chicken thighs. It’s hard to mess them up, although I won’t put anything beyond yours truly. No matter how delicious chicken thighs came out, I always got a lump in my throat thinking about my failures with the Chicken Breast. All this changed recently, thanks to my Friend – Shikha Sharma who is an expert chef from the French Culinary Institute. I’m glad to report that I have now perfected the technique. Follow the ten steps below, and prepare to enjoy the Chicken Breast Nirvana. If I can do it, so can you.

Step One: Defrost Chicken
Make sure that the entire chicken breast is at a uniform room temperature, so that the meat cooks evenly both inside and out. Rookie Mistake – I used to pull the chicken straight out of the refrigerator, and throw it in the oven. Nope – that won’t work.

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Re-Thinking Engineering Education

Our Engineering Education System was designed over four hundred years ago. The world has changed a lot since then –  We have an infinite source of knowledge at our fingertips, thanks to Google and Wikipedia. We have access to the experts for every topic and can reach out to them with a simple tweet. We can learn from the world class educators on a wide range of topics, thanks to Coursera, Udacity, and EdX. I expect, every subject sooner or later will be available to learn online, so where does that leave the brick and mortar engineering institutes? More importantly, if we had all the powerful tools at our disposal that we do now, how would we re-design the engineering education?

Let’s start from the objective of an engineering institute. The final product of an engineering institute is its engineering graduate. An engineer by definition is someone who can devise and build new things. He should be able to turn an idea or a concept into a finished product. Last year 140,000 students graduated with engineering degrees. How many of these engineers are capable of building new products? To be fair, creating and building new things is not an easy task. Firstly, there is a lot of concepts to cover, and the students interest may vary across different industries and products. Secondly, the instructor teaching time is a finite resource. The good news is that both of these constraints can be beautifully addressed with the dawn of internet. Let’s take an example – a mechanical engineering graduate may end up working for automotive, mining, oil exploration, consumer device manufacturer, and so on in a wide variety of functional roles. Therefore, the curriculum had to cover all potential subjects such as fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer, operations research. The graduate may never use any of these concepts all his life, but some one in the class might need them.There was no better solution, and we had to deal with this inefficiency. But not anymore, the internet can help us deliver customized education – perfectly suited to the student’s need and interest. The instructors don’t have to regurgitate the same content year in and year out. They can capture all necessary concepts in streams of 10-minute videos similar to Khan Academy. The students can then create a learning trail based on what they need to build a product.

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