5 Steps to build a #Mind #Palace and the #VR adoption

Why You Should Stop Googling and Start Remembering | KQED

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Current times are the times of distraction – primarily driven by round-the-clock information and content generation mills and the ubiquity of delivery methods of the same, largely attribute to the proliferation of user-friendly smart devices. A significant casualty of this deluge of information and data is the attention span. This article from 2018, states that the human attention span has reduced to 8 seconds from 12 seconds in 2000. As it turns out, human attention span is shorter than a goldfish.

Continuous information delivery pushes one in a continuous ‘catch up’ mode. The one major casualty of this information overload is the ability to memorise and recall things.

While so many people around me, along with me, struggle to retain things in their memory, I am fascinated with the ability of some ‘seemingly gifted’ people to share a very detailed and precise description of something complex or something very old. The level of detail in their memory recall is astonishing.

At the same time, there are some more gifted people who are not only able to remember all the 10,000 digits of pi, but also give the right answer in digits for a randomly chosen location in the number pi.

Its just amazing.

For long I had been attributing the sharpness of memory on traditional wisdom of lightning thr brain cell by ‘eating almonds’. While this is still true, but I recently ran into this article on ‘Wired’ with the title ‘How to hack your brain to remember almost anything’, which introduced me to some of the memory booster techniques.

The one technique that is truly interesting is the ‘Method of Loci’, also known as ‘Memory Palace’ or ‘Mind Palace’.

Mind Palace has been extensively adopted in ‘The Holmes of Sherlock‘ in the popular BBC series to describe astute ability of the lead character in solving multiple crimes in the city.

Famous movie ‘Inception’ also explored the Memory palace concept as well.

This is a very old technique and the definition for this as per the research paper “The Virtual Memory Palace” is below:

“The concept is based on an ancient Greek memorization technique, the “Memory Palace”. It is said to have its origin at about 500 B.C. At that time, there were not as many possibilities to write down stories and scientific knowledge as today. As a consequence mental techniques were developed to store and memorize information, based on the assumption that orderly arrangement is essential for good memory. One of these techniques (originally described in the treatise Ad Herennium of an unknown Greek author) starts with the imagination of a large building (i.e. a “palace”). While mentally walking though the buildings, symbols of items to remember are placed in various locations. In addition, every symbol is associated with a particular (ideally surprising or at least unconventional) behaviour or event. It enhances the remembrance rate by focusing attention. Since human memory, as well as human perception, is primarily focused on visual aspects, the repeated imagination of this building and a virtual walk through it supports the remembrance of all the items placed in it. As these are easier to remember than just a list of words or data, this technique helps to remember the information associated with the respective symbol. In addition, storing a particular path through the “Memory Palace” reduces the risk of leaving out an important piece of information along an argumentative concept (or a story). “

In very simple words, Mind Palace is a technique based on imagination where the subject places items to remember at different locations in a scenery of familiarity. The scenery for familiarity could begin with home, expand to neighbourhood and sometimes to cities.

So how does one achieve it. Here are the 5 simple steps to use this method to increase the capacity of your brain to memorise. Build you own memory palace or in other words leverage method of loci to remember almost anything.

STEP 1: Identify the place that you want are familiar with. You need to ‘be there’ in your mind when the memory palace is fully built. Typical examples for places of familiarity are –

  • Your home
  • Your office
  • Your neighbourhood
  • Your city etc

STEP 2: Find a methodical way to scan the place.

  • Some people scan the place from left to right
  • Then they find some distinctive features
  • Use a layout of the place such as actual plan layout or architectural drawing of the room or an image to scan
  • This will help in identifying the special slots for placing the objects and information to remember later

STEP 3: Memorise the Palace by mentally walking through it.

  • It is important to walk through the entire palace in your mind.
  • This is an impressional technique.
  • It trains the mind to continuously capture the slots where information has to be placed.
  • Its important to follow the same sequence repeatedly so that brain get appropriately trained and this becomes a habit for it

STEP 4: Place the memoirs in the appropriate sections of the palace. This is a very important step of association. It is important to do the associations as vividly and uniquely as possible. By all means, place the object vividly to relate to the information to be recalled.

  • Pyramids for number 3 as it has 3 sides
  • Duck for number 2 as it has the shape of the neck as number 2
  • A Neon sign on the roof top to remember Neon in a period table

With more maturity with practice you can have more vivid memory walks. Lets assume you are memorising a fantasy tale about a superhero. To capture and associate the details of the superhero, imagine he or she is standing next to you at the from door. This is assuming that your memory palace is your home. This now is a permanent impression and you will never forget the superhero or the placement at the door as the starting point of your memory. Every time the superhero is recalled your mind will immediately find the her or him standing next to you at your front door.

STEP 5: Rehearse multiple times till you are comfortable with the memory palace, the distinct features, the associated items and the flow.

Here is a nice example of how it works –

It is interesting to see how this also helps to open new faculties in the brain and make one build a stronger cognitive and retention power. Mind Palace has been a subject of study for a long time with multiple researchers finding more and more new ways to help people adopt it.

For the power of the technique, it has found adoption in the technology world with the advent of Virtual Reality (VR).

Some initial work was done in 2006 with the research paper ‘The Virtual Memory Palace’ by E. Fassbender and W. Heiden. The explored the creation of a virtual 3D model of a palace and placed special icons in each. 15 subjects from various demographics were then experimented with on the model to see the effectiveness of the technique in memory retention and recall. The experiment was successful.

This research and the technique has been marred with technology to being work on some problems that are affecting the world. Below are a few examples –

  1. MIND PALACE VR is building tech based products to help people suffering from Dementia.
  2. An Ed Tech project Macunx VR that would aid people with languages, anatomy, laws, periodic tables, historical events etc learning had 395% response to its kickstarter campaign.
  3. 6DoF VR experiment is exploring the mind palace technique for helping with understanding of emotional landscape of a breakup.

Its clear that the technique has lot of potential to not only help people in improving their memory and their remembrance of things but also has use cases with technological adoption to solve some real world problems.

I hope you learned something new with this article. Do share your feedback by writing back!

#Biased #Intelligence

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As we consume more and more data, we are also changing the definition of the data itself. Not so long ago, data was only singular i.e. language and number based.

Then we added pixels (and so images) as well to the language and number, to make it more enriched data. Still, singular though.

And then we added time dimension to the images, languages and numbers with videos, making the data plural.

When used in the right way i.e. with good intention mathematical and statistical modeling, it provides actionable insights.

Thanks to the efforts of researchers and enthusiasts over the years, we have some very large open databases for singular or plural data.

WordNet as we know was the first one that came. With its multiple dimensional linguistic structure, it has helped researchers in many ways for building insights on word based models. With the current span of over 200 languages, WordNet is really large in its ability to provide multi-level insights. All singular in nature though. This was in the 80s.

Then came the ImageNet. Over 14 million annotated collection of images that is maintained another equally committed set of researchers, just as the makers of WordNet. ImageNet came in 1990s. Over the years, with advent of multiple sources of the image capturing, ImageNet has grown very rapidly. Very rapidly.

Over the years both WordNet and ImageNet have served the purpose of feeding training data sets for thousands of projects. They are seen as the Gold standard for multiple events and also for organisations to set their bar of competence.

But with growth comes complexity and at times unintended. These unintended deviations in data coupled with mathematical and statistical modeling leads to building of bias.

The insight thus built is appropriately the #Bias #Intelligence.

Biases are not known to be positive in anyway. In general, they reflect a negative outcome of a well-intended action.

WordNet is subject to biases as meaning of words can change overtime. Words referred to in common parlance today can become derogatory tomorrow.

Take the example of words like Senile and Egregious. Both these words had positive meanings in the past. Now they have meanings with a negative bias.

If WordNet is not refreshed periodically these biases in the words meanings will start skewing the outcome.

Things become even more complex in the ImageNet. While words in WordNet can be controlled with some external rules aid, images in ImageNet pose a bigger challenge.

ImageNet relies on the tagging done by members of the database for the images. Its is a crowdsourced activity. In general, it runs certain basic checks on these tags but a holistic assessment of the embedded tags was never adopted.

Consequently, the Tiny ImageNet was found to have offensive tags for the 80 million images that are there in the database.

Multiple racial, offensive, abusive and inappropriate tags were found deeply embedded in the database, as per the research here.

Here is a snapshot of the offensive words found by the researchers.

Clearly, the larger the dataset becomes, it becomes all the more important and difficult to maintain the quality in it.

Extreme caution and very strong measures for data quality checks are required to ensure that such bad data is not leading to vitiating of the your model.

Tiny ImageNet has been used in numerous Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) as training dataset for building the model. Models trained by such models are bound to have been infected by the biased content in these images. This in turn would have created a significant biased intelligence in the world today.

#Lessons from the #wild

Got this video on whatsapp… Thanks to the person who recorded it…

So many lessons to be learned in 1 min 28 seconds

1. Teams win

2. Importance of persona based design in product management

3. Never give up

4. One size does not fit all

5. Take everyone along

6. Power of mentorship and coaching

And more… what did you learn?

Baby Elephant makes a big leap

Riding a Tiger… #Wirecard

A tiger riding a freight train heading for an Indian village ...
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Every single time I read about a fast growing company going under the water due to fraudulent accounting practices and similar white collar crime, I am reminded of this line from the famous letter to the Board by Ramalinga Raju while declaring Satyam’s problem.

It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.

Here is the whole letter that he wrote.

Satyam Raju’s Letter to… by Firstpost on Scribd

Death of a Fintech Iconoclast

  • Not in the same dramatic fashion and peculiar choice of words, Markus Braun CEO of Wirecard announced his resignation.
  • For the centuries old financial sector, this was a company that was known as the iconoclast and the trailblazer for disrupting with innovation.
  • After couple of false starts, the company finally came to center stage in full swing
  • However, it faltered with a big black hole with the unveiling of largest accounting scandal of 2020
  • Wirecard filed for insolvency within a week of unearthing of a $4 Billion hole in its books. This first led to ouster and arrest of its CEO and now the insolvency filing, which was a natural outcome.
  • The initial reports on this indicated that the problem had been lingering for close to 18 months. However, this timeline by Financial Times indicates that there seem to be problems in the company for a long time now. Perhaps from the beginning of the company.
  • Financial Times though may have made it look more pungent given it was the investigative journal behind it.
  • The company had been well marketed and positioned, on the basis of some of its successful products, as the innovator that has disrupted the financial industry over the years.
  • Quite interestingly, the company also fell prey to the evil of round tripping.
    • In simple words, money was sent from the parent company to an offshore account of a subsidiary at buy the positions at a certain inflated price
    • The subsidiary used to then make the transaction and transfer the sum for the inflated prices in the parent company’s account
    • This net difference was shown as profit
    • In nut shell, nothing gained but a money transfer sham that was used to show more profits in the books
    • Some reports indicate towards some Indian accounts too!
  • More profits on the books meant higher share price, leading to replacement of Commerzbank from DAX index with Wirecard
  • This caught attention of a certain Japanese VC who invested close $900 MN in the company
  • 20 months later the inflated profit was no longer sustainable and the balance sheet started to stink.
  • Wirecard found itself into a situation similar to Satyam – ‘…Riding a tiger without knowing how to get off without being eaten.’
  • Finally it burst.
  • Now, the former (active till last week) Wirecard CEO Markus Braun was known for being a media savvy guy with a lot of attention on the company with frequent press releases and event.
  • Some say this was long coming as the traits demonstrated by Wirecard were close to what are observed for the next “Big Disaster”.
  • Below are all the traits listed by Financial Times. They term them as 20 warning signs for the next “Big Disaster”. Link is here.

1. Massively promotional CEO who actively looks for publicity and spends a lot of time courting Wall Street/investors etc and is very media savvy

2. Huge CEO/Senior Management compensation package NOT tied to cash flow or Earnings but just to Sales and/or the stock price, creating the possibility of egregious wealth creation if the stock goes up a lot. Huge pledging of collateral by the CEO in return for margin loans to fund a billionaire lifestyle

3. Management compensation generally way out of line with peers despite notably less profitability

4. Glossy future projections that have a habit over a long period of being proven to be too optimistic

5. Questionable product quality, ie defects (boon??) or debatable technological leads over similar products

6. Some evidence of self certifying, whether it be through strange international subsidiaries or not having an Auditor or experiencing unusual and slightly sudden end of quarter surges in revenues, up to and including the last day

7. Unusual or unverified and large Receivables in a business where the product is exchanged for cash up front

8. Evidence that the company is existing on a shoestring, not paying Suppliers, Employees, Landlords etc

9. Unusual margin progression, with SG +A going down over time despite a rising global footprint, or GMs staying flat despite much lower ASP’s over time, for instance. 

10. High levels of Gross Debt. Cash balances not matched by notable Interest Income thereby suggesting they are fraudulent

11. High employee turnover, especially in the LEGAL and FINANCE areas. Co-founders or Board members leaving. 

12. Aggressive pursuit via paid third parties and/or “heavies” of any critics or people who have too many questions, which in any case are “boring”

13. Dislike of Hedge Funds

14. Possible Narcissistic Personality Disorder on the part of the CEO. Additional points if he/she uses Twitter a lot

15. Large cabal of outcasts/weirdos/bloggers/Twitter groups who have been saying for years that everything is amiss but just get a lot of criticism because the stock keeps going up ergo they must be idiots

16. Slowing top line growth rate despite all the hoopla and supposed “growth stock” status. Evidence of competitors rapidly eroding unsustainably high market share. 

17. Loss making. Ideally never made a profit but likes to pretend it did or failing that, that it will for sure in 2-3 years due to highly questionable new products. But the 2-3 years gets pushed out constantly

18. Extensive use/exclusive use of NON-GAAP Accounting and occasional bridging to get from a Net Loss to a (small) Net Profit via poorly explained one-offs/Other Items/unusually large Credits of some kind in a desperate attempt to get into an Index by illicit means

19. Weak Board, preferably also small and ideally in hock in some way to the CEO, who therefore do his/her bidding. Helps if some of them are related physically to the CEO.

20. Gullible media, gullible analysts and dozens of paid bloggers who produce Price Targets out of nowhere based on “Option Value” or put another way products that are at least 5 years away from having any material impact.”

While Wirecard saw its share tank by 97-98%, there is another company run by a media savvy CEO. He is very popular on Twitter and discusses his thoughts openly and quickly in the social media platform.

But a recent look by an independent agency inside the hood of this company’s products, gave some really alarming information.

JD Power Automotive Quality Study

  • JD Power concluded its first ever rating for Tesla. It doesnt look good. Good may not be the right adjective too. Bad is the word. Its bad. Really Bad.
  • Cars from Tesla seem to have most Problems per 100 vehicles. It seems that they have lost their way as far as marketing is concerned.
JD Power First Ever Listing of Tesla. Link to the original report here.
  • For a company that initially claimed that it would offer unlimited mileage warranty for batteries and drive units, just to revise it later to 4-year/50,000 miles bumper to bumper warranty, this is really not a positive news.
  • A simple correlation of the companies change in stand on the warranties with this report which benchmarks it against the entire industry, clearly shows that the company has a very long way to go before it can match the quality offered by some of the top brands in the auto industry.
  • The company has never marketed quality as its USP. However, without quality, it certainly cannot achieve the potential it promises. Also, one must not forget that the Tesla declined to participate in the JD Power survey. Raising doubts, is everything kosher there?

Perhaps we will learn more from the famous twitter handle.