Monday, November 26, 2007

Simple things that can make driving much easier on Indian Roads

One of the several things that I liked about US was their road system. US has an excellent road network that interconnects all their cities and towns. Driving in the US is far more easier than driving in India (except for some exceptions - like peak hour New York city traffic) not just for their good roads but also for the fact that most people in the US obeys basic traffic rules.

There are three specific reasons that I think that have contributed to this effect. One is that people are brought up with reasonably good civic sense. Most traffic rules are just implementation of some basic fairness system and anybody with a good civic sense (and a rational mind) should be able to deduce these laws. Another reason is that the rules are executed reasonably impartially and violations are punished with just fines. Additionally the licensing system is very fair and uncorrupted, and provides a system of eliminating people who do not know driving or the traffic rules from getting their licenses.

The first two factors really do not play any significant role in the Indian traffic system. As far as the third factor is concerned, our system is corrupt to the core and anybody who goes via the 'right channels' and 'pays the right fees' can get any license without really having to know traffic rules or even basic driving capabilities. I personally know quite a few people (girls mostly) who do have licenses but do not know driving. There was also this recent bust of corrupt officials in Traffic Department of Kerala by Malayala Manorama by getting them to issue commercial driving licenses without even knowing how to drive a heavy vehicle.

I am highly optimistic about the three problems above. All three can be solved with some dedicated efforts from the citizens. It will probably take a long time. But it is possible. There is however one aspect that can easily be rectified in the short run, i.e. clearing up the ignorance of the common Indian driver. A percentage (not sure of the size of it) of drivers break rules and cause inconveniences to other people because of a simple reason - they do not know the rules. A subset of these people would have broken the rule even if they had known about the rule. We cannot do anything about this set. However the remainder would not have broken the rule if they had known about the rule.

If there is a concerted effort at the school level to put in place a system where students are taught the fundamental principles behind traffic rules, simple ethics to follow while driving, logical rules for deducing some of the traffic rules, some basic road sense then the above issue can be solved to a certain extent. This is one area that is worth pursuing. Maybe some time in the future I would like to try my hand at that. Driving in the Indian roads has been one of the most frustrating things that I face on a daily basis. So I should at least see what I can do about that :).

Here are some of the basic driving principles which when followed would make driving much easier and safer for other people on the road (principles because I am not sure if we have rules that correspond to these).

This is not a comprehensive list but rather an indicative list. 1) Do not park near intersections where you can cause inconvenience for turning vehicles. This alone causes so much of the traffic jams that happen around busy intersections in Trivandrum. Not only would you cause obstruction to turning vehicles but in turn they would cause obstruction to onward and ultimately oncoming traffic and causing traffic jams

2) Do not park on the wrong side of the road - you will cause inconvenience to oncoming traffic when you are parking and also when you are taking the car out from the parking spot.

3) Do not take U turns in busy roads. Turn to a by-lane on the left, take a U turn there (or turn around by reversing into further by-lanes), come back to the main road and then take a right. Otherwise you would cause obstructions to traffic behind you when you start your U turn and cause obstructions to oncoming traffic when you finish the U turn. In the prescribed approach you cause only a minimal obstruction to the traffic behind you and besides you have the option of waiting for an intermission in the traffic before you make the right turn. Also you will be able to reach normal traffic speed while joining the oncoming traffic much faster this way than with the U turn.

4) Do not park at no-parking zones. If you do so you would inevitably be causing inconvenience to other people. The no-parking zone was put there for some purpose in the first place.

5) Do not go slow in fast lanes. You would be causing inconvenience to traffic behind you and would be forcing them to take extra risks in trying to overtake you.

6) If you are going slow, keep to the left of the road. Why should somebody going faster than you wait behind you just because you want to go slow.

7) Always keep left if you have an option to. That way you will ensure that the road utilization is very high and also provide the least inconvenience to onward and oncoming traffic

8) Do not stop at no-stopping zones for the same reasons as for the no-parking zones.

9) When you park, make sure that you are not wasting any parking space, and that you are parked as close to the kerb as possible and that you are not obstructing any other parked vehicle or a driveway or a by-lane.

10) Never overtake along the right side of a vehicle which has put a right indicator. Similarly move to the right of the lane if you are turning right since you should not expect people to overtake you through the right once you put the right signal.

11) Likewise never pass along the left of a vehicle which is turning left. So when you are turning left do not expect a vehicle to go through your left and hence keep to the left side of the road.

12) Give way for faster vehicles. You wouldn't gain anything by not doing so and he would gain something by you doing so.

13) Always stop at stop signs at intersections. Merge into the traffic or cross the traffic only during an intermission in the flow. If you don't you will be causing far more total inconvenience to a large number of people than the slight convenience you gain by not doing so.

14) Give way to oncoming vehicles turning right. This is true especially in narrow roads because if you don't it is highly likely that you are going to cause a traffic block for yourself down the road. Letting the turning vehicles turn will ensure a reasonably smooth flow and prevent deadlocks.

15) Avoid right turns in heavy traffic whenever possible. Alternatively go take the next round or turn left into a by-lane and turn round and wait for a respite in the traffic and then cross the traffic.

16) When you are waiting to cross an intersection make sure that you cross only during a respite in the traffic. Do not inch into the intersection and restrict the traffic. If you inch into the traffic you will be inviting the vehicles to cross you by moving right and thereby create the possibility of a traffic obstruction to traffic in both directions.

17) When you are waiting in a traffic jam, DO NOT try to overtake the vehicle in front of you. Not only that you wouldn't reach anywhere by doing that but also you would be creating a deadlock by blocking the oncoming traffic.

18) This might sound funny - yes you should not violate a one way rule even at night. The thing is oncoming traffic would never expect a vehicle against the one-way direction and could be very dangerous for you and the oncoming driver.

These principles are simple extensions of a few fundamental principles

1) Other drivers on the road have as much right as you do. Corollary - You have as much right for the road as anybody else.
2) Do not cause inconvenience for other people on the road for the sake of your luxury. Corollary - You don't have to suffer inconvenience for the sake of another person's luxury.
3) First come - first serve, so yield for the guy who came first. Corollary - demand if you are the first.
4) Right of way for the one on the right so yield if you are on the left. Corollary - demand if you are on the right.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

There is luck, but nobody is lucky

Luck is an unpredictable parameter that can bias results of experiments to produce highly unlikely outcomes. Any circumstance in day-to-day life can be called an experiment with some outcome. When somebody digs a well and lands a pot of gold, people would say it was sheer luck. Luck can go both ways - you could have good luck as above or you could have bad luck - like when getting run over by a car.

So luck could be mathematically defined as an incalculable parameter in an experiment where a highly unlikely outcome occurred. More simplistically it is a phenomenon that causes occurrences of low probability events. Now that we have defined luck we can take a look at another related term - lucky. A person is called lucky if he has luck acting in his favor more often than not and unlucky if otherwise.

Somebody being lucky would then imply that when he/she is the actor in an experiment the outcome would more likely be favorable than not. Consider a simple experiment as tossing a coin. If somebody is inherently lucky he should have a higher than expected percentage of successful outcomes when a coin is tossed n times. Additionally even if the experiment was repeated a similar result should be observed. As a corollary an unlucky person should see a higher than expected percentage of failures.

But the above explanation about "being lucky" does not sound reasonable. If the coin was tossed by a third person, how in the world would the lucky person have possibly affected the outcome of a toss. If this possibility have to be accepted then we will have to accept a metaphysical relationship between the person and the coin. Under a system of rational, physical analysis this does not sound very plausible.

Thus, even though we have defined luck, we have concluded that you can't be lucky nor unlucky. So those of you who have been blaming your luck, do please stop doing that and those of you who have been attributing outcomes to luck also likewise.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

There is no point in worrying

One of the worst afflictions of humankind is its proclivity for worrying. The malady affects almost every individual of the human species alike. There are extreme medical treatments for extreme cases of this illness (eg: tranquilizers, depressants). However there is a simple psychological treatment for this disease. The symptoms could range from reduction in efficiency under mild conditions to depression and hallucinations under the extreme conditions.

Psychologically worries are caused by negative thoughts, often repeated thoughts, mostly revolving around helplessness, inevitability, uncertainty, inability of the person under the given set of circumstances. The issue is normally aggravated by a vicious cycle of worry causing repeated reexamination of the issue under an even more negative frame of mind. The obvious results of worries include - loss of peace of mind, fall in concentration, decrease in ability, decrease in confidence, development of a negative frame of mind and ultimately depression. These are in addition to the physiological results that could range from increase of blood pressure to even a cardiac arrest.

A person can worry about anything and everything on this planet. The items and issues that he/she worries about can be broadly classified as items/issues the person has control over and items/issues the person does not have control over. Everybody gets infected by the worry germ once in a while. The rational person should, however, be able to identify and classify the cause of the worry, at the onset of the worry itself. Once the classification is done, it is a matter of simple decision making to set one's mind to not think about the item/issue the person is worrying about, if the item/issue is beyond the persons control. In the second scenario where the item/issue is within the person's control he/she should take necessary actions to bring the item /issue under his/her control and to obviate the cause for the worry itself.

Most people lose the ability to think coherently at the onset of the worry and hence derail at the first step of the solution itself. This is however a matter of practice. Start with small things you worry about and do away with the worries using the above strategy. Slowly tackle bigger worries. Pretty soon you will reach a carefree state of mind where you don't worry about anything at all. It is a very liberating feel once you reach that state. The moment you start your way out of your worries you will feel the sudden change in the quality of your life.

Let me explain with some simple examples. Worrying about not reaching office/school in time when waiting for your bus/riding in your bus - no amount of worrying could bring the bus a second earlier, You could instead try catching an earlier bus the next day. Worrying about rains - take an umbrella. Worrying about exams 1 month before the exams - study well and you wouldn't have to worry at all. Worrying about exams 10 minutes before the exams - worrying will only increase the chances of your making mistakes. Worrying about your performance at your job - Increase your ability/capability and performance will follow.

In simple words - if you can change it, change it, else stop worrying about it.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Can reason exist without faith?

I consider myself a highly rational individual. I like to take my decisions based on reason than on anything else. People normally allow a lot of emotions, sentiments, and habits affect their decisions. It is not that emotions or other factors does not affect my decision making but rather I try to limit the influence of all these factors from my decision making.

This might sound pretty simple and straightforward but on the contrary it is a very tough task. Sometimes, when you have other people involved in the decision making or when other people are affected by the decision made, taking a purely rational decision might even become impossible.

So what is a rational decision? A rational decision is a decision based on reason. And what is reason? Princeton's wordweb defines it as a fact that logically justifies a premise or a conclusion. So a rational decision is based on already proven theories and facts that further validate the theories. So applying a system of pure reason somebody else will be able to validate the decision to be true under the given rationale.

A rational decision is very likely to be the right decision under normal circumstances. Nobody makes decisions with an intention to make it wrong. So those people who take decisions based on other factors other than reason make them under the belief that these decisions are going to be correct. These decisions can therefore be classified as faith based decisions. They will believe that their decisions are going to be correct because the system that validates their decisions while they are being made is a system based not on rationale. Under their faith based system their decisions will be validated to be true. Somebody else subscribing to the same faith based system will be able to validate the decision, but this would be very unlike, if somebody applying a system of pure reason tries to validate it.

From the above reasoning we might be deceived to get to a conclusion that a rational system would be better than any faith based system. However on closer examination we can see a more interesting aspect. Take any rational system, it would have a set of fundamental axioms. These are theories that are considered correct because they have been proved to be correct in all observed cases and they have not been disproved by any cases. Rational systems are built around these fundamental axioms. So if you have to accept the system to be correct then you have to assume that the axiom is correct. So your rational decision ultimately depends on your faith that the axiom is correct.

It could be argued that axioms have not been disproved and that the probability of a rational system going wrong is far, far smaller than that for faith based systems. Yes these arguments hold, but my point is just that even rational systems have to depend on faith. So at some subliminal way you are still depending on faith even when you are supposedly making purely rational decisions. I rest my case.

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