Devleena @ Numer8

Episode 22 of the NewSpace India podcast had Narayan Prasad (NP) talking to Devleena about her company, Numer8. Numer8 is a Mumbai-based data science company that uses data obtained from Earth observation satellites to solve problems like disaster management, coastal community monitoring, infrastructure monitoring, wildlife, and biodiversity protection.

The present episode of the podcast talked about fishing and how Numer8’s app Ofish helps in this regard. They provide a mobile application to the fisherman who use the app to determine places to fish and also see what price they can get from the market for their catch. The fishermen use the app using transponders that were fitted on the boats by the respective State governments. Some also rely on mobile networks. At the same time, Numer8 also provides a dashboard to port authorities to protect the coasts and prevent over-fishing.

The app supports Tamil, Sinhala, English, Marathi and Bengali languages currently. It protects data obtained from satellite by providing limited field of view of about 20 km, with no data provided for fishing beyond 20 nautical miles and also not sharing data to fishermen in other countries.

The geospatial data is primarily sourced through NASA and Europe’s Sentinel data. Devleena says that timely data from ISRO has been an issue but they hope to use data such as the Ocean Colour Monitor data from OceanSat.

There were also two other brief discussions that I found interesting and I note them here for my own reference.

The app is an example of a downstream application of geospatial data. This means data obtained from satellites is provided to a customer in an easy to use format. This has been difficult to do in the Indian situation with not many companies looking at these downstream applications. As much as we need private companies to build space hardware and software we also need companies that can use the products obtained from putting satellites in orbit. Numer8 is one example of such a company.

In the past, ISRO has sold its fishing data to the Fisheries Department and relies on the Fisheries Department to get the data to the fishermen, who are the end user. This ended up with fishermen having data that they did not understand and spending too much time at sea to obtain their catch. This was the transmission of data from Government agency to another Government Agency which relayed the data to a Customer (G > G > C). The presence of Numer8 inserts a private entity in this supply chain. So, the flow of data becomes (G > P > C). This led to improvement in way by which data was presented to the end user or customer and ensured that the data was used by the same. The Private company studied the end user, found out why existing products were not used and made sure that the data was usable.

The second point related to Numer8’s contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Devleena said that theirs was the only startup that presented to the UN that the oceans could be as much a source of food as land. Numer8 suggested that better data could feed people while ensuring that ocean fish population was not over-fished.

Varane Avashyamundu (Malayalam, 2020)

I got my wife a Netflix subscription for a month and the first thing we got to seeing is the Malayalam movie, Varane Avashyamundu (transl. Groom wanted). We had missed watching this in the theatres in February. The story starring Shobhana, Suresh Gopi, Dulquer Salman and Kalyani Priyadarshan and marks the directorial debut of Sathyan Anthikad’s son, Anoop Sathyan.

The movie begins with a single mother – daughter duo looking for groom for the daughter and ends with the daughter selecting a groom for her single mother. But, intertwined in this simple narrative are various societal issues. These include broken marriages, single mothers, adoption, Army men who return from Service but unable to survive in Society and many more. These were issues that Sathyan Anthikad also covered in his movies in the 1980s and 1990s. That Anoop Sathyan covers some of the same issues in 2020 is quite telling.

Shobhana is a single mother who has escaped from a broken marriage. Lalu Alex plays a supportive brother who helps her escape and supports her as she is living life. Her daughter, learning from her mother’s experience thinks a love marriage is destined for failure and attempts to find a groom for herself. She uses matrimonial websites to find her match.

Suresh Gopi plays a troubled military officer who has done great things while in the Armed Forces but struggles to fit in into Society. He says he finds it easier to face the enemy than to tell a woman that he loves her. He undergoes psychological treatment from a Doctor as he tries to fit into Society.

Dulquer Salman is an orphan who has been “adopted” by a TV series star grandmother. He has his own love life collapse during the movie with his colleague who flies away to the US to pursue her career. He then finds love again, with Shobhana’s daughter.

I think the movie tries to throw light on several societal issues that no longer get too much coverage in Malayalam movies that once were it’s mainstay. I think some of the questions that the movie raises are still not fully answered in our Society today. I enjoyed the performances of all the main protagonists – Shobhana, Dulquer Salman, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Suresh Gopi.

Litanies of Dutch Battery (Malayalam, 2003)

ലന്തൻബത്തേരിയിലെ ലുത്തിനിയകൾ (2003, Litanies of Dutch Battery) is a Malayalam novel written by N S Madhavan (twitter: @NSMLive). N S Madhavan is a short story writer and a columnist. This is the first novel he wrote 33 years after he started writing. This is the first Malayalam novel that I listened to on the Storytel app.

The novel traces the life of a little girl born and raised on an imaginary island off the coast of Kochi. The novel, has for its back drop the period between 1951 to 1967. It looks at the influences of the rise of Communism in Kerala and the Church in the locality through the eyes of the girl. It goes through various histories that affect the area and various oral stories that the people here spoke of and are perhaps now forgotten.

The narrator on the app is Edakochi Salim Kumar, who is a kadhaprasangam artist. It took me quite a while getting used to his pronunciation of Malayalam words. But, once I got the hang of it, it was a great listening experience.

I have mostly read English translations of Malayalam novels. This is perhaps the first time that I had the patience to sit down and listen through an entire novel in the original Malayalam.

I am not going to review the book since I don’t feel qualified to do it justice. There are two parts that I liked in the book and I am going to put them down here for future reference.

The year is 1957 and news arrives in India of the Soviet success in launching the Sputnik satellite. The Communist party cadre in Dutch Battery are celebrating the win over America. Kids make fun of the cadre saying they launched balloons into the sky and hence the Soviet achievement is no big deal. The cadre explains that balloons fall back to the ground after travelling some distance but the Soviets used a rocket that flies at a high speed to escape Earth’s gravity and put a satellite into orbit.

There are quite a few references to ship building around Kochi and also references to war stories including one about Pakistan bombing Kochi and how one bomb fell on a newly reclaimed part of Willingdon Island in Kochi. People claim to have experienced a lights out but no one ever saw the bomb being dropped nor explosions.

There is a nice interview with N S Madhavan where he talks about his novel and some of the historical references that make it into his novel.

Do Nothing (2020)

The following are notes of a podcast interview Brett McKay did with Celeste Headlee. Headlee is a radio journalist and author of the books We Need to Talk and Heard Mentality besides Do Nothing.

Do Nothing
Image Credit: Celeste Headlee

It has only been about 200 years since the industrial revolution that human beings are living the way we do now. Before the industrial revolution and for a large part of human history, human beings worked in spurts. There were spurts of intense activity and work and then there were long periods of relaxation. As an example, Headlee says that peons and serfs worked less than a year.

From Task-based to Time-based Work

With the onset of the industrial revolution, work switched from being task based to being time based. Before the revolution, people worked on a task and then rested till they got their next task. With the coming of factories, people worked by the hour. Their pay was not by the output they produced but by the amount of hours they worked.

Earlier people demonstrated their wealth by the amount of time they spent in leisure. Now, people demonstrate their wealth by showing off how busy they are. Headlee says that people were almost brainwashed, perhaps by the education system, to believe that we are considered more productive by working more hours. This belief is unsubstantiated by research.

Research, even from the 1950s, show that people who worked 12-20 hours per week were more productive than people who worked 50-60 hours per week. It was noticed that employees who work 50-60 hours per week and took little time-off, vacations and paid leaves were less effective and got only a 6% pay-raise compared to employees who worked 12-20 hours per week.

Also, changing pay from a time-based method to a task-based method has advantages for both the employer and the employee. Task based methods are more efficient as the employee tries to spend the least time to get the work done and leave. Task-based method is considered more humane, boosts morale on accomplishment of task and gives joy on completion of the task. Employees on time-based method of payment may spend more time on other pursuits while completing the task.

Taking a Break

Headlee says that taking a break should involve a break from all screens. She says that when we open our smartphones and check email, shop or stay on social media, our brain thinks that we are still working. It cannot distinguish between these activities, done for work or pleasure. So, when we think we have taken rest, we have actually not taken any. When we keep pings from our email program or notifications on our smartphone on, the brain goes into a ready mode all the time expecting and ready to do a task.

Home Work

Headlee says that at the end of a long day at work, we don’t look forward to coming back home. She says that the reason could be not having anything to do at home. Some people fell lonely at home or even isolated. Some also treat home as something they have to work on or even as a chore. They treat all home work to be top of the class with each thing to be shared with the world. As an example, it can’t just be a simple garden, it has to be the ultimate garden with all the bells and whistles. We are not satisfied with what we have.

Earlier, people used to return home to spend time with family and participated in tasks or hobbies that did not have a capitalist value. Women sew and men worked on their workbenches and fixed things. Now, when the call came for stitching cloth masks at home, we didn’t have sewing machines at home and if anything broke, we could not fix our own stuff without help from a technician. Headlee suggests that we do something that you simply enjoy as a hobby and which may not have any capitalistic value.

Means Goals and End Goals

Time-based tasks created the efficiency cults we see today. One way to escape this based on examples like sewing and fixing our own stuff is to understand the difference between Means Goals and End goals. Means goal follow the SMART acronym whereas End Goals do not follow the SMART acronym. We must try to create End Goals and use it to trim the Means Goals by seeing if the latter helps in the accomplishment of the former.

Using a Phone as a Phone

One of the radical ideas that Headlee suggests based on research is that one uses the phone as a phone. As discussed above, a smart phone tricks the brain into thinking that we are working when we think that we’re taking rest. Besides this, she says that the human voice carries information and depth that other humans know to identify immediately. Text can lead to a lot of misinterpretation that a call can solve in minutes. She says that listening to a person making a case for a point of view makes a person with an opposing view more considerate about the person’s stance. It fosters connection.

Headlee thinks that people are getting disenchanted by the over-use of video calling services like Zoom because the presence of a screen indicates to the brain that it is work. This makes us feel more tired after a video call. Teleconferencing has been proven to be as effective as being in the same room with other people.

Human connection

Humans are pack animals. We need a sense of belonging-ness. If the need for human connection is not fulfilled, it has been shown to lead to earlier death besides having several health consequences during a person’s lifetime.

Headlee thinks that when we re-emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to rethink the human connection to work. She hopes there is a global reconsideration of working hours, having a healthy work-life balance and creation of more pro-human habits (habits that don’t kill us).

She hopes that in going back, we don’t just go back to an era before smart phones but to an era before the industrial revolution.

The Third Way

A few days back I had written a book review of The Money Tree by Chris Guillebeau. Guillebeau has been posting a video a day on his YouTube channel in lieu of a book tour that got cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The video I am referring to clarifies some of the concepts in the book about the Third Way that I seem to have misunderstood. More, in the text below or better still watch the video in full, of about 34 minutes.

All the ways that he talks about earning money are things one can do independently. So, a corporate job does not come as one of the ways. The first way is therefore starting one’s own retail business. The second way is founding a startup. He says that in both these ways, one requires capital, has to take risk and there is a long time frame. It is also something that is dependent on other people and hence, is something that is beyond your control.

So, in the Third Way, he suggests:

  1. Start quickly
  2. Without spending money
  3. Using your existing skills/knowledge

The Money Tree – Chris Guillebeau (2020)

I first read about Chris Guillebeau when I read his first book – The Art of Non-Conformity and read the blog of the same name. Then, I was bitten by the travel bug and had dreamed of travelling far and wide. I did not want to go to all the countries in the world as Chris had but wanted to learn about what that life would be like.

The Money Tree, 2020. Image Credit: Chris Guillebeau

Having a steady government job then meant that I did not read his follow-up books about The $100 Startup and Side Hustle School. When I moved back to a private firm, I dusted out my old links and newsletter subscriptions and re-discovered Chris.

I bought his new book, The Money Tree (Amazon Affiliate Link to buy the book) knowing that relying on one stream of income is not a sustainable way to make a living nor does it give enough savings to save for the future. I purchased it on Audible and finished listening to it in a day.

The book is written in the form of a story. The thesis of the book is that having a source of income other than the job you have at hand is not a bad thing. He says that working on your own, doing something you enjoy gives you a high. It gives you confidence and impacts other areas of your life.

The book gives ideas, builds a first person experience of going through the journey that you as a reader might have. The protagonist, Jake, goes on this journey from being in debt, relationships in ruins and perennially forgetting the important things in life to a place where he has confidence, has more courage in his personal and work relationships and has things in perspective. He does this with a help of a support group that meets to discuss these ideas under the able guidance of a guy, Clarence.

Chris wrote this book before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, given the lock down and expected downturn in the economic conditions, I think this book deserves your time. His insights attempt to take you through a space between a full time corporate job and the gig economy. I already see many people offering their services online and some even earning for these services.

Think of something you’re good at, help people and earn money.