Graduation

Graduation is 2 weeks away, and I have to say its been quite the four years. Walking into Princeton, I rmeember feeling cocky, audacious, like a king. I had the confidence and arrogance of an Ivy League admitted student. I felt like I had conquered the world. I remember that smug smile on my face that wouldn’t go away fro the rest of the yearonce I got accepted into college. it was a good feeling.

That smugness quickly wore off as Freshmen year dragged on. My first semester on campus was brutal. I had a 2.72 GPA. For a kid that did decently well in High school, and basically derived a shit ton of identity from being considered decently smart, it was a hard blow to swallow. Once my confidence took a hit, it took a while for me to do anything reasonable. My first reaction after that terrible first semester was to bunker down, take easy classes, and figure out the best possible ways to dig myself out of this hole. I remember distinctly going to the Study abroad office at the end of my first semester and getting told that my GPA was too low to go study abroad, and that lit a fire under me. I felt so angered at that rejection, and I swore I was going to change things.

Second semester of college was rather focused. Much like a blackout that happens after too much drinking, I don’t really remember much about the second semester because of all the work I was doing. Literally, it felt like every moment of my life was about work. I did meet my future roommate that semester though (in a class that I ended up PDFing because it was waaaay too hard). To say the least, the first year of college was mostly mistakes. To top it all off, my mother got diagnosed with cancer a few weeks before the end of the school year, and the little semblance of calm I had was quite literally thrown out the window. But the extra time in the hospital away from college, gave me a chance to refocus, and grades got better. You could say that a part of me was lost that year, and I don’t think it ever really came back. The young man who would smile, laugh, and seem confident about himself had disappeared after that year, and at least as far as I can tell didn’t really surface again until Senior year. The janitor that cleaned the bathroom I lived near would always give me encouraging statements like, “Keep at it! Your almost there!” He graduated before I did unfortunately, and I was unable to say goodbye. That man kept me going, and I’m glad he had faith in me. (Thank you!). In Freshmen year, I also met (but wasn’t really great friends with) two amazing people, who to this day are amazing people to talk to. So, I guess some good came out of it.

Sophomore year was really more or less the same as freshmen year, except that I started feeling more jaded by everything far faster. Classes seemed to be the same old same old, the job search seemed to be the same thing year to year, professors seemed to care the same amount, and the routine felt really stale. But hey, my grades were getting better, and I ran into something called Design thinking which was legendarily awesome. I also started a company called Qurious that year, and boy was that a disaster. My co-founder and I had this grandiose vision of connecting people on the internet for educational purposes, and while the idea was shit, we got so much better at convincing people through sheer willpower that I would still call it a positive experience. However, I mishandled some things, and my co-founder and I got into a fight that led to the end. Entertaining drama, but quite frankly unnecessary and useless overall. By this time, I had gotten used to the concept of being a middling student amongst peers who were amazing. Oddly enough, as my mentality changed to accept my mediocrity, my grades steadily got higher. I ended that year with straight A/A-s in 2 straight semesters, and boy was I proud. As you can probably tell by now, my life still revolved around grades, and my identity was still tied to it. After all, I was here to study and get a good job (internship scenario summer after sophomore year didn’t work out as well as I thought either).

Junior year was a turning point of sorts. My grades had stabilized, I had learned how to work hard, and my confidence was on the rise. However, I would say that Princeton never really felt like home, and I don’t think I ever felt comfortable here. The year started with some friendships getting stronger, and some becoming weaker. I hung out a lot more for no reason with a small set of people, who may or may not have always provided the best company. I was independent in terms of food plan (which meant I had to forage), which made things difficult. Eating alone was depressing, and it took a while to get used to the fact that by leaving the dining hall, you weren’t always going to have someone to sit with.

My research project that year was interesting, and was probably one of my favorite projects. My advisor had an incredible way of always sounding encouraging, even when the quality of my work failed to reach the lofty levels of her expectations. She was by far one of the best instructors I have ever worked with. One of my favorite experiences on campus was TAing a Design class on campus. Not only did I meet so many wonderful people, I also had the chance to really see what the other side of the equation looks like, and boy was it hard work. I always thought that TAs had a cushy job, but it turns out, they have to do a lot as well. In a quick aside, I would like to thank Professor Lidow (who may or may not ever read this) for giving me such incredible opportunities. I met him as a sophomore who had no idea about what he was doing, and left his class + TA + class as a more educated confused man. But at least, he equipped me with the tools necessary to figure it out. I would never have the perspective I have today had it not been for his involvement.

As you can probably tell by the way I am writing this, my personality eventually took a hit for this workaholic lifestyle. I became a very boring person to be around, and generally was never interested in doing anything that was outside of coursework. I bought a guitar and never used it (well almost never, my roommate would disagree that I never used it — he said I was terrible at it). That same part of me that had disappeared before had been told to move out, and never come back. Princeton came to represent work for me. It was the equivalent of having a job. One woke up in the morning, did the work that needed to be done, ate food, and slept in the evening. There was no real room for fun. Towards the end of the year, thanks to a good friend, I started playing a lot more basketball and that was fun (although I learned I am quite terrible at the sport). My fun release (a spurt of fun time) started to involve more and more basketball, and to this day, anytime I want to do something fun I go to the gym or go on a run.

Senior year….Finally, I made it. There really isn’t a whole lot to say tbh. The first semester was hard work, the second semester is still hard work.  I started reflecting a lot more, and even had a wall of post-its to capture my reflectiveness. I think I became more at peace with my experience at Princeton in senior year. I came to accept the workload, the struggle, but at the same time I met some amazing people along the way that shaped who I am. It may also help that I got a job I really didn’t think I could get. Like I remember saying to my mother a few weeks prior to leaving my internship after Junior Year that the one company that I would leave the company I was interning at was the company I ended up getting, and there was no way I was going to get that (you had to pass something like 7 interviews, and the questions are supposed to be extremely hard).

As some of the stress of college lifted, the fun began to reemerge. I went out more, went to more parties, drank more (which doesn’t always have to be involved with having fun, but definitely helps loosen things up), and went to the gym more. I would say I was generally a happier person. However, even reflecting back now as I write this “memoir,” there is something hollow about this experience. I feel like I won’t miss it once its over, which for me is so odd since I missed high school for months after it was done (may have been years…but you know, months sounded more reasonable). I don’t think I ever invested time to build friendship roots, and memories that would go with me. At the end of these four years, I think all I will have to go forth with as a token of Princeton is that piece of paper marking my graduation. Yes the friends will hopefully stay (but if you asked me to answer honestly, I would say I have low expectations from most if not all of my Princeton friends); yes, I have grown as a person; but, No, I don’t think I emotionally feel tied to this campus, the people here, or the community.

To the next act of my journey, and another amazing four years. May the next four bring more celebrations than work.

Your fatigued writer,

Abhinav

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The Girl from Arabia – A Science Fiction Story

She looked up. The sun bearing down, and not a cloud in the sky. To her left and right, there was nothing but sand dunes, endless sand dunes. “Might as well get it over with,” she thought to herself, and began drudging her way towards the oasis to finish her chore. Ever since they blew up all the water, every human soul who could afford it lived near an oasis. There were only a few thousand spread across the world, and not nearly enough for everyone. To make matters worse, the sand dunes felt hotter every day. She looked up into the sky, across the great blue expanse, and wondered, “How many of them are watching me right now? How many of them are there?”

A hundred years ago, or at least that is what her Grammy would say, the world used to be a better place. Lush green lawns, and trim copy-cat houses sat side by side. There were magnificent cities with their reflective shining towers, and a mess of people roaming around on autopilot. Then came the Invasion. Without even a warning or a single airship in the sky, missiles began droning out, crashing and razing whatever they encountered. Thousands of missiles, like an expensive fireworks show gone all wrong, battered nature and humans alike till there was hardly anything left. Great nations fell to the invading power, but they were not here to settle our world or to make us their subjects. No, they were here to destroy for the sake of destruction. She wondered if they enjoyed hearing the squeals of dying children, or even worse, the squeals of mothers who had seen their children die. Perhaps they were as cold-blooded and inhuman as her Grammy had made them out to seem.

To defend the towns against the raids by the Invaders, the nearby cities had banded together and formed a group that called themselves the Defenders. They were staunch men with a belly for a fight, who had been warriors for their respective villages and probably could have passed off as criminals in another situation. As the war dragged on, with casualties amounting heavily on the side of the Defenders, they became more desperate to recruit. What started off so innocently, turned dark so quickly. There was a couple that had refused to support the Defenders’ cause. They had brutally murdered the husband in front of the wife, sparing no bit of humanity for the man. The entire town was abuzz the day it had happened. When it had reached her ears, a knot of fear had formed in her stomach. Evil seemed to be intertwined even with the best of intentions.

The oasis was almost in sight now. As a bead of sweat rolled down her face, she couldn’t help but be excited to be so close to water. Water always felt so sweet to her tongue, little by little curing her parched throat. She glanced up at the sky, a slight bitterness in her cold stare, and began thinking about the Invaders. “If only those bastards hadn’t destroyed our governments, and removed our leaders, imagine what world I could have lived in.” The sky above her seemed to glimmer more than usual, as if there was a mirror to reflect the Sun’s rays in that spot. She moved towards a tall dune near her to get a closer look. First came the glimmer in the sky, then came the stream of vaporized air, and it was followed by a large explosion as the missile hit the village in the distance. Stricken with fear, she realized they were coming. But they were coming in too fast, and she was caught with nowhere to hide. It was her turn to be brought down by those cold hearted bastard. She shivered, a cold shiver, the type that happens when you know it is the end. The glimmer shone right over her now. She felt bare and naked to the glimmer’s attack. She waited to be brought down, obliterated, smoked into oblivion, and then instead of a missile, the glimmer transformed into a saucer. The saucer was burning, flames engulfing the engine. It had been hit. She wondered if it was crossfire that had brought it down. Perhaps, it was the work of some divine force, giving her one last chance to avenge her community from the destruction the enemy had caused. To kill those that had destroyed her world. She bounced back and positioned herself to charge the alien ship once it hit the dunes. It smacked into the tall peak like a meteor in water, and as the dust settled, there it lay, helpless, defenseless and at her mercy.

She could feel the vengeance rise in her breast. All those years of struggle, all those years of pain, all because of these aliens that have been burning her world to the ground. And she could at least momentarily make all the pain vanish by capitalizing on this pilot’s misfortune and kill him. With hate burning inside her, she walked up to the saucer. She peeled off the cockpit lid. With the ship flickering in the sun and light bouncing off the pilot’s helmet, she braced herself for the moment. What will the alien look like? Perhaps with an extra arm, vicious slanted eyes, talons as sharp as a hawk, and a hole where the heart is supposed to be. She reached out for the pilot’s helmet, uncorked the screw that kept it in place, and with a swift move filled with animalistic passion, she twisted the helmet till she heard the grinding of the bones in the pilot’s spinal cord. With a hard jerk, she detached the head from the torso, leaving the neck oozing a pool of boiling red blood. As she pulled, the helmet’s visor flew open revealing two beautiful blue human eyes staring back at her.

She gasped and stumbled backwards, flinging the helmet away from her. But it couldn’t be, Grammy had always made the aliens sound inhumane, and distant from humanity. Her stomach was twisting. The guilt of killing was gripping her. How was she going to live knowing that she had ended the life of another human? She had to see the pilot’s full face, and confirm that he was human. She picked up the helmet with the detached head inside. She peeled off the helmet, leaving the pilot’s head in her hands.

Like the boys from her village, he looked far too young to have his life cut short. Like the boys from her village, he had that same youthful face, and that brown flowy hair. He really was just that, a boy. A sweet young boy. A boy who probably had no idea of what war even was, or how his small finger could alter her life with one little twitch. She wondered if he had a mother like she once did. Perhaps, his mother was praying that he would come home safely. She could feel sympathy swelling in her heart. But this had also been the same boy who stood for the Invaders, stood for their evil. This boy was just as guilty for the evils in this world even if he hadn’t committed or hadn’t understood the destruction the enemy had caused. But, she too had killed, killed out of vengeance, out of anger, and out of impulse. She too had killed for killing’s sake. Her eyes went cold, and her body stiff as she realized she was no better than the Invaders.

The importance of sidewalks

In the article linked below, a great amount of detail is spent illustrating why sidewalks are important to building the fabric of a semi-personal/public society. They function as conduits through which public characters, and non-personal faces can communicate, discuss, and gossip about their neighborhood. Sidewalks allow neighbors to know each other at that appropriate level of semi-personal that allows for the many to one connections. Facilitated through “public sidewalk figures,” the sidewalks become a channel for the daily news around the block. By sharing this news, they help build a sense of community and empathy in the neighborhood. Now, instead of each neighbor being the annoymous man or woman behind door number 349, each door leads to an individual. Loitering on the streets gives time for people who live near each other to empathize with each other, and understand the lives of each other in a way that cannot happen in a completely private circle (where it is hard to keep up with or reveal your secrets to so many people) or a in a completely public circle where everyone is uncharacteristically not themselves. Its the perfect middle ground that allows you to understand without getting deeply involved.

I remember walking around Stanford’s campus a few months back, and thinking to myself that the campus seems more lively, seems happier, and seems more upbeat than Princeton. While I had many observations about why this might be the case, I couldn’t place my finger on the reason. Yes, the weather is better, but no that isn’t the only reason people seemed in general more upbeat. After all, some people actually enjoy the cold weather, and thrive off of the Carmel Mochiattos that they use to keep themselves warm. With colder weather comes more time spent indoors, which in theory should increase a sense of community. However, it just doesn’t seem to be there. Princeton is a smaller school than Stanford. Stanford has 13,000ish students and Princeton has only around 6,500. At almost half the size, why does Princeton feel so much less upbeat and lively than Stanford?

After reading about the Sidewalks and their impact on city socialization, I began thinking about the impact that hallways have on college campuses. I need to spend more time thinking about the impact they have, but my hunch says that our hallways play an important role in the social dynamic that occurs in our local “neighborhoods.”

Why we all need a big brother.

Older siblings are awesome. They go through life one step ahead of you, face some of the potholes before you do, and seem to know what they are going to do. They seem to have it all figured out, while the rest of us are meandering our way through life, either following or avoiding the path they laid before us.

Being the eldest of three, I often feel lost, and in desperate need of help. Without an elder brother to guide me, its like walking blind through a forest. You are bound to trip eventually. This semester one of the weirdest things happened to me. As I was sitting on a plane and talking to someone I had worked with in the past, I was actually learning from him how to go forward in life.

Most people are hard to trust, are hard to take honestly, but I am honored to say that I have definitely found a few individuals this semester who I feel that I can trust with almost anything. They are always super kind, always have an open ear, and are always that one step ahead so they can tell you what to do and what not to. The best part is that they don’t judge me for not knowing. They are like my big brothers. When I don’t know the answers, when I don’t know what I am doing, they help me out, and make sure that I don’t fall down.

 

I am super grateful for their help. Its comforting to know that someone is looking out for your best interests and willing to be there to help guide you forward.

Love Part 2

Love is forgiving others for mistakes of the past.

Love is understanding that sometimes we are not at our best.

Love is realizing the reality is not always the end all.

Love is being blind.

Love is irrational.

Love is chaotic.

Love is something that cannot be controlled.

But what Love is not

Is negativity

Is focus on the problems

Is a desire to point out who is right and who is wrong.

Is focusing on the bad without the good.

Love is inherently biased. Love is a lens of distorted reality for without it, we will only count the mistakes and how they outnumber the correct decisions. We must not see the glass half empty or else our lives will be empty. See the glass half full, and our lives will be full.

Partial Information

We live in a world where the term “Big Data” really means large swaths of data. However, have you ever thought to think about where this large swaths of data exists? Or who has access to it? Or if a single group of people could view all the data at once? Thinking about these questions presents the problem of partial information. The idea that while there exists massive amounts of data on a subject out there in the world, very few people have access to the entire set. Without the entire set, we as operators on this partial data set are forced in to making sub optimal decisions based off of a sub optimal data set. In fields like healthcare, medicine, financial trading, and other high pressure quick reaction fields, partial information could be the cause of your failure as much as the cause for your success.

Before diving into how we can solve for partial information, let us explore what exactly it represents. Assume that you are a VC looking at a portfolio of companies to invest in. You are a competent VC and have devoted your life to exploring the investment tactics of your fellow competing VC firms as well as your firm’s historical investing pattern. You have a data set of your own portfolio and your competitors portfolios. You know where the money comes into your firm from and where it goes out. You know where your portfolio companies put money and what type of people they invest in. You know the products these companies build and how that creates wealth or use for the end user, but that is where your chain of information ends. You have no way of knowing how this wealth (Wealth from this point forward defines anything gained by the end user including a positive experience) is spent by the end user and transmitted to the next step in the chain, or how the money is spent from that hop onwards. You have no sensors to pick up on that information. This is a case of partial information. Had you as the VC known the entire chain of money in the industry you were focused on you would be able to map far more accurately how spending tactics and behaviors were changing and because of that where the next “Big” idea would come from. Partial information is knowing a facet or a portion of the entire data set and making conclusions from it. If we don’t solve for partial information, we are learning to make bets and predictions and assertive statements without understanding the complete picture. I.e only a little better than shooting darts in the dark.

How can we solve for partial information? Its a tricky problem that I believe cannot be solved with a blanket solution. It will not be a one size fits all solution. Furthermore, it may be impossible to ever have a full data set, and have complete information about a given topic. However, what isn’t impossible is building platforms that allow us to crowdsource the completion of the partial information we all individually own. Each industry will have a different way of accomplishing the sharing, however, by sharing the entire industry will be better off. Take for example health care:

Each individual patient knows who they feel is a good doctor in x y z areas. Each doctor knows that they can trust some small subset of x,y,z doctor. However, neither party may know anything about a doctor alpha because neither party has information to base decisions for that doctor. Yet, there may exist an individual that the patient knows and trusts that knows doctor alpha and has simply not revealed that they have that data point. The data exists, but cannot be surfaced because it is in multiple locations. What if we turned this situation on its head, and created a platform that surfaced that the data existed within your grasp? Say, we had told this patient that they had a friend that knew doctor alpha. They would have been able to make a much more informed decision if that was the case than they could without the information.

One might ask, why didn’t the patient just ask the other trusted party about doctor alpha and discover that the trusted party had a data point on the issue? My response is with another question: How would the patient know to ask this trusted party about Doctor alpha when they don’t know that the trusted party knows anything about doctor alpha? It would be like asking a 5 year old to solve a calculus problem. Unless you knew they were a prodigy you wouldn’t even attempt, because you would reason there was only a very slim chance that they could answer your question.

This concept of partial information is one I think will hamper our success in making judgements from information until it is effectively solved for all possible situations. We need to learn how to effectively share our knowledge, as that is the only way we can continue to make decisions and growth from that knowledge.