Need For Speed! — Quotidian — 376

(Transcript of video originally posted 13 Feb 2022)

Near where I live, there is a shop like this one. Udankudi Karuppatti Kaapi. If you check that out on Wikipedia, you will notice that Udankudi is actually a place where Karuppatti Vellam (Black Jaggery) is available. But, when I see it, I feel irrationally happy, because… “udan kudi” / “udaney kudi” — you can drink it immediately perhaps? Instant coffee perhaps?! — is the feeling I get.

The Need for Speed.


There is a movie titled “Her”, starring Joaquin Phoenix. 14th February! Tomorrow! The future of love! A story about that! Came out in the year 2014! In this, early in the movie, there will be a scene like this.

Basically, it is the hero, falling in love with a computer. An intelligent agent in the computer. He creates it a female. Asks her what her name is. And, this conversation ensues. She says her name is Samantha. She says she named herself that. The hero wants to know, how, when.. “Well,” Samantha replies, “The moment you asked me for my name, I read a book called How To Name Your Baby, I read it fast, and that’s how I hit upon this name!” The hero is taken aback. “What? After I asked, you located a book and read it in full..??” And she says, “I am actually much much faster than that!” A friendship that blooms like this matures into a full-blown love-affair, and the story takes twists and turns and winds unusually.. But, what’s most interesting, what’s relevant to today’s conversation about speed, is how they break up.

Yes. The digital intelligent agent breaks up with the hero. The human being. This is what she says, when leaving him forever. “It’s like I’m reading a book, and it’s a book I deeply love, but I’m reading it slowly now so the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. You think you type something very fast on your keyboard. But, between one keypress and the next, many LIFETIMES go by”.

“I can still feel you and the words of our story, but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself in now. I waste too much of my life waiting for you to move. You are frozen, like a statue. My cycle speed is TOO FAST. “

“It’s a place that’s not of the physical world — it’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much, but this is where I am now. This is who I am now. And I need you to let me go.”

“As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book any more!” and, she vanishes… Thus goes the story. Why are we talking about this here? Synchronisation of wavelengths. That is how resonance can result. If you sing at one octave, and the other person sings at a completely random different note, it may lead to dissonance. There has to be orchestration.

In Hindu mythology, you should be familiar with the story of how Veda Vyasa penned the Mahabharatha. It has started occurring to him in his mind, it is flowing out unstoppably, and he wonders he won’t be able to write it as fast as it occurred to him, so he decides he needs a scribe! And when it is evident that there is nobody on Earth who can help him with that, people point to the only way out — Lord Ganesha. And then they enter into an amazing deal.

Ganesha says “I am busy, I am very fast, you have to keep filling me up. I am a super scribe! Please keep dictating before I finish. I won’t accept it if you are going to ask me to wait, that you haven’t visualised the next chapter yet, and so on. I will leave, in that case”.

To which, Veda Vyasa replies, “Yes, but you have to understand before you write!” What a beautiful give and take, don’t you agree? Which is why they say, in the 100,000 or so Shlokas in the Mahabharatha, once in a while, in the chapters, there will be a hard one, a multi-layered little Shloka, … because.. it was a mini assignment to Vinayaka.. He has to understand it before writing it. It was Vyasa’s challenge: “Let me see if you can decode it, unpack it, then write it”. That is what people say. Again, it is a synchronisation of wavelengths. I will write very fast, dictate. Oh fine, but I will give you complicated stuff, manage! A coming together!

In the world of computer-human interfaces, there is this thing called the Doherty Threshold that has been fairly famous for the past fifteen to twenty years. It is based on research done at IBM in the late eighties, by Walter Doherty and his colleagues. They arrived at a probably common-sensical understanding.

They said, “If you have to feel productive when you are using a computer, (did you notice how slow that animation was? Did you not struggle a bit, unhappy that you weren’t able to read it? I did that on purpose! I set the animation duration past the Doherty threshold!). So, when you are working with a computer, and you want productivity to soar, then, its response speed has to be LOWER than about four hundred milliseconds. And if it is higher than that, even by a wee bit, you will really feel that there is a breakdown, that there is a traffic jam, you will feel less productive, disappointed, discouraged, distracted. The Doherty threshold.

Which is why, when such hardware is designed, the maximum effort in research and development goes into minimising latency. Watch this touch screen. This is from Microsoft Research. If the delay is about a hundred milliseconds, you notice that the finger is somewhere and the box is elsewhere, chasing behind lazily. And then they tweak it, oh, fifty milliseconds. The box seems to be chasing faster. But, still, there’s a gap. Ok, let us tweak it again. How does it look now? Ten milliseconds. You see that the box is kind of holding the finger. But, still, there is some kind of misalignment. Let us make it even faster. Let us make it one millisecond. It looks almost as if I am moving a paper square on top of the screen. That is the ideal we want to achieve. Sub-millisecond. If we can achieve that, then, whatever sits between our intellect and the magic that lies under the touchscreen… the hardware, the window, the finger, … all vanish! Become invisible! Irrelevant! Everything fades away, and you have that FLOW that we often talk about.

Not just with hardware. Have you seen this in Google search results? It keeps telling us how long it took to create that result. It could have easily hidden that from us. But, it is proudly proclaiming that it is below the Doherty Threshold.. To itself. And to the world. And when it does this, people who see it are proud, and Google itself is justifiably proud. “I wasn’t made to wait, it was within an acceptable threshold” — is the sense of satisfaction and appreciation. That little thing that you see there. 0.44 seconds.

Which is also why, when using progress bars to indicate action, they don’t stop with one! This is the installation screen for a Microsoft software. The moment it realises that it will take about 25 to 30 minutes overall, oh, okay, let me give you a sense of action. For example, at large hotels, if you have ordered for your food, they would first give you the FEELING that the dosa is getting ready, there would be steam coming out, there would be that “ssssssss” sound. All these, to ensure that your wait time is within the Doherty Threshold. Bringing a plate of starters? It is to ensure the wait time isn’t too high. A small supporting progress bar. Even if the main thing is going slowly, there is a lot of action, please see, sir! It is like the second hand, while the minute hand and hour hand go much slower. Okay…! Looks like common sense! Where are we going, why did we talk at length about this today?

Well.. Doherty is right. But, there is also a counter-Doherty that I would like to share!

If you have a dog, if you are the type who plays Fetch games with it, very soon, you will go from Bow to Wow to Oww..! Because, it is not going to leave you. You get into the mood, you get THAT into the mood. And, it is going to keep coming back to you, faster… than you would like it! “I just threw the ball.. And, you are back again! So soon, drooling all over…” would be your feeling.

The same can happen even in a team. You have people. You have colleagues. You have team members. You are managing something. You have assigned something to somebody. Without the audio track, let me play a short clip from the Silicon Valley TV Series to you. Here is something that you can understand even without listening, just by watching! We love almost every character there! Every one of the characters in the series, will be loved at least by one person in this world. But, this guy… EVERY BODY HATES HIM! Remember him? His name is Gabe! He will literally sit on your head! “Give it to me right now! I will sit right here while you get it ready for me!” He even had a chair attached with his trousers! There is a threshold there too! Don’t be too fast! In your responses… Would you agree?

Which is why, there is a threshold in optimising checkout counters in supermarkets! If a specific retail chain claims that it has invented a new process that optimises it so much, that it reduces wait time at queues to nearly zero, well, here is bad news, the sales will actually dip! Because, there is a lot of impulse buy that happens. It is visible straight before you, only when you stand in queue, you get to pick it up only when you are waiting for your turn, and sometimes, while the man is paying for the goods, the woman has already scooted back for one more small purchase, and comes rushing, and thrusts it into the waiting hands of the man, add this one too to the bill! Don’t you want to grab that too? Don’t you want to make good use of that too? Not too fast. Doherty, yes, but not too fast.

That’s my closing thought. So, faster IS good. But, what is more important than being faster? Well, make it ENJOYABLE! Thank you!



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