Thinking about the box – one click selling

Very interesting premise, particularly the box part. Really odd that the e-commerce giants didn’t try this:

With Sold’s app, you take a picture of the thing you want to sell and write a description. The company uses a mix of algorithmic and human judgment to figure out how much you can probably get for the item and sends you the proposed price. If you accept, Sold posts your product on whatever online marketplace the company determine is best—eBay, Amazon or smaller niche sites, depending on what you’re selling.

via Why 3 MIT Grads Want to Send You an Empty Box | Wired Business | Wired.com.

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Mary Meeker’s 2013 Internet Trends Report

Some very interesting insights, particularly focused on USA and China. A fair number of takeaways for India too if you read between the slides – the huge smartphone market potential and the upcoming mobile-enabled services revolution – given that we have a population similar to China’s, and one that is a lot better versed in English.

via Mary Meeker is Back With Her 2013 Internet Trends Report Slides – Jason Del Rey – D11 – AllThingsD.

Judit Polgár – Geniuses are made, not born

Now that’s taking your thesis seriously, resulting in one of the top chess players (and the best female chess player ever) in the world:

Polgár and her two older sisters, Grandmaster Susan and International Master Sofia, were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, in an attempt to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained in a specialist subject from a very early age. “Geniuses are made, not born”, was László’s thesis. He and his wife Klára educated their three daughters at home, with chess as the specialist subject.

via Judit Polgár – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Indian Gold

Now you know (some sources like to say housewives instead of households):

India is the world’s largest single consumer of gold, as Indians buy about 25% of the world’s gold, purchasing approximately 800 tonnes of gold every year, mostly for jewelry. India is also the largest importer of gold; in 2008, India imported around 400 tonnes of gold. Indian households hold 18,000 tonnes of gold which represents 11% of the global stock and worth more than $950 billion.

via Gold – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Michael Jackson’s Anti-Gravity Illusion Patent

From Quora (USPTO patent):

I came to know about this amazing fact recently through a documentary.

Most people don’t know that Michael Jackson actually had a patent on effects used in conjunction with his moonwalk. He along with Michael L. Bush and Dennis Tompkins invented this shoe in 1992.

A system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center  of gravity. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be selectively engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe  wearer’s foot forward.


Letting students set the exam rules

A very interesting experiment by an UCLA professor where he let the students set the rules for the final exam of the Behavioral Ecology course:

In the end, the students achieved their goal: They earned an excellent grade. I also achieved my goal: I got them to spend a week thinking like behavioral ecologists. As a group they learned Game Theory better than any of my previous classes. In educational lingo, “flipping the classroom” means students are expected to prepare to come to class not for a lecture, but for a question-and-answer discussion. What I did was “flip the test.” Students were given all the intellectual tools beforehand and then, for an hour, they had to use them to generate well-reasoned answers to difficult questions.

via Quora

Quora: What are some of the best rare natural phenomena that occur on Earth?

Some very interesting visuals for sure

Answer by Mayank Singh Shishodia:

Here are some of the best natural phenomena that occur on Earth.

Gippsland Lakes

The spooky light is created by a chemical reaction called “bioluminescence”, which happens when tiny organisms in the water are disturbed. The photographer put his camera on a very slow shutter speed and threw sand and stones into the water to cause the reaction and capture as much of the blue haze as possible
Source: Bioluminescence in the Gippsland Lakes

 

Light Poles

This phenomenon is known as ‘light poles’ and it can be seen at nights ower the large cities with different colored lights. They can only be seen during very cold weather (the temperature of -20 Celsius degrees or lower is required). Also the wind must not blow fast and there has to be a plenty of tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere. That is why you don’t see this so often.
Source: http://www.babaloud.com/2011/06/…

Finnish Lapland

The picture was taken last winter in Finnish Lapland where weather can include sub-freezing temperatures and driving snow. Surreal landscapes sometimes result, where common trees become cloaked in white and so appear, to some, as watchful aliens or bizarre statues. Image Credit & Copyright: Niccolò Bonfadini
Source: APOD: 2012 May 29

Lenticular Clouds

They are stationary lens-shaped and sometimes multilayered clouds that form at high altitudes. They are formed when moist air is forced to flow upward around mountain tops. Due to their shape, they have been offered as an explanation for some UFO sightings.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Len…

Aurora

Aurora or polar light are mesmerizing natural light display in the skies of high latitude regions. They are caused when energetic electrically charged particles from solar wind accelerate along the magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere, where they collide with gas atoms, causing the atoms to give off light. The auroral zone is typically 10° to 20° from the magnetic poles.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aur…

Skypunch

A fallstreak hole, also known as a hole punch cloud, punch hole cloud,skypunch, canal cloud or cloud hole, is a large circular or elliptical gap, that can appear in cirrocumulous or altocumulous clouds. Such holes are formed when the water temperature in the clouds is below freezing but the water has not frozen yet due to the lack of icenucleation particles. When ice crystals do form it will set off a domino effect, due to the Bergeon process, causing the water droplets around the crystals to evaporate: this leaves a large, often circular, hole in the cloud
Source: Fallstreak hole

 

Morning Glory Clouds

Morning Glory clouds are very rare types of clouds. They can stretch 1,000 kilometers long and occur at altitudes of up to 2 km. Although similar clouds are seen in many places worldwide, the ones over Burketown, Queensland in Australia occur predictably every spring. These tubes and the surrounding air can cause dangerous turbulence for airplanes when clear. They can achieve wind speeds up to 60 kmph.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mor…

Condo Effect Fog

This photo was taken in Panama City, Florida. Fog is seen rising off the Gulf and over the buildings along the beach, giving it a tsunami effect. According to a meteorologist this was due to “highly localized orographic lifting.” The fog formed in spots where the onshore breeze was forced to rise up and over the tall buildings. The ascending air cooled and the water vapor condensed, forming fog.
Source: http://theweatherguru.com/2012/0…
Spectacular ‘cloud tsunami’ rolls over Florida high-rise condos

The Brocken spectre

Brocken spectre, also known as Brocken bow or mountain spectre, it is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer or object, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The ‘head’ or point of the shadow is often surrounded by rings of coloured light – the rainbow halo – caused by light diffraction.
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/…
Brocken spectre

Fire Rainbows

The fire rainbow is the rarest of all naturally occurring phenomena. The clouds must be cirrus and at an altitude of 20,000 feet at least. There must be just the right amount of ice crystals present, as well.
Source: Circumhorizontal arc

The Hessdalen Light

Hessdalen Light is an unexplained light phenomenon that occurs in Hessdalen valley of Norway. They were observed over 15 to 20 times per week from 1982 until 1984. Since then, the activity has decreased and now the lights are observed about 10 to 20 times per year.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hes…
http://www.psychedelicadventure….

 

Upward Lightning

Upward lightning is rare. Most lightning streams either between clouds or from a cloud to the ground. In this special case, electrons stream earthward, producing an electrical current and a bright streak of light like a tree branching out.
Source: Upward Lightning , http://www.sciencedaily.com/rele…

Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus clouds or mammatocumulus are cellular pattern of pouches hanging underneath the base of a cloud. They are formed in sinking air contrary to any other form of clouds that are formed in rising air. There are various hypotheses offered behind the mechanism of its formation.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mam…

Earthquake Lights

Earthquake lights are unusual luminous atmospheric phenomenon. They are usually reportedly in areas of high seismic activity or volcanic eruptions. They were believed to be myths until they were photographed in 1965 during the Matsushiro earthquake of Japan. It was then that seismologists worldwide accepted of their existence. Earthquake lights are caused by an unknown mechanism. They are either white, blue or multi-spectrum.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ear…

 

Blue Jets and Red Sprites

Red sprites and blue jets are very high altitude upper atmospheric phenomena associated with thunderstorms. They have only recently been documented on camera. Red sprites are massive (as big as 20 km in size), but faint luminous flashes that appear directly above an active thunderstorm and coincide with powerful lightning strikes. Blue jets too are a high altitude optical phenomenon, but are different from sprites. They were first documented in 1994. Blue jets are optical ejections from the top of the core regions of electrically active thunderstorms, but are not directly associated with ground lightning strikes.
Source: Upper-atmospheric lightning

Ball Lightning

“Ball lightning is an unexplained atmospheric electrical phenomenon. The term refers to reports of luminous, usually spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several meters in diameter. It is usually associated with thunderstorms, but lasts considerably longer than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt. Many of the early reports say that the ball eventually explodes, sometimes with fatal consequences, leaving behind the odor of sulfur.”
Source: Ball lightning

Austria’s Green Lake

A park that becomes a lake for the summer
Source: Rest your weary sea legs: Divers explore pristine alpine park that turns into a lake for half the year

Fire Whirls

The fire whirls, fire devil or fire tornado, is a rare natural phenomenon. It occurs when a fire, combined by certain air temperature and currents, forms a whirl that rises into the air like a tornado. They can be actual whirlwinds that disengage from the flames, or else can become a vortex of flame. The fire whirl usually occurs during bush fires.
Source: Fire whirl

Sun Dogs

The natural phenomena commonly known as sun dogs has beguiled philosophical greats from Aristotle all the way to Descartes. It was the sun dog sighting, after all, that caused Descartes to take a break from his metaphysical studies and write his book on natural philosophy aptly called “The World”.
Source: Sun dog

Catatumbo Lightning

The Catatumbo Lighting occurs on the mouth of the Catatumbo River at Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. It is an atmospheric delight, which creates incessant, powerful flashes of lightning. The phenomenon occurs because of a mass of storm clouds that form a voltage arc more than three miles high.
Source: Catatumbo lightning

The Blue Tunnel, Antarctica

5 m high 150 m long ice tunnel formed by melt water and pressure ridges on the ice shelf near the Schirmacher Oasis. The Schirmacher Oasis (also Schirmacher Lake Plateau) is a 25 km long and up to 3 km wide ice-free plateau with more than 100 fresh water lakes. It is situated in the Schirmacher Hills on the Princess Astrid Coast in Queen Maud Land in East Antarctica, and is on average 100 metres above sea level. With an area of 34 km², the Schirmacher Oasis ranks among the smallest Antarctic oases and is a typical polar desert.
Source: The Blue Tunnel, Antarctica

Rare Algae bloom turns water near Sydney’s Bondi Beach blood red

The natural phenomenon is caused when algae, a plant-like organism flourishes and large groups of the miniscule plants, which can appear in various colours, gather together often with spectacular results.
Source: Crimson tides: Tourists flee from Bondi Beach ‘Red Sea’ as rare algae bloom turns water the colour of blood

Red Rain in Kerala

On July 21, 2001, there was a meteor airburst event near Changanacherry in the Kottayam district. Many people recall the loud sonic boom during early morning of that day. Just a few hours later, rain the color of blood began to fall. For two months, red rain fell sporadically around the state of Kerala in southern India. Scientists first attributed the strange crimson rain to particles swept from the desert or other dust-like material that was carried off by winds and then was dispersed during precipitation.
Source: http://sciencehistorylover.wordp…

Naga Fireballs (Not sure whether Naga Fireballs are natural or not. Many people say that they are tracer bullets fired by soldiers; this possible explanation has also been provided in the Wikipedia article of Naga fireball). But there’s also an alternate explanation involving spontaneous ignition of gasses from the river. So I have added Naga Fireballs to the answer.

The Naga fireballs are an unexplained phenomenon witnessed along the Mekong River, in Thailand and Laos. They refer to the glowing, reddish balls, which vary in size and rise from the water into the air, before disappearing. The bizarre event takes place every October during the full moon. It is estimated between tens and thousands of fireballs shoot from the river, some reaching a hundred meters in height. Though many scientists have attempted to explain the phenomenon (commonly as a spontaneous ignition of gases from the river), there is no substantial evidence to back their theories. Instead, the legend by locals – involving a river-haunting serpent, Naga, who shoots fireballs to celebrate the end of Buddhist lent – is given more credence. An annual festival is held to celebrate the Naga fireballs.
Source: Naga fireball

Bonus Content:

I didn’t include an image for this as it might be a bit ‘scary’ for some people 🙂 Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) refers to when a person bursts into flame for no apparent reason and burns down into charcoal. Interestingly, the confusion isn’t really about how this happens–scientists have a provable method in something called the Wick Effect, which has been successfully demonstrated on pigs. It shows that if someone a bit lardy catches on fire, their skin and clothing act like the wick of a candle, collecting fat as it melts and allowing it to burn at a constant high temperature for an extended period in a localized area.

Quora: What are some things that you can do in India but not in the US?

Some of the other answers are pretty good as well, but this one is probably the most feel good.

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

1. I can go to a doctor with no insurance, no paperwork, get treated, buy  medicines and come back in an hour with a total expenditure of just  $1-$2. (This is a private practitioner who was educated almost for free by the government. Typically, a GP sees 50-100 patients everyday and makes $200/day.) And some of these doctors are the best in the business. This is  one of the things where India knocks most countries hands down[1]. It is not just cheap, it is also also as uncomplicated as going to a grocery store. In fact, our doctors become good family friends and act as everything from a notary to a life consultant 😉

2. I can go and buy healthy stuff cheaper than unhealthy stuff. A kilo of  fresh mango costs about Rs. 20 ($0.35) during season while a 1 liter bottle of Coke  costs Rs. 40 ($0.70). Same with idli vs. pizza or roti vs. Big Mac. In India, you  have to pay big bucks to eat unhealthy. In the US, it is the other way  around.

3. Weddings, festivals and family events. India again wins hands down. Try spending Holi in Delhi, Ganpathy Pooja in Bombay, Durga pooja in Calcutta and Pongal near Madurai and you will see what is incredible about India. In US, except for July 4 and to some extent Christmas, most festivals are low key. I’m surprised that most people don’t even come out to the streets to celebrate Christmas or New Year in most US cities.

4. Drop in randomly to relatives/friends homes. Although in some Indian metros, people are acting “Western” and requiring appointments to go to their home, in most normal Indian homes you can drop in without an appointment. My wife and I always go to our inlaws place without notice to surprise them. This element of chance & surprise adds to further excitement. In the US, I find things too formal.

5. Get stuff repaired instead of throwing to landfill. Indians are very efficient in repairing/reusing stuff. In the US, people throw out their gadgets and appliances as soon as they reach the first failure. In India, you can go to a mechanic/electrician and get stuff repaired. The amount of waste generated per person is extremely low.

6. Low cost education. We can spend weeks on finding what is at fault with our education system, but the fact of the matter is that we are very efficient at what we are doing. Most of us went to private schools where it costs less than $500/year (although, this is changing as more parents want trophy schools now). Our colleges are only a little more expensive than that. This is despite the government spending almost nothing on our education. Most students in the US are overburdened with debt just after their college. It is not just cheap, it is also safe. Whether it is rapes, murders or shootings, our colleges do far better in managing crimes than do US campuses. Even during major riots, you will never see a major campus of IIT/IIM/NIT affected in any way.

7. Public Transportation. In almost all Indian cities there is viable public transportation. If there is no bus or train, there will always be a ubiquitous autorickshaw costing about $0.2/km. In the US, I had terrible problems going from one city to an another before I bought my car.

8. Affordable entertainment and communication. In India, almost anybody (even a slumdweller) can afford cable TV. A full service cost about $2-$8/month. Same for mobile phones where incoming calls are mostly free and one can have an usuable phone plan for about $5/month. However, in the US even many upper middle class families have to think twice before going for full cable service.

9. Walkable cities and towns. India has not yet moved to a US style suburbian sprawl. That means in most towns & cities we can walk/bike to most essential amenities – grocery shops (h/t Niranjan Uma Shankar), medical clinics, restaurants.

10. Political system. We sure have got plenty of troubles in our democratic setup, but ours is the only democratic setup where a minority can rise up to the top with no background. When Abdul Kalam became the third Muslim President in 32 years, India’s right wingers didn’t howl. This is in sharp contrast to how US right wingers reacted to Obama’s little bit of black lineage. The President was born to a white mother, raised in white neighborhoods, went to Ivy leagues, but still was trashed by the right wing. President Kalam had no political background, no strong network and no money, just lots of brains to get him up there. Although our population is 85% Hindu, we have had Sikh Prime Ministers and Presidents, Muslim Presidents, Zorastrian business leaders… Can a Hindu/Muslim immigrant realistically become a premier in Italy or Germany or Australia? We are not perfectly secular, but this is one aspect where we beat every other nation in the world.

11. Finally, good food. I live in a nation where a Samosa costs Rs 4 ($ 0.08). In Mumbai, we used to have a great dinner at roadside shops for $1 (for 2 of us). Whether it is Idly, Papdi chat or Samosa, it is a luxury in the US. I miss the chats of Delhi & Mumbai, Saravana Bhavan of Chennai and Rosgollas of Calcutta.

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[1] Our medical system is so direct & simple, if you are not dirt poor. One of my close friends had a mild bout of fever as soon as he came to the  US. In India, this is a pretty simple thing. Here, the doctors made him take so many stupid tests that the bill finally ran to $800. Good that his insurance coverage started the previous day. Still, he had to run around filling up papers for a whole week.

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Endnote: I  can also name 11 or more things where you can do in the US but not in  India. So, it is not about jingoism or one nation better than the other.  It is just a discussion about relative merits of one nation vs. the  other. Every nation is great in its own way, and there are some stuff that one nation beats the other, while in other stuff gets beaten.