Amazing Numbers : Interpretation and Understanding

Tesla founder Elon Musk’s net worth is $238 billion. How much is $238 billion?

A recent Statista article by Katharine Buchholz have interesting explaination for you. It says, “If the 50-year old started spending a dollar each second (without accumulating further wealth and the dollar not inflating or deflating), his current riches would last him more than 7,600 years.”

It’s only around 2000 years from Jesus time till now. If Elon Musk spends $1 per second, it will last his 7600 years. Interesting way to explain numbers, right?

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If you want to go into calculations:

A billion is 10^9. 238 billion is 238 * 10^9 i.e. 238000000000.

One year have 60*60*24*365 = 31536000 seconds.

238000000000 divided by 31536000 = 7546.9 (To easily understand 238 * 10^9 divided by 31.5 * 10^6 gives us around 7.5 * 10^3 = 7500 approx.)

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In the same article, she writes, “A million seconds are close to 12 days, a billion seconds amount to almost 32 years.” Though I always play around with numbers, such refreshing interpretation makes it interesting.  

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If you want to go into calculations:

A million is 10^6. And One day have 60*60*24 = 86400 seconds.

1000000 divided by 86400 = 11.57 i.e. a million seconds is 12 days.

But then multiply by thousand and it is 11570 days i.e. 11570/365 =31.69 i.e. a billion second is 32 years.

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I have enjoyed creating such wow moments for my students. One such interpretation came while making sense of the facts mentioned in textbooks. The radii of atoms are of the order of 10 ^ -10 m (10 Angstroms i.e. 10 raised to minus 10 metres) while nucleus of atoms had radii of the order of 10 ^ -15 m. So ratio os radii of atom and that of nucleus is 100000 = 10 ^ 5.

Then, to make them realise the comparative size, if radii of nucleus is 1 cm than radii of atom is 1 cm * 100000 = 1 km. Understand this, if atom have radius of 1 km (imagine a sphere of 1 km radius) the nucleus at its centre is of the size of a marble/a sphere of radius 1 cm. The students will start getting amazed at this point. 1 lakh i.e. 10^5 times does not make that impact which comparison of 1 cm and 1 km does make.

Now, this is just radius. By volume the ratio is 10 ^ 15. Really, really large number. That is the ration of empty space in atoms as almost all mass (protons and neutrons) is in tiny tiny nucleus. 

So I would ask, though not practically going to happen, imagine that every atom collapses and only protons, neutrons etc are present together (no space in between) Earth will become of a size of room with same mass and a human being will be a fraction of spoonful in volume while weighing same. 

In the classroom, teaching students to understand and interpret numbers is always an amazing experience. I think, some skills will be useful across the industries.

Let me know if you love such food for thought. I would love to serve if so.

Learning to Learn

Some days back, I saw a teacher using animation to teach how the human heart works. Now-a-days there are many new apps coming to the market, providing such animated/video content for visualization of various concepts. Majority of the teachers, students and parents are in awe of the ease of digital learning in the form of audio-visual content. But I sense few problems here and would like you to understand it so as to avoid its ill effects.

We must embrace digital technology for its many benefits such as all time availability, wider reach, compact storage etc. But if the approach is not right, students may miss some of the golden benefits of learning. I still remember how I learnt ‘working of the human heart’ during my school years. The experience is still very strongly imprinted in my memory. One of the ‘AHA’ moments of my learning I will never forget. I will use this example to make my case.

Source: Pixabay

I had this habit of trying to read things and try to understand before they are taught in school. So I was reading the sentences and then was trying to understand it using the diagram given in the same book. Slowly, I was building the whole picture. I was using my imagination to visually recreate the working of the heart in mind. I was connecting the part read and understood with new information coming in with each statement. If, at times, I struggled to understand a few lines, I would go further with the awareness of what is missing. If I could understand the next portion, I would find the context to understand earlier lines. Taking effort to read and make sense of it, build context from other parts of text, use other available tools to construct meaning… I would use it all during my studies. At the end, when I could understand the concept and see the whole picture, it was the most beautiful feeling. Maybe an AHA moment as people call it. I am aware of the use of these strategies by me from the age of 13–14 at least. Gradually, I improved in use of these strategies further.

I forgot how the human heart works in the next few years, apart from a few things. As new information and learning’s come in, our memory discards some old unused, unrevised information to make space for new. Most of us forget. Then what is the purpose of learning it in the first place? For me, I forgot the facts. But I learned how to think, how to read, how to make sense of new information, how to build complete pictures from many small connected bytes of information from the same topic and it stayed with me forever. I am happy I didn’t see any animation or gulp in the versions understood by my teacher at first. Because, not everything you learn stays with you, but your learning of how to learn will stay with you. Slowly, when you narrow down on your field or subject, many of the things you learned will fall out of relevance. But never the training of how to think.

Autobiographer of Albert Einstein, Denis Brian, tried to put Einstein’s view on education in the following words, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” I agree with Einstein with my experience. I now realize, when people defend the importance and benefits of education, I should ask what they mean by education. Mere learning of facts won’t make a good person or professional.

Education, when done right, has the potential to help us achieve much more. But isn’t it the time we revisit our beliefs about what education is and what should be our approach about it?

I should not forget to mention the role of motivation here. The AHA moments are addictive. If we know what is expected of us as learners, and we achieve it with our efforts, the sense of accomplishment activates the reward circuits in our brain. The associated interplay of chemicals and experiences in our brain imprints a memory of pleasure and we can get it. Result? We have motivation to repeat that experience. That’s the motivation to study.

In my experience, to understand the knowledge structure of any concept or subject, we should avoid trying to download someone else’s understanding as it is. The byte sized information, served gradually, allowing the learner to make sense out of it, to create meaning and build the knowledge structure by herself/himself is important.

5 insights for learners: Things which help me with frequent domain/career change

2021 was another eventful year for me, highlight being my midlife career change.

After founding MAXIMESS (IT Services/ Digital Product Engineering Company) in 2009, I went on to found educational institute and worked in education domain for over 10 years. Meanwhile I co-founded a school and a co-operative credit society too. I was also active in social activism and experienced grassroots of our democracy by contesting state assembly election twice. So along with my primary work of teaching students and mentoring my colleagues in all my ventures, I have been doing many things here and there. At the start of 2021, considering the opportunities in front of MAXIMESS and my hunger for adventure, I decided to start actively working in IT as my primary work.

Couple of days back MAXIMESS turned 13. Now its around 10 months from when I actively started working in IT and started exploring the domain. Here, I am sharing my learnings in hope that it will help someone like me into similar transitions into any domain. ‘Self Regulated Learning’/‘Independent Learning’ is a skill which will help you in every industry, every demography and every era. To do that, I have learnt that when you start exploring a territory unknown to you, letting your curiosity be stronger than the doubt and using common sense to avoid critical mistakes puts you at advantage. Moreover, your ‘enthusiasm and motivation’ helps you make up for ‘lack of knowledge and expertise’.

I have always used following strategies to learn and to do better (it is not by design for this assignment, but crux of my lifelong learning across various domains and ventures):

1. Zoom In – Zoom Out: Attention to details at every level is important. Understanding the parts and how they connect to make the whole is right way to learn and think. I use this to understand verticals and horizontals of our organisation, skillsets and mindsets individuals, tools and processes used to deliver value etc and how it forms the organisational structure and culture.

Think it like zooming in and out on google map. When you zoom in you study a small area in very much detail and then you zoom out to see how it fits into bigger one. Do that systematically and you understand the whole.

2. Listen Actively – Ask Right Questions: There a lot you can learn from your peers. I took time top attend meetings of different groups/teams and also had one-on-one meetings with different stakeholders. Actively listening helps you understand things deeply, go beyond what is verbally said, ask short right questions to know more and thereby helping everyone (including yourself) with new insights.

Compulsive behaviour of speaking too much to impress or being absent minded in discussion, are roadblocks in learning and also toxic for team imany ways. Deliberate efforts towards active listening and developing habit of asking right questions minimally for eliciting more relevant information helps everyone.

3. Observe Parallels – Embrace New: Core domain ‘Knowledge’ varies from industry to industry but the ‘Wisdom’ is mostly permeating across all domains. From subject to subject or from industry to industry, I always find that some things are same and for some there are parallels. So you never start from scratch when you venture into new role or domain. This ready structure then helps you absorb the new knowledge.

Your ability to observe carefully and subtly validate your understanding is going to definitely help. That gives you the much needed confidence while walking into the unknown and embracing new knowledge, skills to make it your own.

4. Read – Learn: Continuous learning is important to reach the desired expertise and to excel. Apart from the sources mentioned above, reading blogs/books and going for some relevant courses will complement your journey. This should become a habit. If it’s not yet, start small but start now.

Newton used to say, ‘I could see farther by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Staying updated of the existing knowledge will help you understand what new can be built and how existing can be made better. Reading and learning are the ways of standing on shoulders of giants.

5. Fast and Slow Thinking – Metacognition: Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about two systems of thinking, system 1 is fast and automatic whereas system 2 is slow and deliberate. I have observed that when we do some thought-based work for first time, we use system 2. But when we do same work over and over, with awareness, it slowly becomes a system 1 work for us. Example, I learned driving using system 2 but now, for most of the time it’s being done by system 1. My mind know the situations where system 2 have to kick in. System 2 needs more energy and have to be wisely used.

Awareness about these two ways of thinking and ability to use it wisely is helpful. To be able to think about your thinking or know about the knowledge is metacognitive ability. Metacognition is learners one of the superpowers.

I am sure you this insights and skills will help you as they have helped me.

Learners inherit the earth.

Change is not new for us humans. Nor is disruption. We have coped up with the challenges it brought and survived. (I am categorically avoiding the phrase ’emerged victorious’, though it was natural autocomplete suggestion by mind.)

When I say coped up, there are few things to note. Most of the changes occurred over few generations and our natural evolution (mind-body) helped us through it. Story of survival is not that of individuals but of species. What is different now?

Some of us belongs to a generation who saw things change over lifetime. People (most) followed same careers over lifetime. Earlier to that same occupation and way of doing things would serve multiple generations. Tables have turned now- it is going to be multiple occupations in a single lifetime. Many of job roles becoming obsolete very quickly. So are the business models of organisations. Thanks to knowledge economy, the rate of innovations is still rising. Disruption is visibly fast. (Some are worried and some excited about it. Chaos brings opportunities to those who can find patterns in it and connect dots.)

Individuals and organisations who want not just to survive but ’emerge victorious’, mantra is ‘continuous learning’. Short, sweet, but not so simple. Staying ahead in a crowded space: where many others have access to similar avenues of ‘continuous learning’ as you are not that simple, you will agree. ‘Continuous learning’ being necessary but not sufficient ingredient, how will you and your organization find ‘competitive edge’?

Learners inherit the earth.

Disha Learning Model | 01

I have identified the following 10 areas to be part of students overall growth, to be targeted by schooling/homeschooling or other methods till the age of 15. Achieving the learning goals is more important than the completion of syllabus. This calls for setting the learning expectations clearly for each of these areas.

  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Language and Communication
  • Environment and Sustainable Development
  • Economics and Financial Literacy
  • Civics and Social Sciences
  • Technology and Digital Literacy
  • Sports, Fitness and Nutrition
  • Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Soft Skills