An Insight a Day

The Environmental Impact of Using the Internet

From Science Daily:

A new study says that despite a record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020, a pandemic-driven shift to remote work and more at-home entertainment still presents significant environmental impact due to how internet data is stored and transferred around the world.

Just one hour of videoconferencing or streaming, for example, emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide (a gallon of gasoline burned from a car emits about 8,887 grams), requires 2-12 liters of water and demands a land area adding up to about the size of an iPad Mini.

But leaving your camera off during a web call can reduce these footprints by 96%. Streaming content in standard definition rather than in high definition while using apps such as Netflix or Hulu also could bring an 86% reduction, the researchers estimated.

Everyone assumes that going digital is better for the environment, but it turns out, the internet isn't exactly eco-friendly, mainly because data centers use a lot of electricity to process and transmit data across the globe.

How to Kill Passion

When you see a doctor or a surgeon, you would ideally want them to be passionate about what they do instead of complaining about their hours or their boss. And you definitely don't want them to say, "I'm just doing this for a few years to save some money, then I'll quit and go do something else." So how did we get here? How does someone survive and graduate from medical school when they have little desire to work in medicine?

I think for a lot of students, their passion probably died once they started working. Imagine what it's like being an engineering student in university, you get to study all sorts of cool engineering stuff in lecture and play around with a bunch of "toys" in your lab sessions. You also get to skip lectures with little to no consequences if you find them boring or if you overslept, you just need to catch up and submit your assignments on time. Even if you struggle, you can always get help from your friends or lecturers during open office hours. And most importantly, you can do the things you are passionate about whenever you feel like it, on your own schedule.

But everything changed after graduation. All of a sudden, you're entrusted to handle million-dollar equipment where one wrong move might cause something to blow up, or worse. And no, you are most definitely not allowed to play with it. You can no longer sleep in or skip work, even if you can catch up the next day. At work, not many people will be able to help you as everyone's working on their own thing and there are no correct answers, unlike university, and there's also the potential office politics you may or may not be forced to participate in. And most importantly, you are now forced to the things you are passionate about on someone else's schedule. A critical machine broke down at 3AM? Well, guess who's going back to work.

How many people hate their university life? Almost none. But how many people hate their working life? Probably a lot. Even if you are someone who loves computer science and programming, the moment you are forced to do it all the time on a schedule you can't control, that's when you will begin hating it. And that is how you kill passion.

What if We Lose the Internet?

The biggest risk is often the things we don't see coming, or the things we didn't expect. A few days ago, I wrote a bit on The Risks You Can’t Foresee, and towards the end, I started drawing a parallel to our current pandemic and how lucky we were that the death rate isn't much higher.

Here's another thing we should be extremely grateful for, the internet. We were very lucky because in 2020, most of the world had high-speed internet and remote work made it possible for society to continue functioning when most people were trapped indoors. Imagine if Covid happened 20 years ago in the year 2000, do you think the world can survive a lockdown when not many people had an internet connection and Google was just 2 years old?

But the internet is not indestructible. What most people don't realize is that the global internet is still mostly powered by vast undersea cables. We can escape the pandemic in the physical world by isolating ourselves and moving into the digital world, but what happens when our digital infrastructure collapses at the same time? We're lucky it didn't happen this time, but imagine a future when the next pandemic hits and everyone is forced to go into lockdown, only for the internet to suddenly fail. What do you think will happen?

HT Yuval Noah Harari

Big Fish in a Small Pond

Back in university, I was a big fish in a small pond. Well, what can I say? I was rejected by the more prestigious universities. Sometimes, I do wonder how differently my life would have turned out had I made it into the big pond.

In boxing, boxers can only compete in their assigned weight class, because if you weigh 80kg, you're going to have a huge advantage when you fight against someone who only weighs 60kg. It's a simple matter of physics, the bigger and heavier you are, the harder it is to move you or make you fall. When you're a big fish in a small pond, it feels a bit like that.

Sometimes, the key to winning isn't to try and win while being a small fish in a big pond. It's to be the big fish, even if it means going to a smaller pond. Find somewhere where you have an unfair advantage, or where competition is sparse. The world is big, but you don't have to fight for the top. Just find your own little patch of land and fight there instead. You don't have to be number one in the world, just be number one in your local area or community.

Can't Decide? What if You Didn't Have a Choice?

I'm sure you've experienced this at some point. You're deciding between two choices, they both have their own pros and cons, and you just can't seem to decide between them. So you spent hours overthinking things, asking others for their opinion, and trying to find that one decisive factor to help you decide.

Well, what if you didn't have a choice? Instead of having the freedom to choose between A and B, what if only option A was available. Would you be okay with that? And what if only option B was available, would you be happy if you were forced to choose B? If you answered yes to both questions, that means both A and B are equally acceptable. So, just go flip a coin or something.

Sometimes, the luxury of choice feels more like a curse. When you can't decide what to choose, it's helpful to consider a hypothetical situation where you don't have a choice. Would you be okay if the decision was forced upon you? If so, why not do exactly that?

The Risks You Can't Foresee

An interesting article from Harvard Business Review on risk management.

Take the case of a small fire in a Philips semiconductor plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in March 2000. Triggered by a lightning strike, it was extinguished by the local fire department within minutes. The plant manager dutifully reported the fire to the plant’s customers, telling them that it had caused only minor damage and that production would resume in a week. The purchasing manager at Ericsson, a major customer, checked that his on-hand inventory of the plant’s semiconductors would meet production needs over the next couple of weeks and didn’t escalate the issue.

Unfortunately, the fire’s smoke and soot and the extensive hosing of the facility had contaminated the clean rooms where highly sensitive electronic wafers were fabricated, and production didn’t restart for several months. By the time the Ericsson purchasing manager learned about the delay, all alternative suppliers of several of the plant’s wafers had already been committed to other companies. The component shortages cost Ericsson $400 million in lost revenues from the delayed launch of its next-generation mobile phone and contributed to its exit from this market the following year.


At Nokia, another large customer of the Philips Albuquerque semiconductor plant, information about any unusual event in a supply chain had to be reported to a senior vice president of operations, logistics, and sourcing. This executive, who had few day-to-day operational responsibilities, served as the company’s top troubleshooter, or—as we like to say—its “chief worry officer.”

This role differs from that of a traditional chief risk officer, whose priorities are to improve the management of known routine risks and to identify new risks that can then be transformed into manageable routine risks. By contrast, the worry officer has to quickly recognize the emergence of any novel risk and mobilize a process for addressing it in real time.

When Nokia’s purchasing manager received the call about the plant fire, he checked that existing inventory levels were adequate and logged it as a routine event, just as his Ericsson counterpart had done. But following protocol, he reported it to the senior VP as a supply chain anomaly. The VP investigated further and learned that parts shortages from the plant could potentially disrupt more than 5% of the company’s annual production.

The VP mobilized a 30-person multifunction team to manage the potential threat. Engineers redesigned some chips so that they could be obtained from alternative sources, and the team quickly purchased most of the remaining chips from other suppliers. But there were two types of chips for which Philips was the only supplier. The VP called the Nokia CEO, reaching him on the corporate plane, briefed him about the situation, and got him to reroute the plane to land in the Netherlands and go meet with Philips’s CEO at Philips headquarters.

After the meeting the two companies agreed that “Philips and Nokia would operate as one company regarding those components,” according to an interview the troubleshooter gave the Wall Street Journal. In effect, Nokia could now use Philips as its captive supplier for the two scarce chips. The relationship allowed Nokia to maintain production of existing phones, launch its next generation of phones on time, and benefit when Ericsson exited the mobile phone market.

Tackling potential threats is something not many people would bother doing. If you were a customer of Philips and heard they had to stop production for a week due to a minor fire incident, you would probably just check your inventory and make sure there's enough at hand. Aren't you lucky that it was only a minor fire and it'll only take Philips a week to get back into production? Suppose there's a parallel universe where the plant manager at Philips reported a major fire incident and it will take them half a year to resume production. What would you do then?

And here's the thing, have you ever considered the possibility of Philips stopping production and the impact it will have? Probably not, and there's probably no one in your team or organization who is supposed to look into it either. It might only be a week but what if it happened again next year? Why isn't there a strategy for addressing it when it happens next time?

Take Nokia, for example, they have a "chief worry officer" who is supposed to look into exactly these types of risks. In this case, the "chief worry officer" launched an investigation and found out that if there was a parts shortage issue, it could potentially disrupt more than 5% of their company's annual production. So they addressed the risk, and sure enough, it paid off handsomely.

As we are currently in the middle of a pandemic, have we ever considered what we will do when the next pandemic hits? Think of Covid as the minor fire incident that was supposed to be fixed in a week but ended up taking months due to the unforeseen risk where the fire's smoke contaminating the clean rooms containing highly sensitive equipment. Aren't we lucky that Covid had such a low death rate compared to the Spanish flu? Suppose there's a parallel universe where Covid is a lot deadlier and kills half or a third of everyone who contacted it. What would we do then?

What the world needs are more "chief worry officers," people who will look seriously into these risks and plan accordingly so that we will be better prepared the next time these risks occur. A pandemic isn't a one-time event, it is something that happens every few years or decades throughout history. After the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Bill Gates has already been warning us that we’re not ready for the next pandemic. And sure enough, we're not ready for Covid. Do we really want to repeat this again when the next pandemic hits?

Forget Your Personal Best, Focus on Your Personal Average

Just because Usain Bolt can run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, it doesn't mean he can run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds all the time.

It's a lot more meaningful, and impactful, to look at your personal average instead of your personal best. Nobody can perform at their best all the time, that's what it means to have a personal best.

But everybody can perform better than their personal average at least half of the time, mainly because that's the definition of average. If you can consistently beat your average, or beat it more than half the time, your average will improve. And that is a lot more impactful than simply breaking your personal best.

The next time you measure your performance, take some time to create a rolling average for your last 10 or 100 or 1000 attempts. It will give you a much clearer sense of how you are improving.

Lessons on Learning How to Kick a Ball

You might be a bit embarrassed to search "how to kick a ball" on the internet. I mean, surely, you know how to kick a ball. How hard can it be, right? Well, you know what's more embarrassing than letting others know you searched "how to kick a ball" on the internet? Actually trying to kick a ball and missed.

Picture this, a group of kids is playing football (soccer) nearby and one of them accidentally kicks the ball towards you. Of course, you want to return the ball, so as the ball approaches you, you walk forward to meet it and kick. Except, you miss and the ball rolls past you. Well, that was embarrassing! How hard can it be trying to kick a ball that's rolling towards you? Don't you have basic hand-eye (foot-eye) coordination?

It turns out, kicking a ball is actually pretty complicated. Think about it, how exactly do you kick a ball? If you kick with your right foot, where should your left foot be standing so your right foot can hit the ball? Which part of your foot is supposed to hit which part of the ball? Assuming you managed to kick it, how do you control where the ball actually goes? Imagine the same scene as before, but instead of missing, you managed to kick it. Except now, the ball flies to your left and hits a bystander in the face. Well, isn't that embarrassing?

Everything is harder than it seems, especially if you've never done it before. Driving is hard, remember when you just got your driver's permit and struggling with parallel parking? Riding a bike is hard, remember when you had to use training wheels? Walking is hard, remember when you were still one year old and kept falling?

One of the best things about the internet is that there are tutorials out there on how to do virtually everything. How to brush your teeth, how to socialize and make friends, how to drink water, and so on. While it isn't enough to solely rely on those tutorials (you still need to practice and internalize it), at the very least, you would know better the next time you try to kick a ball.

No Often Means They Don’t Know

This is something I've learned a while ago from Zig Ziglar's Secrets of Closing the Sale. Most people will instinctively say 'no,' especially when you're trying to sell them something. And once they've said 'no,' it can be very difficult for them to voluntarily change their mind, even if they want to, because doing so would mean admitting they were wrong. So what can you do? Give them an excuse to change their mind, they will be delighted to make a new decision based on new information.

No, the prospect won’t change his mind, but he will be delighted to make a new decision, based on new information. Example: “Why didn’t you tell me the property was outside the city limits and I won’t have to pay city taxes?” He’s in the process of making a new decision based on new information. “Why didn’t you tell me we could print on both sides of the paper? Even though it’s a little more expensive per sheet, it saves us money because we double the usage.” He’s making a new decision based on new information. “You should have explained that this model comes with ‘four on the floor.’ My teenager would not want any other model.” He’s making that new decision based on new information. Since prospects will make new decisions based on new information, the sales process demands that you try for the close as soon as you have established value or aroused desire for ownership, but before you give all the information.

If you wait until you’ve given all the information before you try to close, that would be an even more serious mistake. Some prospects automatically say no on the first attempt to close so that they won’t feel they were “easy”—and that they didn’t carefully investigate before they bought. More importantly, they fear they will look foolish if they make a fast decision which turns out to be wrong. Many times these prospects who initially say no are actually saying, “Tell me more. Give me more information. Make me feel secure that a yes decision is the right decision. In short, make it easier for me to buy.” Your job as a salesperson is to do exactly that—make it easier for the prospect to buy.

Zig Ziglar

Your Online Privacy

I value my online privacy, I don't like it when websites track my behavior or browsing pattern, which is why I use a privacy-focused browser that blocks ads and trackers by default. So now that I'm building my own blog, I'm faced with a decision. Do I install google analytics and track my visitors? Or do I stick with my values and create the most privacy-friendly blog ever?

To be honest, it wasn't a particularly difficult decision. Since I'm using WordPress, the hard part is in understanding what WordPress and all its plugins are doing. For example, I don't actually know whether this blog uses cookies or not, or how it's being used. Fortunately, a quick search online tells me that yes, WordPress does use cookies, but it's mainly for logged in users and commenters.

Other than that, I've made sure that there are no ads, no trackers, and no visitor statistics on this blog! The only thing WordPress tracks are the IP address of anyone who leaves a comment, uses the contact form, or tries to log into the admin account, which is reasonable since it's mostly to fight against spam and prevent illicit login attempts. But don't take my word for it, verify it yourself with this cool privacy inspector tool called Blacklight. It lets you scan websites and tells you just how privacy-friendly/hostile they are.

Some of the plugins I have installed may or may not collect additional data as well, like my Email Subscribers plugin. By the way, if you want to subscribe to this blog via email, just enter your email in the sidebar (or footer, if you're on mobile) and follow the instructions. I've also written this incredibly short privacy policy for anyone who cares about this type of stuff so do check it out if you're interested.