Sunday Snapshots (3rd November, 2019)

Zen, Electric Vehicles, Trains on tracks, and GTR

Hey everyone,

Greetings from Evanston!

We had our first snow this week on Halloween.

Extreme climates have been shown to trigger creativity and I can imagine the possible mechanism – you can’t go outside so you sit in your home and create stuff. This newsletter has certainly benefited from that this week.

In this issue of Snapshots, I want to talk about:

  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

  • Electric vehicles in mining

  • How trains navigate on tracks

  • And more!

Book of the week

This week, I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki was a Japanese monk who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the US. While I usually scoff at new-age fetishization of Eastern philosophy, one of my goals this year was to explore different perspectives and opinions because the truth is usually somewhere in between what you currently think and another opinion.

Here were my three takeaways from the book:

  1. Nothing special

    “If you continue this simple practice every day, you will obtain some wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special.”

    We fantasize about things or achievements we don’t have. But looking back at my life, nothing was ever as good as what it was made out to be. In fact, most of my personal growth has come from experiences I was not looking forward to at all. Keeping this in perspective allows you to be tempered in your reactions to setbacks and failures.

  2. Mind weeds

    “You should be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.”

    I’ve talked about serendipity before and I think that it’s massively underrated:

    Too often, as we optimize for a very narrow goal, we lose the space to think broadly and connect different dots. This is how modern work is organized and might be the right approach for large companies. However, as an individual in the system, you have to think about what your goals are. If connecting dots across different domains is your competitive advantage, then in your efforts to be more efficient, you'll lose your competitive advantage. You need to give yourself the space to be inefficient.

    The weeds in your mind – the kernels of thoughts and insights – are powerful. But you need to nurture them through conscious effort.

  3. Control

    “Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider scene. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. ”

    No one likes to be told what to do. But even we are given free rein, we tend to set narrow boundaries for our thinking. We hesitate to work on ambitious goals and take risks. Some of this is hard-coded into our DNA, but this holds us back in the modern world when the costs of setbacks are low. This section reminded me of Nassim Taleb’s How To Legally Own Another Person.

I think the book is very powerful and it put words around a lot of feelings I’ve had over the past 6 months. Definitely pick it up for a quick but profound afternoon read.

Business move of the week

The Next Frontier for Electric Vehicles: Deep Underground

Mining companies are looking to replace their diesel-powered underground machines with electric ones. I think it’s a good move for three reasons:

  1. Financial viability: Operating costs for electric vehicles are much lower over their lifetime, even if the upfront fixed costs are higher. Mining companies are used to making large capital investments, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince shareholders that this is the right move for the long run.

  2. Stakeholder concerns: In the next decade, there will be big push globally from all stakeholders – large investors, end customers, and regulators – to drastically cut down on fossil fuel usage. Diesel can account for up to 30% of a mining companies emissions so it makes sense to attack it.

  3. Total potential impact: I’m always skeptical of having an impact on climate change through individual actions. Yes, not using a plastic straw marginally helps the environment but if we really cared, we would be pushing for legislation in higher impact areas in industries like fishing (46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is abandoned fishing nets). This is a step in the right direction as industry and resource extraction account for one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

The path to solving climate change will be through financially viable and behind-the-scenes solutions and I’m confident we’ll see a lot more of them in the coming decade.

Random corner of the week

TIL that trains navigate through conical wheels! It’s kind of wild to think that you have no idea how something you interact with so frequently works.

Meal of the week

This week, I went to Grand Trunk Road in Lincoln Park. It delivered on its promise of modern Indian cuisine. We had the Chicken Biryani and the Achari Murgh. My only complaint was its location – the neighbor looked desolate despite being close to a university and it’s a long walk from the nearest El-train stop. But if you’re already in Lincoln Park, it’s worth a shot.


That wraps up this week’s Sunday Snapshots. If you want to discuss any of the ideas mentioned above or have any books/papers/links you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of Sunday Snapshots, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending me a direct message on Twitter at @sidharthajha.

Until next Sunday,

Sid