Recently we did some renovation at home which involved buying a few big ticket items. As I had read a lot about supporting local vendors, I drove to the stores after doing some browsing online on big marketplaces for options.

My first reaction on the purchase experience was the level of willingness to negotiate an offer when the bill is running close to a lakh. Every shopkeeper wanted to keep the conversation on the MRP, declining to accept credit cards or were trying to pile on more charges like delivery, installation etc when preparing the bill. In all, the transparency was poor and the mindset to extract as much as possible from a lead was set in stone.

The same I had observed from a medical store nearby, with aged people at home; the maintenance medicines for a healthy life add to substantial costs, so I tried asking the store keeper that I will place order with them month on month but let us work out a deal because the big medical chains give me 20% and I am willing to take a cut for convenience. The shop keeper flatly declined saying that he does not do business less than MRP and I can continue to shop at the retail chains, he does not need my business.

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Why is this happening? We perceive a loss to be greater than a profit of same magnitude. Winning a gold coin may not be equal in magnitude of happiness compared to the sorrow of losing a gold coin. That is what is at play at the small vendors. They do not see the overall profit gained in the transaction instead they read the money lost on the transactions that could happen on MRP. This clouds the judgement even if this can tun into a repeat business with a steady cash flow.

On browsing more for stores, finally I found places that gave a good deal even bettering online deals. These were businesspeople who are in the same business for generations even though their turnovers were small, looks like the family wisdom is passed on as a trade secret and I ended up noting their numbers to give to friends who will have similar needs.

Inheritance has played a big role in how kingdoms evolved and civilisations sustained. People passed on their wisdom to their future generations and created a sustained momentum of progress. The progress was largely confined within the family, a great medical practitioner will pass on the knowledge to the kids and make sure they memorise a lot of things and do not pass on the trade secrets to others. Slowly greed took over and instead of greater good, personal wealth and wellness took top priority. This is when territorial population got slowly disrupted by invaders who learnt to break the fragile unity and encouraged personal growth by turning people against their allies and eventually they also fell prey to invasion.

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We think the world belongs to humans, it does not. It belongs to microbes. They are everywhere, in huge numbers and very very resilient. They are inside us, outside and have even learnt to live in hostile conditions. I also read in the newspapers about bacteria developing antibiotic resistance and quite difficult to treat if people get these resistant strains. I was curious on how bacteria develop resistance and stumbled on an article which explained about ‘Horizontal gene transfer‘. Bacteria do not just inherit the resistant genes vertically from their parents but also from other types of bacteria, virus, fungi (the list goes on) which may not even be virulent.

Learning and co-operating with others is what makes someone resilient along with their peers, this is what I inferred from my readings about horizontal gene transfer. If we concentrate only on personal growth and well being then it is just a short amount time before we lose out to groups which learn together. Personal growth is useful only when others around us also grow and sustain that momentum. There is a nice story about growing good corn, a farmer shares the quality seeds with neighbours to make sure cross pollination happens with healthy corn.

Winning alone and winner takes it all is a greedy task, it pushes people into damage control mode and work in transactions. People won’t remember us for our transactions, there is nothing to reciprocate in a transaction. It looks like we will not have a resilience building horizontal gene transfer equivalent for humans. We may eventually fizzle out of existence trying to outsmart each other.

Recently I read an article about NSA’s efforts in identifying Satoshi Nakamoto, who created bitcoin and remained elusive. NSA had spent a lot of resources at its disposal to create a writeprint to for billions of texts around the world and zero in on Satoshi.

Fingerprint plays a huge role in investigations as they provide a reliable identity which is difficult to change, before that identity was based on photographs, height, mole marks etc. So the quest for fingerprinting grew and now it is possible to get voiceprint, writeprint and can work on anything to create a unique signature about a person.

privacy-policy-2499720_640I read about this first in Simon Singh’s Code book, the book talks a lot about how cryptographers had to constantly be on the run to come up with new techniques just to be broken by cryptanalysts who find chinks in the armour, it is a never ending game. One of the interesting reads was about a fingerprinting technique called fist, which is a style arising due to the telegraph operator’s way using the telegraph key. While the messages were encrypted, the operator’s fist gave away the identity of the german troops and by radio frequency analysis the location was also identified. The messages which were encrypted was of no use to the British, but the location and identity proved to be vital  which was invaluable when there were no satellites.

I never took privacy and security seriously, but the more I read about and hear from friends the more insecure I feel. If someone is determined enough and have resources at hand, it is going to be an easy task to violate someone else’s security and privacy. More and more tools to break will be freely available and new technology is going to make current military grade encryptions cakewalk to break. If we need privacy we need to keep running, there is no place to hide.

p.s. Also read about ‘Dolphin attack‘ which takes vulnerabilities to new levels.