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  • The science of rickshaw filling

    Posted on October 13th, 2009 Sheila Yair 4 comments

    rickshawIn the great Gangetic plains, India’s vast flat lands, the burden of short distance transportation falls primarily on the rickshaw. There are busses that go between the towns, but if your journey is up to 25 kilometers and you want to escape the limitations of one or two busses a day, your vessel of choice is the rickshaw. There are rows of rickshaws at bus and train stations and any big junction with a cacophony of drivers yelling their destinations. There’s no schedule, a rickshaw fills up, and leaves. This is exactly where the art is, the decision to leave. During rush hour it is easy, it’s a buyer’s market or rather a passenger market, meaning there are more passengers than rickshaws. So if your rickshaw can take ten people you stack thirteen to fourteen and leave. But it is not rush hour all day, and more often than not, it’s a rickshaw market. So the rickshaw driver can say he will only leave full, quality not quantity. But then he will only do a few runs a day, albeit having a large profit margin he would be leaving himself and his rickshaw unutilized for the majority of the time. Not the most efficient. So let’s say you have four people enter your rickshaw, they’re all comfortably seated. Now two more people arrive, do you leave or wait for a couple more minutes? Two minutes might bring more customers, increasing your profit, or a fuller rickshaw that will take your passengers and send you right back to square one losing the time it took to collect the six people. Remember the rickshaw driver is doing short distances, so any minute not on the road is loss of business. Let’s introduce another consideration, your profit. Let’s say the breakeven point is five people. Anything over that is gain, anything under is loss. So the rickshaw driver says quantity over quality, and every time he has over five passengers he leaves. He will be a busy bee but with a high gas bill and not too much profit at the end of the day. It is also not always correct to take the per ride approach. You have to look at the bigger picture. Say it is rush hour between point A and point B. You want to come back as fast as possible from point B even at a loss, to get another full load from point A. So the two extremes are not the most efficient. So let’s go back to the last example but let’s make it more interesting. You now have three passengers seated in your rickshaw, and two more come. Do you leave at no profit, hoping to collect more people on the way? There might be three people waiting 200 meters from here. Or like in blackjack, do you ask the dealer to hit you, risking that the next two minutes will bring passengers and not a fuller rickshaw. So what is the formula? Is it just luck? Day in and day out of passenger gambling, a rickshaw casino? Like poker, it is both luck and skill. The more you know the less chance you’re taking. Seven people getting off a bus and into your rickshaw, is a stroke of good luck. But if you know the bus schedule and work it into your schedule, you have more chance of that happening. If you share info about the road between A and B with a rickshaw driving friend, he tells you on his return from B and you tell him on your return, then again you have more info and can guess less. If your helper is standing two blocks away instead of with you, he can warn you if passengers are coming or if a rickshaw is getting full and is about to leave. Once more, you have more information and less chance. So the more information the rickshaw driver has the more he can calculate instead of estimate when deciding whether to leave or wait. We mentioned luck, what is luck? A series of events that works for us is considered good luck. Events that work against us are considered bad luck. We label these events as luck or chance, because we cannot calculate them. Those events will occur anyhow, regardless of us. But the lack of ability to predict them makes us call it luck. If every bus driver would call our rickshaw driver and tell him where all the passengers on his bus were headed, then the seven people coming off the bus and into the rickshaw would be a known fact and nothing to do with luck. The rickshaw driver would just be sitting there waiting for them. Three kings and two aces by all considerations is a very lucky hand. But if we could follow each and every card in the deck as it is being shuffled, something no human can do but a skill not that unimaginable, we can then calculate where to split the deck to get the best hand. We will also know exactly what the other people have and can decide our betting accordingly, rendering poker to a boring game of card following. No luck, no skill. The beauty of poker is therefore in the lack of info, the inability to fully calculate each card, what we call luck. If we drop a ball in vacuum, there is only one force at work, gravity. It is easy to calculate the precise time and place the ball will fall. But if we want to calculate where and when a leaf would hit the ground falling from a tree? Now we have many more forces to consider. We have to calculate the surface of the leaf, its’ weight, friction, and the hardest, the wind, which with every meter of fall it blows the leaf in any which direction. Is such a fall calculable? Or does something become incalculable after a certain number of variations? Does the wind just blow our leaf in to the chaos theory?

    rickshaw2So let’s talk a little bit about humans favorite small talk. We have made a science of predicting the weather. We have instruments that measure wind, air pressure, and temperature, along with satellites that take constant pictures of weather systems. But as anyone who watches the evening news can tell you, there is still a lot of error, the chance or luck factor. What if we had a processor, a super computer that had information about every molecule of air at a single moment, its’ position, temperature and speed? We would add to that every molecule of the sun so that we could calculate sun storms, every molecule of the earth so we could calculate volcano eruptions, the seas, the moon, everything in this one machine. Now you’re saying what about the ‘butterfly effect’ in the chaos theory? One flap of a wing at point A can cause a tornado at point B. Very well, we add another hard drive, giving us more memory, and store information about all the butterflies, their size, position, and DNA, so that we can calculate every wing flap. We are years from developing anything with that kind of processing capability, but let’s say for the sake of argument some green aliens who were traveling through New Mexico left their ACM (atmospheric calculating machine). They went ahead and loaded it with all the information relevant to earth. Any molecule pushed by another molecule will only go in one direction. Any molecule pulled by a low barometric pressure point will also move in one direction. The laws of physics are very strict. If we know every single force in the equation, it becomes a ball in vacuum calculation. So no more weather predictions, or weather forecasts. No more chance, now we can have weather calculations, accurate to the mili-degree for the next year, five years, twenty years. Millenniums of weather mapped out. September 7th, 2076 light showers in London, and sunny skies in Cairo (ok you don’t need an ACM to know that but you get my point). So the weather is set, it was set the day this planet was created. But here is the million dollar question, weather is fine, it is all physics, but how about the human brain? Can there be a BCM (brain calculating machine)? Let’s simplify, let’s say we have a hypothetical person in a hypothetical lab that’s a totally controlled environment where any external stimulation is fully controlled. If we know every single cell, every single neuron in this brain, can we calculate the thoughts? The reactions? Is it all biochemistry or is there some divinity, some incalculable spontaneity in our thought? I heard a guru talk about cosmic unfolding, the usual guru stuff, but I love the term. Is there only one cosmic unfolding scenario, only one path? Or like the movie, Run Lola Run, is the path ever changing? Those are big questions for a whole other posting. I will leave you to ponder that, as I have to get on an almost full rickshaw that’s about to leave to point B.

    Dedicated to my mother, one of the smartest people I know, and someone who always makes me curious.


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