As a video content creator, I’ve always been interested in trying out new things, and dabble in new formats. I felt like it was time to explore interviewing someone. I had a discussion with my colleague Shasank “Shank” Nagavarapu, where we discussed the latest trend in the US Car Market, which is the trend towards buying Crossovers or SUVs instead of traditional family Sedans.
You can view the playlist here, or you can click on the links below.
Let me know what you think in the comments! I would appreciate any constructive feedback.
As always, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and follow Shasank’s work on his website, nomadunplugged.com.
I achieved a significant milestone this month— for the first time in my life, I am a car owner. It’s yet to sink in, to be honest. After years of searching, window shopping online, years of research and years of back and forth- I found a great car at a great price, and I had the means to procure it. I even made a quick video about it.
I’ve talked at length about how my thinking about cars changed when I moved to the Midwest. I’ve talked about how having a car unlocks a new level of “American” experience that is totally hidden from view otherwise. I have just started to witness this experience unfold. I’ve been to places new and old in these past few weeks. New places, like the tire shop, to the title agency, to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles… but I’ve also revisited familiar places to experience them in a new light. The parking garage at work. The grocery store. The park. The library. The places are the same, but every time I go somewhere, it feels like I have arrived.
I’ve also talked about the different schools of thought when it comes to cars— cars as an appliance, and cars as an aspiration and a lifestyle. One of my biggest fears was that I would buy a car that was nothing but a daily driving, point-a-to-point-b taking appliance. The mental image is clear as day. A beige Toyota Camry, with faded cataract headlights, and a dirty, brown interior. As dreary as flavorless cornflakes with cold milk for breakfast on a dull, rainy day.
The cars I am lambasting are great machines, no doubt. Marvels of engineering, even. But my problem is what they stand for. To me, they stand for a resignation to one’s fate. The acceptance of a stereotype. The submission of my personal agency to the all-powerful forces of nature and society. The forces that tell you to do things a certain way, at a certain time, and just because that’s the pre-ordained way of things because they said so.
I remember what was on my mind when I made my video about cars. I was dejected. I had been looking for “fun” cars, namely the Toyota 86 and the Golf GTI. However, I was unable to find good examples online despite messing with umpteen filters on umpteen different car-buying websites.
But as they say, good things come to those who wait, and boy did I wait. I waited as good listings came and went because I was waiting for the perfect one. The perfect confluence of the car that I want for the price that I want. When I did find the perfect one, I didn’t hesitate to get a test drive and make an offer. At the end of all of this, I became the proud owner of a 2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
I wish I could go back to the past and tell myself I don’t have to worry about giving in to the “car as an appliance” mindset. I feel like I won a round against an undefeated “heavyweight champion” that goes by many names— time, fate, societal norms, the inherent absurdity of the universe. He may be destined to win in the end, but right now, at this moment, I am looking him right in the eyes and going, “Not today, champ. Not today.”
I’ve been obsessed with the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ for years now. What interests me about it is that Toyota and Subaru committed to the purebred concept of the roadster, with front engine, rear wheel drive, and playful handling as the most important aspects of the design. This design philosophy also translated into a bare-bones, functional interior with minimal creature comforts and simple hard controls for climate and media.
Another positive for car enthusiasts is that the vehicle lends itself well to modifications- Toyota and Subaru knew their target audience would be car enthusiasts who’d love to tinker with their vehicle, and hence made it easy for them to access the mechanical and electronic parts of the vehicle. And tinker they did- a simple web search will yield hundreds of different possibilities, from headlights/tail lights to exhaust to wheels, even swapping out the engine!
Now, I spend a lot of time watching videos and browsing through forums for this vehicle- think of it as window shopping. As a result of this habit, one fine day the Youtube algorithm recommended to me a video about a new(ish) touchscreen head unit for the Subaru BRZ aptly named “Brainiac”. It is a touchscreen interface that combines the media and climate controls into one sleek-looking touchscreen interface.
The “Brainiac” piqued my interest because I do a lot of research on automotive infotainment systems at work, and in our practice meetings we tend to discuss how perceptions of a vehicle’s “coolness” or “futuristic quality” end up being translated into “less buttons and knobs”; more specifically into “like the Tesla with its big touchscreen that has everything on it”
As Human Factors Researchers we know that the trade-off of this “Tesla-ification” is that you lose the immediacy of access that buttons and knobs provide. To put it simply, hard controls like buttons and knobs may appear to be “old school” and “clunky”, but you don’t have to look at them to operate them, which lets you pay attention to the road.
Paying attention to the road is an important aspect of the design of the Toyota 86- it is a roadster purpose-built to enjoy spirited driving. Cutting through canyons and navigating hairpin turns. Knowing how much grip you have through the tires because of how low you are to the ground. Turning the steering wheel and knowing that the vehicle will go exactly where you’ve pointed it.
But that’s just my personal opinion- I wanted to know what the community felt about it. My thoughts about this are perfectly echoed by Reddit user TurbochargedSquirrel.
This split is something we’ve seen in our research for a while now- people who prefer simplicity and want to focus on the driving primarily, and those who want all the bells and whistles that modern technology has to offer. My reservations with replacing traditional controls with touchscreen interfaces remain, but to the credit of the developers of Brainiac, they have added touch gestures to their interface to allow the user to perform actions without having to look. The issue I have with that, however, is that touch gestures usually have to be remembered, and do not have a visual component to them that the user can “follow along” or “trace”.
So what’s the best of both worlds? What’s a way to maintain the spirit of driving intact while also moving away from old fashioned controls? Designer Kasper Kessels’ concept might just be a bridge between those two worlds. With help from the design department at Renault, he created a concept for incorporating touch gestures into a vehicle’s infotainment that aims to solve the issue of the visual component that touch gestures tend to lack.
In the end, I’d like to pose the question to you- what do you think about the move towards “Tesla-ifying” in-vehicle infotainment systems? Are we attempting to fix something that’s not broken? Is there a way to create an interface that caters to both spirited drivers as well as technophiles? Let me know what you think!
One of the things I haven’t talked to you guys so far is that I’m a craft beer fan. I really like finding out about local breweries, trying out what they have, and occasionally go out of my way and hunt for a beer that’s hard to find, or a seasonal exclusive. I wanted to talk about how I started this journey as a beer hunter.
The story of how I decided to get into craft beer
My story as a craft beer enthusiast began in the summer or fall of 2015. I was a 23 year old in grad school and it was just another weeknight- kicking it, shooting the breeze with some friends, some 90s Bollywood music on the TV, and of course, some run of the mill beer. The beer in question was a Corona which wasn’t particularly good, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Anyway, I remember I hadn’t had the best day, and I was hoping to put it behind me. Unfortunately, this unwinding time wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. The tunes on the TV were mostly b-movie fare that my friend put on because they thought it would be funny in an ironic way (it wasn’t). Also, I was texting a girl but it really wasn’t going anywhere- you know when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and there’s just no substance, and you feel like just typing out words on to a screen and nothing has meaning? It was one of those dead-end conversations.
But I was about to put all those worries behind me, I had a beer in hand, a Corona, (no lime) and in just a few moments it was going to help me take the edge off and unwind.
…and the beer had gone bad. It tasted funny and it smelled like skunk. As I sat there, thinking about all the things that had gone wrong, I just kept saying to myself, “There’s got to be something better than this.” I looked at the TV and I said there’s got to be something better than this, I looked down at my phone and I said again, there’s got to be something better than this, and then I looked at the bottle of Corona, the icing on this cake of misfortune, and I said
“There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!”
When I went back to my room that night, I decided I wanted to change something, starting with something simple, like the beer that I drank. Thus began my journey as a craft beer enthusiast.
Getting more into the enthusiast space
So I began to do some research about beer- watching videos, reading books about history, how it’s made, and the different types of beer that exist. I went to local breweries and started trying to chat up the employees there about the different beers they had and what went into them, I even have a spreadsheet where I write down what I think about all the unique beers I’ve tried.
All of this made me think about the enthusiast space in general- how you go from having a cursory knowledge about something, and how over time you learn more about it and there’s always just more to learn the deeper you dive into something.
My friends didn’t share this enthusiasm at first- they thought I was being a bit of a snob when I started bringing my own beers to parties. In time I was able to show them the way, though- now they too source their libations from the local brewery, by the growler, and sometimes even by the keg.
Being an enthusiast is all well and good, but sometimes it helps you in ways you don’t expect. A couple of years ago, I was giving a job interview at the company I work at currently, and my to-be boss asked me what I like to do for fun. At that moment, I decided not to give safe answers like reading or writing or being outdoorsy, I simply told him I was a beer enthusiast, and started talking about the experiential qualities of beer and how beer isn’t just beer, that it’s so much more. The gamble worked, it really resonated with him- turns out he was an investor in one of the major craft breweries in Columbus!
I like to think that the answer helped seal the deal for my employment.
In conclusion, I think that fateful night in 2015 was one of the turning points of my life in a bizarre way. Life takes unusual turns sometimes, and you never know how certain things will end up working with other things in synergy. I guess that’s what they call serendipity.
I’d like to end by repeating a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
I uploaded a life update video to my YouTube channel recently, and I wanted to write a companion post for it. I moved to a nice apartment a few days ago, after three years of living next to a very large university campus.
When I moved to Columbus, I didn’t give myself enough time to do a proper “apartment hunt”- I had to make a decision within one week, and not having any friends or family in this new city added to the challenge. I bet on there being plenty of housing being available near a campus area, so I set out to search for one near the campus of the Ohio State University. Sure enough, I found a few and made a quick decision. It really was quick- I took a Greyhound bus from Indianapolis to Columbus in the morning, looked at about 5 apartments, picked one, gave them my application, and took the evening bus back to Indianapolis the same day. I moved to that apartment about a week and a half later.
I was just out of grad school at that point, so all my stuff fit into the back of a minivan. I moved once, and I had a brief idea in my head that I’d move into a nicer apartment sometime the subsequent year. Well, life happened, and I ended up staying there for three years.
The apartment itself was good enough- the building was constructed in the 1950s and the interior was renovated, so in places, it was retrofitted to be contemporary, but the main framework was more mid-century. The real issue I had was the location. In my hurry to find a place to live, I had forgotten to have a look at the surroundings. I’d chosen an apartment with windows facing a busy street, right next to at least 5 campus bars, and within walking distance from a gigantic football stadium.
For the next 3 years, I couldn’t escape the vagaries of campus life, even though I’d already graduated. I heard the drunken revelry of loud college students. I heard the babbling rants of drunk drifters and vagabonds. I heard every passing car on the street, and every skateboard on the sidewalk. I heard the game-day tailgaters and their loudspeakers blaring country music and top40 pop from morning through the night, every boisterous shout of “O-H” followed by every equally enthusiastic “I-O!”. I even heard the wannabe boy racers with their speaker systems cranked up to the highest bass setting, and my ancient windows rattled to the beats of trap music each time those speaker-towers-on-wheels passed by.
Despite all these sounds and the resultant disturbances in my sleep pattern, I continued living there, for a myriad of reasons. One was laziness. Every time renewal season came around, I began to half-heartedly look for places to live, but was discouraged by the lack of options in the time frame I wanted and was also discouraged by how I’d have to pay more than what I was paying at the time. Then there were also all the things I’d have to do, like move or change utilities, and of course, move all my stuff, which I had much more of and wouldn’t just fit in the back of a minivan anymore.
Another reason was that I had a protracted visa change process from a student to a work visa, which really pushed plans of moving several months down the road, and I had to stay a little longer as a result.
I ended up just waiting till the decision was made for me- campus apartments are highly sought after by students, and they immediately snapped mine up after I didn’t renew my lease in a few days after the renewal period started. That’s how I finally set in motion the plan to move to a new place- something I’d had in my to-do list since 2017.
I realized how overstated my fears were about the logistical aspects of the move after I began the process a few months ago. Porting over utilities was mostly online and a bit of being on hold on a customer service call. Canceling services wasn’t as much of a headache as I thought it would be.
The actual physical move wasn’t bad either- I was able to get help from a couple of friends (thankfully I was able to make friends and luckily some friends from grad school have moved to the Columbus area since I first arrived here), and renting a moving truck was simple enough.
What I got from all this was a great sense of “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”. Hindsight is always 20-20, but this does tell me I need to stop thinking of hypotheticals that are in my own head sometimes, some unknown obstacles that exist only in my mind. Perhaps I should stop waiting for decisions to be made for me, perhaps I should stop simply continuing to exist in the status quo because of the comfort that exists in certainty and deferring decisions and actions.
In the end, I’m just glad to finally able to live out a desire I have had for a long time. A nice apartment, a lot more peace and quiet, and the fact that it makes me feel like I’m more of a “big boy”, now that I’m completely untethered from the campus lifestyle.
It has been a while since I have posted an update on my blog, and not without reason- I have been instead, as the title suggests, pivoting to video. After a few months of using the medium of videos on YouTube to speak about my thoughts and opinions, I have a few takeaways from it that I wanted to talk about through the medium of the written word.
One of the key advantages of using videos is the fact that it allows people to put a face to the name and the words that they hear. Sure, I can put my face on to a blog, but there are verbal and nonverbal cues that the medium of videos helps to communicate, that a simple blog post cannot.
I have been hearing a lot more feedback about my videos than I used to get about my blog. This could partly be because of the novelty factor, but I believe that the higher fidelity of a video format helps to add a new layer of personability, that written words on a screen do not provide.
Write the way you talk, talk the way you write
One of the key goals I have for myself while making videos is to be a better and more direct writer. I want to stop being redundant in my writing, and that starts with me being more clear and concise in my thought and my speech. Practicing my speaking through the Toastmasters program was one step towards that goal, but creating and editing videos adds a new dimension to the process. While editing videos, I have to watch and re-watch each and every word and sentence that I utter. This helps me focus on the mistakes that I make, and also forces me to think of ways to improve.
Also, it helps me practice speaking on a regular basis. As the saying goes,
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
I prefer this quote to “Practice makes perfect” because it’s more actionable and adds the dimension of premeditated preparation to the act of practice. A goal of constant improvement necessitates the need for practice and preparation.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting a lot more feedback on my videos than I got on my written blog posts. Not only that, but the feedback has been a lot more detailed and specific. People tell me what they think about the content of my videos, and they also tell me about the way that I speak, the way that I edit, and so on. Garnering such feedback on multiple aspects of the work that I put out helps me act upon it and improve holistically.
The next step is to incorporate the feedback not only to the videos themselves, but to translate those insights into other aspects of life, mainly my written blogs.
The key insights I have gained
Clarity and conciseness of thought and speech is the first and foremost takeaway in terms of feedback. Another has been maintaining the balance between aesthetic or technical improvements and the content, in such a way that satisfies both me and my audience. The balance between self-indulgence and fan service is tricky but rewarding.
Another insight is not to ruminate on a concept for too long. There’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to introspecting on a topic for too long, and I have come to understand when I have hit that point more clearly now. The need to showcase something that is polished is still there, but there’s also the need to put what’s inside my head, out into the world, so the independent perspectives of the audience at large can help me see things in a light that I had not seen before.
What’s next for the Blog?
To conclude, I’d just like to say that I need to figure out a way to make the videos and the written blogs coexist. It could be to create a written post and transcript of every video that I put out. I could also make video versions of blog posts I’ve made in the past. I want to do this because I want a cohesive strategy between all the things I put out into the world, and I want both videos and blogs to grow and improve together.
In short, I want this “pivot to video” to be the first step towards being a better talker, as well as a better writer.
I like to think of myself as a bit of an audiophile. I’ve spent time and money creating a collection of headphones and some basic sound equipment. I wanted to write about how it all started, how my tastes and habits in music evolved, and where I stand now in terms of audiophilia.
Music in my formative years
My parents had a huge hand in molding my love for music because they are huge fans of music themselves. My parents always start their day listening to Indian classical and semi-classical music. They have quite the knowledge about the different artists and styles of Indian classical music, and my father always took the time to explain to me how particular ragas were best listened to at particular times of the day, for example.
My father has a cassette tape collection that took him years to collect (although he’s since moved on to sharing audio clippings on WhatsApp on a daily basis). I also learned Indian Classical singing for a couple of years and was always a part of the singing groups for events in school, so I’ve been around music ever since my childhood.
With that background in mind, I feel like my most memorable musical memories were formed in my teenage years when I had the means and the opportunity to really listen to music for long periods of time. Music inflames temperament, as Jim Morrison once said. It has the power to shift your mood around if you let yourself be swayed by it. Towards the end of high school and then through junior college and undergrad, my musical interests took shape.
College, earphones, and the internet
In the years after high school, I had a lot more time and opportunity to listen to music- I got my first mobile phone, and the ability to listen to music on the go. At this point, the goal was just to keep myself entertained as I was commuting- to and from college, or tuition classes, or wherever else I was going. I was usually walking or taking the train and needed something to pass the time.
As I started to listen to more and more music that wasn’t just whatever was on the TV or the radio, I began developing my musical tastes. I remember getting hooked on 60s era rock after I saw the news about The Doors getting the Grammy lifetime achievement award back in 2007. I think VH1 had some special programming for that occasion and played a bunch of their music. A few years prior, that would have been the end of it- I’d have to wait for the next episode to listen to the music on TV again. But I didn’t have to wait anymore, because I had the internet.
The ability to listen to and download music from the internet, and the ability to take it with me and listen to it whenever I wanted, was the genesis of my core musical tastes. Prior to having an internet connection and a mobile phone, I would have had to wait for the song to be played on the telly, or would have had to buy a CD. But now I had an internet connection, and the ability to search for artists similar to The Doors (shout out to last FM). Thus began my first “musical phase”- classic rock. I had plenty of musical phases after that- I remember I had a “Surf Rock” phase, a Shoegaze phase, and an alternative rock phase among others.
They say that you tend to find your favorite music when you’re a teenager. The increased accessibility to music that the internet provided, combined with the fact that it was made available to me in my late teens, formed the foundation of my music listening habits today.
Grad School and analytical music listening
Grad school is when the true audiophile in me began to take shape. As a part of my graduate assistantship, I was assigned to be a grader of an undergraduate level course called “Intro to digital audio”. It went into the basics of digital audio, from the science behind it to recording, playing, and editing audio files. One of the tasks I was assigned was grading the assignments of 50 or so students, which were always audio files of some sort. Listening to 50 audio files of the same recording, edited as per the requirements of an assignment was a form of aural torture the likes of which I hadn’t been through before, but it paid the rent. What happened as a result of this, however, was that I began to develop an ear for analyzing what I was listening to.
I received a pair of headphones from the professor I was working with- a pair of Sony MDR V150s. I didn’t have a pair of headphones before this, other than a dirt cheap gaming headset that I only had for the attached microphone. I mainly listened to music on in-ear style headphones. They were just meant to be tools to get the music from my phone and into my ear. I didn’t really care about sound quality back then, I was a broke student, and I just wanted something durable, portable, and I could buy for less than five hundred rupees.
I remember the first time I listened to music on the V150s. The song was the same, the source was the same, but it felt like there was an added dimension to the whole experience. A level of clarity I hadn’t had before, just by moving up from cheap in-ear headphones to over-the-ear ones. The V150s aren’t high-end headphones by any means, but the difference in sound quality was palpable.
After this realization, I began reading up on digital audio. Different file formats, different types of headphones and other audio gear. I began understanding about soundstage, imaging, and sound signatures that color the listening experience. I read forum posts, I watched youtube videos, and I even read articles about the various terms audiophiles used, like imaging, soundstage, and more scientific terms like frequency response. I started to learn about how you could modify headphones by swapping the earpads or modifying the sound-making components themselves. Analytical headphones, “fun” headphones, and high-end amplifiers to drive them- I read about it all, and I wanted it all.
I was still a broke student, though, and my only leap in terms of audio grat was getting a pair of Superlux HD668Bs because they were the best in the “under $50” category for both music and gaming. I still use those at work every day.
Professional life and more professional audio gear
As I got a job and started my professional career, I finally had the means to fulfill some of my audiophile dreams. Not all of them, of course- there is no end to how high you can go in terms of audio gear. You just have to figure out what your “end game” is- at what point you feel like the money you’ve invested into your hobby is worth the returns, which diminish the higher you go.
I had already started to run into those diminishing returns when I bought my first “audiophile” gear that wasn’t just a pair of headphones. At some point, I picked up a DAC (digital to analog converter) and amplifier combination to see if it would be an improvement over my laptop’s inbuilt sound card. I got a good deal on it on a black Friday lightning sale, and I was really excited to expand my horizons once more. As I set it up and played song after song, however, it was clear that the difference in sound quality was meager at best. The difference was even smaller when I built my own PC. Either I’m at the end of my analytical ability, or there really isn’t that much of a perceptible difference in sound quality.
The bigger difference was when I bought my third pair of headphones- the Phillips Fidelio X2s. The change was more of a lateral one for me honestly, the Superlux had more of treble emphasis and I wanted a warmer sound signature and more comfort, while also maintaining the soundstage (the ability to visualize where the sounds are coming from in a physical space, instead of it sounding like it’s right next to your ears, or inside your head.)
Another change I made was going from downloading music to streaming it using subscription services- internet connectivity is even better now, and I don’t need to spend the time downloading and organizing my music which is an added convenience. It also helps me discover more music, something I’m always trying to do.
What is all of this about?
My music listening habits didn’t just change linearly- I didn’t completely discard portability over sound quality, for example. I still listen to music on in-ear headphones on bus rides to and from work. It’s just that I’ve incorporated more music listening time into my life in general. Times where all I do is just sit down, put on some music, and listen to it without doing anything else.
I still plan on continuing on the path of upgrading the equipment I do have, though. Why? It all goes back to the first time I heard music on better equipment than what I already had. The experience of listening to a song you have heard hundreds of times before, and hearing something new in it that had gone completely unnoticed. The experience of hearing something you have heard before, the same aural painting, but in different colors, or under a different light. Hearing music happen around you as if you’re listening to a live rendition- being able to place where the drums are, where the guitar is, where the vocals are coming from, what sound effects the producer of the song has put into the mix…
Different seasons. Different perspectives. Looking at things in a different light. Looking back at things as you get older, and gaining new lessons from them. It’s all an allegory for life, really.