Traffic jams can be eased by gamification

Playing games could ease traffic congestions

Billions of hours, fuel and money gets wasted in traffic congestions. Though there has been some progress in the last few years in Mumbai with the starting of the Bandra-Worli sea-link and the fly-overs being built, there’s a strong feeling that it may not be enough. Take the case of Delhi. Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. While the government has targeted to increase the usage of public transport from existing 40% to 80% by 2020, it will extremely difficult to curb the ‘status’ tag of cars.

Singapore has had the ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system that charges extra dollars for using congested zones during peak hours. So do London and Stockholm. However congestion charging has come under criticism that it favours the rich and that it adversely affects retail businesses in the congested zone. So could gaming come to the rescue?

Two experimental transportation projects are under way in Singapore and Silicon Valley that aim to improve commutes through gaming. In one of the experiments, conducted by Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford engineering professor, more than 17,500 Singapore commuters have enrolled. Participants in the Singapore program shift their commutes to off-peak hours to earn credits, which can be traded for a chance to win cash.

So rather than only punishing traveling in peak hours, this program also rewards traveling in non-peak hours.

Balaji Prabhakar said during a recent talk at the university’s campus in Palo Alto, California, that 11-12 percent of users in Singapore have shifted off-peak. Men tend to shift later, he said, while women generally shift earlier. He says that 11% might not seem much, but they’re enough to make a difference in traffic flow. He ran a successful project for employees of Infosys called INSTANT (Infosys-Stanford Traffic project) in Bangalore in 2008-2009 and is now running the project at Stanford University as well.

I’m wondering how this could be implemented in Mumbai as public transportation is neither electronically controlled nor linked to each other. However prices of public transport can be controlled manually. So imagine the ticket prices of road transport – bus, rickshaw, taxi and the sea-link like toll is increased by 25% in peak hours (8:30-10am and 6:00-7:30pm), but is also decreased by say, 10% during off-peak hours. Could it work?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Does porn increase or decrease rape?

Does porn increase or decrease rape?

Pornography is illegal in India and is seen by most as something that is detrimental to society. Many people outside our country, like in the US (where pornography is legal) too believe it is detrimental to social order, contributing to the degradation of women and leading to rape and sexual assault or other sex related crimes. But there are others who argue the other way, saying that pornography is an expression of fantasy that provides pleasure and can act as a positive displacement activity for sexual aggression.

This debate as well as the increasing coverage of rapes in Indian media got us to research whether or not pornography led to sex related crimes and rapes. Here’s what we found:

Tons of research has been done on this. Quoting few of them here. Findings of Goldstein and Kant, 1973 found that rapists were more likely than non-rapists US prisoners, to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster. These two also found that strict, religious upbringing to be highly correlated with sexual offences. A 1984 Canadian study by McKay & Dolff for the Department of Justice of Canada reported, “There is no systematic evidence that suggests that increases in specific forms of deviant behaviour, reflected in crime tend statistics, eg. rape, are causally related to pornography.” Diamond and Uchiyama, 1999, studied the situation in Japan  – as explicit materials were readily available, the incidence of rape had dramatically decreased over the past few decades. Studies from Croatia by Landripet, Stulhofer & Diamond done in 2006 and of US and China done by Diamond also showed significant decreases in rape as pornography became increasingly available.

Reason sighted for this ‘Porn up, Rape down’ phenomenon is that, erotic inclinations to rape, flash, other sexually offensive behaviour, etc might have been used in real life encounters as a means of resolving a lustful inclination. The ready availability of pornography in contrast, may have facilitated a more convenient and more socially tolerable solution of masturbation.

Whether you agree to the above or not, here’s something to think about – when we express our opinion on pornography we think about its effect on others, not on ourselves. While we may not think that pornography is harmful or capable of inciting sexual offenses, we think it might have such an effect on others.

Source: Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review by Milton Diamond in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Illustration hidden by Mayur Tekchandaney

Eyes are the window to your bedroom

We have often heard the phrase ‘Eyes are the window to the soul’. I believe it too, but I have found it difficult to explain how exactly looking into someone’s eyes says something about them or about what was going in their minds. Here’s an interesting finding.

In which one of the photographs, do you find the model more attractive? A or B?

Most of the men find picture B to be more attractive (unless you are into the ‘bitchy’ kinds). While both the pictures are the same, in picture B the size of pupils has been dilated.

Studies have shown that our pupils dilate wider than normal when we are excited about something and even someone. In 1965, pupillometry pioneer and psychologist Eckhard Hess asked men to compare the attractiveness of images of women with average-sized pupils to drawings in which the women’s pupil sizes were enhanced. Hess noted that “none of the men reported noticing the difference in pupil size” between the pictures, but the subtle change seemed to subconsciously influence the level of attraction they felt for the woman. When the woman had large pupils, she was said to be soft, more feminine and pretty, while when the very same woman had small pupils, the men described her as cold, hard and selfish. Therefore, men may unwittingly read pupil dilation as an advertisement of interest. Now I know why everyone seems so attractive at candle-light dinners!

Are women attracted to men with large pupils? The answer is sometimes. Apparently for women, smaller pupils being more attractive in a mate holds true, if they are into the ‘bad boy’ type or are seeking a short term fling. While women who preferred men with larger sized pupils sought long term relationships with ‘nice guys’ more often than not.

Given the above, I now feel the eyes are less of a window to one’s soul and more of a window to his or her bedroom.

Design can work in unexpected ways

The image of a small black fly inside the white urinals in the men’s bathroom has helped reduce spillage rates in the men’s rooms at airports. Yes its true. In response to dirty bathrooms caused by men urinating on the floor, an airport maintenance worker Jos Van Bedoff suggested that they etch the image of a fly onto the urinals to give men something to aim at as they hurry to and from flights. According to NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich, who gave a fuller account of the story, the man thought back to his time serving in the Dutch army during the 1960s, when red dots had been painted on the latrines in the barracks to improve cleanliness. Sure enough, spillage rates in the airport men’s room dropped an estimated 80 percent after the fly was introduced, leading to a much cleaner bathroom. Fascinating how men instinctively aim at targets, and how a routine action can be disrupted by a simple, strategically placed graphic design.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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