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The SaiBaba Effect

I used to participate in robotics contests called RoboCon back in college days. Essentially it was a contest where bunch of teams from a bunch of colleges built(guess what!) robots- both manually controlled and autonomous. It is not as cool as I thought it was in those years, so I won't get into much details and jump right into the subject.
I used be an 'electronics guy' in this team, designing sensor systems and circuits and such. We would make boards and do make some nasty wiring to connect them to make the robots work. These circuits, mimicked from hobby sites, coupled with limited understanding of design techniques were quite fickle. Things would work to our satisfaction sometimes, and most other times they would not. And then we would go about patching them in some last ditch, mindless effort to get our robots to work in the arena so that we could save face. Debugging used to be a wild-goose chase in those days. But hey, not everything in the world is so dark. Sometimes, we used to get unexpected results, and things would just work as we are scratching our heads thinking why they wouldn't in the first place. One particular instance I remember  was a rotary encoder throwing erratic readings when fitted on the robot. We take it out to test and nothing seems wrong with it! Well, shit. Let's put it back and try again. Alas! it's back in the game again. But what did we do make it work? Absolutely nothing! Why is it working then? Has to be a divine blessing- The SaiBaba effect!

Let me give you some background on the SaiBaba effect. For many centuries divine mystics aka 'gurus' gave spiritual insights to common folks. In recent years, they turned into a meme. We would have self-proclaimed 'guru' with masses following them, calling them 'Baba', almost blindly believing whatever they say or do to be true. One such Baba from the league was Sathya Sai Baba. He would pull gold rings out of thin air and gift it to followers. Legend has it that he also had miraculous powers to heal others, only with his blessing. The ones who ailed will go to him, he would bless them with holy ashes, and voila! Sickness is cured! No one knows how, why, but it really is.

I don't want to indulge in myth-busting here, but this is essentially what we experienced many times. No one has any explanation for how or why things got fixed. And without any further inqury we would just leave them be and jokingly say it's because of the "SaiBaba effect". (Coined by two of my team-mates Akshay Sharma and Prerak Dhoot)

SaiBaba can be seen as a result of cargo-cult methods.

Let's go ahead and and examine the relation of SaiBaba effect and Murphy's law. SaiBaba effect, in a way is opposite of first corollary of Murphy's law. And it fits perfectly in SNAFU equations. The SNAFU equation says- badness comes in waves. The troughs in the waves of badness represent SNAFU situations while crests would be SaiBaba effect. With that in mind, its almost guaranteed that you will get a taste of SNAFU soon after you experience SaiBaba effect. So we can take it as a rule - A demonstration of SaiBaba effect is always followed by a demonstration of Murphy's law. 

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