Moon mode for home

Whenever I’m in a meeting I put my phone on “moon mode”, where all notifications are turned off. If someone has to get in touch with me, they need to call twice in quick succession for my phone to buzz and alert me. The moon mode is automatically switched on every night at 10pm, and notifications are turned off until 6 am.

In fact, in the night, another mode called “screen time” is operational, where I’m not allowed to open any apps apart from the ones I’ve explicitly permitted. This includes the clock (for alarm), Google Maps (in case I’m out) and Spotify and Amazon Music (for my lullabies).

In fact, Screen Time is so strict that any notifications I might have got (overnight mails or messages) are not displayed on the home screen until 6am. This way, in case I wake up in the middle of the night and look at my phone to see the time, I don’t end up seeing something that might cause anxiety.

This is all good in the virtual world, but I need to install something like this for home. Again the purposes are similar to the moon mode that I use on my phone.

Firstly, the wife and I use the home as our offices, and don’t want to be disturbed here. Sundry people, including relatives and friends, assume that since we’re at home all the time we are unemployed and they can drop in any time. And when we’re working, we want the “home moon mode” on so that the doorbell doesn’t ring.

Secondly, in our two years in London, we got enamoured by the Western practice of putting kids to bed early, and despite massive difficulties, we’ve been attempting to do the same here. Like last night the daughter was asleep by 7:20.

And it is critical that (especially) while we are putting her to bed, and when she is asleep, the doorbell doesn’t ring. And since 7pm is an unusual time for kids to be put to bed in India, the doorbell continues to buzz. And of course we don’t want the doorbell to buzz after we’ve gone to bed either.

In short, we need a “moon mode” for home. The simplest solution would be to get a doorbell that can be turned on and off at will (right now it’s a bit high up and out of reach, but should be able to manage that). That works for the time when we’re in meetings or working at home or other wise busy, but it might be a pain to remember to turn it off every night (and turn it on in the morning).

So I’m wondering if we should get a doorbell that is connected to an app, where we can set times of day when it is automatically on and off (with the ability to override).

Then again I don’t want to give my data to some random company (and I’m a bit spooked by hacking of random internet-connected devices), so I might end up going for a simpler solution – an “offline device” which I can hopefully program to go on and off at certain times, and maybe change tune for the night!

Now to find such a device.

Freebies and Misers

Recently the wife and I were having a bitching session about some of our relatives and friends, about how despite being rather wealthy they’re rather miserly, both in terms of spending on themselves and spending on others.

While we were wondering why people with so much money are so stingy, the wife noticed a pattern – they are all people who are used to getting freebies in their professional lives.

There are consultants on expense accounts whose every expense on tour is paid for by their clients. There are doctors who are routinely provided “expense accounts” by medical representatives. There are people who work for the government who get a lot of “perks” in addition to the (rather meagre) salaries they make. There are journalists, who when on PR jaunts, are again used to living on an expense account.

The point with all of them is that they are so used to getting others to pay for their expenses that they are simply not used to spending themselves. And so when it is time for them to spend, they spend like they used to in the time before any of these expense account taps opened up for them.

This, for most of the above referred to people, refers to time when they were either students or they were entry level employees – times when they didn’t have much money in life at all. And they end up living the rest of their non-professional (non-expense account) lives spending like they used to as students or entry level employees.

Back when I was a banker making lots of money, I remember having this conversation with a then medical student who was excited that once she became a “big doctor” she would have medical representatives at her beck and call, who would fund her life. I had replied that I would rather make all my money in cash and have the discretion on what I wanted to spend on, rather than have someone else make the decisions on what I should be splurging on.

I guess there are other benefits as well to spending your own money, rather than living on an expense account.

PS: I just remembered that I haven’t “filed expenses” to my client for a business trip I took a couple of weeks ago.

Links

While discussing podcasts, a friend remarked last week that one of the best things about podcasts is the discovery of new hitherto unknown people.

In response I said that this was the function that blogs used to perform a decade ago. Back in the day, blogs were full of links, and to other blogs. Every blog hosted a column of “favourite” blogs. You could look up people’s livejournal friends pages. People left comments on each other’s blogs, along with links to their blogs.

So as you consumed interesting blog posts, you would naturally get linked to other interesting blogs, and discover new people (incidentally this was how my wife and I discovered each other, but that’s a story for another day).

Where blogs scored over today’s podcasts, however,  was that as they directed you to hitherto unknown people, they also pointed you to the precise place where you could consume more of their stuff – in the form of a blog link. So if you linked to this blog, a reader who landed up here could then discover more of me – well beyond whatever of me you featured on your blog along with your link.

And this is a missing link in the podcast – while podcast episodes have links to the guest’s work, it is not an easy organic process to go through to this link and start consuming the guest’s work (except I guess in terms of twitter accounts). Moreover, the podcast is an audio medium, so it’s not natural to go to the podcast page and click through to the links.

This is one of the tragedies of the decline of blogging (clearly I’m one of the holdouts of the blogging era, maybe because it’s served me so well). Organic discovery of new people and content is not as great as it used to be. Well, Twitter and retweets exist, but the short nature of the format is that it’s much harder to judge if someone is worth following there.

Beach holiday

I can’t believe I waited I was until 36 to take a beach resort vacation. Well, given my experience with beaches during my early life you can’t really blame me – the mental model of the beach I had in my head was an urban beach, something of the sort of Chennai’s Elliots Beach, where all the action happens outside of the water.

At best you would roll up your pants a bit (or wear shorts) and wade a foot or two deep into the water, and let the waves hit you. The water was too dirty to let it touch the rest of you. You would instead spend time on the sand, talking and eating random things – stuff you couldn’t imagine doing an entire holiday doing.

My first “proper” visit to Goa in 2007 also left me underwhelmed. Again the water wasn’t worth getting into, and I didn’t understand why you needed to go so far to just sit in one place and eat and drink all day – that could be achieved in just about any bar in Bangalore.

And so in 2008 or so when the wife (then an “online friend” – we’d never met) asked me if I’m a beach types or a river and mountain types, I instantly chose the latter. Mountains gave you something to “do” – climb and walk around. My memories from bathing in streams in childhood were also rather pleasant.

Since then we’ve together visited two beach resorts, though both were as part of larger “sight seeing” trips of Sri Lanka. Once we went to Bentota, where we spent two days. We got bored enough after a day to spend the second evening watching inane stuff on TV. That Bentota experience had meant that on our next trip to Sri Lanka we had scheduled only a day for ourselves at Trincomalee, in one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to.

Two and two years (first in Barcelona; then in London) in Europe meant that most of our vacations in that time were “urban” – visiting cities and walking around them and taking in the historic sights and eating interesting food. It got a bit boring after a while, so when we got back to Asia earlier this year we decided it was time for a luxury “relaxing” vacation.

We went to this resort called Kurumba in Maldives, just a 10 minute boat ride away from the Maldives airport. It was among the quickest “get down to business” vacations I’ve ever been on. Our Air India flight touched down in Maldives around 4pm. By 5:30, we had been shown our rooms, changed and already hit the beach!

The next two days were spent there. While the image you have of a beach resort is that it’s a “passive” vacation (where you do nothing) this wasn’t so. I spent most of the time in water, mostly at the beach but also some time in the swimming pool (which the daughter found more fun – another post on that coming up).

We hadn’t taken along snorkelling equipment but that didn’t deter me. I put on my swimming goggles, waded close to coral reefs and just dived into the water. I saw lots of marine life in there – colourful fish and plants and all that. There were many more such reefs within 100 meters of the shore, and the shore was 200 metres from our room.

Wednesday typified our vacation. It was a bright and sunny day, which meant it was hot outside water, and that I now have massive sunburns all over my shoulders and back and arms. At 7am we had hit the beach. An hour and half of wading and dunking in water, looking at fish and chasing after one really beautiful turtle, we showered and went for breakfast.

After a long leisurely breakfast we were by the swimming pool, and due to the heat we were soon inside the water. Most of the morning was spent inside the water, and a drink and lunch were had at the poolside bar. Then we returned to our room and when the daughter refused to fall asleep, we hit the beach once again, for an hour or two. And then in the evening we went for a dolphin boat tour, before settling for a two hour long dinner.

It was a short vacation – only three days long, but it was a highly effective one. I think the volume of activity, even if it were in one place, meant that it helped take our minds completely off life as usual. Now I’m trying to slowly work my way back to life, and this post is part of that.

I’ll be back here again and again soon, to put more pertinent observations about this awesome vacation.

More on statistics and machine learning

I’m thinking of a client problem right now, and I thought that something that we need to predict can be modelled as a function of a few other things that we will know.

Initially I was thinking about it from the machine learning perspective, and my thought process went “this can be modelled as a function of X, Y and Z. Once this is modelled, then we can use X, Y and Z to predict this going forward”.

And then a minute later I context switched into the statistical way of thinking. And now my thinking went “I think this can be modelled as a function of X, Y and Z. Let me build a quick model to see if the goodness of fit, and whether a signal actually exists”.

Now this might reflect my own biases, and my own processes for learning to do statistics and machine learning, but one important difference I find is that in statistics you are concerned about the goodness of fit, and whether there is a “signal” at all.

While in machine learning as well we look at what the predictive ability is (area under ROC curve and all that), there is a bit of delay in the process between the time we model and the time we look for the goodness of fit. What this means is that sometimes we can get a bit too certain about the models that we want to build without thinking if in the first place they make sense and there’s a signal in that.

For example, in the machine learning world, the concept of R Square is not defined for regression –  the only thing that matters is how well you can predict out of sample. So while you’re building the regression (machine learning) model, you don’t have immediate feedback on what to include and what to exclude and whether there is a signal.

I must remind you that machine learning methods are typically used when we are dealing with really high dimensional data, and where the signal usually exists in the interplay between explanatory variables rather than in a single explanatory variable. Statistics, on the other hand, is used more for low dimensional problems where each variable has reasonable predictive power by itself.

It is possibly a quirk of how the two disciplines are practiced that statistics people are inherently more sceptical about the existence of signal, and machine learning guys are more certain that their model makes sense.

What do you think?

Studs and fighters: Origin

As far as this blog is concerned, the concept of studs and fighters began sometime in 2007, when I wrote the canonical blog post on the topic. Since then the topic has been much used and abused.

Recently, though, I remembered when I had first come across the concept of studs and fighters. This goes way back to 1999, and has its origins in a conversation with two people who I consider as among the studdest people I’ve ever met (they’re both now professors at highly reputed universities).

We were on a day-long train journey, and were discussing people we had spent a considerable amount of time with over the previous one month. It was a general gossip session, the sort that was common to train journeys in the days before smartphones made people insular.

While discussing about one guy we had met, one of us (it wasn’t me for sure. It was one of the other two but I now can’t recall which of them it was) said “well, he isn’t particularly clever, but he is a very hard worker for sure”.

And so over time this distinction got institutionalised, first in my head and then in the heads of all my readers. There were two ways to be good at something – by either being clever or by being a very hard worker.

Thinking about it now, it seems rather inevitable that the concept that would become studs and fighters came about in the middle of a conversation among studs.

Bad signalling

About a month or two back, a new set of traffic lights came up on the way from home to my daughter’s school. It’s among the least effective set of lights I’ve seen.

For starters, the signal cycles are too long to justify the traffic, so if everyone decides to follow the lights, the traffic will only get worse.

Then, on two sides of the signal (the east and west approach roads) the lights aren’t displayed properly. There are lights on the left side of the road just before the signal, but no corresponding lights at a height across the intersection. So if someone is too close to the intersection they can’t see the lights.

Most importantly there has been no attempt at all so far to enforce the lights. There wasn’t even a cop standing there in the days leading up to the installation of the lights. The intersection was never really that crowded to necessitate a signal (ok I have limited data on this). And one day suddenly the lights went up and it was expected that people will follow.

People, for the most part, haven’t, and that’s a good thing considering the signal cycle. The east and west sides (who don’t have lights on the opposite side of the intersection to reinforce the signal) started the jumping first. The north and south sides joined.

I usually approach it from the south side, and the only times I stop at the signal is if someone in front of me has decided to obey the signal and doesn’t let me past. And I suppose that as people hit the signal multiple times they too make an independent judgment that everyone is jumping the signal, and that’s the optimal strategy.

I see this as a case of failed mechanism design. A set of traffic lights is good if and only if everyone has an incentive to follow it, or is made to follow it. For example, once a set of lights go up, having a cop stationed at the intersection for a few weeks means that most regular commuters across the intersection will get used to the lights, and start following it. And once you have a critical mass of commuters following the signal, the rest simply obey.

As things stand now, I’m happy that nobody really follows these lights – for if people did, it would only slow things down!

These lights, by the way, are at the intersection of 26th main and 39th cross roads in Jayanagar 9th Block.

News

I wake up early on weekdays nowadays, so go the first two hours of the day without really knowing what is happening in the world. As you might know, I’m on a social media break, so that source of news is cut off. And it’s only around 7 am by when a copy of the Business Standard gets delivered to my door.

Until last month, a copy of the Deccan Herald would arrive at home as well, but I stopped it after I found it to be largely useless. A lot of stories in that newspaper were written as they might have been 20 or 30 years ago. There was little distinction between reporting and analysis and opinion. A lot of news couldn’t be simply consumed without the accompanying (and sometimes patronising) opinion.

The Business Standard, which I started reading in 2005, is still a very good paper. The editorials continue to be first-rate (though their quality had dipped in the 2011-14 period). The analysis pieces and columns cover a variety of topics that simply don’t make it to social media (since they aren’t really “sensational”). And the newspaper is “crisp” and quickly tells you what’s going on in India.

For two years, when I lived in London, I lived without a daily newspaper, and it was a struggle. Online newspapers have simply not been able to provide the same kind of product as offline newspapers. And the reason is that online newspapers are “flat” – all the contextualising and prioritising that a dead-tree paper can do is completely absent in the online version.

In a dead-tree newspaper, you know how important a piece of news is based on the page it appears, the size of the headline, the size of the column and so on. Based on where it appears, you know if it is news or analysis or opinion. In case it is opinion, you can easily see who has written it before you “click through” (start reading it). You can easily how big a piece is (and how much of your time it will take) before deciding to invest time in it.

All this is absent from an online newspaper. Check out, for example, the homepage of the Business Standard, that I so fulsomely praised earlier in this post.

It is impossible to know what’s the important stuff here. If I have only five minutes to read, I don’t know what to focus on. I don’t know which of this is opinion and which is news. Before I click through, I don’t know how big a piece is or who has written it or if it has been syndicated.

Unless the link has come from a qualified source (such as Twitter) I don’t know much about it, and so don’t know how to consume it. This might explain to you why a lot of online news sources are losing revenues to the likes of Google or Facebook – the latter do the important job of putting the news in context!

Finally, I’m glad I now consume news only once a day (from the physical paper). Sometimes, what is news intra-day would have ceased to be news by nightfall. So when you consume news at a reasonable interval (such as daily), what comes to you is “qualified” real stuff. A piece of news should have been important enough for a day to make it to the next day’s newspapers. And once a day is also a reasonable interval to get to know of what is happening in the world.

Trip To Indiranagar

The first time I recall going to Indiranagar was in 1992, when we purchased a used car from someone who used to live there. While walking from the nearest bus stop to the house of the previous owner of our car, we had taken a longish route, as my parents admired all the “beautiful houses” in the area.

Six years later I went to school in that part of town. The “beautiful houses” were still there, and I used to walk past them on my way to school from the bus stop every morning. While I found the culture of the place to be quite different from that of Jayanagar (where I lived), I found the part of town to be nice, and liked going there (though not necessarily for school).

And it was another 6-year gap after school before I resumed my visits to Indiranagar. This time round, it wasn’t as regular as going to school, and most of the time the agenda was eating. Indiranagar by the mid 2000s had a lot of wonderful restaurants serving a nice variety of cuisines. Some of these restaurants were also rather fancy, and so when I met up with college friends living in Bangalore from time to time, it was usually in one place of another in Indiranagar. I continued to find the place nice.

Marriage and child and change in profession have all meant that visits to Indiranagar have become less frequent, and most of them nowadays are work-related. I spend time in coffee shops there. I take the metro to go there. I occasionally walk around a bit from meeting to meeting, but don’t notice the surroundings around. Some eateries there continue to be nice, though there are a lot more of them nowadays than before.

Something snapped today when we went there for lunch.

Lunch was at “Burma Burma” which the wife had rather hyped up over the years, and where it is reportedly incredibly hard to find a table. The drive to there was smooth, the car was handed over to the valet, and off we went inside to our table. The service was excellent, but the food was so-so. I’ve never eaten burmese food in my life so I don’t know if Burmese food is supposed to taste that way, but it tasted extremely Indian. Moreover the food was “low density” – I ate until my stomach was full but still didn’t feel like I’d gotten sufficient energy.

It was after the meal that I realised how much Indiranagar has changed, and not for the better. Immediately after we got out of the restaurant, I ran after the valet to tell him to leave my car where it was (on a side road) since I had “other business on the road”.

I wanted to check out the newly opened Blue Tokai Coffee Shop, also on 12th main. The walk to get there was horrendous. It was only 200 metres from Burma Burma (made a bit longer by our walking for a bit in the wrong direction), but it was impossible to walk anywhere but in the middle of the road. Footpaths were fully occupied by trees, dug up drains and parked vehicles. And there was a continuous line of parked vehicles right next to the footpath.

It was as if the 12th Main (the same road on which I would walk to school) area has been redesigned such that you drive from shop to shop, giving your car to valets who will then proceed to park it in some side road.

Oh, and Blue Tokai is a non-starter. It’s a small space on the first floor with acoustics so bad that one loud group in the place can render the whole place unbearable. It didn’t help that they took forever to take our order, and we decided to decamp to the (tried and trusted, for me) Third Wave Coffee Roasters on CMH Road.

And that meant another walk, though we eschewed 12th main this time, and then a short drive. Both of us noticed that the roads of Indiranagar seemed narrower than what we remembered – maybe the multitude of restaurants there means valets keep parking all through the inside roads, and double parked roads can be narrow indeed. And the area around CMH where Third Wave is located isn’t particularly nice either.

It seems to me that Indiranagar is not posh any more. In a way it was so posh at one point in time that everyone sought to set up shop there, and all the shops meant that the area has lost its character. The “beautiful houses” are being torn down one by one, replaced by commercial buildings full of restaurants, cars parked by whose valets will flood more and more of the inner roads, and make the entire area unwalkable.

I’m pretty sure most of the posh people in the area have left, having sold their houses into the real estate boom. I just wonder where they have moved to!

PS: The coffee at Third Wave was incredibly bad as well. It’s not usually so – I keep saying that they’re the best coffee shop in Bangalore. The milk today was scalding hot, and the barista poured so much of it in our cups, and without any of the finesse you associate with flat white, that it was completely tasteless.

 

 

Data, football and astrology

Jonathan Wilson has an amusing article on data and football, and how many data-oriented managers in football have also been incredibly superstitious.

This is in response to BT Sport’s (one of the UK broadcasters of the Premier League) announcement of it’s “Unscripted” promotion where “some of the world’s foremost experts in both sports and artificial intelligence to produce a groundbreaking prophecy of the forthcoming season”.

Wilson writes:

I was reminded also of the 1982 film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel Murder is Easy in which a computer scientist played by Bill Bixby enters the details of the case into a programme he has coded to give the name of the murderer. As it turns out, the programmer knows this is nonsense and is merely trying to gauge the reaction of the heroine, played by Lesley-Anne Down, when her name flashes on the screen.

But this, of course, is not what data-based analysis is for. Its predictive element deals in probability not prophecy. It is not possessed of some oracular genius. (That said, it is an intriguing metaphysical question: what if you had all the data, not just ability and fitness, but every detail of players’ diet, relationships and mental state, the angle of blades of grass on the pitch, an assessment of how the breathing of fans affected air flow in the stadium … would the game’s course then be inevitable?)

This reminded me of my own piece that I wrote last year about how data science “is simply the new astrology“.