Pilgrimage numerous uno


It was at a champions league game that I first got interested in football – i was stuck in a London train bogey with a bunch of Liverpool supporters and immediately became a fan.

In this context attending a champions league game is a kind of pilgrimage. And what better game to attend than the Johann Cruyff Derby?

Drink structuring

At lunch yesterday it appeared like the men at the next table respectively asked for a cold coffee and an iced tea. What the waitress did was very interesting. She plonks a regular cup of “cafe con leche” (coffee with milk) in front of one guy, and a large cup of hot water with a tea bag in front of the other. They start mixing sugar into their respective drinks (it wasn’t added earlier). Then she brings two large glasses with lots of ice in them. The men presently pour their drinks into that glass and start drinking.

Two Tuesdays back I was at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Midway through my tour I saw this little cafe in the museum and decided to warm myself with some hot chocolate. After paying a princely EUR 2.75, I saw the barista take some canned cold chocolate from the fridge, use the steamer of the coffee machine to heat it up (in the process effectively adding copious amounts of water), and then hand it to me as “hot chocolate”. That was the last time on this trip I ever ordered hot chocolate.

It’s very interesting how “illiquid drinks” (an oxymoron if there is one – but as regular readers know, liquidity here refers to the economic concept and nothing physical) are structured here and offered without significant cost to the seller. Yesterday was the first time in two weeks in Barcelona, for example, that I saw someone drink cold coffee/tea. Given the low demand it doesn’t make sense for the restaurant to keep the infrastructure to make “real” cold coffee (a mixie and all that). Similarly with the chocolate at the cafe at the Rijksmuseum!

I haven’t seen this back in India – the only time I’ve seen drinks being structured thus was at that little overrated cafe in Alliance Francaise where I once had a lemon ice tea – the guy puts boiling water on a cup with a tea bag, waits for a couple of minutes for it to infuse, stirs sugar, throws out the bag, takes a large glass full of ice American-style, squeezes lemon into it, adds the tea and hands it over.

Maybe Indian restaurants could take a cue from how drinks are structured here – though it will be hard since the Indian customer is more demanding. Adigas, for example, can offer cold coffee (iced coffee to be precise). It will be an interesting experiment without too much cost (other than the ice).

While on the topic of drinks, one of the last great liquor advertising campaigns in India, before liquor advertising was banned in 2001 (and then had to go surrogate), was UB Export Strong Beer’s “yaake cool drink” series starring Upendra. It was incredibly low-priced beer, comparable to the price of a coke. So the tagline went “yella OK but cool drink yaake?” (everything is fine but why cool drink?). I had the beer for the first time two months back, when it was the only available beer at a party. Watch the ad here:

Last night at dinner I ordered a Coke. It was the first time since I landed in Barcelona that I had ordered a soft drink. I began wondering why. It was clear when the bill appeared. I had been charged EUR 2.78 for the (Georgia green glass 350ml) bottle of coke. I remember seeing the menu and seeing that wine was priced at EUR 2.15 there. Beer similar. A clear case of “yaake cool drink”.

Good and bad NED

Since I woke up this morning I’ve been “suffering” from a rather heavy bout of NED. But I shouldn’t be saying “suffering”, since I haven’t been suffering at all. I’ve been quite happy all day today, just that I don’t feel like doing anything.

Normally, NED is associated with something negative – when you have no enthu to do something, it implies a feeling of negativity – that you don’t want to do something. Sample this extract from one of my first ever conversations with the person who is now the wife, back from 2007. This was after she had seen me at the Bangalore Landmark Quiz 2007, where we went to the finals and lost. She is not to be confused, of course, with this girl I had seen at the Bangalore Landmark Quiz in 2005 (and whom I’ve never seen subsequently).

Priyanka: Hmmm …
  Tell me about your work!
 me: not now
 Priyanka: okay!
  What about NED?
 me: no enthu i meant
 Priyanka: :P
  Don’t ever use your team name in our conversation again!
me: why not?
  it’s a concept
  not just a team name
 Priyanka: That im not too fond of!
 So your team symbolizes arrogance?
 me: what has arrogance got to do with it?
 Priyanka: Well thats just my take on it. But you tell me why you call yourselves NED?
  QED is so positive!

But what I’ve been going through this morning is not negative at all. I had a wonderful dinner last night (at this place called La Tertulia in Les Corts). It was a very interesting menu, and we finished the dinner with a dessert which was “chocolate 4 ways”. One of the 4 ways was a dark chocolate mousse (it was so awesome I wonder why it’s not more popular – dark chocolate mousse that is). And then I slept wonderfully.

I slept so deeply that when I woke up this morning it took time to recollect who I am and where I am and what I’m doing here and all that. I then dragged myself to a nearby cafe for breakfast, where I had more chocolate – the chocolate croissant there had much more chocolate than a normal chocolate croissant does.

So I’ve been feeling so peaceful and contented and happy that I just don’t feel like doing anything. I have less than three more days in Barcelona on this trip, and I want to go out and explore parts of the city I haven’t seen so far. But then NED is taking over. I’ve been feeling so blissful since this morning that I just don’t feel like going and doing anything! So I’m vegetating, sitting with my laptop and looking at websites on tourist attractions in Barcelona!

I remember being in this state of mind for most of the latter half of 2005. I was on a perennial high, and so high that I would just vegetate and not do anything! Not that it’s a bad thing but the long-term consequences aren’t great!

PS: Going through my blog archives, I find that even in the Bangalore Landmark Quiz in 2007, I had found “a cute chick” sitting in the audience. I didn’t make such a big deal about it, though, and I now don’t remember what she looked like. Going by this and other information I’ve presented in this post I wonder if I’m married to her now.

Required: A new value proposition

Today, more than five years since I started out with Pinky, I realise that I need a new value proposition for the relationship. So far things had been simple – I was simply the rich guy in the partnership. I was working for the Giant Squid when we met, I’ve since remodelled myself as a quant management consultant and make reasonable money out of it, and save for a short period in 2011-12, my contribution to the household finances has far outpaced hers.

However, with Pinky now pursuing an MBA from a top global (pun intended – it was she who coined the phrase “value proposition” for this post) B-school, this is going to soon change. The next two years she’s in debt of course (some of it to me), but after graduation she’s likely to get a great well-paying job which is likely to significantly cut down my advantage in terms of the family finances (I still hope that I’ll retain my lead, and I mean this in a good way – that she gets a really well-paying job and I’ll be able to outpace her).

So by this one stroke of Pinky going to get herself an MBA, my main value proposition in the relationship has been completely destroyed. What this means, of course, is that I need to find a new proposition. If I’m a dog (remember I described myself as a bakery doggie in a recent post?) I need to learn new tricks. Or perhaps I need to get back to my old tricks?

Back in 2006, when we first talked, what impressed Pinky (by what she tells me now) was this blog – my income statement wasn’t particularly great then, and she had absolutely no clue about it until we met three years later. In 2006, Pinky liked how I used to write about every damn thing here, especially about all my failed attempts at relationships. She has repeatedly told me since that she loves being written about, and that one of her great big hopes of being with me was that I would write reams about her on this blog, like I have about all those failed attempts at relationships.

On this count, though, I’ve utterly failed her. For reasons I’m still not able to put a finger on, I’ve hardly written about her. There was the usual flurry of posts in the first few days of our involvement (this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one). By the time the last of those posts was written, I was preparing to meet her parents and things were cementing. And then, bang, boom, fizzle! I stopped writing about her!

There has been the odd post I’ve written here or there but I’ve been writing nowhere close to what she possibly expects from having been with me for over five years now. On the primary criterion – the spike – that she evaluated me on when we got together (I must say I did damn well in those initial days to sustain interest), I’ve been an utter failure. It’s almost like the reason she married me has not come to bear fruit.

In this context, I hope to get back to my old value proposition – maybe because I’m not creative enough or too lazy to come up with a new one. In the year and half that I have (before Pinky graduates) to come up with the new proposition, there might be some other good that might come out – something else I might discover about myself which would be a great value proposition for me in the marriage. You need to start your search somewhere, though.

When you break up, sometimes your first attempt at doing a rebound is by checking if your ex is still single and if you can hook up with hem (my friend and fellow-IESE-WAG Aravind told me yesterday that this is the word the Swedes have come up with as a short form of saying “him/her”, as a gender neutral pronoun). You are unlikely to succeed, and you are more likely to find someone totally new. But your ex gives you the starting point for your search.

It is similar in my case. With my value proposition due to expire, my first instinct is to go back to my ex – my ex value proposition that is (I have no other exes!!). Maybe it will succeed. Maybe it will not – in which case I’ve to find something new. But rebounding to the ex is the safest bet. So if I manage to make this work, you can hope to find a lot more Pinky in these pages.

Studs, fighters and spikes

In a blog post yesterday I talked about the marriage and dating markets and how people with spikes which can be evaluated either highly positively or highly negatively were more likely to get dates, while in the arranged marriage market, you were better off being a solid CMP (common minimum program).

The question is how this applies for jobs. Are you better off being a solid performer or if you are someone who has a quirky CV, with some features that can either be heavily positively or heavily negatively by some people. How will the market evaluate you, and which of them is more likely for finding you a job?

The answer lies in whether the job that you are applying for is predominantly stud or fighter (apologies to those to whom I mentioned I was retiring this framework – I find it way too useful to ditch). If it is a predominantly fighter job – one that requires a steady output and little creativity or volatility, you are better off having a solid CV – being a consistent 3 rather than having lots of 5s and 1s in your rating chart. When the job is inherently fighter, what they are looking for is consistent output, and what they don’t look for is the occasional 1 – a situation where you are likely to underperform for whatever reason. Fighter jobs don’t necessarily care for the occasional spike in the CV – for there is no use of being extraordinary for such jobs. Thus, you are better off being a consistent 3.

If it is a stud job, though, one where you are likely to show some occasional creativity, you are more likely to get hired if you have a few 5s and a few 1s rather than if you have all 3s. If the job requires creativity and volatility, what the employer wants to know is that you are occasionally capable of delivering a 5 – which is what they are essentially hiring you for. Knowing that people who are good at stud jobs have the occasional off day, employers of stud jobs are okay with someone with a few 1s, as long as they have 5s.

So whether you should be looking for a stud or a fighter job depends on what kind of a professional career that you’ve had so far – if you’ve had a volatile career with a few spikes and a few troughs, you are much better off applying for stud jobs. If you’ve been a steady consistent performer you are better suited for a fighter job!

Of course you need to remember that this ranking as a function of your volatility is valid only if you were to hold your “average rating” constant!

Good boys don’t get laid

Last night I bought Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) and started reading it. I’m now about 10% into the book, well past the Kindle sample (I bought the book in entirety after I’d finished the sample). I’m past the first couple of chapters and am now reading a chapter on the contributions of Twitter to linguistics.

Rudder is a co-founder and Chief Data Scientist at the matchmaking website OkCupid, and he draws upon some aggregate data that his website has collected to point out some rather interesting stuff about how people think, view themselves, and the kind of partners they are looking for. One very interesting piece of analysis (which includes a couple of brilliant graphs) shows the preference for the partner’s age among men and women of different ages. So far the book has been absolutely spectacular.

The part of the book that I’ve found most fascinating so far is the one on averages and variances. Rudder looks at the average ratings of a large number of women registered on OkCupid (as rated by men) and tries to correlate their ratings with their success on the site (measured in terms of the number of messages they have received from men on the site wanting to date them). Given the scale of the data that Rudder has access to (rather large), the results are rather stupendous.

What Rudder finds is that for a given level of average rating for a woman, the higher the variance in her rating, the more the number of messages she receives. There are some quirky statistics he quotes (a lot of which has been extracted in this post on Brain Pickings - it was after a friend sent me this post that I got interested and bought the book) which show that women who are consistently rated a 3 (on a scale of 1-5) by men are much less likely to get a message than someone who gets a mix of 1s and 5s.

From this Rudder concludes that negative ratings actually boost a woman’s chances of getting a date – the fact that a number of men have rated someone unattractive means that there is something about her that a lot of men don’t like. This implies that the “competition” for getting her is possibly low, and you might be able to get a “bargain” or an “arbitrage” if you are able to get her.

While this is a plausible and rather palatable thesis, I have an alternate explanation for the same data – I posit that low ratings don’t matter. Some people might have rated you lowly but they don’t matter since they aren’t interested in you. What matters simply is the number of high ratings that you get – people are always on the lookout for spectacular people to date, and by getting a number of 5s, you are showing that you are found rather attractive by a number of people. The ratings of 1 that you have received are an anomaly – messages of rejection from people who don’t want to date you, and all they do is to pull down your average. A better way of comparing women would be to throw away the bottom 20% of all ratings that a woman gets and then calculate the average – and a lot of 3s that Rudder has analysed in his book are likely to come out as something more than that.

Irrespective of the reason for the correlation of variance with attractiveness, though, what is undisputed is that people look for spectacular people to date. If you are a consistent three, irrespective of whether you go by Rudder’s thesis or mine, a large number of men are likely to rate you as being “unspectacular”. When given a choice between dating someone who is a “common minimum program” on most dimensions and someone who has a “spike” (as recruiting management consultants like to put it), you are likely to be more interested in the one that has the spike. What you consider to be a spike might be considered to be a trough by others, which probably leads to an average average rating (but high variance), but it is the spike that attracts you to her.

The problem with the arranged marriage market in India is that it is set up such that people show off their “average” side. As I had argued several years earlier (back when I was in the market), the Indian arranged marriage market is dominated by people who are themselves “common minimum programmes” and who are looking for “common minimum programmes” to marry. Thus, if you want to enter that market yourself, you try to mould yourself as yet another common minimum program and try to hide your spike rather than to enhance it (it is also a result of counterparties sharing notes in the arranged marriage market, something that doesn’t happen in the dating market. If you have a spike that one girl considers to be a trough, her folks are likely to tell people known to them about your trough (which is actually a spike), and that might pull down your average rating).

Most Indian parents bring up  their kids to become good materials in the arranged marriage market, and since it is the unspectacular CMP that succeeds in that market, parents aspire to get their grown up kids to fit such moulds. Any possibly deviant behaviour is quickly dissed, non-standard careers are strongly discouraged, you are encouraged to dress unspectacularly and so on. Taking this together with Rudder’s thesis, what this means is that if you prime yourself for the arranged marriage market, you are losing out on the dating market!

What it takes to be a success in the arranged marriage market (solidity, unspectacularity, CMPness) are directly at odds to what it takes to succeed in the dating market (a spike, quirkiness, character) and so once you have decided to enter one market you automatically become a failure in the other. This thesis also explains why people who break up in their mid/late twenties and who consequently enter the arranged marriage market (possibly since it offers the quickest chance of a rebound) struggle significantly in that market – they have been primed for the dating market which makes them unhot in the arranged marriage market.

One “spike” that I consider to be a part of my character is this blog. Back in the Benjarong conference, I was given sage advice that I do not disclose this blog to prospective brides from the arranged marriage market, thanks to posts like this one and this one. Finally I ended up marrying someone who I met as a consequence of this blog (this post to be precise – she later told me) – who messaged me on Orkut saying she likes my blog, because of which we got talking and so forth. It was the spike – possibly considered abhorrent by many – that was responsible for my finding my wife!

So decide which market you actually want to be in before you prime yourself. “I’ll also casually look at the other market” is never likely to work.


For millions of years
Mankind lived
Just like the animals

And then something happened
That unleashed the power of our imagination
We learned to talk

(from Pink Floyd’s Keep Talking from Division Bell)

And then we moved to a place where no one speaks any of the languages you speak. And we became animals again.

This trip to Barcelona is the first time I’ve spent a reasonable length of time I’ve spent in a place where no one speaks any of the languages that I speak. And I’ve been literally feeling like an animal again, absolutely incapable of communicating, pointing at things and using sign language. It seems like my experience here has been significantly diminished given my inability to speak any of the languages spoken here.

I learnt to talk Kannada when I was perhaps one, or max two. I learnt English in a year or two after that. And then my language learning stopped. I had Hindi as my second language in school, and somehow struggled through it despite scoring 90 out of 100 in my board exam (shows how pointless board exams are). I can understand Hindi, and watch Hindi movies, but I still can’t speak fluently. When I have to speak Hindi, I construct a sentence in Kannada and then translate it. And I speak it with a heavy Kannada accent, much to the mirth of people around.

I have a Bihari cook in Bangalore. He claims to know Kannada  but I’ve never tried testing that. And I try speaking to him in Hindi. It is almost like we use sign language. I point to a set of ingredients and tell him the name of what I want to eat. He cooks, and buzzes off. At least talking face to face is fine. There are occasions when I have to call him and give him instructions (“come early tomorrow” or “come late today” or “don’t come today” or some such). It is a nightmare.

It’s not like I’m absolutely bad at languages – I can pick up words  quite easily. Thanks to football watching I’ve learnt a fair bit of European history and geography and culture, and through the process I’ve learnt a fair number of words (they’re of the kind of trequartistaregistatornante, etc but European words nevertheless). I know words in several languages. Just that I have this inability to learn grammar, or how words are put together to form sentences and communicate thoughts (except of course in English and Kannada).

Fourteen years back I went to IIT Madras, and half the people in my class were Gult. That meant I had the opportunity to pick up a fair bit of both Telugu and Tamil. I did neither. I can understand both languages a fair bit, but my understanding of the languages can be described as “assembly language”. I know words and what they mean. I listen for such keywords in what people are saying and interpret based on that. And when I speak these languages, it is based on keywords – I just say out the noun and the root form of the verb and expect the other person to interpret. I’ve never managed to get beyond this!

So there are these bakeries near where I live which might have already marked me off as a weird animal who just walks in and out o them. I go in, survey what they have and if something looks interesting point to that. They pack it for me, and then tell a number. I ask for the bill – so that I can read the number, or just give them a large enough note and trust them to return me the exact change. When nothing looks interesting to me in the display I can’t talk and ask them for what I want. I just look around (perhaps like a bakery dog) and just walk away. I don’t know how to say “Sorry I don’t know what I want”, or “Thank you, but I don’t find anything interesting here”. And I’ve been visiting some of these places multiple times, doing the same thing!

The level of discourse we are reduced to when we are unable to communicate is rather remarkable! It’s like we can simply not unleash the power of imagination, it is like going back to living like animals. I don’t like it, but I don’t know how to remedy it – I simply can’t pick up new languages!



This picture was taken at a restaurant called metric, where we went for dinner tonight. It’s located on the diagonal, an arterial road in Barcelona.

So we were walking, trying to find a place to have dinner. Pinky had a few options in her head but wouldn’t tell me. We passed a number of restaurants, all of which looked decent but not particularly spectacular, and I would wonder if she would take me into one of those. She didn’t.

And then we passed in front of metric. Even before she had indicated that this was part of her shortlist, i was walking inside. I couldn’t do much more though, since I don’t speak the language here

Some restaurants beckon to you just by the way they look. This one was brightly lit, done up in quirky furniture (we sat at an ordinary table but there were others where you has swings instead of chairs!!), with a great looking bar and the place was full. I didn’t care what kind of food they served, all the Tyler Cowen-esque economic reasoning I’ve been invoking before every single meal on this trip went out of the window, and I just walked in.

When traveling abroad, especially when in a country where they don’t normally speak English, it really helps to have someone around who speaks the local language and who can help you get around. Most times when I’ve been out by myself, apart from the time when I’ve been around touristy areas , I’ve been rather lost. I have no clue of Spanish, except for the odd word, and I’ve struggled.

I once had to go to the post office and get my mobile sim registered ( someone told me that was the procedure). I get there, approach the counter gingerly and before I know the lady assumes I’m there to receive a package from lycamobile!! After a few more minutes of futile attempt at conversation I moved on, defeated.

Given how awful I am at getting languages – I’m usually not bad with words but can never get grammar (and even today get confused between Telugu and Tamil because I learnt to understand the two languages simultaneously) – it’s a marvel how Pinky has picked up enough Spanish to get around, and even get complimented (by the waitress at metric) as to how good her Spanish is. She negotiated with the waitress about the menu, got the drinks menu “orally delivered” and translated it to enable me to make my choice (the passion fruit mojito was wonderful, btw) and even carried out some gossip with the waitress, as I looked on clueless, wondering how one can even learn a new language (I haven’t learnt one fluently ever since I was three).

Coming back to the restaurant, there’s something about places that have a very limited menu. It is generally an indicator that there are a few things they are good at, and that they like to stick to their area of core competency rather than experimenting around. A limited menu also means easier inventory management and the restaurant is likely to have fresh ingredients. While a large menu night be useful in terms of offering variety it more often than not comes at the cost is quality and reliability.

What you see in the front of the picture above us my burger. That’s how it arrived, and delicious though it was, I had no clue as to how to eat it. The lack of a covering bun meant I couldn’t pick it up and bite it. The side of bread at the bottom meant I couldn’t cut it with my knife! After a few minutes of fumbling (which included dropping a part of the patty on my jeans), I gave up and just separated the patty from the bread, eating the former with knife and fork and latter with my hands! It’s anyway not like I’m the types who cares what people think about me!!

Though I can’t rule out a stray thought in Pinky’s head on how she’s getting herself an international MBA and learning Spanish and becoming pseud and I’m still the same guy living in Bangalore!!

Tail piece: these Europeans take the metric system when beyond where Indians use. Nutritional information on food packages is in kilo joules, for example!!

Guest post on payment mechanisms

I don’t normally do guest posts on other blogs – the problem with that is that you lose track of the fact that you’ve written it and you have no control over record-keeping of these posts. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done guest posts in the past – I used to guest-blog for this blog called Sportsnob, but would faithfully cross-post every post here (or in the Livejournal predecessor). I also used to guest-blog on the Indian Economy Blog, but then again I would cross-post here.

I remember that Madman Aadisht had taken a break from blogging during placements at IIMB, and because he wanted to keep the blog going, he offered to attend some pre-placement talks on my behalf (IIMB had a complex system of compulsory attendance for pre-placement talks so that companies got a favourable impression of the batch). So I ended up writing some blog posts on his blog (after a revamp, they all appear as if he’s written). I can identify that I wrote this one and possibly this one (Madman was kind of my guru on all things online, which includes blogging and Orkut – he sent me an invite to join Orkut long before it was cool. So I kinda ended up writing like him so it’s hard to distinguish the posts now) and this one for sure and perhaps this one .

I remember writing a few posts on some of Takshashila’s group blogs such as The Broad Mind and Logos, but with no documentation of what I wrote, I stopped writing for those, especially since I have my own blog there now. So it’s been a while since I wrote one.

But then I wrote one today. I have mentioned a fair number of times on this blog that liquidity is a much underappreciated concept in economics (apart from financial economics) and I would like it to be talked about more. So I’ve been doing my bit evangelising the concept of liquidity.

Sangeet is a management guru who runs a rather well-read blog on Platform Thinking, which is basically about putting the concept of liquidity into practice. We’ve been talking a fair bit recently since both of us started eschewing formal full-time jobs around the same time and generally have conversations on a lot of random things, including things on our blogs, which includes platforms.

So after one such conversation on platforms and payment mechanisms, Sangeet asked if I could write a guest post for him. And I’ve obliged. Here is an extract:

So how can a new payment mechanism (such as m-Pesa or Apple Pay) gain traction? There are essentially two ways – one is the Paypal route, where you enter with so big a bang that you quickly have a large chunk of the market, and network effects make it necessary for the rest of the market to adapt to you. Given the plethora of payment options that are present now, it is unlikely that any player will be able to establish this kind of domination without significant investment.

The other option is to make it interoperable. Apple Pay, for example, could introduce an Android App (which might cannibalise on Apple iPhone sales, but increase traction of Apple Pay itself). This could potentially increase the number of devices that can pay using this mechanism, and it thus gives incentive for merchants to install the mechanism that allows them to accept payments using Apple Pay. There is a parallel to this within Apple itself – when the iconic iPod was first introduced, it was only interoperable with Apple computers. After much internal debate, Apple finally introduced iTunes for Windows, and made the iPod interoperable with Windows, in 2003, and that year iPods saw a 235% growth in sales

Perhaps because Sangeet mostly writes long blog posts, or perhaps because I was fairly jobless writing this in the IESE Cafeteria the other day (remember I’m a B-school WAG now), I ended up writing a rather long post. Still I’d encourage you to read the whole thing there.