The trouble with quizzers

Quizzers are fundamentally interesting people. At least they are supposed to be. They have above-average skills in connecting things, and “working out” answers to quiz questions. And the fact that they have attended so many quizzes means that they will know lots of “fundaes”. And have knowledge of lots of interesting “stories”.

Above-average skills in connecting stuff, and above average knowledge of the world and how it works should naturally make you more interesting than most people. And I’m sure most quizzers have the potential to be supremely interesting. But the sad fact is that in general conversation they seldom exhibit such interestingness.

The trouble with quizzers is that when you put a bunch of them together in a room, they naturally gravitate to discussing quizzes, and quizzers. Now, if they were to discuss specific questions and expand the discussion around the topic of interest to the question, it would still be interesting – for most quiz questions (of the Bangalore variety at least, not sure about Kolkata) have the potential to be great conversation seeds.

However, quizzers don’t discuss that. They instead discuss about how the quiz progressed in terms of relative standings – like they were discussing a horse race. They discuss stories around quizzes – which is more about the people involved in the quiz rather than the fundaes involved. They bitch about fellow-quizzers (this blogpost falls in that category, perhaps?) and talk about why this quizzer is an asshole and that quizzer is a copycat. And go into expositions on why a certain kind of quizzers are better than the other. You get the drift.

Now, from my (forced – I’d rather discuss fundaes with these guys than quizzers) participation in such bitching sessions, I understand that some of this lack of interestingness is strategic – quizzers don’t want to discuss fundaes because they are afraid that they might “give away” some of their hard-earned knowledge which might help a competitor in a subsequent quiz! One prominent quizzer who had once-upon-a-time been my regular teammate once apparently (I got this info from one such bitching session) set an entire quiz based on the last one week’s newspapers – the logic being he didn’t want to give away fundas that he might use to answer in a quiz sometime later!

Thinking about it, it’s not just quizzers who indulge in such behaviour. Such conversations are a staple at “tweetups” also, I’m told. People who know each other mainly through twitter get together, bitch about other people on twitter, and talk about what they’ve already tweeted (this is from hearsay). But then they can be forgiven for the median tweetup-attender is not anywhere as potentially interesting as the median quizzer!

Then again, it is known that a large number of “successful” quizzers are “database quizzers” – who rely on their prowess for mugging up entire fundaes which they can then spit out in a quiz, rather than actually knowing them and using them to work things out. Perhaps the fact that they talk inanities in general conversation is an attempt to cover up the fact that they’re actually uninteresting? And to not get found out that they’re database quizzers (database quizzing is “anti-big data” in that a lot of people do it but no one claims to do it!)?

From here on, any quizzer who in a group of quizzers talks more about quizzes and quizzers, rather than talking fundaes, is prime suspect in being a “database quizzer”. Hopefully this will be deterrent enough for non-database quizzers to show their interestingness!

The Unpopular People’s Network

Recently I had blogged about how I find it hard to get along with people who are generally “popular”, and find it so much easier to get along with oddballs, people who have a reputation of being “arrogant”. So I’ve been discussing this with this one old friend, who is far from being universally popular, and (back when we had a large common network) had a reputation of being arrogant.

So we were recently talking about a mutual acquaintance and she said “She’s very cool. You’d like her. She’s far from ordinary and normal :) “. Now, I must point out that this conversation was conditioned by our earlier discussion about my blog post, but it is interesting how this friend assumes that I’m going to like this mutual acquaintance because she’s also, like the two of us, an “oddball”!

So I wonder if there’s something about us oddballs that attracts us to each other. If there is some kind of inherent solidarity between us because we are all of the type that don’t make us particularly popular. There is no guarantee of course that a randomly chosen pair of oddballs get along, but I wonder if the probability that two randomly chosen oddballs get along is higher than the probability that one “normal guy” and one oddball getting along!

And coming to the data that Christian Rudder has put in Dataclysm, on people getting 1s and 5s being more likely to get a date than straight 3s, I wonder how it will look if we are going to condition the data on the rating profile of the reviewer – maybe someone who has a lot of 1s and 5s is more likely to give 1 and 5 ratings to others? And 3s give 3s to others? It would be interesting to find out, except that the data is not public!

Hosting arrangements and expense accounts

So the convention when you meet someone who has traveled to your city for whatever reason is that the host pays. It seems to be a result of the commenting that you offer food and drink to someone who visits you. So meeting someone even in a restaurant in your city is like you hosting them at a meet and so you pay for it.

And this is a convention that I’ve followed for a while now. If someone’s visiting Bangalore and I meet them here I pay for the meeting. If I’m travelling and I meet someone and they insist on paying, I let them. It’s all part of the convention.

What turns this around, however, is corporate expense accounts. I just met an old friend for drinks and dinner, along with a few other old friends all of who stay in Bangalore. Now we had met because this guy from Gurgaon was visiting, and convention demanded that rather than him paying, all of us together would pick up the tab.

But then it turned out that this guy was in town on work, and hence on a corporate expense account, and so the dinner expenses would be taken by his employer! So when he pot in his corporate card and insisted on paying, and we protested, he said “next time any of you is in Gurgaon you can return the favour”.

It’s all quite bizarre! The conventions have been completely overturned! All Thanks to corporate expense accounts!


I just spoke to the sponsor of tonight’s drinks and he has confirmed that he sponsored them out of his own goodwill and that our drinks were not sponsored by his employer. The error is regretted

Weak ties and job hunting

As the more perceptive of you would have figured out by now, the wife is in her first year of business school, and looking for an internship. I’m at a life stage where I have friends in most companies she is interested in who are in roles that are at a level where it is possible for them to make a decision to hire her.

Yet, so far I’ve made few recommendations. I’ve made the odd connection but that’s been mostly of the “she is applying to your company and wants to get to know the company better. Can you speak to her about it?” variety. I don’t think there’s a single person to whom I’ve written saying that the wife is in the market for an internship and they should consider hiring her.

I initially thought it was some inherent meanness in me, or lack of desire to help, that prevented me from recommending my wife to potential hirers who I know well. But then a little bit of literature survey pointed out an economic rationale to my behaviour – it is the phenomenon of “weak ties”. Now I was aware of this weak ties research earlier – but I had assumed that it had only referred to the phenomenon where acquaintances are more likely to help than friends because the former’s networks are much more disjoint from yours than the latter’s.

Anyway, in a vain attempt at defence, I hit “weak ties and job hunting” into google, and that led me to this wonderful post on the social capital blog that contained exactly what I was looking for. Here is the money quote:

It turns out, that people generally don’t refer their close friends to jobs for two reasons: 1) they are more worried that it will reflect badly on them if it doesn’t work out; and 2) they are more likely to know of the warts and foibles of their close friends and believe these could interfere with being a good worker (e.g., Jim stays up late to watch sports, or Charles has too much of an attitude, or Jane is too involved with her sick father).  Weak friends one can more easily project good attributes onto and believe this will work out.

So if I were to request you to hire my wife and it doesn’t work out, it can affect the relationship between you and me, so I wouldn’t risk that. When I’m recommending someone very close to me, I’m putting my own reputation on the line and I don’t like that. I’m happy referring cousins or other slightly distant acquaintances because there I have no skin in the game and hopefully some good karma can get created.

Now, while I’m loathe to recommend my wife to people I know well,  I wouldn’t be so hesitant recommending her to people I don’t know that well! For while my tie with my wife is strong, my tie with these people is weak enough that it not working out won’t affect me, and there is little reputational risk also. The problem is when the ties on both sides are strong!



Venture capitalists, diversification and innuendo

Sometime back I was talking to a friend who is a venture capitalist, and pointed out about how one of the companies he has invested in has a great opportunity for diversifying their opportunities (I had a vested interest, for I wanted to get involved in the said diversification). This guy (the VC) wasn’t too pleased, and he said that while an opportunity existed, he wasn’t in favour of the company pursuing this opportunity.

Talking to other friends who are in the VC industry since then, I understand that in general, venture capitalists are loathe to let their portfolio companies diversify. I had never really understood why, until I discovered it for myself when I was writing this post on whether you should go to market with a focussed offering or offer a bouquet of related products. In this post on LinkedIn, I write:

..if you have venture funding, your investors will not want you to expand scope. Venture capitalists are extremely loathsome about their portfolio companies diversifying – for it makes it harder for the VCs to flip the company at a later date (the VCs themselves achieve their diversification through their portfolio, so they don’t need a particular company in the portfolio to diversify).

Bingo! There’s no surprise that VCs hate their portfolios to diversify!

Anyway, while I was editing the above post, I realised that there are some instances where I’ve written stuff that can potentially have double meaning. Since I had written those lines when I was in the flow of writing the post and I wrote them with the best intentions and no puns intended, I let them remain. Here is possibly the best (worst?) of them:

Secondly, expanding after you’ve penetrated is hard on several counts

Read the whole post!

Missing data in IIMB Alumni Directory

Recently, I got a mail from the IIMB Alumni association asking me to contact batchmates who are not part of the association mailing list. The objective of the mail was to ensure that every alumnus is registered with the association and can be reached for whatever purpose. Among other things (including exhorting us to mail our class mailing lists, etc.) the mail contained statistics of the number of students in each graduating batch and the number of students who are not part of the alumni mailing list.

The pattern in the proportion of people not on the mailing list was quite interesting so I thought I’ll share it here:


For the earlier graduating batches, you can see that the proportion not on the mailing list is very high. And then there are two deep drops, one in the mid-nineties and one around the turn of the millennium. The latter I would associate with all students having a valid email ID at the time of graduation which would have allowed them to be reachable and be part of the alumni association. The former also would be associated with penetration of email.

What is also interesting is the bump around 2010 – while the enrolment rate up to the batch of 2009 seems to be pretty good, something seems to have gone wrong after that. The enrolment rate for the batch of 2010 is as bad as that for 2002, which is quite bizarre! Wonder if the alumni association messed up, or if there were some technical glitches around then or if for some particular reason that batch hated IIMB so much that they didn’t register!

All in all, though, a very interesting dataset.

YoY calculations should be based on Hindu calendar

Deepak Shenoy at Capitalmind has an excellent post dissecting the 4.2% drop in the Index of Industrial Production in October. One of the keys to the drop, he says, is that this year both Diwali and Dasara fell in October, and since factories give workers off for these two festivals output falls. He has an informative (but ugly) graph showing this:

I was talking to a retailer recently and he was talking about sales in terms of Indian festivals – like Diwali and Dasara and so on. Retail analytics, we figured, need to take into account things like “Diwali sale”, “Aashada sale” and so on.

So while we have been using the Gregorian calendar for most purposes, it seems like our business cycle still follows the Hindu calendar. From this perspective, issuing statistics based on Gregorian months (such as October YoY IIP) is simply wrong, and has the ability to mislead.

I hereby propose that we go back to our roots and start publishing these YoY statistics on Hindu months. The only problem is we won’t know how to deal with the “adhika maasas”.