The Ambareesh Principle and First Come First Served Nature of Calendars

The story goes (this is third hand information, so take it with adequate amount of salt) that a few years ago a bunch of people went to actor (and now Minister) MH Ambareesh’s house asking him to be a chief guest at a function they were going to organise three months hence. Ambareesh, it is said, gave them a funny look, saying it was impossible for him to commit to something so far away. He asked them to get back to him ten days before the event.

Based on this (possibly apocryphal) story, I christen this the “Ambareesh Principle” – when someone invites you for an event or meeting that is way too far away for you to plan, you refuse to commit and ask them to come back to you a reasonable number of days before the event. (Perhaps Ambareesh might not like his name being attached to this principle, but since he is a public figure, I’m entitled to use his name).

The problem with calendars (of the variety we use on our computers, like iCal or Outlook) is that they operate on a “First Come First Served” basis. The way calendars are designed, you need to decide whether you are going to attend an event or not in an “online” fashion – without knowing what other event might come up at the same time. This can at times lead to suboptimal decisions, and unsavoury cancellations, for you have to go back on your commitments when something more interesting comes along.

Because of the FCFS nature of our calendars, you have people (the usually busy types – CEOs and suchtypes) who have their calendars blocked for ages together, and in order to get an appointment with them, you have to take one a long time in the future. And with such appointments you never know if you might get pre-empted by something else “more pressing” that might come along in the meantime. Leading to lower efficiency all round.

The question is if we can redesign the calendar, and the “blocking time” system in order to make it more efficient, and make it compatible with the “Ambareesh principle”. Is there a way that we can respond to far-flung meeting requests with “too far to take appointments. Ping me <= X days in advance”, or set some kind of a auto reply to our calendar systems to send the above message for meeting requests sent too early?

And what is going to happen when CEOs and other such “important people” decide to implement such a scheme where they don’t take meeting requests more than N days in advance? Maybe we should get Ambareesh to answer! :)

More on NPS

Chitra Rao, principal of NPS HSR Layout has spoken to Bangalore Mirror regarding the case of the student who committed suicide recently after being suspended by the school. It’s a good interview and Rao makes some important points, but there are a couple of things about the report that I found funny.

The first thing might sound funny because only Rao’s responses have been published and not the questions she was asked. Nevertheless, in the interests of humour I’ll give the benefit of doubt to Bangalore Mirror and assume that the only question they asked were those that have been reported. So Rao says:

All I can say is I handled the issue with compassion. The tone was always gentle and never derogatory. I never intended to humiliate. I also want to state that NPS is not a pressure cooker and we have a host of activities for the holistic development of the child

The second sentence here is key. From the article it doesn’t appear that Bangalore Mirror asked her a question about the pressure at NPS, but she made it a point to mention that. That she has made it a point to mention that “NPS is not a pressure cooker” without any prompting is telling, in my opinion.

Then later on in the piece (it’s a fairly long one), the piece reports a letter that Bindu Hari, director of NPS, sent to parents of students. The piece says:

The letter also added that the school’s policy on discipline and pastoral care emphasises behaviour modification through guidance and counselling. It was a step-wise and sequenced process keeping intact student dignity.

I’m quite intrigued by the use of the word “pastoral” here. For when I see the word “pastoral”, the first thing I think about is sheep. And if the school’s official letter claims that they offer “pastoral care”, then it all starts making sense!

Depression and TARP

When the US Treasury initiated the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ collapse, they imposed one condition on banks – banks were forced to borrow money under the scheme irrespective of how they were doing. So you had banks that weren’t doing badly such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan taking TARP money, and getting flak for giving fat bonuses (“from TARP money”, as the press claimed) to their employees who had helped them survive the crisis.

The reason even well-to-do banks were forced to take money under TARP was for the signalling effect. If only banks that really needed the money were to take money from TARP, then banks who really needed the money would be loathe to take it, for it would them mark them out as being ‘in trouble’. By making the well-to-do banks take money under TARP, this stigma of borrowing under TARP was removed, and the American banking system was “saved”.

The reason I got reminded of this was this piece on actor Anupam Kher coming out with his depression. This is on the back of actor Deepika Padukone coming out with her depression, which was reported yesterday. From the article on Kher’s “coming out”:

Kher says what Padukone had done is a very brave and wise thing to do. “People look up to her. When they know that she is consulting a therapist, they will understand there is no problem in getting help, and it is an okay thing to do,” he says.

 

The thing with depression is that it affects people from all over the spectrum – some of them are wildly successful despite their depression, like Kher or Padukone, while depression ruins some others. And then there are others who are ravaged by depression, and lead mostly “middling” lives.

Depression is an illness to which much stigma is attached. Especially in India, if you are consulting a therapist, or taking psychiatric drugs, people assume something is “wrong” with you, and discriminate against you. This gives people with depression a strong incentive to hide their illness, and appear to the world as if they’re fine.

The consequence is that people end up not seeking help even when it is prudent for them to seek help, and this leads to their depression possibly consuming them, sometimes even leading to fatal consequences.

In this context, when you have people who have had successful careers despite being ravaged by depression “coming out”, it makes depression a little more “normal”. On the margin, it can lead to the depressed person seeking help, and potentially getting better, rather than letting depression continue to waste them. Thus, successful depressed people owning up to depression makes it easier for less successful people (who might be worried about the stigma attached to mental illness) to come out with their condition and seek help.

In that sense, “coming out” with depression is similar to banks that were not in trouble taking TARP funds! Oh, and while on that topic, here is my “coming out essay”, from almost three years back.

Grassroots of middle fingers

Note: This post is being written immediately after a trip to Kolkata, where I was greeted by the photo of Mamta Banerjee pretty much everywhere in the city. When I first saw those photos on Thursday night, I thought I’ll liken them to the photos and cutouts of Mahinda Rajapaksa that I saw all over Colombo on my visits there in 2010 and 2014, but then yesterday’s election result perhaps makes that comparison moot. 

There is a special relationship between Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the middle finger. First, almost a decade back, quizmaster Derek O’Brien, who is now a Rajya Sabha member and a spokesperson for the Trinamool congress, held up his middle finger in the middle of Landmark Quiz, Bangalore, in response to some negative feedback from bloggers following his handling of the same quiz in Chennai earlier that year.

Now, another spokesperson of the same party, Mohua Moitra, has shown that she is not one to be left behind. On Arnab Goswami’s Newshour show last week, she held up her middle finger. And I must say that this is one level better than Derek, for while Derek used his middle finger on a bunch of hapless unsuspecting quizzers, Mohua used hers on Arnab, the greater news anchor of them all, and on prime time television.

Considering that the Trinamool Congress is a breakaway of the Indian National Congress (the name gives it away), it is appropriate that the party chooses an election symbol that reflects that it was one part of the INC’s “Hand”. Considering its spokespeople’s fondness of display of this body part, may I humbly suggest that the Trinamool Congress adopt the “middle finger” as its party symbol? The flower-and-grass symbol the party currently uses seems too tame for it!

 

Perpetual giving up is the truth of life

That’s my biggest takeaway from my trip to Calcutta, which is where I’m writing this blog post, sitting in back of a car. On my way back to the airport having delivered a lecture on “the role of data and scientific temper in democracy” at the “management centre for human values” at IIM Calcutta.

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Talk went off okay. I’d assumed an audience of mostly MBA students but turned out there were mostly professors and grad students. It’s possible that my lecture was a bit too laddoo.

This was my second time in the city, and I was here after a gap of nine years. Both trips were rushed. Both trips were to IIM. In fact on both trips my point of business was the same hall!

This time I was put up at the campus guest house. It’s a rather ancient building but well maintained. The staff were also extremely nice – like for example when I got there at 10pm last night they had saved dinner for me though the dining hall had closed. And this morning I was woken up by the loud ringing of my room doorbell and presented with a flask of easily the best tea I’ve had in a very very long time.

The city is a bit surreal though. Both on my way to IIM last night and on my way back to the airport today the roads have been funny. You travel on wide roads for a while and then it suddenly gets narrow. The next moment the driver has sneaked into some tiny residential gully!! And at times the road is extremely wide. So wide that the shops are all very far away.

On my way back to the airport now I realised that it helps knowing people from the city you’re visiting. I messaged Manasi asking for places I can get good sweets. She called and spoke to the driver and he takes me to this little sweet shop near the rather hilariously named “mahanayak Uttam kumar” metro station. There was no pace to park so I hurriedly gorged down radhaballabi, jaggery chum chum and jaggery Sandesh. All very good stuff.

I need to make another trip to this city sometime. If only for the sweets and snacks and tea! And for perpetually giving up in life.

Why Bharadwajs are so numerous

This morning I was at the faculty lounge at IIMB, drinking coffee and conversing with a few professors. Soon, the discussion moved to Bharadwaj gotra and related stuff. And something a professor (who is a Bharadwaj) said explained very well as to why the gotra is so prolific.

So he said that the Bharadwaj ashram was quite well known in its ancient times for the quality of its food. Another professor related an anecdote about how Rama, on his flight back from Lanka made a detour to eat at the Bharadwaj ashram, even as his subjects back in Ayodhya were waiting fervently for him. Food at the Bharadwaj ashram was so good, he said.

Now there are two ways in which this explains why Bharadwajs are so numerous. Firstly, the quality of the food in the ashram meant that Bharadwaj’s children and grandchildren and other descendants were all very well fed. Now, considering that these were times much before the industrial revolution and there was generally a shortage of food, this meant that infant and child mortality rates were generally high. But not in the Bharadwaj ashram, thanks to the food there!

So that meant that the Bharadwajs grew up fitter and healthier than descendants of other rishis, and thus lived longer and were able to procreate more. The bullwhip effect caused due to enhanced longevity and fitness of the early Bharadwajs has resulted in the proliferation of Bharadwajs today.

The other explanation is that the superior quality of food at the Bharadwaj ashram attracted more people into the ashram, and these people would yearn to become part of the “family” (I’ll spare you the gory details here). That meant that Bharadwaj and his immediate male descendants had much more access to furthering their lineage compared to competing gotras. And hence you have so many Bharadwajs today.

In fact we might have had several more Bharadwajs but for the fact that the gotra system is designed such that no one gotra ever gets to big. That two people from the same gotra are not allowed to marry each other naturally keeps the size of a particular gotra in check.

Let’s say for example that more than half the Brahmins were Bharadwajs. Considering that a Bharadwaj can only marry a non-Bharadwaj, that would leave a number of Bharadwajs being unable to marry, which means that the number of Bharadwajs in the next generation would be lower!

It is interesting, though, that everything can be explained through food!

NED Video

So after looking at the videos of the first NED Talks which I had rather badly shot, I put NED for putting them together and uploading. That’s where the wife came to the rescue, as always. She scraped and collected bits and pieces of people’s talks which weren’t all that bad, and has put together this montage.

So presenting, the videos of the first ever NED Talks, held at our residence on Friday.

Next time we will get volunteers so that the videos are recorded better and we hope to upload complete individual talks!