Category Archives: arbit

Number thirteen

The number of rats I’ve killed in my life has remained constant at twelve for way too long. One of my biggest sources of embarrassment in recent times has been in 2011 when a rat inhabited our home for a full fortnight without me catching it. I’d even chased it around the house one day but it had proved elusive. Considering that that was my first attempt at killing a rat in Pinky’s presence, after having bragged much to her about my previous twelve kills, it was a major disappointment. It was as if my manhood was in question.
I made up for that today by killing number thirteen. This one was rather timid and easy kill. I’d closed the door between the drawing room and back room of my in-laws’ house but the stupid rodent just kept pushing against the door trying to open it. At that moment my mother in law alerted me (I was on a phone call in another room) and in I came and whacked the rat a few times with a broom. It quickly keeled over and I put it in a polythene bag and threw it out.

image

Of course there was considerable groundwork I’d done before this. I’d procured from the mother-in-law a broom and a long stick. I’d closed all the doors and thus restricted the rat to one closed space. I’d tapped around the entire house with the stick trying to scare the rat. And then I moved away to talk on the phone. Groundwork thus laid I proceeded to whack the rodent.

Pinky may not have seen the kill herself but I was on the phone with her as I whacked the rat. Phone in one hand held to the ear. Broom in another whacking the rat dead. Quite I sight I made I imagine!

And while Pinky did not see this kill directly I did one better – Pinky’s mother was there through the entire process (she did her bit by supplying the whacking implements and sacrificing a sweet to lay bait for the rat and most importantly alerting me when the rodent made its stupid move). I feel so glad. I feel like my life has been resurrected. I can finally rest, having made up fit that spectacular failure of 2011.

The rat is dead. Long live the rat!

The RBI does a Ramanamurthy

This is the second time in a few weeks I’m referring to this scene from Ganeshana Maduve. Please watch it first.

To repeat the story:

Ramanamurthy the owner of the “vaTaara” (a kind of apartment that was popular in Bangalore till the 1980s, with lots of small houses in the same compound) wants to whitewash his house. The residents of the vaTaara  demand that if he whitewashes his house he should whitewash the entire vaTaara. After a long and protracted negotiation, Ramanamurthy agrees to their condition – he doesn’t whitewash his house!

It is a similar story with taxi operators in India. Uber (the Ramanamurthy) figured out a way to bypass RBI’s two factor authentication system and offer seamless payment options for their taxi services. Soon other taxi operators like TaxiForSure and Ola started crying foul saying they too wanted their houses painted, i.e. they too wanted to locate payment servers abroad to accept one factor authentication credit cards.

And now RBI, like the rent controller ubiquitous (in mention only) in movies of the late 80s has stepped in and stopped Ramanamurthy from painting his house, too – they’ve barred Uber from charging in US dollars for Indian rides. It would be interesting to see how the market will develop now.

My personal opinion is that RBI’s insistence on two factor authentication is half-assed. They should make every effort possible to increase the number of credit card (or account-to-account) transactions. On one hand it decreases flow of black money but more importantly it means that people will keep more cash within the banking system (rather than as hard cash) which will have a multiplier effect on money available for lending and all that.

It’s fine to have regulations in place such that credit card fraud is minimized but that doesn’t mean cutting credit card transactions altogether! Hopefully the RBI will see the light of day on this one soon.

Alcohol and Shit

I started drinking when I was 21, after I had graduated from IIT. To most, that might sound surprising, but it’s a fact. It wasn’t supposed to be that way – I had initially planned to make my alcohol debut in my last week at IIT, just before the final exams. However, I ended up falling sick and missed the occasion. It would be another two months and entry into another institute of national importance before I finally broke my duck.

There are several reasons that could possibly explain my delay in experimentation with alcohol (you read that right – despite ample opportunity I never even considered experimenting with alcohol at IIT). But thinking back at those days the most compelling one is shit. Yeah, you read that right. I delayed my experimentation with alcohol because I was afraid of what shit it would lead to. Literally.

In the middle of my first night at IIT, I ended up in hospital. Yes, you read that right. The first day had gone alright. My father had accompanied me and helped me set up my third of the room. I had opened a bank account, registered myself at the mess, and after my father left in the evening, went about exploring campus and venturing into other hostels to meet people I know (a cardinal mistake by an IIT “freshie” but somehow I escaped getting caught).

And then in the middle of the night it started. A few trips to the loo later I figured it was time to seek help (it’s not that I wasn’t prepared – my belongings included a sheet of Andial – reputed to put an instant stop to the toughest of shit. But I ended up puking it out that day). I woke up Paddy the Pradeep, who was the only person in my hostel I knew well. He called the institute hospital, which sent an ambulance, and I spent the rest of the night in the hospital, with some shots and on drips. The next morning I was fit enough to be attending the orientation ceremony.

As if this wasn’t enough, shit problems struck again a month down the line, this time during the first round of exams. To make matters worse, the hostel had water problems (always an issue in Chennai). And the institute hospital’s medications wouldn’t seem to help. It was a nightmare.

It was around then that my classmates had settled down in the institute and started experimenting in life. As they began their experimentation I began to notice, and be told stories of, some side effects. If you drank too much you would puke. If you drank too much, the next morning you would have a hangover. And it was only after you shat that the hangover would pass, i was told. It all sounded like so much of a nightmare to me, who was already scarred about any potential stomach problems. There was no way I was going to try something that would give me more shit.

It was after I moved to an institute with reasonably assured water supply that I started my experimentation. Experiments were mostly successful (except for occasional infringements like this and this and this ). Shit wasn’t so much of a problem at all, I realized. The experimentation, though delayed, had ultimately been successful.

It’s of late – perhaps in the last one year – that I’ve noticed a peculiar problem. Whenever I have a few rounds (few can be as few as one) of Vodka or Beer, it results in terrible shit the following day. You get the normal dump right in the morning. But the real bad shit comes out in two installments, usually one after breakfast and one after lunch. It’s really foul-smelling (normally you shouldn’t mind the smell of your own shit or fart, but this is exceptionally bad). It causes great pressure (which means you better stay not far from a toilet). And when it comes out it results in insane pleasure.

One interesting thing is that this happens only when i consume beer or vodka. It never happens with whisky (the kind of alcohol I most often imbibe) – not even with cheap IMFL whisky. With whisky I can drink copious amounts, get drunk, and carry on the next morning like I had fruit juice the previous night. But not with beer or vodka – does anyone have an explanation for this?

You might have guessed that the gritter for this post was certain events last night and this morning. That’s right. At a party last night I didn’t realize that they were serving whisky, too, and went for beer (UB Export Strong – also known as “Yaake Cool Drink”). Having started I had more rounds of it. And after breakfast this morning it’s started acting! If only I’d gone for the whisky!

SPinky

My cousin has coined the word “spinky” – a portmanteau of Spain (where the wife now lives) and Pinky (the wife’s primary nickname). Actually I’m not sure if it’s my cousin or her three year old son who coined the word but it sounds cool.

And considering that spinky anagramizes to skimpy when written in Kannada I think it’s rather cool. I don’t know why but I’m suddenly reminded of our engagement cake where we’d got “skimpy weds pinky” or some such thing inscribed. I have no clue why I got that written (I admit it was my choice) but I had to take uncomfortable questions from relatives as to why I’m named skimpy (pinky was coined by her parents and can be considered to be a natural diminutive of Priyanka so that’s more explainable).

One side effect of that inscription on the engagement cake is that all my friends know the wife as “pinky”. So this conversation actually happened last month.

Me: so Priyanka was saying ..
He: who’s Priyanka?
Me: my wife
He: oh you mean pinky?

And considering that pinky doesnt particularly like to go by “pinky” (she prefers the other diminutive Pri, which was coined by some friends) she’s going to great lengths to get her friends in Spain to call her Pri.

But spinky sounds so cool it’ll be a travesty if it doesn’t catch on. So if you’re in barcelona now and are part of Pinkys regular play group please make sure you call her pinky and don’t let her get away with being called Pri. For pinky is so much cooler you know. And spinky is even cooler!

Spain + Pinky = SPinky, wife of SKimpy.

Bachelor notes: day zero

I’m writing this having just dropped the wife at the airport. I’m taking the bus back home. While it helps that this bus goes 200m from my house and i saw it leave just when I was ready to leave the airport, I realize that with the wife not at home there’s no incentive for me to get home asap. A little delay doesn’t hurt!

And to think that the last time I took the airport bus home was one week shy of five years ago, which was a month before I first met the lady who is now the wife!!

While I’m at it I’m suddenly reminded of the time eleven years ago, when I was at IIT and decided I wanted to “slow down the pace of life”! And my way of achieving that was by selling my cycle!

Something tells me I’ve written about this recently on the blog but I’m on the mobile and hence too lazy to check right now!!

Ramanamurthy, barbells and the bimodal distribution

One of my favourite movies (perhaps my favourite movie) is this 1990 Kannada movie called Ganeshana Maduve (Ganesha’s marriage). It takes off on the 1940 James Stewart starrer The Shop around the corner - ok the story of the movie doesn’t matter here so I’ll stop this digression.

One of the pivotal scenes in the movie is where Ramanamurthy the owner of the “vaTaara” (a kind of apartment that was popular in Bangalore till the 1980s, with lots of small houses in the same compound) wants to whitewash his house. The residents of the vaTaara  demand that if he whitewashes his house he should whitewash the entire vaTaara. After a long and protracted negotiation, Ramanamurthy agrees to their condition – he doesn’t whitewash his house! This negotiation can be seen in this landmark scene from the movie:

In one of his books (perhaps “The Black Swan”) Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about what he calls the “barbell distribution” for investing. Most of your money, say around 80-90%, he says, should be invested in risk-free securities such as government bonds. The rest, he recommends, should be invested in extremely high risk high return investments – like venture capital or far out of the money options. This kind of investing strategy, he says, produces superior long-term returns than the conventional investing model.

Both the “Ramanamurthy principle” (as I call it, starting with this blog post) and the barbell distribution are instances of “bimodal distributions”. You can also think of bimodal distributions as being a strategy.

To refresh your statistical knowledge, a bimodal distribution is one that has two “modes”. The histogram of this distribution looks something like this (now you might get why Taleb, a self-confessed body builder, likens this to the barbell):

Based on this distribution one can craft a “bimodal strategy” for life – including investing. You either take extremely low risk or extremely high risk – nothing in between. You completely stop taking sugar in your coffee but have the occasional dessert. You either paint the entire building or don’t paint the building at all (like Ramanamurthy). Stripping off all the technical content, this strategy can simply be described as “don’t do things in half measures” or “not spreading oneself too thin”.

Of late I’ve found this kind of a strategy rather useful in my work and other life. One example is the sugar distribution – a little sugar in every cup of coffee doesn’t particularly give much pleasure but adds on to my blood sugar content. The occasional dessert (after having eschewed sugars entirely), on the other hand, can lead to insane pleasure.

Then there is the fitness regime that I’m trying to follow. The classic gym routine is to do a lot of warm up, and then some weights, generally exercising just one muscle set, and this is to be done every day, for over an hour a day. The routine I’m trying to follow dispenses with these warmups and light weights and focuses on lifting a few repetitions of very heavy weights, three times a week.

These are only a few examples of where this kind of a strategy can prove useful. Maybe you should think of where this might be applicable – and it is likely that it will work better than your little bit of everything model!

Twisting and shouting

Ten years ago to the day, there was tragedy. Around this time I was home. That day I remember my father’s usual Ambassador (his office car) wasn’t available, so he had come in a blue WagonR which looked like anything but a government car. Not that I could see too well, though.

Back in 2004, spectacle lenses made of plastic weren’t yet popular, and even if they were available they were quite expensive. I remember having a shell frame back then (like I do now, except that that one was an ugly-ish brown). The lens was made of glass – the kind that could shatter on impact and enter your eyes.

And shatter and enter it did. I had instinctively closed my eyes, so not much had gone in, though. My first reaction at that point in time was to remember the phone number of my usual opthalmologist (yes I still remember things like that). I even remember calling that guy’s office (yeah, back on those Nokia phones you could type without looking). Friends, however, were of the opinion that I should go to the nearest eye clinic. And Shekar Netralaya (JP Nagar 3rd Phase) was where we ended up.

It was among the freaker of freak accidents. I was playing badminton. <lj user=”amitng”> and I were on one side, two others on the other. We were both close to the baseline when the opponents sent the shuttle high. Both of us went for it, <lj user=”amitng”> slightly ahead and slightly to the left of me. Both of us drew our rackets back with a slight backswing. And that was it.

His racket caught me flush on the left spectacle lens. The lens duly cracked, and parts of it entered my eye. I remember that the game immediately stopped. I remember that one other guy’s car was right there outside the court, so we could go quickly to the hospital. And back in those days there wasn’t even a signal at the Delmia junction, so the U-turn was taken fast so that I could go to hospital.

I don’t remember what they did at the hospital. I think they cleaned up my eye, but one or two pieces remained particularly troublesome. I remember going for a follow-up test two days later. And I remember that one day after the accident I went all the way back to IIMB (after the accident I went home, in my father’s temporary blue WagonR) so that I wouldn’t miss accounting class (yes I was in my first semester so such youthful enthusiasm can be expected). And went back again the following day to write a test which I nearly aced.

And then there was the back story. 2004 was the first time that the IIMs decided to make public the CAT percentile. They had used an algorithm to allocate percentiles, and allocated it up to two decimal places. So if your “percentile” (with decimal places the term doesn’t make sense) was greater than 99.995 (i.e. you were in the top 0.005% of the 130,000 odd people who wrote the exam), your percentile would get rounded up to give a weird-sounding “100.00 percentile”. Top 0.005% of 130,000 means about six or seven people. Two of those were at IIMB. I was one of them. <lj user=”amitng”> was the other.

During our inauguration the certificates for the “directors merit list” of the senior batch were handed out. It was possibly meant to tell us how important being in the top 10 of the batch was, and I’m sure it did inspire a lot of people. And having been the top performers in the entrance test, people perhaps considered <lj user=”amitng”> and I top seeds (neither of us ended up getting it, though he got considerably closer than I did).

And so when I got injured before our first ever unit test and he was in some ways culpable for it (though in fairness it was on the field of play), there was scope for conspiracy theory. And when you have a bunch of creative youngsters and scope for a conspiracy theory, you can well expect someone to stand up and do the honours. And @realslimcody rose to the occasion. And Twisted Shout was born.

The name of the organization has its own story. @realslimcody is a Beatles fan, and he suggested that he name the yellow journalist enterprise as “twist and shout”. Madness heard it as “Twisted Shout” and the name stuck. A couple of episodes later I duly joined Twisted Shout. And we did a lot of twisting and shouting and yellow journalism. If you were our contemporary and not slandered by Twisted Shout you might consider your stint at IIMB of not being worthy enough!

Of course in a place like IIMB, you don’t do something just for the heck of it. Everything has to result in a “bullet point” in your CV (back in 2005 I’d planned to write a book called “In Search of a Bullet Point” about IIMB, but that again didn’t take off. I put NED, I guess). I think I wrote in my final resume that I was a “co-editor in the campus informal journal Twisted Shout”. I think the placement committee (which whetter all CVs) let that one remain (bless them). And as with all such campus endeavours TS quickly died after we graduated (though I tried to resurrect it in a separate blog on this site, it didn’t take off).

It’s ten years since that landmark incident that sparked the birth of Twist and Shout. I must mention my eye is fine – fine enough for me to wear contact lenses as I type this. There’s a scar inside my eye, though, and that’s something I’ll carry all my life. But it doesn’t affect life one bit, and life goes on!

Oh, I wasn’t right on that one – after the injury the doctor had told me that I shouldn’t let sweat enter my eyes. Two months after the injury I managed to get myself a red bandana (with skull and crossbones on it), and I ended up wearing it at all “sweatable opportunities” – when I played or partied. The bandana got legendary in its own way, and its story shall be told another day (or perhaps it’s already been told somewhere on this blog).

 

Correlated judgment

When you judge people about something, you do not normally judge them on that thing alone. You also judge them on “correlated traits”. For example, there is this popular adage (that was popular when I was in IIT) that goes “beauty times brains equals constant”. This implies that anyone who is above average in terms of looks is likely to be below average in terms of mental capabilities. Whether such a correlation exists is not known, but by instinct if we someone beautiful, we assume that the person is not great in terms of mental ability (in my later years at IIT, we recognized this limitation of the model and proposed “beauty times brains times availability equals constant”, acknowledging that beautiful intelligent people exist, but are most likely taken).

There is no end to such correlations, which usually make rounds around college campuses. For example, there is the “he is the partying types, so is unlikely to be a good worker”. Now, while it is true that the amount of time available to most people is constant, and that heavy partying can come at the cost of working, such an adage discounts the fact that some people could simply be better time managers, or don’t care much for some axis apart from partying and working (sleeping, for example!), which allows them to be good at two things that people are normally not good at!

It is common for people to judge people. However, thanks to implicit correlations of traits that are built into people’s minds, when you get judged on one thing, that is not the only thing you are judged on – you are also judged on the things that are correlated with that!

Time for more examples. Once my parents saw a friend of mine very evidently flirting with a girl. They immediately judged him as being “a flirt” and branded him thus. While judgmental, there is no mistake in that judgment – he was indeed a flirt, and would gladly admit to it. But then my parents, using their inbuilt correlation filters, went one step ahead. “He is such a flirt”, they told me, “We don’t think he is a good person. You should not hang out with him any more”!!

Back in 2005, in IIMB, I had stood for elections to the Academic Council. At a party a week before the elections I happened to get wasted, and ended up talking to people inappropriately. The next morning, as I’m trying to get over my hangover, I heard “dude, how could you get wasted if you are standing for elections?” I have no clue how getting wasted at one party would make me a bad Academic Councillor! I must mention I lost the elections.

It was at a discussion yesterday with Bharati and my wife Priyanka that this topic of correlated judgment came up, when we were discussing how life in a business school can be unforgiving. A few minutes later, Priyanka popped up “that baby was so cute, I expected him to be dumb!”

 

Beer numbers

I’ve always wondered why the craft beer at Arbor, a popular microbrewery in Bangalore, is so potent. While I was losing it on one such last night, I made a small calculation (rather simple) which gave me the answer.

The standard serving size at Arbor is 500 ml. The strength of the beers varies from 5.5% alcohol content to 8% alcohol content. While making this calculation last night, I was sipping the one with 8%. 8% of 500 ml is 40 ml, which means that I had 40ml of unadulterated ethanol (combined with 460 ml of other stuff).

Most standard whiskies and hard liquor have 40% alcohol content. So if I were drinking whisky rather than beer (i usually drink whisky and not beer), that one glass of beer was “worth” 100 ml of whisky!

And what about the “regular” beer that I have, which is a 330ml bottle of Kingfisher Premium? That has 6% alcohol content, or 20 ml of alcohol in a beer, which equates to 50 ml of whisky, which is less than one large peg of whisky! To put it another way, one standard unit of beer at Arbor contains about twice the amount of ethanol as one standard unit of bottled beer!

And then it is manufactured right there – because it is a “microbrewery” it is unlikely for each batch to have the precise amount of alcohol. There will be a margin of error. And I’ve been told (verbally, through the grapevine, so this is not official information) that they err on the side of more alcohol – so when the stated alcohol content in something is 8%, they prepare their setup so that the chances of alcohol content being lower than 8% is extremely low. Put that together with the above calculation and you’ll understand why you get so drunk at Arbor!

Tailpiece

Indian Pale Ale is the “beer of beers”. Beer itself is famously an “acquired taste” – I remember being so disgusted when I had my first beer back in 2004 that I didn’t have another beer for another year. Now I’m quite used to the taste of Kingfisher.

But then the taste of IPA is even more “acquired” than that of bottled beer. I had some trouble finishing the IPA I ordered yesterday – what helped me finish it was perhaps the alcohol content which was already working! On a previous occasion I’ve ordered an IPA and only half-finished it. But then fans of IPA swear by it and go all the way to Arbor specifically for its IPA! So it is the “beer of beer”, or perhaps “beerendra beer” (Bikram Shah Dev).

Tailpiece 2

I was there as a part of a really large gathering (some 25 people), with people entering and exiting at random times, so they instituted a good measure to ensure we paid fairly. Every time someone ordered something, the drink would come along with the bill, which the orderer would clear right there.

This way there was no scope for messy calculations on who owed whom how much and all that, and no need for any bill-splitting algorithms!

 

Upside and downside of bankruptcy

I sometimes think of my mobile phone going out of charge as being similar to filing bankruptcy – if the phone is at 1% battery, the loss is “linear” – all I need to do is to plug it back in and once it’s charged again it’ll function as it used to. There is no “non-linear” loss.

Phone going from 1% to 0% changes that, though. Now, even if you were to plug in the phone as soon as it has gone to 0%, you cannot switch it on till it gets back to some level of battery (that’s the case with my current and earlier androids. Not sure about other phones). Thus, you have a non-linear extra cost because you let the phone hit 0%.

It is similar to bankruptcy in that once you file for bankruptcy you are suddenly piled on with additional paperwork and costs and even if you were to “get charged up”, there will be additional costs that you will have to bear that you wouldn’t have to had you managed to find a plug (funding) when you were close to blackout (bankruptcy) but not yet there! This is the downside of bankruptcy – it imposes non linear costs.

But then there is an upside also – maybe this is a different kind of bankruptcy, but this is one that has upside. Maybe the bankruptcy that I’m going to talk about now is what is called as “Chapter 11″ in the US while what I described earlier is like “Chapter 7″ (do you know that US bankruptcy law is inspired by the Mahabharata? In the great Mahabharata war, the two sides had 7 and 11 regiments respectively. And since it was a disastrous war, the numbers 7 and 11 were picked up by the US bankruptcy lawmakers to name their different kinds of bankruptcy).

So there are times when I have a lot of things to do. I would have bitten off more than I could chew. And I find that I have so many things to do that just thinking about all the things I have to do in that limited time mess up my mind and not allow me to do any of them. It is at such points in time that I sometimes “declare bankruptcy” – declare that I’m not going to do any of the things that I’m supposed to do.

Now, the pressure is off. Since I’ve decided I don’t want to do anything, whatever I do after that is a bonus. Now I can take up these tasks one by one and do more than what I would have had I not decided to declare bankruptcy. There is some downside of course – some tasks might remain incomplete, but importantly more gets done than if I’d declared bankruptcy!

This is the good side of bankruptcy!