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

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”.

Getting along with popular people

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now but it all came together a while back. The basic funda is that I find it extremely hard to hang out with people who are generally popular and who everyone wants to hang out with. On the other hand, I find it significantly easier to hang out with other people who generally most people consider as being “arrogant” and hard to hang out with.

I wonder if it is connected with what Christian Rudder writes in Dataclysm on people who have been rated a few 5s and a few 1s being more likely to find a partner than one who is rated a consistent 3 (holding average rating constant). Basically if there is someone who is generally popular, they are something like a consistent 5, and they are perhaps generally popular because they exhibit the kind of behaviour or attributes that most people like. Effectively they cater to what I can uncharitably call the lowest common denominator of popularity among people, and that generally means they spend most of their effort catering to that (being “generally nice” and all such) that there is very little idiosyncrasy that they can offer which makes them interesting!

And with time the fact that they are popular affects them, and they expect that everyone like them to the same (high) extent as everyone else! And when you start asking yourself what the big deal about them is, and start wondering why they’re so popular, there is a “respect mismatch” – the respect you are willing to offer them doesn’t match up to the respect they expect (thanks to being generally popular), and you can’t hang out for long.

With people who are generally not particularly popular and branded as “arrogant” by most people, firstly there is no expectation of respect as they generally know that they are not particularly popular. Secondly, the fact that makes them arrogant also makes them interesting to people who are interested along that axis. The fact that they are not generally popular means that there is an idiosyncrasy about them, and if you happen to like that you can get along very well with them!

Of course, I admit to selection bias here. There definitely exist people who are generally classified as “arrogant” who I also find arrogant and don’t hang out with. But there exist a lot of people who are generally classified as “arrogant” who I get along quite well with!

Going back to Rudder’s ratings, I’m likely to rate people who are generally considered “arrogant” either a 1 or a 5 – the idiosyncrasy sends them to either extreme. Thus there are a few of them who I love hanging out with irrespective of what the world has to say about them. As for the popular guys, I’m very likely to rate them a 3 – basically unspectacular, and going by Rudder’s theory, “meh”. And since they expect the general counterparty to rate them higher than that, there’s a mismatch when I meet them and things fall apart.

Makes sense? What has your experience been of people in relation to how other people rate them?

Customised Google Doodle

I’m very impressed with Google for having customised a Doodle for my birthday. I’m always logged in to Chrome, and I’ve told Google Plus when my birthday is, so it’s rather trivial to do this. However, that they have done this is rather impressive, and I’m happy with them.

Customised Google Doodle

I’m also happy with most financial institutions I have a relationship with, for since morning my mailbox has been flooded with messages from all these institutions wishing me a happy birthday. I don’t know what information other e-commerce sites have about be, but not many of them have bothered to wish me so far  (not that I’m complaining). The only exception is FabFurnish (which is bizarre since I’ve never bought from them) which has not only wished me but also sent me a discount code!

This whole business of Customer Relationship Management is bizarre, I tell you!

Communists and Chintamani

My grandmother Narasamma, who was my last surviving ancestor before she passed away earlier this year, used to make roasted red peanuts. I don’t know the exact process for making them but it basically consists of applying a mix of salt and chilli powder to peanuts and roasting them (or the other way). If there is one thing I’m unlikely to forget about this grandmother, it’s the red roasted peanuts she would make.

I had never eaten these peanuts until when I was about eight years old when this grandmother moved in with us. I can’t really say that I ever got along particularly well with her, but these peanuts more than made up for all of that. Interestingly it was after she moved out a few years later that the supplies of these peanuts started going up. Anyway, in due course of time I had come up with the phrase “ajji kaDlekai” (grandmother’s peanuts) to refer to these peanuts.

Source: Flickr

As she grew older the supplies of these peanuts started drying up and I had to look for other sources. I soon settled upon Srinivasa Condiment Stores (more popularly known as “Subbamma stores”) in Gandhi Bazaar for my supplies. On my first few visits I would just point at it and be told a price and would buy without bothering what the name was. It was less than a decade ago that I discovered that these “ajji kaDlekai” actually had a name.

It was at Subbamma stores that I once went to procure such peanuts and couldn’t find them on display. I asked the shopkeeper if he had “red peanuts” (kemp kaDlekai) and he shouted to his associate deep into the store “one communist!”. It was then that I realised that the popular name of these red peanuts is “communist”.

The etymology is not hard to guess – the yellow “split” peanuts are called Congress (thanks to the congress split around 1970), and they wanted to come up with a political name for other varieties of peanuts also. Thus, being red in colour these peanuts came to be called “communist” (some disambiguation was required here – for there is another variety of red peanuts which are fried rather than roasted. They’ve been named “Oil King”). I don’t know how popular the name is but in Subbamma stores at least these peanuts are called “Communist”. Similar peanuts roasted with green masala are called “green revolution” (unlikely the name ever caught on! ).

When I moved to North Bangalore two years back I no longer had access to Subbamma Stores for my Communist fix. And I had to find stores close to my home there that would supply it. It was hard enough to find so I cultivated several sources (somehow Communist is not as popular as Congress in condiment stores – perhaps reflecting political parallels). Sometimes it would be from Ganesh Condiments in Rajajinagar first block. On other occasions it was the Iyengar’s bakery at the end of my road (but he never got the difference between communist and oil king and so I stopped buying from him). And sometimes as far away as the Ace Iyengar store in Malleswaram.

There was one thing common to the communists procured from these sources though – the label. Each of them were manufactured by a different small scale industry named after a different god. But the place of manufacture was the same – Chintamani town in Chickballapur district. It was after I had seen similar labels several times that it all started coming together.

I remembered that my father was born in Chintamani, which means that Chintamani is my grandmother’s hometown (given how births were conducted back in the 1950s one could infer this). And this explained how she had picked up this skill for making these Communist peanuts – something most of my other relatives (none of whom were from Chintamani) lacked.

I was reminded of all this a while back when I was eating Communists, procured from Gayathri Stores in Jayanagar 4th block (incidentally run by actor Kashinath’s brother). This one came without a label, and when I had asked the shopkeeper (Kashinath’s brother) for the source, he had replied “naave maaDstivi” (we get them made). Maybe the communists I had for a snack a while back weren’t made in Chintamani, but they were crisp and perfectly spiced!

The communists have moved beyond Chintamani!

Why Petromax is Repugnant

Every time I talk about the concept of “Petromax”, people give me looks as if I’m from some other planet. Sometimes they shudder. Sometimes they think I’m uncouth. While I believe that the “problem” is just that I say things like they are (rather than couching them in niceties), given that everyone reacts in a negative way when I talk about Petromaxes implies that there’s something repugnant to it. And I think I’ve found the answer – the answer lies in Option Theory.

First of all, a recap on what petromax is all about. The concept was invented by Anant Nag in Golmaal Radhakrishna back in 1990. It goes “the wife is like the lamp you light in front of God. When the wife is not at home, the house plunges into darkness, and that’s when you need a petromax”. Those of you who understand Kannada might want to watch this youtube video from the movie:

Now that the definition is out of the way, let’s come to why the concept is repugnant. It is repugnant because being a petromax is like writing an option. And in the relationship business, nobody likes being a writer of options – it makes them look “cheap” and desperate. Let me explain.

I live in Bangalore. My wife lives abroad. So I’m in a long-distance marriage and going by the Petromax theory my house is “filled with darkness”. And the theory posits that I need a Petromax. Let’s say that you are interested in filling this gap and being “my Petromax”. So far so good. Where is the problem?

The problem happens when my wife comes home, and “fills it with light”. Remember that I’m still married to her, and deeply in love with her, and that I only took you on as a petromax. So for the duration when she is here, I don’t need you any more, and don’t bother about you! So in effect, I have an option of “being with you” whenever I want, while you don’t have the same option (unless you are also using me as a Petromax, but then I won’t be available whenever you want so I won’t be a reliable petromax). So under the petromax arrangement defined above, I have the right but not the obligation to be with you. You, the petromax, have the obligation but not the right to be with me. Effectively you’ve sold me an option!

Now, in the relationships business options don’t work. The writer of the option will start thinking that the “buyer” is using him/her. Being used is not a good thing in the relationship business. Among other things, showing the world that you are willing to be used reduces your “value” going forward. So you don’t want to do this. So you don’t like to be the petromax. So the deal doesn’t work for you. And so it doesn’t work for me, since when I’m looking for a Petromax I’m looking for optionality.

And so when you say that someone is someone else’s petromax, it is an implicit admission that the said person is willing to get “used”, and is thus willing to lower his/her value. Which is not a nice thing from the point of view of this person. And hence the term petromax is repugnant. And the concept of the petromax is also thus repugnant.

But the petromax concept has been seen to work in real life. How does it work then? Being part of a small community helps, since the valuation drop is seen only in that particular community. Then, there can be some restricted structuring where neither sells each other an option, and set up an “and condition” (being together if and only if both are available and interested at the same instant).

Ok I realise that this post itself might be repugnant to some of you but these things need to be explained!