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?

Languages as memes

A while back on this blog I had compared religious and cultural practices to memes (in the original Richard Dawkins sense of the word). Back then I had written:

So if you were to look at it in terms of responsibility to society, you need to propagate only those cultural traits that you deem to be relevant and important. “So what if everyone stops celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi?” you may ask. If that would happen that would simply mean a vote of no confidence for the festival and an indication that the festival needs to be phased out. If everyone were to propagate only those cultural traits they find useful, traits that a significant proportion of society finds significant will continue to survive and thrive. For Ganesh Chaturthi to exist 30 years hence, it isn’t necessary for ALL families that have inherited it to celebrate it now. As long as a critical mass of families celebrate it, the festival will survive. If not, it probably doesn’t need to exist.


Now, thinking about it, you can consider language to also be a meme. When a bunch of you find that there is a concept for which the language you speak in has no word, you invent a word and add it to the language (this is like a genetic mutation). If enough people like this mutation (i.e. if it is “fit”) it will propagate, and soon become part of the language.

If there is a word in the language that is archaic and not useful for describing any of the phenomena that you are likely to encounter, you stop using it. When people stop using such words, they become “archaic” (ok I see circular reasoning in this paragraph) and effectively drop out of the language. Thus, a living language is always dynamic, receptive to new words (to describe concepts that earlier didn’t need description) and receptive to discarding words that are not useful any more. Thus, the feature that defines a living language is dynamism and change.

This has several policy implications.

1. The concept of “purity” of language is wrong. Some people want to speak in the “pure form” of a language. As long as it is a language that has been truly alive (and not kept alive mostly by ancient literature) there exists no “pure form”, for the definition of a successful language involves frequent “mutations”. So if you ask me to talk in “pure Kannada” it is nonsense. Pure Sanskrit, on the other hand, has some meaning, for the language has been so little used that it’s stopped evolving and mutating.

2. People like to appoint themselves guardians of culture and dictate top-down what words should be part of a particular language. For example, there exists a body under the Government of Karnataka (if I’m not wrong) which dictates what “Kannada words” must be used for different new concepts. This is wrong, and a recipe for such words not being used.

Instead, “memetics” must be respected and evolution must be bottom up. People find the need to describe phenomena around themselves and if they don’t find a word in their language that describes it, they will either invent or borrow one such word. Some such new words become widely used, at which point of time they can be introduced into the language dictionary. Usage should precede presence in the dictionary, not the other way round.

3. “Slang” is a part of language, and a leading indicator of how the language is going to evolve. It should be encouraged and not denounced. For it exists because the language as it stands now cannot effectively enough describe certain concepts.

I’m currently reading this book called The Information by James Gleick, which has a chapter or two dedicated to languages and dictionaries. It was while reading it that I realised how languages are memes.


How do you change Mata Amrita Index?

Over five years ago, I had introduced the concept of the Mata Amrita Index on this blog. Just to refresh your memories, it refers to the probability that a person will hug any random person she meets. You can also define bilateral Mata Amrita Index, which is the probability that a given pair of people hug when they meet.

Now, after I wrote that post I realise that the Mata Amrita Index is a rather cultural thing – some cultures are more predisposed to hugging than others. I, for example, for whatever reason, am quite queasy about hugging and won’t do so unless I know the counterparty quite well. More importantly than the queasiness, I want to avoid the awkwardness when I offer a hug which makes the other person queasy because they are not prepared for it (this happened the very first time I met the person who is now my wife,btw). For others, hugging comes much more naturally, and if such people initiate a hug to me, I’m happy to continue with the process. But with some others I’ve noticed that both of us are not sure if it’s okay to hug and it ends up in a weird handshake while it might have been a hug!

Anyway, the point of this post is whether the bilateral Mata Amrita Index between a pair of people can change over time, and if so, what the conditions are under which it changes. We will leave romantic or hopefully-romantic or possibly-romantic relationships out of this discussion – the human touch works in those situations in completely different ways. So the question is under what circumstances can the bilateral Mata Amrita Index between a pair of people change over time? And let’s be nice on this blog, and discuss only about increase in MAI, not decrease.

So what are the circumstances under which the bilateral MAI between a pair of people increase over time? One is the frequency of meeting. If you meet someone very regularly, you get into a particular routine on how you greet each other – be it a handshake or a hug or a namaste or a feet-touch or a cheek-peck. Since you are meeting each other regularly, both of you remember the established protocol. And both instinctively go for it. Even if you want to change protocol, the other person is so used to it that they continue. And considering that you can’t command someone to hug you (unless you are an “aunty”) you end up sticking to protocol!

If you meet each other infrequently, on the other hand, you are likely to have forgotten whatever protocol existed, and so there is a higher probability of changing protocol, and so there is a chance that you can enhance your Mata Amrita Index. It helps if it’s been so long since you last met that either of you has undergone a culture-changing experience (like moving to a new country, or a new job, or a new school, for example), which can change the way you greet and can use as an excuse if the counterparty objects to your way of greeting.

Then, if you are meeting after a long time and for some reason you have got closer in the interval (in terms of things you’ve spoken about with each other since the last time you met, for example), it is again okay to explore an enhancement of the Mata Amrita Index the next time you meet.

There is also the company you keep. Let’s say A, B and C are meeting. Whether it’s due to their past bilateral MAI, or individual MAI, A and B hug, and then B and C hug. Now it becomes socially awkward for A and C not to hug, so they end up hugging each other, and enhancing their MAI. The next time they meet, this enhancement will be in their mind, and can lead to further enhancement in MAI. This can also work the other way – if you are in a large group and only two of you in that group have a high bilateral MAI, then it becomes awkward for you to hug when everyone else is being all prude and shaking hands. That can decrease MAI.

There is another way the company you keep can end up decreasing MAI. Again, if A,B and C meet, and A-B have a high bilateral MAI. Let’s say that A is meeting C for the first time. Before A hugs B, she evaluates is she is also okay hugging C (since not doing so might be awkward), and that might lead A to not hug B!

This is complicated business! Do you know any way in which the Mata Amrita Index can be enhanced? Or diminished? Do write in!

Meeting types

There are essentially three kinds of meetings – those that are entirely “in person”, those that are entirely “on call” and hybrids. I argue that the quality of conversation in the third kind of meeting is significantly inferior to that of the first two types.

In person meetings are those where all participants are in one room. These are perhaps the best kind of meetings (except when you know it’s likely to turn antagonistic), for you can maintain eye contact with the others and as long as the number of meeters is small, there is social pressure on meeters to not be distracted, and thus the meeting is likely to conclude its agenda productively and quickly.

Conference calls allow you to multitask while you are on the meeting – the positive thing is that you can choose to switch off when you want to, but the downside of that is that you don’t know when one of the others is switching off, and this might take longer to conclude your agenda. However, the good thing about such meetings is that everyone is speaking into the phone, is well aware that it’s only voice that is getting transmitted and thus moderate their speaking accordingly.

The problem is with the hybrids – where some people are in one room and others are dialling in. Some of these meetings are not a problem – let’s say there are two parties that are party to the meeting, and all members of one party are in one location and all members of the other party in the other location, it is rather simple – you are much more likely to speak addressing the other party, and thus your voice and gestures are as if you’re on a conference call, and you speak more for the benefit of the counterparties at the other end of the line rather than your colleagues sitting with you in your room.

There are some meetings, however, where either you have way too many parties, or a particular party gets split between people physically present and people who are listening in. These meetings are the most disastrous and least likely to add value. I’ve been on both sides of such meetings – being in camera and dialling in, and have got immensely stressed out on both such occasions.

The problem with such meetings is that you’re not clear who you are addressing. Let’s say you are in camera. If you speak addressing the people sitting with you, you are likely to use a lot of body-part gestures to enhance your message, and speak in a voice that is appropriate for the room. Neither of this translates well over the phone – for people who have dialled in, neither will the voice be clear nor will they get the full import of the talking since they can’t see the hand gestures! And so they feel left out and are compelled to switch off.

On the other hand, if you are in camera and decide to speak addressing primarily the people who have dialled in, others in your room will get disturbed and switch off. You will tend to speak too loudly, for you desire to speak into the speakerphone, and given you are primarily address people who can’t see you, you don’t bother with niceties such as using your body parts for gesturing or maintaining eye contact with anyone. Thus, people in your room will get alienated and switch off!

It is the same case when you are dialling in. Firstly you don’t know when to intervene, for you miss possible visual cues that the others are using to communicate subliminally. When you do intervene you don’t know if you can be heard, and the other participants who would have by now been used to giving physical feedback – like eye contact or a nod or a smile or a wink, fail to give you the verbal feedback that you now desire! And while listening you get alienated as I’ve explained earlier.

A meeting where some people are in camera and some dialling in does no good for anybody. It is hence preferable to avoid such meetings. However, there are some occasions when for some desired participants it is not possible to be physically present. A good solution for such occasions would be to march the other attendees back to their offices and do the whole thing over call. It is definitely less stressful than a half-and-half hybrid meeting!

Doctors and correlation-causation

One of the common cribs about the medical profession is that most doctors don’t have enough grounding in mathematics and statistics (subjects they typically don’t study beyond high school). Given the role of mathematics and statistics in medicine, in terms of gathering evidence, medical testing, etc. the lack of mathematical or statistical knowledge can have serious consequences in terms of interpretation of techniques and symptoms and all that.

In the field of statistics we have this adage that goes that we should “treat the disease and not the symptom”. This is no less true in the medical profession – let’s say that you have a bacterial infection which causes a fever, a poor doctor would diagnose your fever by taking your temperature, assume that it is the fever thanks to which you are sick and give you medication to lower the fever without realising that there is a “third variable” that might be causing both – your fever and your sickness. Thus, your fever might come down and consequently your sickness but both would presently appear.

I’ve had chronic pain in my heels for a few months now. It’s especially severe whenever I put my feet on the ground from a raised position. Someone had told me that it occurs due to calcification near the Achilles Tendon, and I must take medication for that. Having pushed it for a few months now I finally went to see my uncle who is an orthopaedic yesterday (this is the same guy who told me about my Boxer’s Fist).

He promptly diagnosed me with Plantar Fasciitis, and wrote down some medication, and told me what I need to do in order to reduce the pain in my feet. After a short conversation on what else I need to do, and any precautions, and all such, I asked him about the calcification thingy – whether he had ruled out that calcification of the Achilles Tendon was causing this problem.

“I’m sure there will be some calcification”, he said, “and I’m not sending you for an X-ray because I have a very good idea of what it will show and it won’t add much value”. And then he proceeded to explain that calcification is a “result” of plantar fasciitis and not a cause of it. He didn’t use the terms “correlation” or “causation” but he explained that when you suffer from plantar fasciitis you end up with both calcification of your Achilles Tendon and also shooting pain in your heels, especially immediately after waking up. The two are thus related, he said, but neither causes the other, but there is a third factor (fasciitis) that causes both, and that is the one that he is treating me for!

I was doubly impressed with him – first for understanding “information theory” in terms of understanding that the X-ray wouldn’t add much information, and secondly for recognising that there was a third factor and that correlation should not be mistaken for causation. Or perhaps I had a particularly low prior for mathematical and statistical skills of doctors!


He refused to charge me a fee, since I’m his nephew. While on my way out I was thinking about it and wondering on what circumstances I would waive my professional fees for my consulting. And I realised it would be hard to do so for anyone! It made me wonder what made my uncle waive his medical fees, while I’m extremely unlikely to do that.

I realised it has to do with the investment. He spent about five to ten minutes with me (perhaps a bit longer), but essentially his marginal cost of treating me was quite low. And this was a marginal cost that he was willing to sacrifice in return for the goodwill he gets for treating the extended family for free. Considering the size of my engagements, though, the marginal cost is usually high and is seldom justified by goodwill!

Extended Munroe Protocol

Last Monday three of us were drinking beer at Arbor. One of us got up for a bathroom break. Like a pack of dogs, or a classroom of coughing students, the other two took the cue within a couple of seconds. And we trudged in a line to the bathroom.

The thing with Arbor is that it might be very crowded and very loud on weekends, but on rainy Monday evenings it’s remarkably empty and quiet (the music was very pleasant there, for the first time when I’ve been there). A consequence of this is that there are very few people in the bathroom at any given point of time. And last Monday, when the first of us (it wasn’t me) entered the bathroom it was absolutely empty (I was about to say “when we entered the bathroom”, but since we were walking in a line and not abreast, the bathroom wouldn’t have been empty when the second of us entered! (it’s an old Tenali Rama story that was once published in Tinkle) ).

The urinal at Arbor has five stalls, and the first guy who entered took the stall at one corner (let’s call it 1). The second guy (again not me, things are coming back to mind now) took the stall at the other corner (number 5). I go in, and see that it makes most logical sense for me to take 3, and I go. At almost the same instant, the other two guys shout “Munroe Protocol“.

Without realising it, or maybe those guys did but I surely didn’t, we had followed the Munroe protocol precisely. First guy took one corner, second took the other corner and third took the farthest away from both. As perfect as it gets. One of the benefits of the discussion that followed was that I got acquainted with the Munroe Protocol (I was aware of the protocol but not the name). And since then it’s been embedded in my head.

On Saturday at the Landmark Quiz, I went for a leak between the time the prelims finished and the answers were to be given. Again, since the answers were yet to be given, most people were in their seats, and the toilet was not too full. I approached a line of five stalls (this was a big bathroom) and found people in positions 2 and 4. “Bastards”, I thought, thinking about their utter disregard of the Munroe Protocol, and took my stand at the now uncomfortable stall 3.

As I was doing my business it occurred to my mind that the clown to the left of me and the joker to my right may not have been so evil after all. They might have been occupying stalls 2 and 4 despite following the Munroe Protocol, and for no fault of theirs. This leads us to the Extended Munroe Protocol, which can follow as an extension of the Munroe Protocol.

So here is how it could have happened. Let’s assume that people take a constant amount of time to pee. Let’s assume that the bathroom has precisely five stalls, numbered 1 to 5. First guy enters and takes 1 (as per the Munroe Protocol). Second guy takes 5. Third guy takes 3. All going well according to the protocol.

Now the fourth guy enters. What does he do? If he is of the extremely decent types, he will wait for one of the three (most likely 1, given our assumption) to finish and take his place. But most people are not that way, and so the fourth guy is likely to take one of the two empty stalls. Without loss of generality, let’s say he takes 2. The fifth guy now enters and seeing only one stall (4) empty, takes that. We have a full house now.

Let’s assume that it’s a while before the sixth guy enters. In the meantime, the first guy finishes his business, and exits stage left. The second guy (position 5) follows him soon, and he is then followed by the third guy (position 3). And at this precise moment the sixth guy enters. And what does he see?

Positions 2 and 4 taken in a five-stall urinal. “Bastards”, he thinks, without realising that this setup came about via diligent practice of the Munroe Protocol.

Bayesian Recognition and the Inverse Charlie Chaplin Principle

So I bumped into Deepa at a coffee shop this evening. And she almost refused to recognise me. It turned out to be a case of Bayesian Recognition having gone wrong. And then followed in quick succession by a case of Inverse Charlie Chaplin Principle.

So I was sitting at this coffee shop in Jayanagar meeting an old acquaintance, and Deepa walked in, along with a couple of other people. It took me a while to recognise her, but presently I did, and it turned out that by then she was seated at a table such that we were directly facing each other, with some thirty feet between us (by now I was positive it was her).

I looked at her for a bit, waiting for her to recognise me. She didn’t. I got doubts on whether it was her, and almost took out my phone to message and ask her if it was indeed her. But then I decided it was a silly thing to do, and I should go for it the natural way. So I looked at her again, and looked at her for so long that if she were a stranger she would have thought I was leching at her (so you know that I was quite confident now that it was indeed Deepa). No response.

I started waving, with both arms. She was now looking at me, but past me. I continued waving, and I don’t know what my old acquaintance who I was talking to was thinking by now. And finally a wave back. And we got both got up, and walked towards each other, and started talking.

The Charlie Chaplin principle comes from this scene in a Charlie Chaplin movie which I can’t remember right now where he is standing in front of a statue of the king. Everyone who goes past him salutes him, and he feels high that everyone is saluting him, while everyone in effect is saluting the statue of the king behind him.

Thus, the “Charlie Chaplin Principle” refers to the case where you think someone is smiling at you or waving at you or saluting you, and it turns out that they are doing that to someone who is collinear with you and them. Thus, you are like Charlie Chaplin, stupidly feeling happy about this person smiling/waving/saluting at you while it is someone else that they are addressing.

Like all good principles, this one too has an inverse – which we shall call the “Inverse Charlie Chaplin Principle”. In this one, someone is smiling or waving or blowing kisses at you, and you assume that the gesture is intended to someone else who is collinear with the two of you. Thus, you take no notice of the smile or wave or blown kiss, and get on with life, with the likelihood that you are pissing off the person who is smiling or waving or blowing kisses at you!

Both these effects have happened to me a few times, and I’ve been on both sides of both effects. And an instance of the Inverse principle happened today.

Deepa claimed that she initially failed to recognise me because she assumed that I’m in Spain, and that thus there’s no chance I would be in Jayanagar this evening (clearly she reads this blog, but not so regularly!). Thus, she eliminated me from her search space and was unable to fit my face to anyone else she knows.

Then when I started waving, the Inverse Charlie Chaplin Principle took over. Bizarrely (there was no one between us in the cafe save the acquaintance I was talking to, and I wouldn’t be waving wildly at someone at the same table for two as me; and Deepa was sitting with her back to the wall of the cafe so I presumably could not have been waving at anyone else behind her), she assumed that I was waving to someone else (or so that was her claim), and that it took time for her to realise that it was her that I was actually waving to!

Considering how Bayesian Recognition can throw you off, I’m prepared to forgive her. But I didn’t imagine that Bayesian Recognition would throw her off so much that it would cause an Inverse Charlie Chaplin Effect on her!

Oh, I must mention that I have grown a stubble (the razor I took on my trip to Europe was no good), and that she mentioned about not wearing her glasses today. Whatever!