The wife graduates

pinkygraduatesPriyanka has just finished her course at IESE today. She’ll be collecting her degree (and she insists it’s a “proper degree”, unlike my similar “degree” which is actually a diploma) exactly two weeks from now.

Feeling damn proud of her. I remember her telling me in one of our very early phone conversations (this was in 2009, barely a couple of weeks after we had first met) that she wanted to do an MBA, and do it from a top-ranking global business school.

I’m damn happy that she’s overcome all odds (and she faced a lot of them in the last two years) and achieved her life-long dream. She had made a “life plan” for herself when she was 17 which involved her doing an MBA when she was 27 (or something like that). And that’s been ticked off now, and I really admire her ability to plan for a long time!

 

The other day I was asking her how her MBA had changed her, and she said that the main impact has been that she doesn’t care about bullet points anymore!

Our documented lives

I think I’ve confessed here several times that I like reading my old blogposts. In fact, I like reading my old blogposts from 2006 onwards – there was an inflexion point towards the end of 2005, and I hate my posts written before that. It was almost I was a completely different person.

Anyway, of late, these nostalgia trips have taken a different direction. Firstly, in 2006-10, I used GTalk fairly extensively, and most conversations are still archived (except for some people who explicitly turned off the saving). So once in a while I pick a random person (most often it’s the person who’s now my wife, and most of my GTalking with her was before we had even met) and check out my conversations with him/her.

Sometimes it just sends me on a bout of nostalgia. Sometimes it reminds me of what I (and these people I used to talk to) was like back then, and wonder how I’ve changed and so forth. At other times these posts remind me of what was “hot gossip” back then (yes, I was a major gossipmonger in my younger days), which, thanks to the fundamental fleetingness of gossip,  I normally don’t remember. When I remember such gossip, it’s a fun exercise to reconcile the subjects of gossip with their present selves.

Another activity I take up randomly from time to time is reading people’s blogs. Some of these have been mostly taken private as these people in question have embarked on successful corporate careers. I still have my LiveJournal account, so that helps me access some of these blogs (and others have kindly shared passwords to their now-private blogs with me).

The kind of trips these take me on is similar to what the old chats inspire – some nostalgia, some recollection of what different people were like back then and how they’ve turned out (I also make sure I read the comments), catching up on gossip of that day and all such.

In a way, I’m quite glad that so many of us live such documented lives! In that sense I quite hate Twitter and Facebook, for it’s bloody hard to search for stuff there (except for Facebook’s this day that year feature), and with a lot of documentation having moved there from blogs and GTalk, it’s quite sad!

PS: Sometimes I indulge in these nostalgic activities jointly with my wife, and occasionally it’s not fun, since she ends up discovering a part of my history which she didn’t know existed. Documentation has its downsides as well!

PPS: It makes me wonder what “oral histories” (I’ve always regarded them as a fraud concept, but I’ll save my description of those for another day) will look like one or two generations down the line, when so much of our documented histories will be available, if we choose to make them available.

How social media affects your life

My first attempt at writing of any kind was in 2004, when I edited the daily newsletter at Saarang, IIT Madras’s cultural festival. It was a fun experience (I remember digging out my newsletters sometime back, but cant seem to find them now), and I think RAP and I did a pretty good job.

Given that events would go on late into every night and we’d to bring out an edition every morning, some “preprocessing” was key, and I decided to solve the problem through some “online writing” (at the same time I was doing my B.Tech. project in online algorithms, but I digress). As and when I would make a pertinent observation (I borrowed the name for that newsletter, too), I would try and think about how I would describe it in the next day’s newsletter, and immediately jot it down in a notepad I carried.

This way, by the time RAP and I met every evening to compile the newsletter, most of the material would be in place and all we would have to do was to compile, edit and typeset it, and the newsletter would be ready. One time, when we knew that a quiz would go on till dawn (as per tradition), we wrote up the article even before it had happened based on how previous editions had gone. The winner’s name was inserted in the morning just before printing.

The reason I’m telling this story (which I might have told before) is that it inculcated in me the habit of trying to instantly describe in written word anything I saw. Going forward, it became a habit, though it didn’t have much outlet. Later in 2004 I started this blog, and when I would remember the thoughts I’d thought to describe things I saw, I would put it down on this blog.

Twitter changed all that. Now, as soon as I could describe something I saw in a meaningful (and short) fashion, there was an outlet for instant output. Facebook made it even better, allowing me to tell stories with photos and without a word limit (Facebook did photos long before Twitter did). Instagram did the same.

So seven or eight years on social media (I joined Facebook in late 2007 and Twitter in mid 2008) meant that my skill of quick written pertinent observations about just about anything I saw got a lot of encouragement (though, most times no one would react, and at times I would get trolled).

A month after going off social media, I realise that this habit has gotten completely ingrained into me, and irrespective of what I’m doing I’m thinking more about how I’d describe it in a few words (and maybe a picture), rather than enjoying the sight or sound or conversation or whatever! And knowing that I’ve denied myself this mode of output (social media) temporarily, it feels a bit odd when I mentally make one such observation, knowing there’s no way to put it out!

The thing is while I used to already do this before I got access to instant social media, the extent to which I’ve started reacting this way has changed significantly over the years! And I don’t know if that is a good thing.

Anyway, here’s an old style pertinent observation, being made much delayed, and put on this blog (rather than on any other media). I found this place called “ze fork on the water” on the Lake Geneva shoreline yesterday!

zefork

I completed the manuscript of my book

I had set myself an April 15 deadline to finish the first draft of my book, and I’m happy to let you know that I’ve achieved it. This draft weighs in at around 75,000 words, which is probably longer than I’d expected.

Now the hard part begins – of finding publishers, editing, promotions and all that jazz. I don’t even know where to start and which publishers to approach. This is a popular economics book where I use the concept of market liquidity (from finance) to explain why certain markets are structured the way they are, and how markets can be made more efficient.

Here is a brief introduction of the book that I’ve written. I’m yet to give it a name, but the subtitle is “How financial markets explain life”:

Why do people with specialised skills find it hard to switch jobs? Why do transfer fees for footballers always seem either too high or too low? Why are real estate brokers still in business despite the large number of online portals that have sought to replace them?

The answer to all this lies in liquidity. Broadly speaking, market liquidity refers to the ease with which a product or service can be bought or sold in a particular market. With its origins in financial markets, the concept has far-reaching implications in a large number of markets.

In this book, Karthik Shashidhar, a management consultant and public policy researcher, explores a large number of markets, financial and otherwise, and explains why they are structured the way they are. From relationships to property rights, from big macs to public transport, a large number of markets are dissected to show why liquidity remains a useful concept well beyond financial markets where it originated.

Now, while many of the examples are from India, I’ve written this book with a global audience in mind. Hopefully I should be able to publish and sell this book internationally.

There is a full chapter on the economics of Uber, and how surge pricing is critical to creating liquidity in the rides marketplace. There are also chapters on matchmaking, obsolete technologies, agricultural markets and why most Indians cook at home.

I haven’t really seen any other popular economics books from India, so don’t know where to start my publisher hunt. Any leads will be welcome. I’m currently in Barcelona, but will be returning to Bangalore in mid-May.

Oh, and there is very little intersection with this blog, or anything I’ve published so far. One chapter intersects one blogpost here, and another draws from a Mint piece I’ve written, but the rest is all fresh material. So, you people have no excuse but to buy the book when it does come out!

Wish me luck!

Why authors need convertible debt

At the end of a recent blogpost, I had referred to a piece by Matthew Yglesias where he refers to author advances as “convertible debt”.

 An advance is bundled with a royalty agreement in which a majority of the sales revenue is allocated to someone other than the author of the book. In its role as venture capitalist, the publisher is effectively issuing what’s called convertible debt in corporate finance circles — a risky loan that becomes an ownership stake in the project if it succeeds.

While I agreed with Yglesias’s piece when I had first read it (around the time it was published), I’m not so sure I agree with it now. As I approache the “home stretch” with the first draft of my first book (it’s a popular economics book on liquidity and market design), I’m plunged in self-doubt every time I sit down to write it.

The problem with writing a book is that the author needs to work for months together without any feedback whatsoever. It is occasionally possible for the author to take feedback from a few family members and friends. While such feedback is sometimes useful, the problem is that the people providing the feedback represent only a very tiny fraction of the book’s overall client base (I hope lots of people will read my book once it gets published).

So there is always a reasonable chance that months of effort might result in an absolute dud, implying zero returns. It is also mildly probable, of course, that these months of efforts might result in a blockbuster, but while you are producing it you have no clue which way it will turn out.

This can create serious motivation issues, and on the occasional bad day at work you might be tempted to abandon the project altogether and get back to doing something more predictable. You can have some internal deadlines but they need not be binding (like I’d set the deadline to finish my first draft as the day I went for my vacation to al-Andalus. However I’ve already reneged on that and given myself a further fifteen days). Unless there is extremely strong internal motivation, it is hard to sustain your effort.

This is where convertible debt, in the form of a publisher’s advance, can help. On the upside, the advance will guarantee you some returns (however meagre) from the project. On the downside, the advance from the publisher comes with a deadline, which acts as a Damocles’s sword to ensure you are motivated and finish your book on time.

As a first time author however, whose only published work so far has been 2000 odd posts on this blog and a 100 odd articles for Mint, I didn’t give myself too good a chance of snagging convertible debt, and so I soldier on, hoping my book turns out well.

Soon, once I finish the draft, I hope to start taking the book to publishers. If any of you has leads on who to approach, do let me know. It’s a non-fiction (popular economics) book with an Indian core but written for a global audience. For now I’m ruling out self-publication, since I’m looking at this book as providing me far more than royalty revenues and can do with some publisher validation.

Also, that might help me get some convertible debt for my next book!

Twitter and negativity

One of the reasons that sparked my departure from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter two weeks back was an argument with my wife where she claimed that Twitter had made me too negative, and highly prone to trolling (even in “real life”). Accepting a challenge from her, I offered to go through my tweets over the last few months, and identify those that were negative. I also offered to perform a similar exercise with my blog.

I started off with the intention to go through tweets in the last one year and delete anything that was negative or “troll-y”. I allocated myself an hour to accomplish this, along with a similar exercise for my blog.

I must have spent fifty minutes going through my twitter feed, and didn’t manage to go back more than two months. I was surprised by my own sheer volume of tweeting. What was more surprising was the amazing lack of insight in most of those tweets – there were horrible PJs that I’d cracked just because I could, there were random replies to other people which didn’t add any kind of value, there was outrage about the lack of outrage and some plain banal life stuff (apart from some downright trolly stuff which I deleted).

It made for extremely painful reading, and I could hardly recognise myself from my own tweets. Apart from some personal markers, I would find it hard to recognise most of these tweets as my own if they were to be presented to me a few months later. It was a clear indication that it was time to exit twitter (though since I have a rather kickass username there I’m not deleting my account).

The ten minutes I spent that day going through this blog, however, was a sheer delight. I did end up deleting a couple of outragey posts (both of which were essentially collections of tweets which I’d collated for posterity), but most of my posts were mostly sheer delight! There was some kind of insight in each of my posts, and I’d lie if I were to say that I’m not proud of what I’ve written.

It’s not that I’ve not written shit on this blog (or its predecessor), having written posts as late as 2008 which I’m definitely not proud of. What I’ve noticed, however, is that I’ve evolved over time, and my writing style has been refined, and I think I continue to add significant value to my readers.

Twitter’s constant engagement feature, however, meant that it was hard to evolve there and hard to escape from the cycle of banal and negative tweets. My tweets from this February are unlikely to be qualitatively very different from those 5 years back, and that’s not a positive thing to say.

The thing with Twitter is that its short format encourages a “shoot first ask questions later” kind of thinking. You end up posting shit without thinking through it, and without having to construct a reasonable argument. This encourages outrage, and posting banal stuff. Spending one minute typing out a banal tweet is far lower cost than spending 20 minutes typing out a banal blog post – the latter is unlikely to be written unless there’s some kind of insight in it.

Outrage is one thing, but what’s really got to me with respect to twitter is its sheer ordinariness, and temporality (most tweets lose value a short period of time after they’re posted). It’s insane that it’s taken me so long (and three longish sabbaticals from twitter) to find out!

Football in the rain

The weather in Barcelona had been excellent for the last couple of weeks. While it wasn’t warm (most days had required me to wear a rather heavy jacket), it was pleasant and sunny, with hardly any rain. For whatever reason, the rain gods had to choose today, when we had tickets to watch Barcelona play Arsenal in the Champions League, to pour down.

I had made a dash to a nearby supermarket to pick up light raincoats earlier this evening. In hindsight, I can attest that Quechua Rain Cut is a brilliant product and does its job. Among the best raincoats I’ve used. Very effective and light, and can be worn over other warm clothes!

Rain meant we had to take the bus to the stadium rather than walk (it’s 2km from home), and rain also meant that bus made painful and slow progress, dropping us near the Camp Nou some 15 minutes before kickoff. And then there was the lack of queueing at security check outside the stadium (made worse by the pouring rain).

Before the game I’d checked if backpacks would be allowed at the stadium and various forums had mentioned in the affirmative. As it turned out, they weren’t allowing them in today, which meant we had to drop my wife’s (fairly expensive) backpack at the gate before we got in. It was just before kickoff that we took our seats.

Rather, I took my assigned seat while my wife randomly occupied the empty seat next to mine, hoping to exchange it with her seat (which was one row in front) when the rightful occupant arrived. As it transpired, the rightful occupant never arrived (perhaps he was a season ticket holder deterred by the rain, else I can’t imagine someone letting go of a €150 ticket. I plan to do a post on season ticket pricing when back from vacation. Context is Hull City revamping their season ticket system. Interestingly the other seat adjacent to mine was also vacant! In fact, there were quite a few empty seats at the stadium).

There was this nice anecdote which can be used in economics classes on externalities – given that it was raining, it meant that people had an incentive to hold up an umbrella while sitting, but that would mean those in the rows behind would be inconvenienced – a negative externality. Usually, nudges and shouts did the trick to lower the umbrellas, but some umbrella men were steadfast.

Anyway, despite being in the third tier of stands, the view of the pitch was top class (apart from the occasional intrusive umbrella) and we soon got adjusted to the drizzle. The players weren’t that well adjusted, though, for they constantly kept slipping on the turf.

Photo taken at half time
Photo taken at half time. The messy hair can be explained by the hood of the raincoat

Interestingly, the noise levels weren’t too high – when Barcelona scored, celebration was rather muted. There were no shouts of Vis?a Catalunya at 17 minutes 14 seconds (this had been rather vociferous the last time I was at the Camp Nou, but that was in the run up to the (later cancelled) secession referendum) – but that could be because that was exactly around the time Neymar scored.

Though there is another possible reason people didn’t celebrate too loudly – I belive people had gotten into certain positions that helped them beat the rain (like I’d pulled my raincoat forward and over my knees to protect my thighs from getting wet), and heavy celebration would disturb these positions. There was the usual drum band behind the south goal, but the crowd was otherwise rather quiet (the away stand directly behind us was an exception, though!).

Anticipating an exodus, we had decided to leave as soon as the clock opposite us struck 42 in the second half. As it happened, Barcelona scored their third goal just as we were about to disappear into the stands. The early exit helped – there was a bus right outside the stadium that would drop us next to home, and we managed to find seats on that.

Oh, and the backpack that we had abruptly discarded near the gate when we went in was still in the exact position where we’d left it, and we gleefully picked it up on our way out. Quite impressive for a city that is known for its high rate of petty crime (which I’ve been victim to. I lost my spare phone on the day I landed last month, between getting off the cab from the airport and getting into my apartment building!)!