Tinder and Arranged Scissors

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while know, I was in the arranged marriage market for a brief period in 2009, before Priyanka magically materialised (from the comments section of this blog) and bailed me out. I may not have covered this in any of the Arranged Scissors posts that I wrote back then (ok I alluded to this but not really), but I had what I can now call a “Tinder moment” during the course of my time in the market.

So on this fine day in Bangalore, I was taken to this Marriage Exchange called Aseema. The name of the exchange is quite apt, since based on two data points (my own and one acquaintance’s), if you go there your search for a spouse is literally endless.

My uncle, who took me there and who was acting as my broker-dealer for that brief period, told me that they literally had binders full of women (note that this was three years before Romney), and that I could search leisurely if I accompanied him there on Saturday morning.

My uncle didn’t lie. This place did have several binders full of women (and men – I too ended up in one such binder after I signed up) and four binders that said “Smartha (my subcaste) Girls” were pulled out and handed over to me. My uncle probably expected me to spend a few hours ruminating through the binders and coming up with a shortlist.

It was nothing like it. Each profile in the binder followed a standard format. There was this 4 by 6 full-length photo. You knew where to look for educational qualifications. And professional summary. It was like LinkedIn meets Facebook profile picture. And that was it.

I remember having some criteria, which I don’t remember now. But once I had gone through the first few pages, it became mechanical. I knew exactly where to look in a particular profile page. And quickly come to a judgment if I should express interest.

Thinking back, I might have just been swiping (mostly left – I came up with a grand shortlist of one after the exercise) on Tinder. The amount of time I spent on each profile wasn’t much more than what the average user spends on Tinder. Except that rather than looking only at the photo, I was also looking at a few profile parameters (though of course whether I would want to sleep with her was one of the axes on which I evaluated the profiles). But it was just the same – leafing through a large number of profiles in a short amount of time and either swiping left or right instantly. Talking to a few other friends (some of it at the now legendary Benjarong conference) about this, my experience seemed representative (note that I’m still in anecdata territory).

Maybe there is a lesson in this for all those people who are designing apps for arranged marriage (including the venerable Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com). That even though the stated intent is a long-term relationship, the initial process through which people shortlist is no different from what people follow on Tinder. Maybe there surely is a market for a Tinder-like arranged marriage application!

Palani

I was reading Shoba Narayan’s excellent piece in MintOnSunday about the Palani temple when I was reminded of my own trip there back when I was a kid, so thought I should write about it.

The memories are extremely hazy, for I was a really small boy back then (I don’t even remember how old I was). It was a strict pilgrimage, consisting of two overnight bus journeys, and the only purpose of the trip was to visit the Palani temple.

There was some religious context to it. Apparently my parents had visited the temple some time before I was born, and had promised to return had some condition been satisfied. I don’t remember the exact condition (though the fact that I’m named Karthik has something to do with this, I know) but apparently it had been satisfied, and so off we went to fulfil the “harke”.

I remember taking a Tamil Nadu State Transport bus. I don’t think I was old enough for them to take a ticket for me, so I didn’t get my own seat. But then my father spoke to some people across the aisle and found that they were scheduled to get off at Krishnagiri, after which we crossed over to the three-seater, and I remember sleeping across my parents’ laps.

We reached Palani in the morning and checked into some random hotel. I don’t remember much of what happened there. I remember going to the temple sometime during the day. There was a cable car, if I’m not wrong, to go up. I don’t remember if we took it.

Shoba’s piece is about the Prasad at the Palani temple, but I don’t remember any of it. All I remember is going to some vibhuti (sacred ash) shop there to buy some vibhuti. And I remember the shopkeeper telling us that whatever we bought, we would only get half of it after the pooja was done. Finally my parents, after some deliberation, settling on buying one (largish) packet of vibhuti. I remember taking home half of that, and it satisfying our vibhuti needs for several years after that.

As I said right up front, this is one of my least memorable trips from my childhood. All I remember is the bus. The shady hotel. The steep flight of stairs to get to the temple (Shoba writes about that, too). The cable car. And the half packet of vibhuti. I have no clue what we ate. I think there were people there in Palani who spoke Kannada, but I’m not so sure. And I remember taking another overnight bus back (this one being empty enough that I could sleep across my parents’ laps for the full journey).

Discrete and continuous diseases

Some three years or so back I got diagnosed with ADHD, and put on a course of Methylphenidate. The drug worked, made me feel significantly better and more productive, and I was happy that a problem that should have been diagnosed at least a decade earlier had finally been diagnosed.

Yet, there were people telling me that there was nothing particularly wrong with me, and how everyone goes through what are the common symptoms of ADHD. It is a fact that if you go through the ADHD questionnaire (not linking to it here), there is a high probability of error of commission. If you believer you have it, you can will yourself into answering such that the test indicates that you have it.

Combine this with the claim that there is heavy error of commission in terms of diagnosis and drugging (claims are that some 10% of American kids are on Methylphenidate) and it can spook you, and question if your diagnosis is correct. It doesn’t help matters that there is no objective diagnostic test to detect ADHD.

And then your read articles such as this one, which talks about ADHD in kids in Mumbai. And this spooks you out from the other direction. Looking at some of the cases mentioned here, you realise yours is nowhere as bad, and you start wondering if you suffer from the same condition as some of the people mentioned in the piece.

The thing with a condition such as ADHD is that it is a “continuous” disease, in that it occurs in different people to varying degrees. So if you ask a question like “does this person have ADHD” it is very hard to give a straightforward binary answer, because by some definitions, “everyone has ADHD” and by some others, where you compare people to the likes of the girl mentioned in the Mid-day piece (linked above), practically no one has ADHD.

Treatment also differs accordingly. Back when I was taking the medication, I used to take about 10mg of Methylphenidate per day. A friend, who is also on Methylphenidate and of a comparable dosage, informs me that there are people who are on the same drug at a dosage that is several orders of magnitude higher. In that sense, the medical profession has figured out the continuous nature of the problem and learnt to treat it accordingly (a “bug”, however, is that it is hard to determine optimal dosage first up, and it is done through a trial and error process).

The problem is that we are used to binary classification of conditions – you either have a cold or you don’t. You have a fever or you don’t (though arguably once you have a fever, you can have a fever to different degrees). You have typhoid or you don’t. And so forth.

So coming from this binary prior of classifying diseases, continuous diseases such as ADHD are hard to fathom for some people. And that leads to claims of both over and under medication, and it makes clinical research also pretty hard.

Do I have ADHD? Again it’s hard to give a binary answer to that. It depends on where you want to draw the line.

Maybe not a fanboy any more

Over the last one year or so I’ve been on course to becoming an Apple fanboy. I had already quite liked the interface of the iPod touch and the iPad, though I hadn’t taken very well to the wife’s iPhone4. And then around this time last year, she bought herself a Macbook Air.

That was a gamechanger as both in terms of physical specifications and ease of use, it seemed a world away from the Windows laptops that I had at that time. A couple of months later (my laptop needed replacement anyway), I bit the bullet and invested in a Macbook Pro. And I became a bigger fanboy. I even decided last month that my next phone will be an iPhone (I’ve never had one so far).

After the events of the last two weeks, however, I’m not so sure. I was upgrading the iPad (it’s technically my wife’s since I had gifted it on her birthday two years back, but I’ve used it more than her) to iOS 8.4 when the update failed midway. It was inexplicable. I tried it a few more times, upgraded iTunes on my computers, downloaded the OS again, did a zillion things but the update continued to fail.

Considering that the iPad isn’t as integral to my life as the phone or computer, it was two weeks before I took it to hospital. Yesterday I went to iCare, an authorised Apple service centre, and showed them the iPad. They took it in and asked me to come back after an hour. An hour later, they said it wasn’t updating and that there was a hardware issue and the iPad was effectively dead.

It was then that I started losing it (I thought the lack of updation was a routine bug that happens with OS upgrades). And it was clear that these guys had done nothing more than what I had done at home. Connected iPad to iTunes, hit on the process to update, see error code, become clueless and give up. And then say “hardware issue”.

I mean, I’m an engineer, and I know that there is clearly no hardware problem with the iPad. And I couldn’t have possibly burned something in it when updating the OS. Who are they bullshitting when they say that it’s a “hardware issue”?

And so off I went to another (this time unauthorised) service centre which had come recommended. They made me wait, and tried all sorts of things. I had to wait longer here since they had to download iOS 8.4. Again it is not clear if they did anything beyond what I had already done at home. And I repeatedly told them not to repeat that but to find out what the problem is. And they seemed clueless.

So the iPad is a brick now. And since it’s been two weeks, I’ve really started missing it. I’m fairly pissed off with Apple right now, for making something that cannot be repaired. And for staffing their service centres with incompetents who do little more than what can be done at home.

I’m not sure I’m a “fanboy” any more. It seems like there is too much “tail risk” in apple’s products. To their credit, they possibly recognise that and exhort you to buy extended warranty (which I now plan to do for my Macbook). But it’s surely a problem that their repair centres (I’m not talking about the “unofficial” place) don’t do much more than what can be done at home.

I’m not so sure that I’m going to buy that iPhone now. If you’re investing so much (relative to “competition”) into a single product that carries so much tail risk, I don’t know if it’s all that worth it. But lack of worthy androids might just push me in that direction.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out how to salvage my iPad. Does anyone know of any competent apple service centres that I can take it to, where they’ll do more than just a cursory sniff? And are the so-called “geniuses” at Apple stores in the US actually good?

Intellectual discussions

So this afternoon a friend came home and we had a nice long discussion on a lot of things. And then it was time for him to leave. But by then, I was in the frame of mind where I was craving intellectual discussions, but there were no avenues for me to execute!

I remember this time five years or so ago, when each day when I would come back home from work, I would open Google Talk and initiate five or six conversations with friends who were online. Some would be stillborn, as the counterparty wouldn’t reply, but my carpet bombing would work and there would be 2-3 conversations that would fructify, and I would have a nice time talking!

Unfortunately, with the decline of Google Talk, there are no avenues for such discussions now. In fact, what killed it was the move to mobile – the original point of Google Talk was that you could signal that you were available by logging on. And so when you signalled thus, someone would ping you, and you would have a conversation.

By moving Google Talk to the mobile phone, where you were online by default, it meant that you were shown online even when you weren’t in a mood to chat. People would occasionally ping you, but then give up. It was like the case of the shepherd boy crying “wolf”. So a green button next to someone’s name on Google Talk means nothing now, in terms of their availability to chat!

Other chatting mechanisms, such as WhatsApp are no better, being “mobile first” and thus “always logged in”. You don’t know who is available when, and who you can possibly ping to have a good conversation.

And then five years back, I stopped logging on to Google Talk and initiating five different conversations. I started logging on to Twitter, instead, and making conversation with people on my timeline . Unfortunately, twitter has been ruined, too. It is so full of outrage, and some of such outrage conducted by otherwise smart people, that I’ve radically cut down on the number of people I follow.

As the world solves some problems, it un-solves others, and creates yet others. And there was a time when I would blog, and visit other blogs, to have intellectual discussions. And now people have stopped commenting on blogs, also!

On dealing with good and bad news

So I was having a rough time an hour or so back and called the wife, and told her so, and that I’d been stuck in this vicious circle of negativity for a while now. In response, she said there was this nice TED talk that she had seen on the topic recently, and I should watch it too. And so she sent me this:

It’s a nice TED talk, but I think she uses too many words to describe what she needs to describe. It’s just not “quick enough” (check out the wife’s blog post on distractions caused by professors being too slow in class. She only talked about the throughput of words here, but I think it’s deeper and extends to throughput of information content) and it doesn’t need ten minutes to communicate what she has said here.

And so I thought about how I could convey the message better. I realised that the entire talk above could be condensed into one little finite automaton. And then I drew it (using the Paintbrush App on my Mac).

Goodandbadnews

I must say I’m feeling much better already! Tell me if this is a good representation, though!

On the wife looking Hispanic

So the wife had mentioned to me sometime in the past that many people here in Barcelona mistake her to be Hispanic, and instinctively talk to her in Spanish, which she is not very good at (though she is much better than me, and is taking regular lessons in her university). She claimed that it was because of her skin colour (“fair” by Indian standards, but much darker than white), and “features”.

Now, as far as I can see, she has no Hispanic blood. She is a born and thoroughbred Gult (though her ancestors migrated to Karnataka generations ago). So when she first mentioned this to me a few months back, I didn’t particularly believe her. And then it happened last night.

We were taking a RyanAir flight from Budapest to Barcelona. I was in the aisle seat and she was in the middle seat, and as the drinks cart passed by us, I asked for a Coke (and was offered a Pepsi, and must mentioned that the Pepsi I thus got is nowhere similar to the oversweet Pepsi we get in India. It was actually good), and held a conversation with the steward for over two minutes, speaking in English all the time.

Once the steward had handed me the can of Pepsi and two glasses with ice, the stewardess on the other side of the drinks cart said “that would be two Euros fifty”. Since I wasn’t carrying money (our division of labour (and hedge) during the trip was that I carried the local currency and debit card, while the wife carried Euros), the wife shuffled into her pocket for change.

The stewardess promptly noticed this and immediately said “dos cincuenta” – Spanish for “two fifty”. Clearly she thought the wife was Hispanic! And it is not that the stewardess hadn’t heard me speak to the steward all the time so far, in fairly chaste English!

This must go down as a bizarre occurrence, except that from what the wife tells me this is a rather common issue with her. And she treats this as a feature, not a bug.

Anyway, here is a picture taken on the day that the wife told me that people in Spain mistake her to be Hispanic. This picture was taken in October, on the first day of my first visit to Barcelona.

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