Missing BRacket

Last night then-classmate now-colleague Baada and I were having a long bitchy conversation, mostly carried over text messages (SMS). As the conversation developed and grew in intricacy, several threads developed. This is not unusual for a conversation with Baada – it usually takes on several dimensions, and it always helps having a mechanism to keep track of all the threads simultaneously.

That’s when we realized how much we miss BRacket, the local instant messaging system we had at IIMB (a version of DBabble). I might have written this before but the beauty of BRacket was that conversation was “offline”. There was no chat window, and you would reply to individual messages, like you would in email. While on one hand this allowed “offline conversation”,i..e. the conversation didn’t die if one person respond immediately like it can happen in Y!M/GTalk, the more important thing was that by having conversation history in each thread, this allowed for some serious multithreaded conversation.

While instant text messaging offers the former feature (you can reply to a message several hours later and still continue the conversation), the latter feature is lost. There’s no way to keep track of threads, and like a bad juggler you soon end up losing track of half the threads and the conversation peters out.

I don’t know if DBabble is still widely used elsewhere but it’s death knell in IIMB was sounded when Sigma (the student IT club) in its infinite wisdom allowed for a “chat mode”. Along with the conventional offline messaging system, it also gave the option of Y!M style chat windows. And having been used to Y!M, batches junior to mine started using this chat feature extensively. The immediate rewards of using it were huge – no need to hit “send” (I’ve even forgotten the keyboard shortcut for that), no need to open a new message each time it arrives, and so on.

While we held up the virtues of “old BRacket” (like i used to refuse to reply when juniors pinged me in chat mode. A notable exception being the famous “Pichai files”) there was no one to do that after we graduated. I’m told that the incoming batch of 2006 exclusively used chat mode. The two major advantages that BRacket offered over “window chat” were gone. GTalk came up sometime around then, and with its better and faster servers (the IIMB network was notoriously slow) it could easily offer as good if not better services than BRacket. It was clear then that BRacket would die.

I’m told that now no one uses BRacket. I don’t even have it installed on my last two computers. Unfortunately no other “offline-messaging” technology has quite caught on since then. And so I miss multithreaded conversation. It’s very sad, I tell you. I wonder if even DBabble is still used extensively.

It’s fascinating how some technology dies. You come up with a purported “improvement” which offers short-term gains, and catches people’s fancy. While people flock to the “improved version” in hordes, it turns out that the features that made  the original version so popular are now lost. And this new version has competition, and so the technology itself gets killed. All because of some purported “innovation”.

Diminishing Value of a Red Card

Often when we see players being sent off AND penalty kick being awarded in the event of an illegal stop of a goal-bound ball, Baada and I have thought that the punishment is too harsh. That for stopping one goal, the team effectively gives away the goal (conversion rate of penalties is high) and also loses a player (sometimes the goalie) for the rest of the game.

Now, after last night’s strategic hand ball by Luis Suarez, people are complaining that the punishment is not enough. Though it was a split-second instinctive decision by Suarez to handball, even if he were to replay the incident in his head and analyze the costs and benefits, I’m sure he would’ve done what he did. This clearly contradicts what I mentioned in the first paragraph.

The main issue here is with the value of a red card  at various stages of a game. The red card has intrinsic value – of being suspended for the next game. In addition to this, the red card leaves the team one short for the rest of the game, and so it is clear that the later a red card is given out, the lesser the disadvantage it causes the team because they’ve to play for lesser time with a man short.

What makes Suarez’s decision more logical is the time value of a one-goal lead. The lesser the time left in the game, the more the value of the one-goal lead since there is lesser time for which it needs to be protected. And in this case, the handball occurred on what might have been the last “kick” in the game, and so the value of the one-goal lead was really high.

The earlier this incident had occurred in the match, the less would’ve been Suarez’s incentive to handball – more time to win back the conceded goal and more time to play a man short if redcarded. At the time when it actually occurred, Suarez would’ve been a fool to NOT handball. The payoffs were heavily loaded in favour of handballing and he did it.

People on twitter are suggesting that rules be changed, that the goal should’ve been awarded anyway instead of the penalty and stuff, but considering that the same punishment costs much more if given out earlier in the game, I think the current punishment is appropriate. The excess of this punishment in earlier stages of the game is compensated by the punishment being too little in the latter stages, and on an average I think it is appropriate.

Let’s continue to keep football simple and not clutter it with Duckworth-Lewis kind of rules. And congrats to Suarez for taking the most logical decision at the moment. It is indeed as great a “sacrifice” as Ballack’s tactical yellow card against Korea in the 2002 semis.

And I feel sad for Asamoah Gyan. But then again, with Ghana being in the knockout stages solely on the merit of two Gyan penalties, it is only appropriate that they are going out nowon the demerit of Gyan’s missed penalty.

It’s about getting the Cos Theta right

Earlier today I was talking to Baada and to Aadisht (independently) about jobs, and fit, and utilization of various skills and option value of skills not utilized etc. So it is like this – you possess a variety of skills, and the job that you are going to do will not involve a large number of these. For the skills that you have that match the job’s requirements, you get paid in full. For the rest of the skills you possess, you only get paid the “option value” – i.e. your employer has the option to utilize these skills of yours and need not actually utilize them.

Hence in order to maximize your productivity and your pay, you need to maximize the cos theta.

Assume your skill set to be a vector in a N-dimensioanl hyperspace where N is the universe of orthogonal skills that people might possess. Now there are jobs which require a certain combination of skill sets, and can thus be seen as a vector. So it’s about maximizing the cos theta between your vector and your job’s vector.

So it’s something like this – you take your skills vector and project it on to the job requirement vector – your total skills will get multiplied now by the value of cos theta, where theta is the angle in the hyperspace between your skills vector and the job vector. For the projection of your skills on the requirement, you get paid in full. For the skills that you have that are orthogonal to the requirement, you get paid only in option value.

One option is to of course build skill set, and keep learning new tricks, and maybe even invent new skills. However, that is not a short-term plan. In the short to medium term, however, you need to maximize the cos theta in order to maximize the returns that your job provides. But as Baada put it, “But there is slisha too much information asymmetry to ensure that cos theta is maximised.”

There are two difficult steps, actually. First, you need to know your vector properly – most people don’t. Even if you assume that you can do a lot of “Ramnath” stuff and get to know yourself, there still lies the challenge of knowing the job’s vector. And the job’s requirement vector is typically more fluid than your skills vector. Hence you actually need to estimate the expected value of the job’s requirement vector before you take up the job.

The same applies when you are hiring. It is actually easier here since the variation in the hiree’s vector will not be as high as the variation in the job profile requirement vector, and you have a pretty good idea of the latter so it is easy to estimate the “projection”.

This perhaps explains why specialists have it easy. Typically, they have a major component of their skills vector along the axis of a fairly well-defined job profile (which is their specialization). And thus, since theta tends to 0, cos theta tends to 1, and they pretty much get full value for their skills.

At the other extreme, polymaths will find it tough to maximize their returns to skills out of a single job, since it is unlikely that there is any job that comes close to their skills vector. So whichever job they do, the small value of the resulting cos theta will cancel out the large magnitude of the skills vector. So for a polymath to maximize his/her skills, it is necessary to do more than one “job”. Unless he/she can define a job for himsel/herself which lies reasonably close to his/her skills vector.

(there is a small inaccuracy in this post. i’ve talked about the angle between two vectors, and taking the cosine of that. however, i’m not sure how it plays out in hyperspaces with a large number of dimensions. let us assume that it’s vaguely similar. people with more math fundaes on this please to be cantributing)

Bangalore Trip

So I went to Bangalore on Thursday. And returned yesterday afternoon. It was a fairly eventful trip – just that most of the events that took place during the trip were planned. There weren’t too many surprises – either positive or negative, and this lack of volatility meant that it was a good trip overall.

I had ended my last post hoping that my bike would start. And start it did, dutifully. Unfortunately, it was to tell Jai later during the day, when it abruptly stopped somewhere in Gandhibazaar market. It was quite hot and I had to push it around a fair distance to find a garage that was open in order to get it repaired.

The thing with automobile repair shops is that most of them are owned by Muslims, and thus have their weekly holiday on Friday. While it might be convenient in normal times since you can leave your bike for service on a Sunday, it can be death when your bike breaks down on Friday afternoon. I had to go past two or three closed auto repair shops that day before I found a “Sowmya bike point” where my spark plug got replaced.

Two of my three breakfasts were consumed at Darshinis. Actually, on Friday, I had my breakfast in three installments. Saturday was the usual Masala Dosa at the Adigas in Jayanagar 4th block. Dinner on Saturday was at Shiok, the first time I was visiting it at the new location. The food, as usual, was excellent. One extremely under-rated starter at Shiok is Choo Chee Potatoes. I strongly recommend you to try it out the next time. I left the choice of my drink to Madhu Menon, and he recommended some pink stuff for me.

I met Baada, Harithekid and PGK at Shiok. I was meeting PGK for the first time. I was already a bit disoriented when I had arrived at Shiok (my head had gone blank a couple of times earlier that day, leading me to take an auto to Shiok rather than putting bike), and combine that with the pink drink and I think I’ve forgotten what PGK looks like. All I remember is that he too had a pink drink – which was different from mine.

I managed to submit address change requests at most of the places I had intended to. I went to SBI and Karnataka Bank, and extended my fixed deposits – taking advantage of the insanely high prevailing rates. I visited one aunt for dinner on Friday, and another for lunch on Saturday.

The only time during the entire trip that I was consumed by NED was when I went to inspect my house in Bangalore. It was after a gap of almost ten years that I was seeing the house empty. It was at that moment I think – three months after I moved to Gurgaon – that it hit me that I don’t live in Bangalore any more. And that I don’t intend to return for a while. It took a maddening auto drive to Shiok to cure me of this bout of NED.

Friday evening was spent in the cantonment area, though I regret to inform you that I visited neither of MG Road and Brigade road. I met Udupa and Woreshtmax Vishnu for tea at Koshy’s, and on either side of tea, raided the Premier Bookshop. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pics as I had planned. The only picture of Premier that I now have is the one taken with Neha Jain’s wrist that appeared in the ToI on 26th July 2004 (I don’t have a scanned copy; a few hard copies of the clipping are there somewhere in my house in Jayanagar in Bangalore).

I spent all my coupons, and Shamanth’s coupons also. I still have Lakshana’s coupon with me, and I intend to mail it to her. Here is what I bought:

  • The Human Zoo  – Desmond Morris
  • The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
  • An artist and a mathematician (a book about the fictional mathematician Nicholas Bourbaki; forgot the author)
  • India: A History – John Keay
  • Longitude
  • The Stuff of Thought – Steven Pinker

Once again, thanks to all those who recommended books to me. Unfortunately, a large number of those were not available at Premier. i’ll probably order them from Rediff Books once I’ve whittled down my have-and-unread list.