Tag Archives: blog

New Comment Policy

For about three or four years now the quality and quantity of comments on this blog has dropped. Earlier, there used to be some rather insightful discussions here in the comment section. Nowadays, people don’t seem to leave too many comments here. And I’m also a guilty party – for one I don’t promptly reply to comments on my blogposts, and I don’t usually leave comments on others’ blogs – preferring to add my two naya paise over twitter instead.

Also, of late I’ve been getting a lot of anonymous and sometimes abusive comments. So far I had tolerated them but henceforth will be marking all such comments as spam. Essentially I’ll be following a simple rule – if you leave a comment without leaving your name the comment will not be seen here for way too long. That will also be the case in case I feel that the comments are not adding to the discussion.

The best thing you can do while leaving a comment is to login – openid has been enabled and you can use the login of your own blog to leave the comment here. Next best thing is to leave your valid email id. If your comment follows neither of the above two conditions it will not be approved.

Thanks.

Pinda

I had written this as a note on facebook a long time back, in an introduction to another of my blogposts. It went largely unnoticed – I claim it is because it made way too many people uncomfortable. For posterity’s sake, I thought it needs to go somewhere more permanent – like this blog, so reprising it here. 

One of the several post-death rituals in the Sanatana Dharma is called “sapinDikaraNa” – in which the “pinda” (departed soul) of the deceased is “tied” to the pindas of their ancestors. This is apparently done to make sure that the pinda doesn’t end up as a free radical and come back to haunt its descendants.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about this today, but the way they “connect” the pindas is quite funny. They just tell the gotra and given name of the deceased, and then the given names of the deceased’s father, father’s father and father’s father’s father (for women it is mother-in-law, mother-in-law’s mother-in-law and mother-in-law’s mother-in-law’s mother-in-law).

I think this is a rather poor addressing system, and not one designed for today’s populations. Maybe back in the days when this was invented, not more than one person belonging to a particular gotra had the same name. So this system of addressing worked (like in villages and small towns, houses don’t have door numbers – the postman knows everyone by name). Why is it that the system hasn’t been changed even though there are possibly thousands of people with the same given names and gotras?

If religion truly ever worked, its working would have broken down through the ages when its addressing system became obsolete. Why then, do so many people still “religiously” believe in it?

It’s all pinda wonly, I must say.

The Aditya Birla Scholarship

I spent this evening attending this year’s Aditya Birla Scholarship awards function. Prior to that, there was a networking event for earlier winners of the scholarship, where among other things we interacted with Kumaramangalam Birla. Overall it was a fun evening, with lots of networking and some nostalgia, especially when they called out the names of this year’s award winners. My mind went back to that day in 2004, as I sat confident but tense, and almost jumped when I heard my named called out only to realize it was another Kart(h)ik!

You can read more about my experiences during that award ceremony here (my second ever blog post), but in this post I plan to talk about what the scholarship means to me. During the networking event today, one of the winners of the scholarship (from the first ever batch) talked about what the scholarship meant to him. As he spoke, I started mentally composing the speech I would have delivered had I been in his place. This blog post is an attempt to document that speech which I didn’t deliver.

People talk about the impact the scholarship has on your CV, and the bond that you form with the Birla group when you receive the scholarship. But for me, looking back from where I am now, the scholarship has primarily meant two things.

Back in the day, the scholarship covered most of my IIM tuition fee. When I’d joined IIM, my parents had told me that they wouldn’t fund my education, and I had taken a bank loan. However, the scholarship covered Rs. 2.5 lakh out of the Rs. 3 lakh I needed for my tuition fee, and the loan that I had taken for the remaining amount was cleared within a couple of months after I worked.

My first job turned out to be a horror story. It was six years before my ADHD would be discovered, but I was in this job where I was to put in long hours under extremely high pressure, and deliver results at 100% accuracy. I wilted, but refused to give up and pushed myself harder, and I’m not sure if I actually burnt out or only came close to it. But it is a fact that one rainy Mumbai morning, I literally ran away from my job, purchasing a one-way ticket to Bangalore and refusing to take calls from my colleagues until my parents told me that my behaviour wasn’t appropriate.

While my parents were broadly supportive, the absence of liabilities made the decision to quit easier. Of course I still had the task of finding myself another job, but I knew I would pull through fine even if I didn’t find another job for another six months (of course, I had saved some money from my internship at an investment bank, but the lack of liabilities really helped). The Aditya Birla Group, by funding my business school education, played an important role in my being free or financial obligations, and being able to chart out my own path in terms of my career.

My six-year career has seen several lows, aided in no small amount by my ADHD and depression, both of which weren’t diagnosed till the beginning of this year. I got into this vicious cycle of low confidence and low performance, and frequently got myself to believe that I was good for nothing, that I had become useless, and that I should just take some stupid steady job so that I could at least pay the bills.

During some of these low moments, my mind would go back to that day in September 2004 when I (at the end of the day) felt at the top of the world, having been awarded the Birla scholarship. I would then reason, that if I was capable of convincing a panel consisting of N. Ram, N K Singh and Wajahat Habibullah to recommend me for the Aditya Birla scholarship, there was nothing that was really beyond me. Memories of my interview and the events of the day I got the scholarship would make me believe in myself, and get me going again. Of course on several occasions, this “going again” didn’t last too long, but on other occasions it sustained. I credit the Aditya Birla scholarship for having given me the confidence to pull myself back up during the times when I’ve been low.

These are not the only benefits of the scholarship, of course. The scholarship has helped build a relationship with the Aditya Birla group. In the short run, when I won the scholarship, it helped me consolidate my reputation on campus. And last but not the least, it was a major catalyst in reviving a friendship which had gone awry thanks to some of my earlier indiscretions. Most important, though, was the financial security that scholarship offered, which made potentially tough decisions easier, and the confidence it offered me which has carried me through tough times.

 

Why I can never be a great lone wolf quizzer

I admit that of late one of the unifying themes of this blog has been “correlation”. So what does that have to do with quizzing? Thing is that while I absolutely enjoy qualitative logical reasoning (which is why I still quiz actively), there is very little in common in terms of areas of interest between me and a lot of other quizzers. Specifically, unlike most other good quizzers, I have absolutely no patience for reading fiction (or “literature”), watching movies or indulging in generic American “pop culture”.

Now, it is known that a quizmaster tends to be biased in favour of the topics that he himself is good at. For example, I’ve personally found that the questions I set have more than a “fair share” of questions with a background in Economics or European Football, and nothing related to fiction, or movies. So, given that most good quizzers are good at the topics I mentioned earlier (literature, movies, pop culture), it’s likely that most quizzes will have a healthy dose of these topics. And since I know little about them, and don’t have the required levels of interest to know more about them, it’s unlikely I’ll do well in an individual quiz. Essentially, I’m at so much of a disadvantage in these heavily represented topics that it’s very tough to make up the deficit in the remainder of the quiz.

On a related note, I wonder if fashionable-ness of topics is static or dymanic. I wonder, if twenty years down the line, we’ll still find quizzes being as heavily dominated by the subjects that are in fashion today, or if there will be a new set of subjects that will be in fashion. It’s hard to say because there is positive reinforcement that is at play here. If, for example, a certain set of subjects constitutes a large portions of questions today, today’s “good quizzers” will necessarily be those that are good at these subjects. And given that the pool of quizmasters is usually drawn out of the pool of “good quizzers”, you will have more quizzes that have a large proportion of these fashionable topics. And so forth.

Again, I’m assuming here that a lot of people (unlike certain Chennai quizzers) don’t prepare for quizzes, and that they don’t try to develop interest in certain topics for the sole purpose of being good at quizzes.

LJ

Today, maybe for the first time in over two or three years, I logged in to Livejournal. Nowadays, at my home, LJ is for the exclusive use of the wife, and I haven’t been there at all since moving my blog here. And the first thing I did was to look at my LJ Friends page.

There was a post about ubuntu by randomwalker, which I put well left to. And then there was a friends-only post by al_lude  (no use linking that here since you won’t be able to read it unless he’s friended you on LJ). And now I know the one thing I’ve been missing about LJ ever since I moved here. The friends-only post!

I realize that in the last couple of years or so, I’ve been writing less because all those posts that would’ve been written as “friends only” posts on LJ are now not written at all. I do intend to re-start writing that kind of stuff. I’m thinking of Google Plus as a medium for doing that. For that one reason I really hope G+ takes off and more people begin to use it, so that it becomes more meaningful.

End of month blues

One of the problems with running your blog on your own website is that you need to manage bandwidth. Basically it seems like my blog has been run over by bots and so by the 25th of every month the bandwidth for the month is over, and the blog goes down for the rest of the month. I’ve been trying to do a lot of things to prevent this – blocking suspicious looking IPs, installing bad behaviour, and such like, but still I don’t know why it gets locked out.

My biggest problem with this end of month lockout is the volume of ideas that go down the drain during this time, rather than getting published on the blog. I wish I could try and remember all those blogging ideas and do one mega blog post at least with a summary of all of them, so that I could write about them at some point of time in the future, but it seems like I can’t remember anything now.

In other news, I’ve been getting really stressed out of late, and my mental bandwidth has been at an all time low. I’ve felt that I’ve been going downhill since my trip to New York a few months back, but of late it’s gotten really bad, and I’m just not able to do anything. That’s yet another reason why blogging frequency has dipped in the last couple of weeks or so.

Doing a deep dive into my own past, I think I’ve figured out why this has been happening. Rather, I have a hypothesis about why I’ve been stressing myself out too much at work which has led to this situation. Basically it’s down to studs and fighters.

I traditionally have what I call as a “stud” working style. I work in bursts, at reasonably low intensity. I look at the problem as a series of steps, and for each step, I internalize the problem, and then try to de-focus. And while thinking about something else, or reading something, or writing something else, I end up having a solution to the problem, and then I take a little break and move on to the next step. This is essentially how I’ve worked over the last few years and I think I’ve (to myself at least) done a good job using this method.

There’s yet another method that I’ve frequently used in the past, one that I call the Ganesha method. It’s basically used for tasks I want to get  done with ASAP. I work at it at a very high intensity, shutting myself off from everything else in the world. I work at it continuously without a break, and then take a long break once the solution is done. I’ve used it in the past for things like competitive exams where I think I’ve done rather well.

So the mistake I did a while back (maybe a year or so back) was to try and use this latter method over longer periods of time, for longer problems. The thing with this method is that it’s suited for short problems, which can be finished off in a burst with a little bit of stretching myself. But when applied to significantly larger problems, I’ve found that it’s been stressing me out way too much. By trying to be steady and focused over a long period of time, which is how a fighter traditionally works, I think I’ve mentally destroyed myself.

Moral of the story is that whatever happens you need to be yourself, and do things in your own style. Don’t try to change yourself in order to please others. It is simply not sustainable.

Managing stud work

I begin this post with an apology. About two years back I’d promised that I won’t write any more on Studs and Fighters on this blog, and I’ll save all that for my forthcoming book. Unfortunately, since then I’ve managed not more than one page of my book, and that too has been in the last couple of weeks. I realize that by not writing about studs and fighters here, I’m losing that perspective of thought entirely, because of which I’ve not been able to write my book.

So, Chom (a friend) raised an important point during a discussion earlier today. He said that people who are studs, after they become “managers” (in which case their job is solely to manage other people. Think of someone like a partner in a consulting firm), start angling for more fighter work for their team.  That they seem to forget all their studness, and assume that all the people they manage are fighters.

I had argued earlier that once the partner of a consulting firm stops doing day-to-day work, the quality of work at the firm suffers. This post is an extension of that. So what Chom says inherently makes sense. Here’s why.

Stud work is risky. There is a good probability that it may not be completed. So when your target changes from the “total impact of work done” to “number of pieces of work successfully completed” the whole equation changes. You are not looking for those “big wins” from your team, any more. What you need from your team is a high rate of delivery, and a large number of projects that are completed. If you get big wins, that is just a bonus. But all you care for now is the number of wins.

So you start taking on more fighter work, and letting go of stud work. After all, it is now rational for you to do that. Your own working style can sit aside.

IPOs Revisited

I’ve commented earlier on this blog about investment bankers shafting companies that want to raise money from the market, by pricing the IPO too low. While a large share price appreciation on the day of listing might be “successful” from the point of view of the IPO investors, it’s anything but that from the point of view of the issuing companies.

The IPO pricing issue is in the news again now, with LinkedIn listing at close to 100% appreciation of its IPO price. The IPO was sold to investors at $45 a share, and within minutes of listing it was trading at close to $90. I haven’t really followed the trajectory of the stock after that, but assume it’s still closer to $90 than to $45.

Unlike in the Makemytrip case (maybe that got ignored since it’s an Indian company and not many commentators know about it), the LinkedIn IPO has got a lot of footage among both the mainstream media and the blogosphere. There have been views on both sides – that the i-banks shafted LinkedIn, and that this appreciation is only part of the price discovery mechanism, so it’s fair.

One of my favourite financial commentators Felix Salmon has written a rather large piece on this, in which he quotes some of the other prominent commentators also. After giving a summary of all the views, Salmon says that LinkedIn investors haven’t really lost out too much due to the way the IPO has been priced (I’ve reproduced a quote here but I’d encourage you to go read Salmon’s article in full):

But the fact is that if I own 1% of LinkedIn, and I just saw the company getting valued on the stock market at a valuation of $9 billion or so, then I’m just ecstatic that my stake is worth $90 million, and that I haven’t sold any shares below that level. The main interest that I have in an IPO like this is as a price-discovery mechanism, rather than as a cash-raising mechanism. As TED says, LinkedIn has no particular need for any cash at all, let alone $300 million; if it had an extra $200 million in the bank, earning some fraction of 1% per annum, that wouldn’t increase the value of my stake by any measurable amount, because it wouldn’t affect the share price at all.

Now, let us look at this in another way. Currently Salmon seems to be looking at it from the point of view of the client going up to the bank and saying “I want to sell 100,000 shares in my company. Sell it at the best price you can”. Intuitively, this is not how things are supposed to work. At least, if the client is sensible, he would rather go the bank and say “I want to raise 5 million dollars. Raise it by diluting my current shareholders by as little as possible”.

Now you can see why the existing shareholders can be shafted. Suppose I owned one share of LinkedIn, out of a total 100 shares outstanding. Suppose I wanted to raise 9000 rupees. The banker valued the current value at $4500, and thus priced the IPO at $45 a share, thus making me end up with 1/300 of the company.

However, in hindsight, we know that the broad market values the company at $90 a share, implying that before the IPO the company was worth $9000. If the banker had realized this, he would have sold only 100 fresh shares of the company, rather than 200. The balance sheet would have looked exactly the same as it does now, with the difference that I would have owned 1/200 of the company then, rather than 1/300 now!

1/200 and 1/300 seem like small numbers without much difference, but if you understand that the total value of LinkedIn is $9 billion (approx) and if you think about pre-IPO shareholders who held much larger stakes, you know who has been shafted.

I’m not passing a comment here on whether the bankers were devious or incompetent, but I guess in terms of clients wanting to give them future business, both are enough grounds for disqualification.

Joint Blogging

So the more perceptive of you would have noticed a major change in this blog overthe last couple of weeks. It has now become a multi-author blog with my wife Pinky joining me here.

The chief motivation for this is feedback I received over the last one year that my blog had become boring and one-dimensional. Considering that I’ve been going through some sort of a mental block over the last few months, and am unable to produce posts with the same quality and frequencyas i used to earlier, I decided that the best way to spice up this blog was to bring in a co-blogger.

Around the same time, I got married to Pinky, who is herself a blogger,  so it  was natural to bring her in. And in the last couple of weeks, since I added her as an author, she has responded spectacularly, producing posts (albeit of a different flavour compared to what I produce, of course) with significnatly better regularity and quality compared to me.

So I just want to make it clear that the decision to make this blog a joint one is a conscious and well-thought out one, and not one that has been made due to marital compulsions or anything. Yes, we have markedly different writing styles, so you need not even look up or down to check the author’s name at the bottom of the post or the top of the RSS feed.

This decision to make this blog a multi-author blog is irreversible (yeah, I won’t rule out future expansion, if we are to get suitable co-bloggers; but that won’t happen for a while). So those of you who are trying to debate about the quality changes in the blog because of this change (in the comments section) are just wasting your time. And if you think that the quality is dropping for whatever reason, there is the “unsubscribe” button that your RSS feed aggregator offers you.

I’m working on producing author-specific RSS feeds, so that might allow people to selectively subscribe to posts. Essentially we are looking for a way by which our posts will appear on our respective facebook pages, rather than on everything appearing in mine. If anyone knows how to do that for a wordpress.org blog, plis to be letting us know.