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.

Books and Kindle Singles

Recently I started re-reading Vikram Chandra (the novelist and Berkeley academic)’s book “Mirrored Mind”, which has been published in the US as “Geek Sublime”. I hadn’t read it earlier – I had only read the Kindle sample and then discarded it, and I recently decided to pick it up from where I had left off.
In fact, that was hard to do, so I decided to start from the beginning once again, and so went through the introduction and preface and acknowledgements and all such before diving into the book again. This time I liked it better (not that I hadn’t liked it the first time round), and so decided to buy the full book. But somewhere midway through the full book, I lost enthu, and didn’t feel like reading further. My Kindle lay unused for a few days, for the “loaded” book on that was this one, and there was absolutely no enthu to continue reading that. Finally I gave up and moved on to another book.So one point that Vikram Chandra makes in the introduction to the book is that he initially planned to make it a Kindle single, but then decided, upon the urging of his wife and others, to make it into a complete book on coding and poetry. While the intent of writing a full book is no doubt well-placed, the result doesn’t really match up.

For when you try and turn a Kindle single into a full book, you try to add words and pages, and for that reason you write things that aren’t organically attached to the rest of the book. You want to add content, and depth, but instead you end up simply adding empty words – those that you could have done without, and chapters which are disconnected from the rest of the book.

And so it is the case with Vikram Chandra’s Mirrored Mind. There is a whole chapter, for example, on the sociology of the Indian software industry, which is clearly “out of syllabus” for the otherwise excellent novelist, programmer and creative writer Vikram Chandra. He goes into long expositions on the role of women in the Indian software industry, the history of the industry, etc. which are inherently interesting stories, but not when told by Chandra, who is clearly not in his zone while writing that chapter.

And then there is the chapter on Sanskrit poetry, which is anything but crisp, and so verbose that it is extremely hard to get through. There is nothing about code in the chapter, and it is very hard to cut through the verbosity and discern any references to the structure of poetry, and that lays waste to the chapter. It was while reading this chapter that I simply couldn’t proceed, and abandoned the book.

This is by no means a comparison but I’ve gone down this path, too. I’ve written so many blog posts on the taxi industry, and especially on the pricing aspects, that I thought it might make sense to put them all together and convert them into a Kindle Single. But then, as I started going through my posts and began to piece them together during my holiday in Barcelona earlier this year, I got greedy, and I thought I could convert this into a full “proper” book, and that I could become a published author.

And so I started writing, mostly in cafes where I went to for breakfast (croissant and “cortado”) and for coffees. I set myself ambitious targets, of the nature of writing at least two thousand words in each session. This might help me get out a skeleton of the book by the time my vacation ended, I reasoned.

Midway through my vacation, I decided to review my work before proceeding, and found my own writing unreadable. This is not always the case – for example, I quite enjoy going back and reading my own old blog posts. I’m quite narcissistic, in other words, when it comes to my own writing. And I found my own work-in-progress book unreadable! I immediately put a pause on it, and proceeded to fritter away the rest of my vacation in an offhand way.

I got back to Bangalore and sent the “manuscript”, if it can be called such to editor extraordinaire Sarah Farooqui, I don’t know what trouble she went through reading it, but her reaction was rather crisp – that the “book” was anything but crisp and I should cut down on the multitude of words, sentences and paragraphs that added no value. The project remains stillborn.

So based on these two data points, one from a great novelist (none of whose novels I’ve read), and one from my not-so-humble self, I posit that a Kindle single once conceived should be left that way, and authors should not be overcome by delusions of grandeur that might lead them to believe they are in the process of writing a great work. The only thing that can come out of this is a horribly overblown book whose information content is no greater than that of the Kindle single originally conceived.

Long ago on this blog I had written about “blog posts turned into books”, after reading Richard MacKenzie’s book on pricing (Why popcorn costs so much at the movies). The same holds true for Kindle singles turned into books, too. And when I started writing I intended to be a 500-word blog post, not the 900-word monster it has turned into. I wouldn’t blame you if you if you didn’t get this far.

Dispassionate blogging and Wife Bonus

So I’ve figured out that the key to being a good and interesting blogger is to be able to look at things dispassionately and not let your value judgments crowd out your reasoning abilities. Of course, while saying this I’m assuming that I’m a reasonably good blogger (based on feedback, implicit and explicit, that I’ve received over the last decade, and given that I’m coming close to 2000 posts here).

So earlier this morning I was talking to a friend about long distance relationships and careers and marriages and responsibility sharing, and he sent me a link to this rather fascinating concept called the “wife bonus“. The money paragraph:

A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a “good” school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks. In turn these bonuses were a ticket to a modicum of financial independence and participation in a social sphere where you don’t just go to lunch, you buy a $10,000 table at the benefit luncheon a friend is hosting.

So I responded that this looks like a rather interesting concept, and started my own analysis of why this works and these bonuses have been structured in the fashion that they have. Unfortunately the discussion went nowhere.

Because my friend who sent me the link found the concept disgusting and abhorrent and demeaning to women, and he was fascinated that I had managed to actually analyse it without feeling the same kind of emotions. As I write this, the conversation continues (as the old Coffy Bite ad went). Ok I googled and found that it’s actually “the argument continues”. Here is the ad:

So based on this one data point, and a few other data points from my and my wife’s blogging past, I figured out that such dispassionate analysis (I’ll present my dispassionate analysis on wife bonuses later in the post) is key if you are to be a good blogger. Because such dispassion allows you to not get swayed by the emotion or repugnancy of a concept, and instead analyse it to its full merit.

In this case you start wondering why these highly qualified women don’t work, but are “interested in art”. You start wondering about how a family’s finances would work if the qualified wife doesn’t work. You start wondering who controls the budgets, and considering that one half is not contributing financially, how stable such marriages are.

So my hypothesis, which I’ve never bothered to test, is that people who have access to funds but don’t have an independent source of income are less careful about spending it optimally than those who have access to funds on account of their own sources of income. To be less politically correct, the hypothesis is that housewives (and househusbands, to be more politically correct) are less careful about their money than people who work.

So now if you have a spouse with no independent income source, but want to make sure she has access to sufficient funds while making sure she doesn’t fritter away the wealth, the best way of achieving this is to ringfence the money under her control. Which means that giving her control of your bank account is not optimal, but creating a separate purse which is under her control is superior! And thus you create what can be classified as a “wife bonus”. As simple as that.

Now I realise many of my readers will find this blog post repugnant, for it is not politically correct, and they will allow their emotions to take over and brand me as a misogynist or a chauvinist or whatever else. All because I looked at an existing phenomenon logically without attaching a value judgment to it. And by doing so, they deny themselves the opportunity of reading my analysis. But there are others who are happy that there is someone doing this dispassionate analysis, and they will like such analysis. And my blog popularity grows on that front.

My wife has been blogging heavily through her life in business school (coincidentally I started blogging a decade ago when I was in business school; and we met each other through LiveJournal), and has already got to the stage where her professors read her blog. And while a lot of her classmates read her blog, there are some who have problems with it, that she writes dispassionately about everything without value judgments.

Anyway, I sent her the NYTimes piece on the wife bonus. She replied that she also wants one now!

Why I don’t blog about her

The sweetheart has one fundamental problem with my blogging. That I have hardly written about her on my blog. Being the girlfriend of a celebrity blogger she deserves better, she argues. And she pulls up the reams of posts that have been written here about my old crushes and accuses me of not loving her as much, given I don’t write about her.

While I agree that I haven’t written much about her, I believe there are several important reasons behind that. I don’t know if she’ll buy into this reasoning but I believe these points need to be made.

Firstly it must be recognised that angst is a major fuel for writing. When what you thought was a great “deal” (in terms of relationship) falls through, it creates immense angst which needs to be channelled somewhere. And writing about the subject that causes the angst is one of the ways of channelling the angst. There have been occasions where I’ve managed to channelize the angst in other productive ways but in the last few years writing about the source has been a good source of getting rid of it.

Then, there is the time and effort factor ( I think this is the reason she is least likely to buy). Running a successful relationship takes up a large amount of your time and effort, and that’s not necessarily bad. I’m not talking only about tackling fights, misunderstandings, etc. here. When you have found someone to share your life with, there is suddenly so much more to do. Your life changes in ways that you had never imagined. Your life becomes so awesome that trivial pursuits like writing get the short shrift. You might have noticed that my general quantity of output has diminished in the last year.

Lastly but most importantly, there is the issue of not wanting to rock the boat. When a deal falls through, you have nothing to lose from it. You don’t care what the counterparty of the fallen deal thinks about you anymore. And that lets you unleash. When things are good, though, there is a relationship to protect. You just do not want to rock the boat. Every time you write about her, you want to make sure you’re not writing something that might offend her. Or something that will take a great deal of effort to defend.

Every time you sit down to write about her, every line you write, you end up thinking four times what she might think of it. And that disturbs the flow in which you are usually used to writing your posts. And once that flow is disturbed, you don’t want to write anymore. You would rather write about something which you can write “in flow” than thinking four times about every line you write.

On a similar vein, you might have noticed that I hardly blog about my work nowadays. The number of work-related posts since I joined this job would be comfortably in single figures. And that doesn’t compare favourably at all given the volume of work-related posts in my earlier jobs. I love my current job and have settled down nicely into it, and intend to put gaaji here. There is little angst that this job creates. And because I like this, I spend that much more effort doing my job than writing about it.

Liquidity

We live in an era of unprecedented liquidity. Think about the difference from just about ten years ago. Back then, there was a much larger amount of cash reserve that one had to keep in one’s home, or on one’s person. There were no ATMs. There were no credit cards. All purchases needed to be meticulously planned, and budgeted for.

Now, because we don’t need to carry as much hard cash, there is so much more money in the banking system. While that gives depositors the nominal daily interest rate (at some obscenely low rate), there is much more money available with the banks to lend out, which increases the total amount of economic activity by nearly the same amount.

Just think about it. It’s fantastic, the effect of modern finance. And I don’t disagree with Paul Volcker when he says that the most important contribution of modern finance has been the ATM.

PS: My apologies for the break in blogging. I was in and around Ladakh for a week (yes, I was there when the cloudburst happened) and there were some problems with my laptop when I returned because of which I wasn’t able to blog. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to my one-post-a-day commitment. And I have lots of stories to tell (from my Leh trip) so hope to keep you people busy.

Happy Birthday 2

So today this blog (on this website, not the earlier avatar on LJ) celebrates its second birthday. I request you to join me in wishing this blog a happy and prosperous second birthday.

It has been an interesting journey since I moved my blog to this website exactly two years ago. Initially, readership just took off, but for a combination of reasons I had to slow down the pace of my blogging sometime late last year so you don’t see this blog as prosperous as it used to be last year. Oh, talking about monetary prosperity, this blog has to date earned a sum total of two dollars in Google Adwords earnings.

I have a resolution to celebrate the second birthday of this website. Starting today, I’m going to make an effort to set aside at least ten minutes every day and write one post on this blog. I must warn you that the quality of writing might go down, that there might be occasions where I might be forcing myself to write which might compromise on quality and stuff, but at least there will be stuff to read. It saddens me looking at the amount of NED that I’ve been putting (on a website of the appropriate name) over the last few months resulting in a fairly barren blog, and strong resolutions like these, I think, are necessary to take this blog back to its glory days.

I still stick to my promises – no more posts here either on arranged scissors or on studs and fighters. Another disappointing thing I need to mention is that I haven’t really been able to do much work in terms of those two books. I hope to start some positive work in that direction towards the end of this year, I hope.

I must take this opportunity to thank you people, my readers, for helping me make this blog successful. I hope you continue to enjoy reading the stuff here and that my readership will grow.

Coffee in America

I could have finished this post in one word  – “horrible”. But for the sake of blogging and detailed description, let me sacrifice brevity, like I usually do. I’m writing this after having drunk a cup of absolutely atrocious self-made coffee. Yes, it is proper traditional filter coffee made using Coffee Day Ultra Rich powder, but somewhere I seem to have messed it up. And the quality of this coffee, the first time I’ve made the brew after returning from America, reflects the general quality of coffee they make in America!

I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had good coffee. One was at a friend’s place in New Jersey, where I had traditional South Indian filter coffee out of a steel tumbler. Another was the Turkish coffee at The Hummus Place in Greenwich Village which I’ve talked about in my previous post. That is it! Maybe the odd capuccino somewhere but I can’t remember anything else specific.

The funny thing about America is the size of the coffee lOTas. The average coffee cup in my office was some 400 ml, and each time I would put it under the machine and ask for capuccino it would get filled up! It was extremely disorienting for someone like me who is used to several small doses of coffee during the day. There was another dispenser which dispensed decoction but that was horrible, too. But later on I started drinking from that since I could then control the volume of each dose!

I think I have mentioned this in some other post but another problem in America is they give you hot black coffee and COLD milk. Again extremely disorienting for someone who is used to coffee made with boiling milk. I’m told that the typical American puts such little milk in his coffee that the temperature of milk doesn’t matter. Just that I found it hard to digest (not literally).

Then there was this coffee maker in my apartment. I had to google to figure out how it worked and then realized that an essential part of making it work was to buy filter paper (the first time I’d come across this thing since high school chemistry lab). Since I didn’t have enthu to buy the said paper, I just made do with the two complimentary sheets that had been kindly provided in my apartment. Needless to say the coffee came out to be horrible and I didn’t use the machine again.

One of my regrets of my America trip is that I didn’t order coffee post my several Italian meals. Maybe the Italian restaurants would have made coffee much better than what was available in the rest of the country. And one of the amusing things i remember from the trip is the length of the queues at the Starbucks outlets! That made me realize that people actually go to Starbucks for coffee unlike us here who use Cafe Coffee Day as a convenient hangout location!

Yesterday I did my bit to make up for all the horrible coffee that I’d endured during my America trip. Had two awesome cups of filter coffee at a friend’s place, and then three doses of “sugarless strong” at three diffferent darshini-level places. Unfortunately this morning’s mess-up (now I realize I put 2 spoons of powder into the filter instead of the usual 4) has taken me back to square one, of American quality coffee.