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.

My Friend Sancho – Review

I had mentioned in my previous blog post that I’ll not be attending the My Friend Sancho launch in Delhi because it was on a weekday. I had also mentioned that since I have a huge pile of unread books I wouldn’t buy this for a while at least. My boss happened to read that blog post and mentioned to me that he was planning to drive to mainland Delhi for the launch at the end of work on Wednesday evening. Not having to drive all the way there relieved me of the NED and I went. And given that I went, and that I was planning to buy it some time, I bought it at the venue and got it signed by the author.

I just finished my dinner. I know it’s a bit late, but I started reading the book at 8pm today. And got so engrossed that I didn’t get up to cook till it was around nine thirty, when I had finished about half the book. I got up and put the rice to cook and sat down with the book again. And didn’t get up until I was done (oh yes – I got up once in the middle to turn off the pressure cooker, and to take a leak). All two hundred and seventeen pages of it. Extremely easy read, and extremely engrossing. The drop in quality of Amit’s blogging during the time he wrote this book can be forgiven.

Overall it is a nice book. But I wonder how well it will be appreciated by someone who doesn’t know Amit at all. I know that a large proportion of people who will be buying his book are regular readers of India Uncut (which finds half a dozen plugs in the book), but thing is there is so much more you can get from the book if you know Amit. Now – given that I know Amit, and not just from his blog – I’m trying to imagine how much less a person who doesn’t know Amit at all will get out of this.

One of ther more delightful sub-plots in the book is the speech given by a policeman about “the beast called the Government” – while speaking in bullet points. It is a fantastic libertarian speech, and it is even more fantastic that it is delivered by the possibly corrupt inspector. Now – the problem is that a person who hasn’t read much of Amit’s writing – either on his blog or in his erstwhile Mint column will simply gloss over this monologue as some random meaningless gibberish.

There are a few other such pieces in the book – where a prior reading of Amit’s work will make you enjoy things a lot more. So my recommenedation to you is tha tif you wnat to read MFS, you should first go over to indiauncut.com and read a few dozen of Amit’s blog posts. And then begin reading the book and you should enjoy it.

Another reason why I was initially sceptical about the book was that I was told it features a talking lizard. I inherently don’t like stories that cannot be real. So if you put in talking animals, or creatures that don’t exist, I am usually put off and lose enthu to read the book. Amit, however, does a good job of limiting the number of lines given to the lizard – he does it in a way such that it appears as if the lizard represents the narrator’s conscience.

Overall it’s a really good book, and I recommend you read it. The story is simple and gripping, and the sub-plots are also really good. It won’t take too much of your time, or too much of your money (very reasonably priced at Rs. 195).   Just make sure that you read some of Amit’s writing before you read the book.

Don’t use stud processes for fighter jobs and fighter processes for stud jobs

When people crib to other people that their job is not too exciting and that it’s too process-oriented and that there’s not muc scope for independend thinking, the usual response is that no job is inherently process-oriented or thinking-oriented, and that what matters is the way in which one perceives his job. People usually say that it doesn’t matter if a job is stud or fighter, and you can choose to do it the way you want to. This is wrong.

So there are two kinds of jobs – stud (i.e. insight-oriented) and fighter (i.e. process oriented). And you can do the job in either a stud manner (trying to “solve a problem” and looking for insights) or in a fighter manner (logically breaking down the problem, structuring it according to known formula and then applying known processes to each sub-problem). So this gives scope for a 2 by 2. I don’t want this to look like a BCG paper so I’m not actually drawing a 2 by 2.

Two of the four quadrants are “normal” and productive – doing stud jobs in a stud manner, and fighter jobs in a fighter manner. There is usually an expectancy match here in terms of the person doing the job and the “client” (client is defined loosely here as the person for whom this job is being done. in most cases it’s the boss). Both parties have a good idea about the time it will tak e  for the job to be done, the quality of the solution, and so on. If you are in either of these two quadrants you are good.

You can’t do a stud job (something that inherently requires insight) using a fighter process. A fighter process, by definition, looks out for known kind of solutions. When the nature of the solution is completely unknown, or if the problem is completely unstructured, the fighter behaves like a headless chicken. It is only in very rare and lucky conditions that the fighter will be able to do the stud job. As for “fighterization”, about which I’ve been talking so much on this blog, the problem definition is usually tweaked slightly in order to convert the stud problem to a fighter problem. So in effect, you should not try to solve a “stud problem” using a fighter process. Also, as an employer, it is unfair to expect a mostly fighter employee to come up with a good solution for a stud problem.

The fourth quadrant is what I started off this blog post with – studs doing fighter jobs. The point here is that there is no real harm in doing a fighter job in a stud manner, and the stud should be able to come up wiht a pretty good solution. The problem is wiht expectations, and with efficiency. Doing a fighter job in a stud manner creates inefficiency, since a large part of the “solution” involves reinventing the wheel. Yes, the stud might be able to come up with enhanced solutions – maybe solve the problem for a general case, or make the solution more scalable or sustainable, but unless the “client” understands that the problem was a stud problem, he is unlikely to care for these enhancements (unless he asked for them of course), and is likely to get pained because of lack of efficiency.

Before doing something it is important to figure out if the client expects a stud solution or a fighter solution. And tailor your working style according to that. Else there could be serious expectation mismatch which can lead to some level of dissatisfaction.

And when you are distributing work to subordinates, it might also help to classify them using stud nad fighter scales and give them jobs that take advantage of their stronger suits. I know you can’t do this completely – since transaction costs of having more than one person working on a small piece of work can be high – but if you do this to the extent possible it is likely that you will get superior results out of everyone.

Fighterization of food

One of the topics that I’d introduced on my blog not so long ago was “fighterization“. The funda was basically about how professions that are inherently stud are “fighterzied” so that a larger number of people can participate in it, and a larger number of people can be served. In the original post, I had written about how strategy consulting has completely changed based on fighterization.

After that, I pointed out about how processes are set – my hypothesis being that the “process” is something that some stud would have followed, and which some people liked because of which it became a process. And more recently, I wrote about the fighterization of Carnatic music, which is an exception to the general rule. Classical music has not been fighterized so as to enable more people to participate, or to serve a larger market. It has naturally evolved this way.

And even more recently, I had talked about how “stud instructions” (which are looser, and more ‘principles based’) are inherently different from “fighter instructions” (which are basically a set of rules). Ravi, in a comment on Mohit‘s google reader shared items, said it’s like rule-based versus principles-based regulation.

Today I was reading this Vir Sanghvi piece on Lucknowi cuisine, which among other things talks about the fact that it is pulao that is made in Lucknow, and now biryani; and about the general declining standards at the Taj Lucknow. However, the part that caught my eye, which has resulted in this post with an ultra-long introduction was this statement:

The secret of good Lucknowi cooking, he said, is not the recipe. It is the hand. A chef has to know when to add what and depending on the water, the quality of the meat etc, it’s never exactly the same process. A great chef will have the confidence to improvise and to extract the maximum flavour from the ingredients.

This basically states that high-end cooking is basically a stud process. That the top chefs are studs, and can adapt their cooking and methods and styles to the ingredients and the atmosphere in order to churn out the best possible product.You might notice that most good cooks are this way. There is some bit of randomness or flexibility in the process that allows them to give out a superior product. And a possible reason why they may not be willing to give out their recipes even if they are not worried about their copyright is that the process of cooking is a stud process, and is hence not easily explained.

Publishing recipes is the attempt at fighterization of cooking. Each step is laid down in stone. Each ingredient needs to be exactly measured (apart from salt which is usually “to taste”). Each part of the process needs to be followed properly in the correct order. And if you do everything perfectly,  you will get the perfect standardized product.

Confession time. I’ve been in Gurgaon for 8 months and have yet to go to Old Delhi to eat (maybe I should make amends this saturday. if you want to join me, or in fact lead me, leave a comment). The only choley-bhature that I’ve had has been at Haldiram’s. And however well they attempt to make it, all they can churn out is the standardized “perfect” product. The “magic” that is supposed to be there in the food of Old Delhi is nowhere to be seen.

Taking an example close to home, my mother’s cooking can be broadly classified into two. One is the stuff that she has learnt from watching her mother and sisters cook. And she is great at making all of these – Bisibelebhath and masala dosa being her trademark dishes (most guests usually ask her to make one of these whenever we invite them home for a meal). She has learnt to make these things by watching. By trying and erring. And putting her personal touch to it. And she makes them really well.

On the other hand, there are these things that she makes by looking at recipes published in Women’s Era. Usually she messes them up. When she doesn’t, it’s standardized fare. She has learnt to cook them by a fighter process. Though I must mention that the closer the “special dish” is to traditional Kannadiga cooking (which she specializes in), the better it turns out.

Another example close to home. My own cooking. Certain things I’ve learnt to make by watching my mother cook. Certain other things I’ve learnt from this cookbook that my parents wrote for me before I went to England four years ago. And the quality of the stuff that I make, the taste in either case, etc. is markedly different.

So much about food. Coming to work, my day job involves fighterization too. Stock trading is supposed to be a stud process. And by trying to implement algorithmic trading, my company is trying to fighterize it. The company is not willing to take any half-measures in fighterization, so it is recruiting the ultimate fighter of ‘em all – the computer – and teaching it to trade.

Preliminary reading on studs and fighters theory:

http://noenthuda.com/blog/2007/09/07/studs-and-fighters/

http://noenthuda.com/blog/2008/11/11/extending-the-studs-and-fighters-theory/