Facebook comments

I find most comments on facebook fraud and think they don’t add value. These are of the format of “oh how louuvely! you are looking grrreat in this pic”. I don’t know what value the commentor is trying to add. They are essentially of the “i vas here” kind of comments, and do nothing in order to further the conversation. Yes, I believe that pics on facebook are there so as to foster conversation. To bring people together. To get different viewpoints on certain momentous events. And you have people spoiling the show with motherhood statements.

Speaking of motherhood statements, a batchmate from school has recently put up pictures of her newborn daughter. And once again most comments ranged from “oh so pretty” to “congraaaaaaats” to just “awwwwww” – again none of them adding value (plis to be noting that this is all context sensitive. There are certain situations where any of the phrases I’ve mentioned here add tremendous value. Just that they’re mostly grossly misused). I wanted to write a comment there saying “stop making motherhood statements” but then held back since the new mother was also of hte “awwwwwww” “soo pretty” types.

When I write comments somewhere, be it on other blogs, or on people’s photos, or events, or statuses, I try to make sure that I’m adding some value to the discussion. If not anything else, I’ll write something that could possibly lead to further discussion, rather than just leaving comments to announce that I vas there. Perhaps the only place where I leave out of place comments is twitter, where I’m guilty of putting the odd “i’m listening” comment.

And then there are people who put up their own pics  on facebook. Someone, in a valiant attempt to mark their attendance, comments saying “nice pic”. And then you have the subject of the picture (that is the one that put it up) saying “thanks”. Even though the nice pic was supposed to be of the marking attendance type, I suppose it was a comment aimed at the photographer. I don’t know why the subject is even trying to claim credit for the pics – or maybe they just assume that it was their extra photogenic faces that made the pic as nice as it was.

I remember that back in B-school, a number of courses had marks for CP (class participation). And professors would emphasize that it was not the quantity but hte quality of CP that would matter. Occasionally you would have a Teaching Assistant sitting there marking people instantly on their CP. The threat that valueless CP would draw negative marks was enough to keep the discussions interesting.

So yeah you have people telling me that some of my CP on their pics is usually arbit. Arbit it might be at times, but at least it helps foster discussion. It raises crucial questions that might have otherwise not been asked, and helps keeps the putter of photos honest. It helps draw in other intelligent and mildly arbit people to the phpoto, and sometimes results in absolutely brilliant conversation. Now tell me – how many times have you seen an “oh so louuvvely” comment leading to brilliant conversation?

So the next time you want to comment on a picture on facebook, think twice, and think if your comment adds value. Think if it will foster discussion; think if it will make people pull up their socks and ask themselves uncomfortable questions. Think if it will draw in other similar-minded intelligent people. And even after all this you can’t decide whether to put the CP, you only have Gandhiji’s talisman to help you.

PS: you don’t need to think twice before putting CP on this blog. however, useless CP will be ignored and not be replied to

Update

I was going through a friend’s wedding album. Here are the comments on one of the photos:

  • Great pictures! You look gorgeous, _________!
  • Aaaww…You look so beautiful __________! I’m so upset I missed it all :( Hope you had tons of fun!!! :D
  • Congrats ___________:))

The friend (i’ve blanked out the name) hasn’t replied to any of them (and all the above comments are by girls – refer to megha’s comment below).

And then on another pic, there is a valoo-adding comment – which goes something like – “is this the part where you run around trees singing songs?” That adds great value. Unfortunately, the person who got married has replied to this comment with a fairly lame comment so I don’t know how far this conversation will go.

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/

Lazy post: Search Phrases: March 2009

I think I’ll make this a monthly feature: collecting the whackiest search terms that people use to land up on my blog, and posting them here. I had published one such list for February. Here goes the list for March:

  • describe my job
  • apprentics for carpenter in gurgaon
  • can north indians survive in the south
  • carnatic music pakistan
  • dry fish market in orisa & madrass contact numbers
  • examples of bastardization in a sentence
  • how can death be postponed by chanting mantras?
  • kodhi is a cheap guy
  • savitabhabhi.com competition
  • verb phrases of the behavior of atticus
  • what are some other versions of dashavatar -film -songs -jobs -dvd -movie

Intellectual Property

A blog post earlier this month on Econlog finished off with a very strong quote by Friedrich Hayek:

One of the forms of private property that people cherish most is their ideas. If you convince them that their ideas are wrong, you have caused them to suffer a capital loss.

I ended up liking it so much that I added it to my work email signature. Thinking about it further, why is it that some people are more open to debate than others? Why do some people admit to their mistakes easily while others are dogmatic about them? Why do some people simply refuse to discuss their ideas with other people? I think Hayek’s observation offers a clue.

Let us consider two people – Mr. Brown and Mr. Green. Mr. Brown believes in diversification, and his investments are spread across several financial instruments, belonging to different categories, with a relatively small amount of money in each of them. For purposes of this analogy, let us assume that no two instruments in his portfolio are strongly correlated with each other (what is strong correlation? I don’t know. I can’t put a number on it. But I suppose you get the drift)

Mr. Green on the other hand has chosen a few instruments and has put a large amount of money on each of them. It is just to do with his investment philosophy, which we shall not go into, as this is just an analogy.

Let us suppose that both Mr. Brown and Mr. Green held Satyam stock on 6th January 2009. They were both invested in Satyam according to their respective philosophies – and the weightage of Satyam in their respective portfolios was also in line with their philosophies. The next day, 7th of January, the Satyam fraud came out. The stock crashed to a tenth of its value. Almost went to zero. How would our friends react to this situation?

Mr. Green obviously doesn’t like it. A large part of his investments has been wiped out. He has become a significantly poorer man. For a while he will be in denial about this. He will refuse to accept that such a thing could happen to one of his chosen stocks. He will try to convince himself that this fall (a 90% fall, no less) is transient, and the stock will go back to where it once was. As days go by, he realizes that his investments have been lost for ever. He is significantly poorer.

Mr. Brown will also be disappointed by the fall – after all, he too has lost money in the fall. However, his disappointment is mitigated by the fact that the loss is small compared to his portfolio. There have been other stocks in his portfolio which have been doing well, and their performance will probably absorb the Satyam losses. Some of the stocks in his portfolio may also be fundamentally negatively correlated with Satyam, which means they will now gain. There is also the possibility that the Satyam fall has opened up some new possible areas of investment for Mr. Brown, and he might put money into them. It is much easier for Mr. Brown to accept the fall of Satyam compared to Mr. Green.

So you replace stocks by ideas, and I suppose you konw what I am gettting at. The degree of openness that people show with respect to an idea they have varies inversely with the share of this particular idea in their “idea portfolio”. The smaller the proportion of this idea, the lesser will be the “capital cost” of their losing the idea. And hence, they will be more open to debate, to discussion, to letting someone critically examine their ideas. If the proportion of this particular idea in their overall portfolio is large, there will obviously be resistancce.

A corrolary of this is that when someone possesses a small number of ideas they are more likely to be dogmatic about them (I am using the indefinitive “more likely” here because even when you have a small number of securities in your portfolio, your exposure to some of them will be really small and so you’ll be less unwilling to lose them. Though I must point out that people with small ideas portfolios become so used to madly defending the big ideas in the portfolio that they start adopting the same tactic for the smaller ideas in their portfolio and become dogmatic about them – which is irrational).

I just hope I didn’t cause you a capital loss by writing this. For me, on the other hand, this was a bonus stock.

Stud and Fighter Instructions

My apologies for the third S&F post in four days. However, this blog represents an impression of the flow of thought through my head, and if I try to time my thoughts to suit readers’ interests and variety, I’m afraid I may not be doing a very good job.

I came across this funda in one of the “sub-plots” of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which I finished reading two days back. Actually, there is another post about the main plot of that book that I want to write, but I suppose I’ll write that some other day, maybe over this weekend. So Dawkins, in some part of the book talks about two different ways of giving instructions. And thinking about it, I think it can be fit into the stud and fighter theory.

I must admit I’ve forgotten what Dawkins used this argument for, but he talks about how a carpenter teaches his apprentice. According to Dawkins, the carpenter gives instructions such as “drive the nail into the wood until the head is firmly embedded” and contrasts it to instructions which say “hold the nail in your left hand and hit it on the head with a hammer held in the right hand exactly ten times”. By giving instructions in the former way, Dawkins argues, there is less chance of the apprentice making a mistake. However, in case the apprentice does err, it is likely to be a significantly large error. On the other hand, with the latter kind of instructions, chance of error is higher but errors are likely to be smaller.

A set of “stud instructions” typically tell the recipient “what to do”. It is typically not too specific, and lists out a series of fairly unambiguous steps. The way in which each of these smaller steps is to be accomplished is left to the recipient of the instructions. Hence, given that each instruction is fairly clear and unambiguous, it is unlikely that the recipient of the instructions will implement any of these instructions imperfectly. What is more likely is that he goes completely wrong on one step, maybe completely missing it or horribly misunderstanding it.

“Fighter instructions”, on the other hand, go deep into the details and tell the recipient not only what to do but also how to do what to do. These instructions will go down to much finer detail than stud instructions, and leave nothing to the reasoning of the recipient. Obviously the number of steps detailed here to do a particular piece of work will be significantly larger than the number of steps that a set of stud instructions. Now, the probability that the recipient of these instructions is likely to make a mistake is much larger, though the damage done will be much smaller, since the error would only be in a small part of the process.

Dawkins went on to give a better example than the carpenter one – consider an origami model of a boat on one hand, and a drawing of a boat on the other. Origami gives a set of precise and discrete instructions. Drawing is as good as a set of “continuous instructions”. Dawkins talks about experiments where kids are made to play a version of “chinese whispers” using the origami and the drawing. I won’t go into the details here but the argument is that the stud instructions are much easier to pass on, and the probability of the tenth kid in line producing a correct model is really high – while in case of a drawing, there is a small distortion at each and every step, so each final model is flawed.

Stud and fighter instructions have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Fighter instructions require much more supervision than do stud instructions. Stud instructions enable the recipient to bring in his own studness into the process and possibly optimize one or more of the sub-processes. Fighter instruction sets are so-finegrained that it is impossible for the recipient to innovate or optimize in every way. To receive a set of stud instructions, the recipient may need to have certain prior domain knowledge, or a certain level of intelligence. This is much more relaxed in case of fighter instructions.

I personally don’t like supervising people and hence prefer to give out stud instructions whenever I need to get some work done. However, there was one recent case where I was forced to do the opposite. There was this IT guy at my company on contract and I was supposed to get a piece of code written from him before his contract expired. Given the short time lines in question, and given that he didn’t have too much of a clue of the big picture, I was forced to act micro and give him a set of fighter instructions. He has ended up doing precisely what I asked him to do, the only problem being that he has  written code in an extremely inflexible and non-scalable manner and I might have to duplicate his effort since this bit now needs generalization.

I have noticed that a large majority of people, when they have to give out instructions spell it out in the fighter manner. With a large number of micro steps rather than a small number of bigger steps. And until the recipient of the instructions has got enough fundaes to consolidate the set of micro-instructions he has received into a natural set of bigger chunks, it is unlikely that he will either be very efficient or that he will produce stuff that will be flexible. It might also be the case that a large number of people don’t want to let go of “control” and are hence loathe to give out stud instructions.

In the general case, however, my recommendation would be to give stud instructions, but have a set of fighter instructions ready in case the recipient of the instructionss wants things to be more specific.

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/

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

(this is a collection of stuff I want to collectively say to all Cesares out there. Some of these might be based on stuff that has happened to me. Most of this, however, is imaginary. Nevertheless, I suppose I’ll end up saying some of these things sooner rather than later. Rather, I won’t be able to say a number of these things which is why I’m writing them here.

Cesare is a generalized term to refer to the father of the girl that you are seeing/checking-out/blading/marrying. It was collectively invented by Monkee and Kodhi, and alludes to a former AC Milan and Italy manager)

Dear Cesare,

  • You know, we are modern people. Yes, my mother is religious and all that but we think horoscope is a fraud. How do we know you haven’t frauded your daughter’s horoscope? Even if you didn’t, I was born through Caesarian section. What if the time of my birth had been timed to make sure I have a good horoscope? Do you still want it? Do you still think it matters?
  • Your daughter doesn’t look good, but I don’t know how to communicate this to you. Obviously, you won’t like to hear that your daughter is ugly, since that is a comment on the genes that you’ve passed on to her. But given that we’d cleared everything till this round, and are saying “no” now after inspecting the photo, isn’t it clear that we are rejecting based on looks?
  • Maybe next time I’ll ask you for your daughter’s horoscope along with her photo. Fraud it (horoscope) may be, but you think that is a better reason for rejection than looks. So next time I call you up and tell you “jaataka didn’t fit” you know what I’m talking about. Oh, and one more thing – you need to get the timing perfect. Both the horoscope and the photo should be sent together – else I won’t be able to reject based on horoscope
  • Every time I say “no” to your daughter, you ask me why. Why should I give you the reason? What if I had met your daughter in a pub (assume she’s a pubgoing, loose and forward woman) and hit on her for 2 days and then ditched her? Would I have to give reasons then? And you don’t take “not good fit” for an answer. There is a good chance you don’t really understand “fit”.
  • According to you, if I say no, there is something wrong with your daughter. And if she says no, then there is something wrong with me. I suppose you haven’t heard of something called the interaction term right? I suppose you haven’t been taught to add vectors, where there is a cosine term?
  • Yes, your daughter looks decent enough. She is smart enough. She is nice enough. From what I have understood she cooks just well enough. She earns enough. She is flexible enough. I agree with all of these. Excellent Common Minimum Programme, but I’m afraid that’s not what I’m looking for.
  • Of course, for the purposes of symmetry, your daughter can also say no to me without having to explain her stand. I’ll completely respect her decision. Being told “no” without being given reasons is not new to me. It’s happened in different markets.
  • And then you have a problem if I’ve already said “no” to too many women. You think I’m a loose guy, and that I’m in the market only to check out and hit on unsuspecting “hen makkLu”. But isn’t checking out and hitting on the main purpose of this process of finding a partner? Or do you mean that this market is for finding CMPs only, and I need to get out because I’m not looking for one? In any case, it would be good if your daughter were to be suspecting.
  • During the interview, I’m going to ask your daughter if she is a virgin. If you think she is the type that will be scandalized at such questions, you need not shortlist me.
  • Remember that this is the most important decision of my life. And that of your daughter’s life. So please don’t make us hurry up and make an uninformed decision on this. As long as both of us are still interested in each other, you should let us be. It takes time for Interest to move to Desire. Till then, don’t force Action.
  • I understand that you might be scandalized that I’m writing all this on my blog. nODi swamy, naaviruvudu heege (trans: look sir, we are like this wonly). I just hope that you and your daughter don’t really mind this. If you do, then we have a small problem here. Oh and btw, this is one post in what I intend to be a fairly long series on “arranged scissors”. You can find the entire list downstairs.
  • Just one thing – the tone of this post is siginficantly harsher than what I normally talk like. You are validated if you were to un-shortlist me because of the content of this post. But you are not doing the right thing if you were to un-shortlist me based on the tone. My apologies for that.
  • I hope that some day I’ll be able to call up Radio Indigo and dedicate a song to you. The song is by Iron Maiden. It is called Bring your daughter to the slaughter.

Thanks and regards,
SKimpy

(yes, that is my name. And if you came here looking for Karthik S’s blog, I assure you that you have come to the right place)

Earlier:

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence