On Hating Talisker

I must thank Mohits Senior and Junior for introducing me to the wonderful world of Single Malts in general, and to Talisker in particular. If I remember right, this was at a meeting of a certain secret society in Senior’s house, where Junior had procured the said substance. I remember being floored by it, and thinking I’d never thought liquor could taste so good. And till yesterday I used to think no one can ever hate this drink.

The first time I got down to buying a bottle of it (though I’d had it by the glass a couple of times outside) was in a duty free shop on my way back from my honeymoon last winter. The wife, as I’d expected, took a huge liking for it. In fact, it seemed like she liked it much more than I did. I must also mention here that for a very long time, that bottle of Talisker was the only liquor available at home.

So whenever we would fight (in our early days of marriage it was quite often, I must admit) the wife would want to distract herself and cool off by “lightening” herself. And would gulp down some Talisker straight from the bottle, as I stood aside, aghast. The subject matter of the fight would be ¬†quickly forgotten, with my foremost thought being “what a waste of such fine booze”, and she being distracted by the contents of the said booze.

That first bottle of Talisker didn’t last too long.

So on our way back from Italy and Greece this summer, I bought another bottle of Talisker. And even before I got it billed, I told the wife that it wasn’t for gulping down, and especially not she was angry. I’ll keep a bottle of cheap whisky at home, I said, for her to drink when angry, and the Talisker should be accessed only when we’re looking to savour our drink.

So last night, on the occasion of her birthday, we decided we want to savour some drink, and down came the bottle of Talisker. She had hardly taken a couple of sips, when she handed the glass back to me. “I can’t take this any more”, she said. “Now, every time I drink Talisker, I get reminded of those times when I was angry and we would be fighting. I don’t want this any more’. So finally there exists a person who hates Talisker, for whatever reason!

For the record, I finished the rest of her drink last night.

Booze and volatility

Another of those things I’ve been intending to write for a really long time. Occasionally when I’m not feeling too good mentally, people ask me to go have a drink telling me that everything will be alright. However, given my limited experience in this I’m not too confident it will work. In fact, the only one time I tried drowning my sorrows in alcohol (this was over four years ago) I ended up feeling significantly worse, worse enough to have not tried it since.

The thing with booze is that it increases the volatility of your state of mind. This means that it will flatten out the curve according to which your mental state moves. So after you’ve had a drink or few, you are unlikely to remain in the same state that you were in that you started off at. You end up feeling either significantly better or significantly worse – and the chances of both these go up tremendously when you drink.

I know I have been so far acting based on one data point that went adversely, but I don’t know what causes the selection bias in people who have been through both sides significantly! Of feeling much worse and feeling much better after having some drinks. Why is it that even though all of them would’ve been through significantly worse after drinking at some point of time or the other, they tend to forget about it and only think of the times when they’ve felt better?

Is it that whether you feel good or not is some kind of a binary payoff depending upon the level of the state of mind (basically state of mind < cutoff => “bad”; state of mind >= cutoff implies “good”)? If this is true, then whenever you are “out of the money” (feeling bad), you dont’ really care if you go even more out of the money – your overall feeling doesn’t change by much. And so you don’t really mind the cases when the alcohol starts making you feel significantly worse. But then the barrier is ahead of you so by increasing volatility, you are giving yourself a better chance of surmounting the barrier so drinking makes sense! But then under this condition it doesn’t make sense to drink at all when you’re already feeling good!

Are there any other reasons you can think of for this selection bias? Why do people give more benefits to positive movement in state of mind as a function of drinking than to negative movement in state of mind? Or is it that volatility is a non-intuitive concept and “there’s a better chance you’ll feel better if you drink” is a simple way of communicating it? And let me know your experience about drink making you feel worse..

Anecdotes from school: Copying In exams

A couple of not-so-hilarious incidents from our pre-board exams in 10th standards. It being election year (1998) we had 2 rounds of pre-boards instead of the usual one. The formation in the classroom was interesting – we sat normally two to a desk, and there were two sets of question papers. Since these were pre-boards and not boards, many of us didn’t really take them seriously. I must say that the entire set of exams was a riot. After all, it was the last thing that we did in that wonderful school (the school didn’t have 11th and 12th, so all of us had to shift out).

The biology section of the science exam contained a question on habit-forming substances. Something on the lines of “what are habit forming substances and why are they bad”. A certain mahaanubhaavva thought he didn’t know the answer. Or maybe he didn’t understand the question properly. So using a set of excellently-planned cheat codes, he managed to communicate to the guy in the next row (note that he couldn’t ask the person next to him since she had a different question paper) about this question.

The guy in the next row wasn’t such a stud in dumb-charades, and decided to use standard gestures rather than excellently-worked-out codes. He wanted to show booze in as intuitive way as possible. Putting his fist near his mouth, and with a clever movement of his thumb, he indicated drink. Sitting behind him, I thought this was excellent for someone not well-versed in Dumb Charades. Unfortunately, people well-versed in Dumb Charades tend to think too much. In went the answer paper “the primary habitat forming substance is water. It is bad because people and animals can fall and drown in it”. He must count himself lucky he got the hall ticket.

This incident has had far-reaching consequences. The mahaanubhaava who didn’t know the answer was so traumatised by the incident that he is yet to taste alcohol. He is afraid of drowning in it – that dreaded habitat forming substance.

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One day later was the social sciences paper. Unfortunately I wasn’t part of the Dumb Charades study group, so I hadn’t been introduced to the art of communicating the question number across the class. I realized that with my skills I was unable to even communicate across the aisle. I wasn’t even as good as the guy in front of me who put his fist to his mouth. So it had to be the cute girl next to me who had to help me out with the question that I didn’t have a clue of. If I remember right, she was partially trained in Dumb Charades.

What I didn’t realize was that you are not supposed to copy if you are seated in the first row – it is too easy to get caught. Moreover, if you are in one of the middle columns (like I was) you are in the direct line of vision of the invigilator. So it is never a good idea to copy. But then, I’d never copied in my life, and I knew this was the last opportunity for me to make amends. So what if I didn’t know the codes? So what if I was seated on the first row? So what if the cute girl next to me had a different set of questions? This was my last chance to profitably copy, and I had to take it.

I usually pride myself on being good at eye contact. I pride myself on the fact that I can communicate anything to someone of the opposite gender by just looking deeply into her eyes. I know that if I were to copy from a girl who was seated in FRONT of me, I could have done it with just eye contact. Unfortunately, the only person seated across me and looking towards me was the invigilator. Obviously I couldn’t ask her the answer?

The rules of copying state that it is always the dumber person who copies from the smarter person. The class topper never copies. If he were a copycat, his topping could never have been this sustainable. By knownig the two names, you can easily know who is the copier and who is the copied. Things always go by the rules. So if you try to invert  these rules, it is usually easy to fool the invigilator. And so forth.

So unlike the mahaanubhaava who hadn’t understood the question, I didn’t get caught for the attempt to copy. No one threatened to not give me my hall ticket – that honour went to the cute girl who had been sitting next to me. I didn’t do well in my social science pre-boards – I hadn’t been able to get the answer from the benchmate – she had got caught for copying from me before that. Despite now knowing the codes, and having zero experience in this department, I had played my cards well. I never repeated this experiment. Even if I wnated to, I think I’d’ve never found a counterparty.

Alumni Dinner Pricing

So this is Anusmaran week. This is the week where all over the world, in over eleven cities, alumni of IIMB will meet in the annual alumni meet up. The venue for this is usually a convention hall or a lawn in a hotel, and people have to contribute an “entry fee” in order to pay for the dinner. Drinks are usually “extra” and you have to pay for each drink that you drink.

The problem with this is that for “pseud value” reasons the event is usually held in a reasonably expensive place. For example, in Delhi it happened at the India Habitat Center, with the “participation fee” being rupees eight hundred only. And on a Sunday evening, and you know how early or late parties in Delhi start. I didn’t go for it so I don’t really know about the response but I don’t expect it to have been spectacular.

The probelm with alumni meets is that the organizers (usually students doing their summer internship in the city where it is held) underestimate the elasticity of these meets. They don’t realize that people who want to be in touch with each other continue to be in touch with each other irrespective of efforts by the Alma Mater, and that there needs to be some sort of concrete incentive in order to come and attend the alumni meet up.

As I was discussing with Baada a short while ago, networking for networking sake does require a reasonably high level of enthu. It doesn’t come naturally for most people. You netwrok if you have a product to sell and need to meet potential buyers. You netwrok if you are looking for a job and hope to meet potential employers. You network if you are looking for some favour and there is a good chance you might meet someone who might do you that favour. You don’t naturally network for netwroking sake.

Given this, expecting people to shell out a not-so-inconsiderable amount to attend a networking event where food will probably be of dubious quality and you have to pay for each glass of booze is a bit too much. The more enthu people and people who want to network will turn up. The rest won’t. They will probably get together with their own little gang of people (maybe all alumni of the same college) and go elsewhere for good dinner and conversation.

The first time I attended Anusmaran was in 2005 when I helped organize it in London, where I was interning. All of us London interns were full of enthu for networking back then and turned up in good numbers. There were quite a few alumni also, and it was good fun. I attended Anusmaran in Mumbai in 2006, immediately after I’d joined my first job. I knew that a large number of people from our batch was in the city, and Anusmaran provided us a good opportunity to catch up. Extremely good fun.

In 2007, I had gone to the Bangalore meet and walked out looking at the extremely thin turnout. I went to the nearby Adigas for dinner along with Aadisht and GB. Was good value for money.

Yes I might be a cheap guy. But what the organizers need to keep in mind is that a large number of attendees are also cheap guys. So forget all the pseud value and hold it at a place where it doesn’t cost too much for the attendee in order to network.