Archery tournament design

Over the last couple of days, I switched on the TV in order to “jinx” two of India’s more promising archers in their respective games at the Olympics. On Monday evening, I switched on the TV to see R Banerjee (forget his first name) lose a close game in the round of 32. Yesterday, I watched Tarundeep Rai shoot well but still get well beaten by an absolutely in-form guy named Kim (from Korea, where else?). As I watched these matches, I was thinking about the nature of competition in archery.

Archery is a fundamentally single-player event. You are competing against yourself, and how well you do is not supposed to be affected by how well someone else does. There is no direct opponent you are playing against who tries to prevent you from scoring. In some ways, you can consider it to be similar to running. The only element of competition is the pressure that is exerted upon you be opponents competing simultaneously. In this context, it is indeed surprising that the archery event has been designed as a one-on-one knockout, like you would expect for a direct-opposition sport like tennis.

An event directly comparable to archery in terms of fundamentals is shooting – there again, there is no impact of one player on another’s performance but for the pressure exerted by means of simultaneous competition. Shooting, however, goes the “races” (running/swimming) way by means of having heats where only one’s absolute performance matters in terms of score matters (there is no limit on the number of the number of finalists from one heat; the best 8 or 10 participants across heats make it).

Then why is it that archery, which is fundamentally similar to these sports in terms of fundamental concepts, relies on head-to-head competition, and that too with no repechage? Yesterday, I watched Tarundeep Rai come up against an absolutely inspired Kim – Kim was in such imperious form that irrespective of how well Rai would have done he wouldn’t have qualified. Rai didn’t play badly, “against” any other opponent or on another day, he would have definitely done better. In a “direct combat” sport (such as tennis), one can point to the luck of the draw and similar matters. But in a distinctly non-combative sport such as archery why should artificial tournament standards be designed and that extra bit of luck be introduced?

I hope the archery administrators realize the stupidity of the curent format and move to one that is similar to what we see in shooting today.

Whether to surprise or not

Today, my wife turns twenty five. It hasn’t been a good birthday so far, for she feels depressed that she’s growing old. It doesn’t help matters that I’ve failed to surprise her, while on my birthday six months back she had put together a series of fantastic surprises. In my defence, I treated her to an afternoon of unlimited shopping a couple of days back,which I had assumed was her”birthday gift”.

Anyway, the point is that it had been brought to my notice before I went out somewhere this evening that I’d failed to materialize with a “birthday gift” and I was wondering if I should get something on my way back. It is not like I didn’t have ideas. I had several. But as I went through them one by one I realized that for each of them, there was a credible rebuttal she could come out with for each of them that would make it seem like there was no “thought” behind that gift and the only reason I had brought it was that she was unhappy.

I reasoned that irrespective of what had happened in the intervening couple of hours when I was out, she would still be upset with me at the end of it. Given that she would be upset with me, the odds that the gift I would bring would completely melt her and she would be satisfied would be miniscule. Instead, I would only have to endure more sulking, with the added charge of my trying to bribe her out of her anger.

I guess the big problem with me that I’m too cold and rational most of the time (the few occasions when I get emotional, I go crazy and cry loud enough to bring my whole apartment complex down). So the rationalist in me decided to make the rational decision that the chances of winning over my wife with a superb gift was so low that it would not justify the effort involved in bringing that surprise. So I came home empty handed.

My wife is inside the bedroom now, pretending to read a book that isn’t particularly interesting, while I blog this sitting in the hall, having taken control of the TV and watching the French Open final. I guess I was guilty of not giving myself that chance to turn her over today. But then, I didn’t spend all that mind space in trying to find that superb gift. I told you right, that I’m too cold and rational most of the time. And I write about too many things on this blog.

Fractal life

Recently I finished reading Mandelbrot’s The (mis)Behaviour of Markets for the second time. Fantastic book. I think it is a must read for people who are interested in financial markets, and especially for those who work in capital markets. While it stays away from equations and “math”, and prefers to use pictures (or cartoons) to illustrate and show concepts (a method I definitely prefer to obscure math), it does raise a lot of very interesting fundaas.

So last week I was feeling stressed out. I realized that I had worked too hard on Wednesday and Thursday hence I got stressed out on Friday. A couple of months back, I took a couple of days of medical leave because I was stressed out. I reasoned that was because I’d pushed myself too hard the earlier two weeks. And thinking about all this today, I thought the incidence of stress has gone up over the last couple of months. This, I reasoned to pushing myself excessively for over a year now.¬†And if I were to analyze my today’s work, I could probably say that I pushed myself too hard in the afternoon and hence got stressed out in the evening.

Same pattern, you see. At different scales.You get the drift, I guess. And stress is just an example I took. If I think about how my louvvu for my wife has evolved, again same pattern. There is a “global pattern”, and that same “global pattern” repeats itself over shorter intervals over the last two years. Irrespective of the quantum of time I look at, I see that same “global pattern” stretched or compressed to the appropriate time scale. In other words, love is also a fractal.

You can see fractals all around you. You can see self-similarity everywhere. And yet, even when you have small samples. you instinctively try to model it as a normal distribution. Without realizing that the “normal” distribution in life is the Power law.

Shoe Shopping

Ok this is a typical management guru/corporate whore kind of post.

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Last weekend I needed to buy a new pair of shoes. My last pair of black formal shoes had broken a couple of days earlier and I urgently needed a new pair if I were to wear something decent to office on Monday. It was late on Saturday night when I went shoe shopping.

So I walk into this store in Jayanagar and ask one of the sales reps there for a pair of black formal shoes. He asks me my size and immediately runs inside to fetch a pair. While I’m trying out that pair, he runs in and fetches two more. He makes me walk wearing a different shoe on each foot. He brings shoes of all kinds, of varying prices, of varying sizes, of different styles. Before I know it, there are a dozen pairs in front of me, and I’m having a hard time deciding which to pick.

The choice left me utterly confused and I walked out without buying anything. It was impossible for my head to come up with a tractable algorithm to decide which of those shoes to buy. I continued on my walk, stopping only when I reached another shoe shop, with the same name and half a kilometre away.

The salesman here seemed more experienced. Before he went in, he asked me a few questions about what i wanted. He asked about my willingness to pay, colour preferences, style preferences, and even asked me to point out the shoe on display which looked closest to my last pair. He made me take off my floaters and studies carefully the shape of my foot. Even after he goes in, he pops out a couple of times asking me more questions. And finally emerges with one pair.

That pair fit wonderfully! It seemed to satisfy all the constraints that I’d mentioned, and was extremely reasonably priced. And I didn’t need to think twice before buying it.

This is what good marketing is all about. It is about understanding the customer’s needs properly before trying to sell him something. To understand what he wants and give him just that rather than simply flooding him with choices which will only end up confusing him. Giving him more choices makes him do more work than he wants to, and he will simply escape.

If you are in a sales/marketing role in your company, you would do well to spend that extra hour in trying to exactly understand what your customer wants, rather than simply trying to feed him your packaged solutions. I’m sure the extra effort will be more than worth it.

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People, I need honest feedback about how I sound when i try to write like a management guru. Hope I’ m global enough!

Wimpy SKimpy had a great fall

A couple of days I’d mentioned about a strange condition that I’ve been having nowadays, which makes it tough for the erstwhile compulsive multitasker me have trouble in doing more than one thing at a time. Occasionally, I do end up drifting doing two things at a time – such as day dreaming and walking, and occasionally like last evening the effects can be disastrous.

It happened in Gandhinagar. Right in front of the erstwhile Central Jail, now renovated as “Freedom Park”. I was walking towards the bus stop, looking to take a bus to Jayanagar. I had been coming from ‘Majestic’ where I’d gone to put beat. I was looking at the remodelled jail, and wondering at the irony of calling the ex-jail as a freedom park. A Carnatic kRti (by Patlam Subramania Aiyer i think) was playing in my head. I was looking at the various buses trying to figure out where the stop was. I was trying to cross the road. Normally that much of workload, I think, would be very fine.

So I had to get past some stone barriers in order to cross the road to reach the half where there were no vehicles. It was much easier to walk there, I’d thought. I remember looking at the stones and assessing that they were two feet tall. I remember instructing my right leg to go up by that distance and cross the stone. I remember that at the first attempt, my right leg failed to go high enough, and then I had to bark out further instructions. If I remember right, this time around, my leg did go up the requisite height.

The next split-second was a blur for me. I don’t really know what happened, but I conjecture that when I instructed my right leg to adjust, I forgot to ask the left leg to slow down its ascent from the ground. Hence, what happened was that both feet went off the ground at the same time, and since fresh instuctions hadn’t gone out to my left leg, it happened to hit the stone and I tripped, with both my feet off the ground.

When I “regained consciousness” I realized that I was falling, forwards, and that both my feet were off the ground, and that my left foot had hit the stone. I remember putting forward my hands, elbows bent and wrists loose, so that I fell relatively harmlessly on my palms. No one was around, but I managed to quickly gather myself up, and it was then that various parts of my body started talking.

I have a badly sprained left big toe. I’ve twisted my right knee so it’s hard for me to turn while walking. I’ve taken a knock on my left shin (it’s slightly swollen) but it doesn’t hurt much. And my belt buckle broke. I had minor scratches on my right palm but they don’t hurt anymore.

Nothing is bad enough that I’ve to go to the doctor. But both legs hurt occasionally. Fallout of this is that i’m now afraid of walking. It’s funny. I’ve been walking so slowly today. I’m afraid of twisting my already twisted right knee further. Injury to left big toe means I don’t want to put much pressure on it.

I’m sure that if I make an attempt, I should be able to walk normally. But legs aren’t listening. They are too sceptical of injuring themselves further. I haven’t even started driving (either car or bike) yet. Hopefully things will heal soon.

Last night my twitter status was “had an occident this evening, and is now feeling all disoriented”