Gloomy weather

For most of today, the weather in Bangalore has been what most people would traditionally classify as “gloomy”. The sun has mostly been invisible, popping out only now after a fairly strong shower. There has been a rather thick cloud cover, with the said clouds being mostly dark. There has been the threat of rain all day, culminating in a rather powerful shower an hour back.

I haven’t minded the weather one bit, though, though it helps that I haven’t had to step out of home all day. I’ve been happy sitting by the window, sipping coffee and tea and green tea, and eating Communist peanuts, and working. In fact, I’ve grown up considering this kind of weather (cool, cloudy, with a hint of drizzle) as being the ideal romantic weather, and when the weather turns this way nowadays, I miss the wife a whole lot more! Till recently, I never understood why such weather was traditionally classified as “gloomy”. Until I went to Europe to visit the wife last month.

March in Europe is traditionally classified as “Spring” (summer doesn’t come until June there, which is hard for someone from Bangalore, where summer ends in May, to understand), but in most places I went to (I visited five different cities during my trip), the weather was basically shit. I had carried along my “winter jacket” (bought at a discount in Woodland at the end of last winter), and didn’t step out even once without it. It was occasionally accompanied by my woollen scarf and earmuffs, with hands thrust into pockets.

For days together the sun refused to come out. In fact, our entire trip to Vienna was a washout because of the weather. Thick dark clouds and no sun might be romantic in tropical Bangalore, but in Vienna, where it is accompanied by chilling winds and occasionally maddening rain (and once snow), it can be devastating. It can cause insane NED – you might argue that if weather was so bad in Vienna we could have used it as an excuse to stay inside museums and see things, but the gloom the weather causes is real, as we frittered and wasted hours in an offhand way, hanging around in coffee shops doing nothing, and just touring the city in trams, again doing nothing (we had got a three-day pass).

The one time the sun peeped out (after a heavy shower like this afternoon’s in Bangalore), we went ecstatic, but our joy was shortlived as it was quickly followed by another downpour which killed our enthu for the rest of the day.

The bad weather followed us all though our 10-day trip across Prague, Vienna and Budapest. The first and last being former Soviet cities didn’t help, as the (really beautiful from inside) apartment we stayed in Prague was in a rather dreary area, with the weather making the locality even more depressing. As a consequence, we hardly hung around in the locality, taking away dinner on each of the three days we were there. Our Budapest apartment was in a more vibrant part of town (most of our meals were within 500m of our apartment) but the general dreariness and chill meant that we didn’t explore as much as we would have otherwise done, perhaps.

We were back in Barcelona (which too had been rather dreary in March) last Saturday night, and when there was bright sunshine on Easter Sunday morning as we went to the nearby bakery for breakfast, we were absolutely ecstatic. We spent time just sitting on the parkbench, soaking in the sunshine. I made a mental note that if I’m going those parts next spring, I should go there AFTER Easter and not before (like this year). I also made a mental note to never again question why weather that is traditionally called “gloomy” is called so.

Bakeries

One thing that I’ve fallen in love with in my last one week in Europe is the concept of the breakfast bakery. Every few hundred metres both in Barcelona and Amsterdam you have bakeries. These bakeries offer a large variety of bread products that are to be consumed as breakfast. Apart from this, the bakeries also offer coffee and tea so that one can have a complete breakfast in some of them.

And I say “breakfast” only figuratively – I’ve had lunch on three days of my trip so far in such bakeries – again it’s with bakery products such as pizza slices or sandwiches, followed by coffee (which I must say hasn’t been bad for most of the trip). If I’ve to move to Europe, the presence of such bakeries would be one very strong reason to do so!

I was wondering why we don’t have such bakeries in India. The problem is one of liquidity – a very small portion of India’s population wants to have croissants and doughnuts for breakfast – most people in Bangalore, for example, prefer idli-vada and dosa instead. And so you still have the “fast food” places in Bangalore (lots of them) that offer such foods and coffee. And you have plenty of them – all of which are very reasonably priced and offer excellent quality!

As I try to write more and more about economic concepts, I get further drawn to this whole concept of liquidity. And each time I write about it I claim that it’s an underappreciated concept in economics outside of financial economics!

Perhaps I should make a better effort in changing that!

Time Zones

So I’m in Barcelona. Got here late last night, and it’s too early to judge the city – the back of a taxi in the middle of the night speeding through empty streets isn’t the best way to judge a city. Will go out later today and possibly check for myself.

But one thing I know for sure is that Barcelona is in the wrong time zone. I woke up at 7:30  this morning and it was dark. Like Bangalore is dark at 6 in the morning! And though I’m yet to see an evening here myself, I’ve been told that nowadays it gets dark here only at 7:30 pm or something.

The problem here is that most of Europe wants to be on the same time zone – this map explains the whole issue.

Notice the green region here, in which I’ve been for this week so far. Macedonia on the East and Galicia (that portion of Spain just to the north of Portugal) on the west are on the same time zone! And as you can see from the longitudinal lines on this map, that is like a difference of thirty degrees! Or two hours in terms of the earth’s rotation!

While having the same time zone might make sense in terms of coordinating work timings across places in the same economic zone and could thus lead to better trade and commerce and coordination (see this post on Samoa’s move across the International Date Line for the politics of time zone), having a wide degrees of longitudes share the same time is plain absurd, in terms of the usage of “daylight” in these places!

Thus, it will get dark absurdly really in the day in Macedonia, while the sun just doesn’t seem to rise in Galicia! I’m thinking I should go out for a run tomorrow morning, but what time do I go? By the time the sun is up the traffic will be in full swing!

This whole concept of a common European time is no less absurd than the much-maligned concept of Beijing and Xinjiang (at the western edge of China) being on the same time zone! Yet we don’t hear much criticism of Europe’s time zones. Wonder why!

And on top of having such a wide time zones these guys want to impose daylight savings! This is firmly in the “measure with a micrometer, mark with a chalk and cut with an axe” territory!

Back to bachelorhood

Starting tonight I’ll be a bachelor once again. For the next nineteen months or so. No it’s not that I’m returning my post graduate diploma and hence getting this downgrade (it’s been a while since I cracked a bad joke here so I’m entitled). It’s that the wife is going away. To get herself an MBA (yes I know that after this she will be better qualified than me since she’ll be getting a proper MBA while i have a post graduate diploma only. Maybe I can retire soon? ).

She’ll be going off to Barcelona tonight. The original plan had me moving there too. But then classic old NED happened and I ended up not looking for a job or assignment there and since it’s not an inexpensive place to stay I’m staying back. Plan to visit her every once in a while. And even though tickets to Europe are prohibitively expensive I now have a place to go to in case I need a break.

But for that I need to first get myself a visa. I guess one of my chief tasks in the next few days will be to get this bit of business done. But then I have my own business.

Regulars on this blog might be aware that I haven’t had formal employment for close to three years now. I freelance as a quAnt consultant – helping companies figure out how to make use of the volumes of data they collect in improving their business decision making. It’s been doing quite okay but my plan is to use the next few months when I don’t have any domestic commitments to see if I can take it to the next level.

It might also be pertinent to mention here that the first bit if business I got for this particular venture was through this blog – the last time I put out a post like this one a long time reader who was looking for quant assistance left a comment here and that led to a rather fruitful assignment. Perhaps mentioning this here might result in a repeat?

Now that I’m blogging more than I used to in the recent past I’ll also be using these pages to keep you updated on the long distanceness. I’ve also noticed that since I last put the update on leaving twitter and Facebook that there’s some more activity here. Keep that flowing and I hope for some good conversations on the comment pages here.

Recession notes

Over the weekend I spoke to a few friends, over phone and GTalk. And enquired about their business. Some interesting insights:

  • On Saturday, I spoke to this guy who is a banker in the City of London. He says that one major fallout of the global economic crisis is that the financial markets have become highly inefficient.
  • Knowing that they won’t get bonuses, he says, bankers have no incentive to arbitrage these inefficiencies. Sadly, people refuse to believe that investment bankers perform socially useful and productive work
  • Yesterday, I was talking to this guy who runs a manufacturing SME. He says that apart from one really bad month (January) when orders fell over 50%, he is doing quite well.
  • Thanks to the downturn, a few manufacturing shops have shut down in various places in Europe. Now, the erstwhile customers of these erstwhile manufacturing shops are looking towards India for their sourcing. My friend is hopeful of bagging one such contract.
  • Thanks to the downturn, firms are integrating their manufacturing. For example, a prominent stationery manufacturer has decided to manufacture 100% of its products from its plants in India. My friend has been a long-term supplier to the india plant of this particular manufacturer, and now expects to get more business from them.

Interesting stuff overall.