Tag Archives: few days

Yet another startup idea

This time it’s an i-phone/android app. The motivation for this is the heavy advertising in the last few days for Mapmyindia GPS, on hoardings all over Bangalore. Again, I don’t know if this has been implemented before.

So this will be built on top of Mapmyindia or any other similar GPS. When you hunt for the shortest route between point A and point B, you can give two possible choices – shortest by distance and shortest by time. The former is the default choice that all GPSs currently use. This one is an app to provide the latter.

Now, each city will be mapped out as a network of intersections. And then, for each “edge” on this graph, we use data that we’ve gathered from other users of the app in order to predict the amount of time taken to travel. Of course, the prediction model is not going to be simple, and I’m willing to partner you (via my forthcoming quant consultancy firm) in developing it. It’s going to be a fairly complex model based on time-of-day, recency of data, outlier detection (what if someone stops off for lunch in the middle of an “edge”?) and all such.

So, now you have the city mapped out (for a particular instant) both in terms of distance and in terms of time, and in cases of any traffic jams or such, my system will help you find the quickest route to your destination. Should be useful, right?

Of course, the success of this app (like a lot of other apps, I guess) depends heavily on “network effect”. The more the users of this app, the better the model I’ll have in predicting time between intersections, and save you the headache of mentally trying to optimize the route to your destination each time you set out (like I do).

I’m pretty serious about this. If you think this hasn’t been done before, we can work together to get this up!

Romantic Comedies in Hollywood and Bollywood

Assumption: The median age for marriage in urban India is much lower than the median age of marriage in urban United States of America

Hence, romantic comedies in hollywood, usually end up having characters who are older than corresponding comedies made by Bollywood. Thus, Hollywood romantic comedies can be made to be more mature than corresponding Bollywood romantic comedies.

Data point: Serendipity was remade as “Milenge Milenge”. I was watching the latter movie a few days back (couldn’t sit through more than five minutes of it, as I kept comparing each scene to the corresponding scene in the original). In Serendipity the protagonists are around 35, and thus show a maturity that corresponds to that age. You can see that in the way they behave, go about things, etc. And here, in Milenge Milenge you have Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor singing and prancing around like Jackasses. You can’t watch too much of that, can you?

Tailpiece: My all time favourite romantic comedy (across languages) remains Ganeshana Maduve, starring Anant Nag and Vinaya Prasad. I’ll talk about the virtues of the movie in another post but I can’t think of any other movie that even comes close to this one. Meanwhile, if you haven’t watched this movie, get hold of a subtitled copy of it and watch it. Now.

Making BRTS work

(yet another post that is a few days late, but what the hell)

In the recently delivered Karnataka State Budget, the government has budgeted funds for developing a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in Bangalore, in order to supplement the Metro and help ease the city’s traffic woes. The problem is that it’s a small amount that’s been released and the budget states “for providing BRTS between Hebbal and Silk Board”.

Commentators (including some traffic experts like MN Sreehari (not able to find the Deccan Herald link on this topic) ) have criticized the move, claiming it is going to once again choke the outer ring roads which have now been set free because of the efforts to make it signal-free. So the commentators have used this as an argument against the BRTS.

On the contrary, I argue that we need more, and not less, BRTS. The whole purpose of an integrated urban rapid-transport system is to encourage people to leave their cars at home and instead use public transport. And for that to happen, really good quality public transport has to be available in all areas (with autorickshaws providing last-mile service). Else there is no real incentive for people to abandon their cars.

The problem with initiatives like the Metro is that it takes way too long to construct. The cost involved in terms of intermediate inconvenience and lead time are enormous. Which is a major point in favour of systems such as the BRTS. So what needs to be done is that the BRTS needs to be introduced on several routes simultaneously, thus bringing a larger area of the city under the integrated public transport system.

The network effects here are huge, and the more the portion of the city that is served by high-quality public transport, the more the incentive for people to not use their cars. On the contrary, introduction of BRTS along one or two lines benefits few and causes inconvenience to a really large portion of the population (all users of the BRTSed routes).

We have already seen in Delhi the impact of a badly-implemented BRT scheme (along one road in South Delhi, if I’m not wrong; deeply unpopular and resented). I’m surprised the guys in Bangalore haven’t learnt from that.

When will people come?

So I was trying to estimate how many of my invitees will attend my wedding ceremony and how many will attend the reception (the former is at noon and the latter the same evening). While a large number of people have kindly RSVPd, not too many have really mentioned which event they’ll turn up for. So it’s my responsibility to somehow try and figure out how many will come when, so that the information can be appropriately relayed to the cooks.

Personally, if I’m attending the wedding of someone I don’t know too well, or a wedding I’m attending more out of obligation than out of the desire to be there, I prefer to go to the reception. It’s so much quicker – queue up, gift, wish, thulp, collect coconut, leave. The wedding leads to too much waiting, insufficient networking opportunity, having to wait for a seat in a “batch” for lunch, and the works.

Again, I hope that most people who are coming for my wedding are coming more because they want to attend rather than looking at it as an obligation. Actually I was thinking of a wedding invite as being an option – it gives you the option to attend the wedding, but you pay for it with the “cost” of the obligation to attend. In fact, over the last few days, I’ve felt extremely guilty while inviting people whose weddings I bunked (for one reason or another).

That digression aside, what upsets estimates for my wedding is that it’s on a Sunday, when more people will be inclined to come in the morning rather than at night. For one, they have the day off. Secondly, usually people like to spend Sunday evening at home, ironing clothes and the like, preparing for the grueling work week ahead.

And the fact that the venue is on the northern side of Bangalore, while most of my invitees live in the south (the fiancee and most of her invitees are in the north) makes me want to increase my “lunch” estimate and decrease the dinner estimate. And then the fact that I’m getting married on a seemingly “auspicious” day, when there are lots of functions all around, makes me wonder if I should discount the total attendance also.

After the wedding is over, I’m willing to anonymize and share the spreadsheet I’ve used for my estimates. Ok you might think I’m a geek but what I’ve done is to put an “attendance” probability for each event for each attendee, and then taken expected value to get my estimates. As I write this, I think I should take standard deviation also, and assume the law of large numbers (yes I’ve invited a large number of potential guests) in order to provide my in-laws (who are organizing the whole event) 95% confidence intervals for number of guests..

Anyways, I just hope that my (and my in-laws’) estimates are right and we won’t end up erring in either direction (shortage of food, or wastage) by too much in either direction. And the costs of the two (localized costs – as hosts, our costs of food shortage (in terms of reputation, etc.) is much higher than cost of wastage; though from global sustainability perspective it’s probably the other way round) have led our solution of the Newsboy Problem to be conservative in estimate.

And yesterday I was suggesting to my in-laws that after the wedding lunch, we can revise the estimates for dinner to M – X where M is the total number of guests we expect (counting double for people who we expect to attend both lunch and dinner) and X is the number of people who had lunch. It’s important, I think, to use as much information as possible in making decisions.

Gift List

So over the last few days there have been several people who have met or called me and asked what gift Pinky and I want for our wedding. Hari the kid, one such caller, even suggested that we need to make a wedding wish list and put it up on our wedding website or something.

Now the thing is that gifting is a hard business. Economic research shows that the average value to the gifted is much less than the average cost to the gifter, and thus gifts create a dead weight economic loss. This, however, is compensated by the good will that the gifter earns from the gifted (if it is a good gift, that is).

When the potential gifter asks the gifted what he/she wants, the intangible value (value of a pleasant surprise minus value of unpleasant surprise, appropriately weighted by respective probabilities) is substituted by the tangible value of greater value for the gifted per rupee spent by the gifter. Also, the fact that the gifter cared to ask what the gifted wanted goes some way in compensating for the intangible value.

Anyway the question is if we should put up a gift wish list on our website. Now, one problem with that is that people might perceive us to be arrogant. After all, in this era of “no gifts/bouquets please ” (we haven’t put that on our invite cards) people might get offended at our audacity of not just asking for gifts, but also telling people what to give us. Thus there is reputational risk involved, but we can explain on the same page the collective economic benefits of the wish list, so this might be taken care of.

The bigger problem is that if we were to put up a gift list the onus is on us to come up with a list of things that we want. We need to come up with a range of things such that it fits people’s varying budgets. There should be something in the list for someone who is willing to spend a hundred rupees on our gift, and also something for someone who is willing to spend ten thousand. ┬áSo in the middle of all the other wedding work for us, we also need to decide on what we want, what we don’t want, what kind of stuff we want, and so on.

Then there is quality control. We could well put up on the wish list that we want a LCD TV, but it would sure sound too audacious to be much more specific than that. And if the gifters were to get us some LCD TV that we would ultimately end up not liking, the dead weight economic loss to all of us is huge. So we need to be specific without being arrogant, which is even more work for us.

But I think we will end up making all the effort and put up a wish list, and hopefully that will improve the collective economic condition of us and our gifters.

Independence and contribution at work

This is based on a discussion I had at work a few days ago. We were talking about people being able to do things out of their own initiative, come up with their own new ideas, inventing their own problems to work on (which would be useful for the firm on the whole) and stuff.

Now if you consider people’s abilities as a multi-dimensional vector (the number of dimensions will be large, since one’s abilities, capabilities, etc. can be along several dimensions), what we realized is that if someone just takes orders from other people and not work on their own ideas and intuition, then their contribution to their role is just the component of their vector along the vector of the person whose orders they are following.

And considering that the probability of their vector and the vector of the person who they’re taking orders from lying in exactly the same direction is close to zero, what this means is that by simply following someone else’s orders they are contributing an amount that is less than what they are capable of contributing (since the component of their ability orthogonal to the vector of the person whose orders they are taking isn’t on display at all).

Hence, it is important to have people in the team who are capable of independent thinking and intuition since that is the only way in which their full possible contribution can be harnessed. On a related note, in order to bring the best out of its employees, and to allow them to contribute to their full capacity, firms should allow the employee to take initiative and come up with their own ideas rather than simply taking orders, since in the latter case only the component of the abilities along the orders is contributed.

Division of Labour

Some six of us have planned for a vacation for next month. And so far, the “labour” of planning the vacation has been divided unevenly. So far, it has been three of us who have been doing a lot of the work – talking with tour operators, drawing up schedules, planning transport and accommodation, booking tickets, etc.

Now with a large part of the work having been done, the three of us who have been doing the work have decided to put NED and have left it to the other three “freeriders” to complete the rest of the work. As you might expect, the other three continue putting NED and in the last few days not much work has been done.

The question is this – what is the optimal strategy for the three of us who have been so far doing work? We think we’ve done more than enough of our share and so the others should take over now. On the other hand, the more we leave it to the other three, the more procrastination that will happen which might come back to hit all of us in terms of higher rates, etc.

It is dilemmas like this that allow freeriders to freeride – they know that by freeriding, they are not the only ones who are losing out, and that there are people who are more driven than them who will also end up losing out if these guys freeride. And the freeriders know that the driven guys won’t let things drift and will positively do something about it, and that encourages them to freeride further. And so forth.

Is there a solution to this problem? When there is a common objective, how should incentives be structured in order to make the freeriders work, while also not making it obvious that these are artificially tailored incentives?