Tag Archives: hypothesis

The Bangalore Advantage

Last night, Pinky and I had this long conversation discussing aunts and uncles and why certain aunts and uncles were “cooler” or “more modern” compared to other aunts or uncles. I put forward my theory that in every family there is one particular generation with a large generation gap, and while in families like mine or Pinky’s this large gap occurred at our generation, these “cooler” aunts’ and uncles’ families had the large gap one generation earlier. Of course, this didn’t go far in explaining why the gap was so large in that generation in the first place.

Then Pinky came up with this hypothesis backed by data that was hard to refute, and the rest of the conversation simply went in both of us trying to confirm the hypotheses. Most of these “cool” aunts and uncles, Pinky pointed out, had spent most of their growing up years in Bangalore, and this set them apart from the more traditional relatives, who spent at least a part of their teens outside the city. The correlation was impeccable, and in an effort to avoid the oldest mistake in statistics, we sought to identify reasons that might explain this difference.

While some of the more “traditional” relatives had grown up in villages, we discovered that a large number of them had actually gone to high school/college in rather large but second-tier towns of Karnataka (this includes Mysore). So the rural-urban angle was out. Of course Bangalore was so much larger than these other towns so size alone might have been enough to account for the difference, but the rather large gap in worldviews between those that grew up in Bangalore, and those that grew up in Mysore (which, then, wasn’t so much smaller), and the rather small gap between the Mysoreans and those that grew up in small towns (like Shimoga or Bhadravati) meant that this big-city hypothesis was unfounded.

We then started talking about the kind of advantages that Bangalore (specifically) offered over other towns of Karnataka, and the real reason was soon staring us in the face. Compared to any other town in Karnataka (then, and now), Bangalore was significantly more cosmopolitan. I’ve spoken on this blog before about Bangalore having been two cities (I’ve put the LJ link rather than the NED link so that you can enjoy the comments) but the important thing was that after independence and the Britishers’ flight, the two cities got combined into one big heterogeneous city.

Relatives growing up in Mysore or Shimoga typically went to college with people from large similar backgrounds. Everyone there spoke Kannada, and the dominance of Brahmins in those towns was so overwhelming that these relatives could get through their college lives hanging out solely with other people from largely similar family backgrounds. This meant there was no new “cultural education” that college offered, and the same world views that had been prevalent in these peoples’ homes while they were growing up persisted.

It was rather different for people who grew up in Bangalore. Firstly, people from East Bangalore didn’t speak Kannada (at least, not particularly fluently), which meant English was the lingua franca. More importantly, there was greater religious, casteist and cultural diversity in the classroom, which made it so much more likely for people to interact and make friends with classmates from backgrounds rather different from one’s own. Back in those days of extreme cultural conservatism, this simple exposure to other cultures was invaluable in changing one’s world view and making one more liberal.

It is in the teens that one’s cultural norms are shaped, and exposure to different cultures at that age is critical to formation of one’s world-view. In our generation, this difference has probably played out in the kind of schools one goes to. However, the distinction in conservatism (based on school/college/ area) isn’t so stark as to come up with a unified theory like the one we’ve come up here. Sticking on to the previous generation, what other reasons can you think of that makes certain aunts and uncles “cooler” than others?

Tam Brahms and Nirvana

A Tam Brahm friend who got married recently used to claim back in college that Tam Brahms are the highest possible form of life, and that it is the last birth before one achieves Nirvana. Contrary to that, I argue here that Tam Brahms are are condemned to an eternal cycle of death and rebirth. It’s because they are #kogul.

I’ve talked about #kogulness several times before on this blog, including the first ever post (speaking of which, at the wedding last week they actually served “Gopi Fry”) . The sad thing is that back then Twitter wasn’t invented, and consequently the term “#kogul” wasn’t invented, so I wasn’t able to expound as much as I wanted to on this topic. Every blog post on the topic then had to spend half its length describing the phenomenon of kogulness. Thanks to twitter and hashtagging, that is no longer required.

Coming back to the point, Fritz Staal in his classic book Discovering the Vedas talks about mantras being similar to songs of birds, in the sense that pronunciation and intonation need to be exact. In order to argue this, Staal points out that for ages together, the learning of the Vedas simply involved learning them by rote, both the words and the intonation, and there was little emphasis on the actual meaning of the words. In fact, analyzing some of the Rig-Vedic texts now, it is understood that they have been composed in some form of proto-Sanskrit, and the meaning of several of the words used have been lost for ever. Now, if the “value” in the vedic mantras was about the meanings, and the words, these words wouldn’t have been allowed to be lost. Instead, this emphasis on learning by rote and intonation only seeks to affirm Staal’s hypothesis (btw the last time I spoke about Staal’s hypothesis on this blog, some right wing bloggers really blew up in the comments section).

Again returning from the digression, the point is that the whole point about Vedic mantras is about pronunciation and intonation. There is little in the words or in the meanings that will get you divine retribution, but if you can repeat the mantras the way they were composed it will put you on the path to nirvana (again, the assumption of this post is a belief in the Sanaatana Dharma). If you were to dismiss Staal as a “foreign imperialist” (which he was not, RIP), several Hindu Vedic scholars also talk about the importance of pronunciation, and the Gayatri mantra is known to improve one’s pronunciation and reduce stammer (I realized this why the other day when I was singing it rather loudly. The number of Mahapraana consonants in that mantra helps make your tongue more flexible. Ok don’t get dirty thoughts now. And that was around the same time I got material for this post).

So, if you have been born a Brahmin and seek to attain nirvana the vedic way, the way to proceed would be to learn the Vedas properly and sing them with accurate pronunciation and intonation. Where does that leave a Tamil Brahmin? I bet most of you would have heard of Tamilian Carnatic Singers singing “magaa gaNabathim.. “. Tams, having learnt their simplified alphabet, are incorrigible #koguls. For starters they just don’t get the concept of mahaapraaNa. All mahaapraaNa consonants are suitably suppressed in their speech and song. Do you imagine it being better when they were to sing the Vedas?

Tying all this together, the point is this. Tam Brahms are so #kogul that they can never get the pronunciation of the Vedic mantras right. Intonation they might, since several of them are excellent singers, but pronunciation they never can. For this reason, the Gods will never be pleased with their Vedic recitals, and they shall never attain Nirvana. They will instead be condemned to multiple births (likely all of them as #kogul Tam-Brahms) on this earth. And they will continue to fail to learn that it’s their #kogulness that’s holding them back from attaining salvation.

Tailpiece: Thengalai Iyengars seem to have figured out their problem. Having figured that they can never get their practitioners to sing the Vedas in a non-kogul way, they have done the next best thing. They have declared that the power of the Vedas are in the words, and in their meanings, and simply translated them into Tamil, thus preventing kogulness from being a hindrance. Of course, the assumption of power being in meanings is a huge one, so one doesn’t really know if this allows the Thengalais to attain salvation. However, they’ve at least tried.

Tailpiece 2: kogulness is not restricted to Tamil priests alone. The last few times I’ve organized my parents’ death ceremonies, I’ve noticed that the priests (most of them Gult) have been unfailingly #kogul, and being a believer in the power of the Vedic rituals being in pronunciation and intonation, I’m convinced that mantras uttered by these kogul priests have absolutely no impact on bringing upon salvation to my parents’ souls. In fact, given my sample size is rather large, I’ve given up all hopes of finding priests who will do the death ceremonies in the proper way, with proper pronunciation and intonation. For this reason, henceforth I’m not going to waste money on such priests, and will not try to observe my parents’ death ceremonies in a Vedic manner.

“But she is a really nice person”

That is the reply I usually get when I tell someone that someone else is dumb, or is an imbecile or is boring. And now I think I have some insight into why people who are otherwise idiots or irritating or boring are also extremely nice people, with “big hearts”.

Basically I’ve found that whenever I’m low on confidence or self esteem I end up being more sensitive, both with respect to myself and others. I display greater empathy, I care more about how people would feel and react to things I would do, and my usual buffalo skin disappears and I get affected by any adverse comments or remarks or incidents. Actually, I’ve seen a two-way implication here, but again you need to remember that I’m extrapolating from one data point here. Back in 2001, I had received extensive feedback (from various parties) that I had become too arrogant and self-centered, and that I needed to make an effort to be nicer and more sensitive towards people. I did make that effort, too successfully I think, for though I consequently became more popular, I entered into a prolonged period of low self esteem. Anyway, I digress.

So, based on the one strong data point that I have, which is myself, I hypothesize that low self esteem leads to greater empathy. People who you are likely to normally consider to be “boring” or “stupid” are likely to know that people think of them as that, and are consequently more likely to have low self esteem. And going by my hypothesis, that means they are more sensitive, have greater empathy, and “have big hearts”. And so, the remark “but she is a really nice person” in the context I mentioned largely holds true.

End of month blues

One of the problems with running your blog on your own website is that you need to manage bandwidth. Basically it seems like my blog has been run over by bots and so by the 25th of every month the bandwidth for the month is over, and the blog goes down for the rest of the month. I’ve been trying to do a lot of things to prevent this – blocking suspicious looking IPs, installing bad behaviour, and such like, but still I don’t know why it gets locked out.

My biggest problem with this end of month lockout is the volume of ideas that go down the drain during this time, rather than getting published on the blog. I wish I could try and remember all those blogging ideas and do one mega blog post at least with a summary of all of them, so that I could write about them at some point of time in the future, but it seems like I can’t remember anything now.

In other news, I’ve been getting really stressed out of late, and my mental bandwidth has been at an all time low. I’ve felt that I’ve been going downhill since my trip to New York a few months back, but of late it’s gotten really bad, and I’m just not able to do anything. That’s yet another reason why blogging frequency has dipped in the last couple of weeks or so.

Doing a deep dive into my own past, I think I’ve figured out why this has been happening. Rather, I have a hypothesis about why I’ve been stressing myself out too much at work which has led to this situation. Basically it’s down to studs and fighters.

I traditionally have what I call as a “stud” working style. I work in bursts, at reasonably low intensity. I look at the problem as a series of steps, and for each step, I internalize the problem, and then try to de-focus. And while thinking about something else, or reading something, or writing something else, I end up having a solution to the problem, and then I take a little break and move on to the next step. This is essentially how I’ve worked over the last few years and I think I’ve (to myself at least) done a good job using this method.

There’s yet another method that I’ve frequently used in the past, one that I call the Ganesha method. It’s basically used for tasks I want to get  done with ASAP. I work at it at a very high intensity, shutting myself off from everything else in the world. I work at it continuously without a break, and then take a long break once the solution is done. I’ve used it in the past for things like competitive exams where I think I’ve done rather well.

So the mistake I did a while back (maybe a year or so back) was to try and use this latter method over longer periods of time, for longer problems. The thing with this method is that it’s suited for short problems, which can be finished off in a burst with a little bit of stretching myself. But when applied to significantly larger problems, I’ve found that it’s been stressing me out way too much. By trying to be steady and focused over a long period of time, which is how a fighter traditionally works, I think I’ve mentally destroyed myself.

Moral of the story is that whatever happens you need to be yourself, and do things in your own style. Don’t try to change yourself in order to please others. It is simply not sustainable.

Big Management and Big Picture

One common shortcoming that top management in a lot of companies is accused of is that they give too much attention to details (i.e. sometimes they micromanage), and they are unable to see the big picture.

For example, if you think about the financial crisis of 2007-08, people kept making stupid bets about the mortgage market because they didn’t look at mortgages in the overall context of economy. They looked at their models, made sure they “converged” to a zillion digits, the math was perfect, etc. And priced. And conveniently forgot some of the “big assumptions”.

I think this has to do with the typical promotion procedures in corporations, and an assumption that people who are good at one kind of stuff will continue to be good at other kinds of stuff.

For example, in the early part of your career, in order to move up the “corporate ladder”, it’s important to show your skills at being able to give attention to detail, to be able to see the “little picture”, be careful and precise, and so on. For these are the kind of skills that makes one successful in the lower-level jobs.

Now, my hypothesis is that being good at details and being good at seeing the big picture are at best orthogonal, and at worst negatively correlated. I base this hypothesis on some initial reading on stuff like Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder and related topics.

So, when you promote people based on their ability to be good at details (which is required at lower levels of the job), you will end up with a top and middle management full of people who are excellent at details, and whose ability in seeing the big picture is at best questionable. Explains well, right?

I don’t know what can be done to rectify this. Promotion is too important to take away as an incentive for good performance at junior levels. Some organizations do institute procedures where for higher promotions you also need to show skills that show your big picture skills. But these are only for people who have already reached middle management, which is people who are good at details, which means that a large part of those who started at the bottom, and who are “big picture people” would have already fallen at the wayside by then.

Does my hypothesis make sense? If it does, what do you think needs to be done to get big picture thinkers at the top?

 

 

On working in a consulting firm

Ok so my hypothesis is that a consulting firm is a good place to work at if and only if the partners are involved in day-t0-day business.

Once the partners move on from doing day-to-day work into purely managerial roles – where they only manage their teams and interact with clients, they are no longer concerned about the quality of work, or the career development of their employees. All they are concerned about is the billing, and as long as they can sell their team to the client, and keep the client happy, that is all they care for.

Sooner or later, I hope to start a consulting firm. The basic idea has taken seed in my head, and once it’s firmed up enough I’ll let people know. However, at this point in time, I want to assure whoever will be my future employees that I don’t intend to grow the firm too large. I don’t have that much of a passion for managing people, so the thrill for me will be in doing the work that I want my consulting firm to do. And that way, the proud and arrogant man that I am, I’ll ensure that the quality of work at my firm doesn’t dip.

 

Temple Towns

Someone (a friend’s friend I guess) had written in the comments of a shared post on Google Reader about how he generally feels safe in tourist places. Locals there have an incentive to be nice to tourists, he said, since they depend upon the latter for livelihood. And so elements that would make the place unsafe for tourists would be weeded out.

While I agree with this hypothesis (in general) I realize that the same need not hold true for temple towns or other similar places where people go for religious reasons. There the locals have no incentive to be nice to tourists, pilgrims rather – the Pilgrims will come no matter what, and the place will continue to Progress.

So if you are evaluating holiday options from a safety perspective you are likely to be better of choosing the secular option.

The City Lacks Bars

Yeah you might think I’m crazy to be cribbing like this about Bangalore, supposed to be India’s pub city and all that jazz. But I stick to my statements. Yeah we might have lots of good pubs and lounges but we don’t have lots of good bars.

I was on my way to dinner at Fava at UB City this evening when I noticed the City Bar, and it struck me as to how few such bars there are in the city. Like places where you just go to the bar, get yourself a drink and literally hang around (around random small darshini-style tables) talking to people. I was reminded of my trips abroad, of places like London or New York which are so full of places like this one – where one just goes, buys a drink and hangs around.

My hypothesis of the shortage of such bars got some weight on our way out of Fava when we noticed how full the city bar was. It was like BTS bus 201 in peak hour – there wasn’t even any standing room!

Which makes me wonder why the culture of mid-to-high end standing bars hasn’t taken off in the city, especially considering our glorious tradition of darshinis and of standing bars at the lower segments (I hope you’ve noticed this – every “wine shop” literally doubles up as a standing bar, where people get stuff from the shop in a dirty glass, stand around and quickly gulp down. I must confess I’ve never drank at this kind of a bar).

Is it because the notion of a quick drink isn’t very well defined at the higher segments of our society? Is it because a “quick drink” is associated with the lower end of the spectrum and so the richer people don’t want to indulge in it? Could it be because of the exorbitant price of liquor licenses that makes it uneconomical to serve liquor cheaply enough to get enough crowds to sustain a standing bar? (most shady standing bars don’t have a bar licence; they run on wine shop licenses)

I must admit I’m a bit of a novice at this one (in terms of total quantity of alcohol consumed during my lifetime) but this really intrigues me. Why hasn’t the concept of higher end standing bars taken off in Bangalore? Has it taken off anywhere else in India at least? Again shady bars don’t count.

Relationship Stimulus

This post doesn’t necessarily restrict its scope to romantic relationships, though I will probably use an example like that in order to illustrate the concept. The concept that I’m going to talk about any kind of bilateral relationship, be it romantic or non-romantic, or between any two people or between man and beast or between two nations.

Let us suppose Alice’s liking for Bob is a continuous variable between 0 and 1. However, Alice never directly states to Bob how much she likes him. Instead, Bob will have to infer this based on Alice’s actions. Based on a current state of the relationship (also defined as a continuous variable between 0 and 1) and on Alice’s latest action, Bob infers how much Alice likes him. There are a variety of reasons why Bob might want to use this information, but let us not go into that now. I’m sure you can come up with quite a few yourself.

Now, my hypothesis is that the relationship state (which takes into account all past information regarding Alice’s and Bob’s actions towards each other) can be modelled as an exponentially-smoothed variable of the time series of Alice’s historical liking for Bob. To restate in English, consider the last few occasions when Alice and Bob have interacted, and consider the data of how much Alice actually liked Bob during each of these rounds. What I say is that the “current level” that I defined in the earlier paragraph can be estimated using this data on how much Alice liked Bob in the last few interactions. By exponentially smoothed, I mean that the last interaction has greater weight than the one prior to that which has more weight than the interaction three steps back, and so on.

So essentially Alice’s liking for Bob cannot be determined by her latest action alone. You use the latest action in conjunction with her last few actions in order to determine how much she likes Bob. If you think of inter-personal romantic relationships, I suppose you can appreciate this better.

Now that you’ve taken a moment to think about how my above hypotheses work in the context of human romantic relationships, and having convinced yourself that this is the right model, we can move on. To simplify all that I’ve said so far, the same action by Alice towards Bob can indicate several different things about how much she now likes him. For example, Alice putting her arm around Bob’s waist when they hardly knew each other meant a completely different thing from her putting her arm around his waist now that they have been married for six months. I suppose you get the drift.

So what I’m trying to imply here is that if you are going through a rough patch, you will need to try harder and send stronger signals. When the last few interactions haven’t gone well, the “state function of the relationship” (defined a few paragraphs above) will be at a generally low level, and the other party will have a tendency to under-guess your liking for them based on your greatest actions. What might normally be seen as a statement of immense love might be seen as an apology of an apology when things aren’t so good.

It is just like an economy in depression. If the government sits back claiming business-as-usual it is likely that the economy might just get worse. What the economy needs in terms of depression is a strong Keynesian stimulus. It is similar with bilateral relationships. When the value function is low, and the relationship is effectively going through a depression, you need to give it a strong stimulus. When Alice and Bob’s state function is low, Alice will have to do something really really extraordinary to Bob in order to send out a message that she really likes him.

And just one round of Keynesian stimulus is unlikely to save the economy. There is a danger that given the low state function, the economy might fall back into depression. Similarly when you are trying to get a relationship out of a “depressed” state, you will need to do something awesome in the next few rounds of interaction in order to make an impact. If you, like Little Bo Peep, decide that “leave ‘em alone, they will come home”, you are in danger of becoming like Japan in the 90s when absolute stagnation happened.

Road Widening is NOT the solution

The other day, walking down Dr. Rajkumar Road in Rajajinagar, I saw several signboards on the road, on shopfronts, on buildings, etc. protesting against plans for widening the road. Apparently they want to widen the road and thus want to demolish shops, parts of houses, etc. Looking outside my own apartment building the other day, I saw some numbers written on the compound wall. Digging deeper, I figured that they want to widen the road I live on and hence want to claim part of the apartment land.

Now, the logic behind road widening is not hard to understand – due to increase in traffic, we need more capacity on the roads and hence increasing their width results in increased capacity in terms of vehicles per unit time and so it is a good thing . However, before going headlong into road widening and land acquisition for the purpose, road architecture in the city needs to be studied carefully.

There are two primary reasons why trafffic bottlenecks happen. The more common reason at least in western nations is road capacity. Roads just don’t have the capacity to take more than a certain number of cars per hour and so when more cars want to go that way, it results in pile-ups. The other problem, which I think is more common in India is intersections.

It is going to be a tough problem to model but we should split up roads into segments – one segment for each intersection it is part of, and one segment for each segment between intersections (ok it sounds complicated but I hope you get it). And then, analyzing capacities for these different segments, my hypothesis is that on an average, “capacity” of each intersection is lower than the capacity of road segments between intersections.

Now how does one calculate capacity of intersections? Assume an intersection with traffc coming from all four directions. Suppose traffic approaching the intersection from north sees green light for fifteen seconds a minute. And in each fifteen second interval, 25 cars manage to make it past the intersection. So the capacity of this intersection in this direction becomes 25 cars per minute. I hope you get the drift.

I’m sure there will be some transportation engineers who will have done surveys for this but I don’t have data but I strongly believe that the bigger bottleneck in terms of urban transport infrastructure is intersections rather than road width. Hence widening a road will be of no use unless flyovers/underpasses are built across ALL intersections it goes through (and also through judicious use of road divider). However, looking at the density of our cities, it is likely to prove extremely expensive to get land for the widened roads, flyovers etc.

I don’t see private vehicle transportation as a viable solution for most Indian cities. Existing road space per square kilometer is way too small, and occupation way too dense for it to be profitable to keep widening roads. The faster we invest in rapid public transport systems, the better! I’m sure the costs borne in that direction will be significantly lower than to provide infrastructure to citizens to use their own vehicles.