Landmark mismanagement

Yesterday’s Landmark Quiz in Bangalore was a major waste of time. No, I’m not talking about the quality the quiz here – the prelims was among the better Landmark Quiz prelims I’ve sat through, and given that we just missed out on qualification for the finals (AJMd, as we say here in Bangalore) I didn’t sit through the finals though I was told the questions there too were pretty good.

I’m talking about the transaction costs of attending the quiz. The overall management of the event left much to be desired. First of all, we had to show up at the venue at 11:45 for a quiz that was supposed to start at 1:45 pm. Teams with confirmed seats were let in at around 12:30 and only around 1 o’clock were us “waitlisted” teams let in. There too, the organizers did a major show of letting in waitlisted teams, calling them in order and taking over half an hour to let everyone in.

The point is that even after all the waitlisted teams had been let in, there was plenty of room in the auditorium. This makes me wonder about the wisdom of waitlisting so many teams, and then making such a big show of letting people in. Given that the total turnout was much smaller than the hall capacity, things would have been much simpler if people had been simply left in, with volunteers only ensuring that the seating was efficient (without leaving gaps).

Before the quiz yesterday i started writing a blog post on how the quiz registration process was itself flawed, and gave incentive to people to register zombie teams because the option of registering a team came free. So while the hall had been theoretically filled up many days ago, most of these registrations were zombie registrations thus leading to a long wait list and thus calling people early. Given that the quiz doesn’t have an entry fee, I can’t currently think of a good way to price this option.

But reaching the venue early was not the only waste of time. The written prelims of the quiz finished around 3 pm, including calling out the correct answers. The results, however, weren’t announced till close to 6 o’clock. In the interim time period there was the finals for school students, but that still doesn’t explain why they had to wait until 6 o’clock to announce the results of the senior quiz.

The way I see it, it was sheer disrespect on the part of the organizers of the time of the participants. Yes, Landmark might be a much sought after quiz, rated among the best in the country. Yes, most people come there for the questions and not just to win – and so stay on to watch the finals even when they haven’t qualified (it is indeed commendable that Landmark quizzes have managed to be great spectator events while not dropping quality). Yes, many participants have traveled from other cities and so having traveled the cost of their time might be “cheap” – in that they have little else to do in the rest of the day.

Even taking into account all these, the wastage of 5 hours of each quizzer’s time (2 hours for early reporting; 3 hours gap between prelims and results announcement; 4 if you consider that watching the Junior finals wasn’t a waste of time) is not a done thing. Given the quiz’s unparalleled reputation it is unlikely that market forces are going to tell the organizers that they are wasting people’s time, but the message has to go through.

Turning Twenty Four

Today my wife Pinky turns twenty four. Thinking about it, twenty four seems such a long time ago. Or maybe not. I don’t think there has been any other significant age-landmark for me since then. I remember that when I turned twenty four, I got a feeling that I’d become old.

The premise was based on sport, and more specifically the Indian cricket team. Anyone who was twenty three or younger was referred to as a “promising youngster”. As soon as you turned twenty four, though, you lost that tag! Of course the story is different in different countries, and in different sports. For example, KP Pietersen was 24 when he made his debut. For England, he was “young”. Not for the Indian press, though.

Given that I faced such a step up (in terms of self-perception ) when I was twenty four, it seems like a breeze after that. Completing quarter of a century of existence didn’t trigger any emotion. Neither did going into the “late twenties” (when I turned 28) have that kind of an impact. I don’t know what it is, but it was when I turned twenty four that I suddenly felt grown up, and old. And I’ve felt that way ever since.

I mentioned this “growing old” to Pinky first thing this morning, but she dismissed it saying she feels no such thing. She also said that she’s really happy that she’s turned twenty four. She hates prime numbers, she says.

The Loot

So I executed the book binge yesterday. In two phases – first at the “main” Landmark at the Forum and then at the “other” Landmark at Swagath Garuda Mall. Technically the binge is incomplete since I still have another Rs.600 to spend but it’s unlikely I’ll be spending that off soon, so for all practical purposes we can take the binge to be complete.

While book-shopping yesterday I was thinking about the various Landmark stores I’ve been to, and how the Landmark at the Forum is the worst of them all, with the one at Spencer’s Plaza in Madras (which I last visited seven years back) coming second. The problem with these two stores is that they are in otherwise popular malls. What this does is that it attracts casual browsers to just check out the mall and makes the browsing experience more painful for the serious browsers.

On the other hand, the Landmark stores in Nungambakkam, Gurgaon (Grand Mall) and Garuda Swagath Mall are either standalone or situated in malls which are otherwise not too popular. And precisely for this reason, the crowd at these stores is significantly superior. You get your space to browse without being asked to make way for passerby, you can actually sit down going through a book and deciding whether to buy it. The store staff, who are much less hassled, are far more courteous and helpful. And if you happen to pick up a conversation with another browser, it is likely to be much better than at the more popular malls.

This presents an interesting problem for the bookshop-owners regarding location. Do they put the bookshop in a popular mall and thus maximize footfalls? Or do they locate their shops in lesser malls or on high streets hoping to attract better “quality” of footfalls which might actually result in better sales? Keeping the shop in a popular mall attracts more casual browsers and if book purchase is an impulse decision, then it is likely to pay off for the store (even there you need to keep in mind that crowded checkout counters can cause the casual browser to drop the book back in the shelf). On the other hand, if they think book buying is a more informed, laborious decision, then they should be locating themselves in places where they won’t get random crowd.

Of course I’m only talking about the browse-and-buy model here and not covering shops such as the erstwhile Premier Bookshop – which rely on customers who know exactly what they want and just ask for it. And of course, for a shop to locate itself in a slightly obscure location it needs to have the “pull” (of a brand name or something) in order to attract customers.

Coming to the loot:

  • The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris
  • The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux
  • The Emerging Mind, VS Ramachandran
  • The Flight of the Creative Class, Richard Florida
  • Panic, Michael Lewis
  • A Splendid Exchange (How Trade Shaped the World), Willian Bernstein
  • Gang Leader For A Day, Sudhir Venkatesh
  • The Bowler’s Holding the Batsman’s Willey (humorous sporting quotes collection), Geoff Tibballs
  • Musicophilia, Oliver Sachs
  • The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, Edited by Richard Dawkins
  • When Genius Failed (LTCM), Roger Lowenstein
  • Ramayana, a modern rendition, Ramesh Menon
  • The Rise and fall of the third chimpanzee, Jared Diamond
  • Bhairavi, the global impact of indian music, Peter Lavezzoli
  • The Real Price of Everything (collection of 6 economics classics – fundaes by adam smith, david ricardo, etc.), Edited by Michael Lewis
  • Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
  • The Universal History of Numbers (Part 1 and 2), George Ifrah (didn’t buy part 3 since it seemed full of CS fundaes)
  • A Maidan View, Mihir Bose
  • The States of Indian Cricket, Ramachandra Guha
  • The Bhagavad Gita, Royal Science of God-Realization, Paramahamsa Yogananda
  • Autobiography of a Yogi (Kannada translation), Paramahamsa Yogananda (mom and aunt asked for it)

People, thanks for your recommendations. And once I’m done reading these books, I might be open to lending them (provided I trust you to return them, of course).

The things we talk about

Following a conversation with Harbhajan last night, I was reminded of one of our earlier conversations, three years back. Mansoor had also been present at that conversation, and somehow for me that represented some sort of a landmark. Barring the odd stray conversation, that was the first time I had been involved in a deep conversation with other guys about the theory of relationships. I don’t know why but before that I somehow used to reserve such conversations only for women.

Back when we were getting to know each other, the only thing that Harbhajan and I would talk about was about JEE mugging, about problem number 487 in “Problems in General Physics” by I E Irodov, and occasionally mimicing the accent of one or the other profs in our JEE coaching factory. Going forward, we had talked about CGPA, very occasionally about careers, and of late (leading up to that day in April 2006) about investment banking interviews.

It was similar fare with Mansoor also, and also with most of the other guys I was good friends with. We would talk about the usual “conversation-makers” – cricket, football, politics and cinema. During my brief stay in England, weather also got added to the list of topics we talked about. And of course, there was bitching, which was something we all loved to do, and which I had taken a special liking for.

Conversations with women, however, used to be different. The bitching was definitely there – in fact I managed to impress quite a few women with my bitching skills (and I used the same skills to depress quite a few women also) – but the “usual stuff” was absent. What also got added, though, was stuff like theory of relationships. Stuff like cribbing about “life issues” (regarding “normal issues” i was an equal opportunity cribber – didn’t distinguish between various classes of cribbees). Trying to analyze relationships while leaving out the bitching aspect of it.

Because of this distinction of topic of conversation, the bar for a woman to become my friend was set extremely high, because of which I had few female friends. Using orkut classification, most of the women I knew were either acquaintances (most) or good friends (very few); there were few friends. Also, my refusal to discuss “life issues” with other guys (among whom I had a large number of both friends and “good friends”) meant that my options for conversation were limited when I wanted to discuss life issues.

What I don’t understand is how I got into that kind of a distinction in the first place. I fail to figure out why I used to make this distinction about topic of conversation between men and women. Moreover, I fail to figure out what happened to me that pleasant April night in Jayanagar when I opened up to Mansoor and Harbhajan. Since then, I’ve been treating women I have no romantic interest in on par with men, and I think that is the way things should be. Also, maybe things were the same over ten years back in higher secondary – no distinction.

I don’t know what had happened to me then, because of which I turned out the way I did. And I don’t know what happened to make me change back. All I know is that in the intervening period, I had some strange policies because of which I suffered. Oh, and I must mention that most of that “intervening period” was spent in IIT Madras, whose gender ratio is well-known.

It’s been a year, almost

A couple of hours back, I renewed my account. It’s been a year since I purchased the noenthuda.com domain, and it definitely feels like it’s been much longer. This blog, however, is yet to celebrate its first birthday – it will do so on the 22nd, on the same day when there will be a Total Solar Eclipse in Central India. We’ll have more elaborate birthday celebrations then. Actually, if you have any good ideas as to how to celebrate the first birthday of noenthuda.com , please mail in.

So it was on the 7th of July last year that I registered noenthuda.com. It took about 15 days after that to decide on my host (I settled on totalchoicehosting), figure out how to organize the site, etc. As you might have noticed, the homepage (noenthuda.com) redirects to this blog (noenthuda.com/blog). The main reason behind this is that I’ve been too lazy to figure out what to do with my main site. I don’t really fancy turning this into a professional site – LinkedIn are there for that. All my writing is here on this blog, so no separate place needed for that.

There is another blog attached to this, called Twisted Shout. You can see a link to this from the right hand column of this site. You might notice that the site is defunct. The last post on that was several months ago. I had been using that site for discussing stuff such as the Petromax Theory, the Goalkeeper Theory and other similarly strong fundaes. Aadisht and Kodhi, my co-authors on that blog, had also planned to script our sitcom “rash driving” on that. Again, there was only a single episode of that and then NED happened.

Some of you might also know that NED is also the name of a quiz team, featuring Kodhi, Aadisht and me. It’s a subset of the erstwhile Sumo Yet So Far, which also featured Swami. It’s been a while since NED quizzed together, the last occasion being the QFI Open quiz in Chennai last summer. Our next collective performance will be at the Landmark Quiz in Chennai next month. Maybe I could have a section of the site dedicated to our quiz team. Maybe I’ll do that once our CV expands.

Then there are the NED talks, which I had announced a few weeks back. These talks will be held as planned, in October this year in Bangalore. I hope to make this a day-long event, in an auditorium. So basically it will be a series of lectures. We are looking for speakers, and listeners. We will also have 1-2 open house sessions so taht everyone can put CP (class participation).

I hereby call for speakers for the inaugural NED talks. The date is not fixed but it will be on some Sunday this October in Bangalore. You will have to give a talk in less than 18 minutes on any topic that remotely relates to NED. For example, I plan to speak on the Studs and Fighters Theory, and how it might impact NED. So if you are interested in speaking, write a short write up on yourself, and what you want to talk about and send it to me at skthewimp AT yahoo DOT com. I think we will need a total of TEN speakers.

In other news, I’ve got proper net access now in Bangalore (BSNL Broadband). So immense peace are there. Normal services should resume shortly.

When I got Varmalanched

So one of India’s 50 most powerful people has released his book My Friend Sancho. People who have already read it tell me that it is a great book. I’ve read bits of the first chapter which he had put up online a few months back, and despite the fact that I dont’ normally read fiction, this had me fairly interested. However, my unread pile at home is still quite tall, so I don’t plan to buy this for a while at least. And the Delhi launch of the book is on a weekday, so I can’t attend that either.

So a while back I was going through Aadisht’s archives. I was looking for one specific post which he had written sometime in our 5th term at IIMB, and I managed to find all other posts he had written at that time, except the one I was looking for. And one of those posts had a linked to one of my posts, which was the only time when my blog got Varmalanched.

Instapundit is a famous blog aggregator and legend has it that whenever instapundit links to a blog, it goes down due to the sudden spike in trafffic. This is called an instalanche. Similarly when desipundit was good (in its early days), a link from there would lead to a small disaster (especially for people working with limited hosting space and bandwidth) which gave rise to desilanche. So when India’s most powerful blogger links you, you get Varmalanched.

The occasion was a post that I had written in search of lost love. I had seen a fairly cute girl at the Bangalore Landmark Quiz 2005, and had blogged asking for her whereabouts. First Aadisht linked me. Then I got desilanched (there were a few desipundit regulars who would read my blog back then). And then the ultimate thing happened. Varmalanche.It was like all the interwebs were trying to help me out in my search for love. If it had succeeded, it would’ve been truly filmi.

I was hosted on Liverjournal back then so my site didn’t actually go down. But this was the first time that a post that I had written had gotten more than 50 comments. I have linked to the livejournal post here (rather than the noenthuda.com page) so that you can read the comments. Do read the comments, they are extremely insightful and funny (ok now I seem to be pitching that blog post like Ravi Shastri pitches that 2020 magazine).

Commenting on that post, Gaurav Sabnis had advised me to shift to Pune saying that that was the only way I could improve my social skills. I interpreted his advice differently. A month later, I was hitting on a girl who was then living in Pune. That story had ended in disaster, though. A year back I met up with Salil the Younger for the first time and teamed up with him for a couple of quizzes. The first thing he mentioned to me was this particular post of mine and his comment on it. It is in the same thread as Gaurav’s comment.

Then there was Shamanth who was trying to convince all my readers that I would never get the girl because he had already bagged her (by giving her chocolate during the quiz). Do read his comments on the post, and the replies to them. Insightful again. And there was Gayathri, a girl who was then unknown to me who had taken to commenting on each of my blog posts. Her comments, and her conversations with Shamanth, are also insightful.

I have attended two landmark Bangalore quizzes after that. On each occasion, I’ve looked through the entire crowd trying to find this girl, without much success. On several occasions I’ve tried to describe this girl to fellow-quizzers and asked me to help me identify her. No luck there either. I’ve had a long history of stillborn relationships – things that were over before they could take off. I suppose I should accept the hard facts and add this one also to that already long list.

On Large and Small Books

During my last binge at Landmark, I saw a book which I thought I’d like. It was priced at some six hundred rupees – a full fifty percent premium over what I’m usually willing to pay for a book – and was quite thick. My first thought was “ok on a pages-per-rupee basis, this seems to be doing quite well so I should buy it”. Then I had¬† second thoughts.

The question is – should you look at the size of a book as an advantage or as a disadvantage? I think the normal viewpoint (as reflected by my instinct) treats pages as assets. There might be historical backing for this. When books were read for timepass, the amount of value (the time that could be passed) that could be gleaned from the book would be proportional to the number of pages in the book. If the language was difficult to read, then even better – for now it allows one to pass even more time reading the book.

However, when one comes to “funda¬† books”, this argument fails spectacularly. When you read funda books, you don’t read to pass time. You read books in order to get fundaes. And once this happens, volume becomes not a benefit but a cost. When you are reading a book for the fundaes, then you are effectively paying two costs – one is the rupee cost of the book and the other is the time COST. The time that you spend reading the book now becomes a cost. And when time is a cost, then more pages need not be a benefit.

Unfortunately, when you are at the bookstore trying to make a decision about whether to buy a book, there is no way you can figure out how much of fundaes the book is likely to offer. It would have helped if you have read some reviews, which will allow you to make an informed decision. If you haven’t, then hard luck. Now, if you have no clue about that book that you have in your hand, and you need to make a decision on whether to buy it, then I won’t blame you for making your decision based on the thickness.

The unfortunate consequence of this is useless padding up of books. Authors and publishers know that a large section of the readers are likely to judge books based on their size. And they make things voluminous. They take 40 pages to tell stories that could’ve been written in 4. They end up saying the same thing time and again, just to increase the number of pages. And overall, end up boring the reader and lowering the net value added by their book.

So you have ideas which could have been communicated in a few blog posts developing into a book – after all, no one wouuld be willing to pay the same amount of money for a 20 page book as they would for a 200 page book right? even if it were to offer comparable amount of fundaes?

I don’t really know if there is a simple solution to this problem. Solving this would involve effecting a major shift in consumer behaviour. It is unlikely that blogging and online publication would become profitable, else we might have expected the disruption to come from there. Still, you can never say. All we can do is to wait and hope. And read reviews before choosing books.

PS: online purchase of books (via Amazon, etc.) might help mitigate this problem a little since you don’t really feel a book when you decide to buy it, and you have reviews available instantly. Nevertheless, I’m sure most buyers would be subsconsciously using the “number of pages” field while making their purchase decision.

PS2: I should make my blog posts less verbose

Book recos needed

I’m in Bangalore next weekend. I’ll be in town from Thursday late night to Sunday afternoon. Apart from finishing off some pending official work and catching up with friends and relatives, one of my agendas for the trip is to finish up my book coupons, which I had won in various quizzes.

I have about 2.5K to 3K worth of coupons with me (not sure of the exact amount). Of this, Rs. 1000 is at Crossword, and will expire in February. I don’t know if I’ll be visiting Bangalore again before that, and I have no enthu to hunt for a Crossword store in Delhi, so I plan to exhaust them then.

The rest of the coupons are for the Premier Bookshop, which I am told is going to close sometime next month. So, I need to spend these coupons too next week. Which means that during the course of the second half of next Saturday, I’ll be probably indulging in the second biggest book binge of my life, the biggest having been in 2004, when I spent Rs. 4000 worth of coupons at Landmark.

Now, I don’t really know what to buy. I don’t have any books in mind that i really really want. So please to be recommending. To help you people with your recommendations, a few pointers from my side. I don’t want you to spend your valuable time and energy recommending books that I definitely don’t want to read, right?

  • I don’t read fiction. I have limited reading time, and want to utilize that to get fundaes in life. So, no fiction please
  • I think I’ve outgrown popular economics books, so they are out too. The last one I read was “why popcorn costs so much at the movies” and it hardly added any value. I think I know enough economics that I don’t need to read such books anymore.
  • I really liked books such as Guns Germs and Steel and A Farewell to Alms. Books that are essentially historical but not really history books. Scientific history or economic history or social history or whatever you want to call it. If you know some really good books in these subjects, do let me know
  • I think I’m still up for popular science. I really loved Six Degrees by Duncan Watts (it helped that I really love Graph Theory, which is the foundation of social networks theory), and have bought his other book on social networks (small worlds, i think, it’s called). Despite four odd years after movin away from technology, I’m still up for some physics or math or computer science, as long as it is well written
  • Don’t recommend any books on financial markets unless they are really exceptional. I’m currently reading Mandelbrot’s “The (mis)behaviour of markets” and though it’s a great book, I’m having trouble ploughing through it simply because it feels like work. Every great idea I come across, I start thinking “how can I create a trade based on this idea?”.
  • Remember that the books you recommend need to be available in India. And I’ll be putting only a single visit, and won’t have time to order books.
  • Remember that the Crossword collection is fairly crappy, and so I need recos for at least Rs. 1K that are available in all popular stores. If it’s a slightly specialized book, it won’t be available at Crossword.

The other big question that has come up in my head is about which bookshop to visit first next Saturday. They are situated about a kilometer away from each other. The thing with Premier is that it doesn’t enable easy browsing, so I’ll need to go there with a long list of books. Remember that I’ve to finish off all my coupons next week only.

On the other hand, Crossword is so crappy that most of the books on my list are unlikely to be available there, and so I’d rather put a visit to Premier after I’ve put visit to Crossword. Anyways, this is the least of my worries now. So go ahead and recommend. Write comments here. Create buzz on this post. Even if you have some questions for me regarding these, leave a comment here. I’ll definitely respond.