On Hating Talisker

I must thank Mohits Senior and Junior for introducing me to the wonderful world of Single Malts in general, and to Talisker in particular. If I remember right, this was at a meeting of a certain secret society in Senior’s house, where Junior had procured the said substance. I remember being floored by it, and thinking I’d never thought liquor could taste so good. And till yesterday I used to think no one can ever hate this drink.

The first time I got down to buying a bottle of it (though I’d had it by the glass a couple of times outside) was in a duty free shop on my way back from my honeymoon last winter. The wife, as I’d expected, took a huge liking for it. In fact, it seemed like she liked it much more than I did. I must also mention here that for a very long time, that bottle of Talisker was the only liquor available at home.

So whenever we would fight (in our early days of marriage it was quite often, I must admit) the wife would want to distract herself and cool off by “lightening” herself. And would gulp down some Talisker straight from the bottle, as I stood aside, aghast. The subject matter of the fight would be ¬†quickly forgotten, with my foremost thought being “what a waste of such fine booze”, and she being distracted by the contents of the said booze.

That first bottle of Talisker didn’t last too long.

So on our way back from Italy and Greece this summer, I bought another bottle of Talisker. And even before I got it billed, I told the wife that it wasn’t for gulping down, and especially not she was angry. I’ll keep a bottle of cheap whisky at home, I said, for her to drink when angry, and the Talisker should be accessed only when we’re looking to savour our drink.

So last night, on the occasion of her birthday, we decided we want to savour some drink, and down came the bottle of Talisker. She had hardly taken a couple of sips, when she handed the glass back to me. “I can’t take this any more”, she said. “Now, every time I drink Talisker, I get reminded of those times when I was angry and we would be fighting. I don’t want this any more’. So finally there exists a person who hates Talisker, for whatever reason!

For the record, I finished the rest of her drink last night.

The Problem with Resorts

A part of our honeymoon not so long ago was spent at the Taj Exotica in Bentota, Sri Lanka. We stayed there for a bit over a day and a half, and that was supposed to be the most “honeymoony” part of our honeymoon, with the rest of the time being spent essentially roaming and seeing different things in different parts of Sri Lanka. Before we went, I thought I’d set aside very little time for this “honeymoony place” but in the final analysis it turned out I’d allocated the optimum time for it.

So as we sit down to plan for a mid-year vacation, here are some of the problems that we found with resorts – which make us skeptical about spending an entire vacation in a resort kind of place. All this is based on a single data point – our recent visit to Bentota:

  • Food: We got bored of the food in less than a day. I’m vegetarian, which ruled out the seafood restaurants at the resort. Room service menu was extremely limited and one meal bored us of the buffet. We ended up eating consecutive dinners at the same Chinese restaurant at the resort which shows how bored we were of the food
  • Lack of buzz: We went to the bar to grab a quick drink on the way to dinner, and there were hardly any people there. There was no life there and it was too quiet for our liking. Then, on the way back from dinner we thought we’ll hit the disc, and found we were the only people there. A complete put off
  • On the other hand, when we went to the pool for a swim, it turned out there were way too many people there. There were some large gangs of tourists, and they made quite a noise, which wasn’t all that fun. Yeah, I know I’m cribbing about two contradictory things here, but that’s the way it is.
  • Adding to the contradiction, a private beach and all is ¬†quite fine but again it’s boring to go there when there is little activity there. Yeah there were a few people there but there was something about the place which bored us quickly enough for us to return.
  • General lack of activity: Yeah, I know that the purpose of going to a resort is to just chill but after a while the lack of activity can get a bit disconcerting, and makes you want to get away.

But in general, the biggest problem was the food. If you aren’t really fond of buffets, and there are no good options near the resort, you are likely to tire of the food quite quickly, which can be a big pain. At least if you were to get authentic local food you could manage. But sanitized 5-star buffets for over a day? Thanks

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.

Bangalore Book Festival

So today I made my way to Gayatri Vihar in the Palace Grounds to visit the Bangalore Book Festival, on its last day. It was interesting, though a bit crowded (what would you expect on the last day of an exhibition? and that too, when it’s a Sunday?). I didn’t buy much (just picked up two books) given the massive unread pile that lies at home. However, there was much scope for pertinent observations. Like I always do when I have a large number of unrelated pertinent observations, I’ll write this in bullet point form.

  • There were some 200 stalls. Actually, there might have been more. I didn’t keep count, despite the stalls having been numbered. Yeah, you can say that I wasn’t very observant.
  • All the major bookshops in Bangalore barring the multicity ones had set up shop there. I don’t really know what they were doing there. Or were they just trying to capture the market that only buys in fairs? Or did they set up stall there just to advertise themselves?
  • It seems like a lot of shops were trying to use the fair to get rid of inventory they wanted to discard. All they had to do was to stack all of this on one table and put a common price tag (say Rs. 50) on every book in that collection, and it was enough to draw insane crowds
  • One interesting stall at the fair had been set up by pothi.com an online self-publishing company. I’ll probably check them out sometime next year when I might want to publish a blook. Seems like an interesting business model they’ve got. Print on demand!
  • I also met the flipkart.com guys at the fair. Once again, they were there for advertising themselves. Need to check them out sometime. Given the kind of books I buy, I think online is the best place to get long tail stuff.
  • There was an incredibly large number of islamic publishing houses at the fair! And have you guys seen the “want qur an? call 98xxxxxxxx for free copy” hoardings all over the city? Wonder why the Bajrang Dal doesn’t target those
  • There was large vernacular presence at the fair. I remember reading in the papers that there was a quota for Kannada publishers, but there was reasonable presence for other languages also, like Gult, Tam, Mellu, Hindi
  • A large number of stalls were ideology driven. Publishing houses attached to cults had set up stalls, probably to further the cause of their own cult. So there was an ISKCON stall, a Ramakrishna Mutt stall, a Ramana Maharshi stall, etc.
  • Attendance at most of these niche stalls was quite thin, as people mostly crowded the stalls being run by bookstores in order to hunt for bargains. Attendance was also mostly thin at publisher-run stalls, making me wonder why most of these people had bothered to come to the fair at all.
  • I saw one awesomely funny banner at the place. It was by “Dr Partha Bagchi, the world leader in stammering for last 20 years” or some such thing. Was too lazy to pull out my phone and click pic. But it was a masterpiece of a banner
  • Another interesting ideological publisher there was “Leftword books”. Their two sales reps were in kurtas and carrying jholas (ok I made the latter part up). And they were sellling all sorts of left-wing books. Wonder who funds them! And they were also selling posters of Che for 10 bucks each
  • I wonder what impact this fair will have on bookstores in Bangalore in the next few days. Or probably it was mostly the non-regular book buyers who did business at the fair and so the regulars will be back at their favourite shops tomorrow.

I bought two books. Vedam Jaishankar’s Casting A Spell: A history of Karnataka cricket (I got it at Rs. 200, as opposed to a list price of Rs 500) and Ravi Vasudevan’s “Making Meaning in Indian Cinema”.

Arranged Scissors 12 – Rejection Sharing Agreements

This is similar to the Klose-Podolski corollary to the Goalkeeper Theory. To refresh your memory, or to fresh it in case I haven’t mentioned this earlier, the Klose-Podolski corollary refers to a case of two close friends who decide to hit on the same person. The implicit understanding is that they don’t regard each other as rivals but blade together, and first get rid of all the other suitors before they engage in one last showdown so that the bladee picks one of them.

We came up with this corollary to the Goalkeeper Theory shortly after the 2006 Football World Cup, during which Klose and Podolki formed a cracking strike partnership for Germany. Later on, they were to play together for Bayerrn Munchen, but like most Klose-Podolski arrangements, they too ended up in bitterness with Poodolski (who scored the lesser number of goals among the two) publicly voicing his bitterness and finally transferring to his “native” Koln.

Now that the crazy digression is out of the way, let me get to the point. Today is the first day of Navaratri, and with the inauspicious “Mahalaya Paksha” having gotten out of the way, arranged scissors is back in full earnest. This also means that I re-enter the market, though I’m still yet to list myself (don’t plan to for a while at least. OTC is said to give superior valuations). And some casual conversation and some not-so-casual phone calls this morning, I have been thinking of the arranged marriage equivalent of the Klose-Podolski arrangement.

So basically, as part of this arrangements, two parties who are looking to hit the same side of the deal strike a deal to share “rejection information” with each other. “Rejection information” can be of the following two types:

  • Today I found out about this girl. She seems to be really good in most respects – good looking, rich, good family background, virgin and all that. But for some (usually random) reason, my son doesn’t want to marry her. Why don’t you try her for your son?
  • Today I found out about this girl. Talked to her, her parents, etc. Doesn’t seem like a good prospect at all. She is either ugly or too “forward” or her family background is bad. I think the chances of her getting along with your son is quite low. Don’t waste your time with her.

Note that both of this is extremely useful information, especially in an illiquid market. What is important here is the nature of people with whom you strike such agreements. The basic thing is that your correlation with them should neither be too low nor too high. Ideally, they should belong to the same/similar caste, should have a fairly similar family background, etc. but the boys shouldn’t be too similar. Yeah, I think that is a fair criterion – they should be as similar as possible in terms of “arranged criteria” but as different as possible in terms of “louvvu criteria”.

Basically if the correlation is too low, then you can’t really trust their judgment on counterparties. On the other hand, if the correlation is too high, then it is extremely likely that they turn out to be “rivals” and that if one party rejects a girl, it’s unlikely that the other party will like the girl. I supppose you get what I’m talking about.

One downside to such agreements that I can think of – it might cause bitterness later on in life, long after the goal has been scored. The feeling that “this guy married a girl that I rejected” or the other way round might come back to haunt you later on in life.

LinkedIn recos

LinkedIn in general is a useful site. It’s a good place to maintain an “online CV” and also track the careers of your peers and ex-peers and people you are interested in and people you are jealous of. If you are a headhunter, it is a good place to find heads to hunt, so that you can buzz them asking for their “current CTC; expected CTC; notice period” (that’s how most india-based headhunters work). It also helps you do “due diligence” (for a variety of reasons), and to even approximately figure out stuff like a person’s age, hometown, etc.

However, one thing that doesn’t make sense at all to me is the recommendations section. Point being that LinkedIn being a “formal” networking site, even a mildly negative sounding recommendation can cause much harm to a person’s career and so people don’t entertain them. Also, the formality of the site prevents one from writing cheesy recommendations – the thing that made orkut testimonials so much fun. And if you can’t be cheesy or be even mildly negative, you will be forced to write an extremely filtered recommendation.

Rhetorical question – have you ever seen a negative or even funny or even mildly unusual recommendation on LinkedIn? I haven’t, and I believe it’s for the reasons that I mentioned above. And if you think you are cool enough to write a nice recommendation for me, and that I’m cool enough to accept nice recommendations, I’m sure you and I have better places to bond than LinkedIn.

Anyway, so given that most recommendations on LinkedIn are filtered stuff, and are thus likely to be hiding much more than they reveal, isn’t it a wonder that people continue to write them, and ask for them? Isn’t it funny that “LinkedIn Experts” say that it’s an essential part of having a “good profile”? Isn’t it funny that some people will actually take these recommendations at face value?

I don’t really have an answer to this, and continue to be amazed that the market value for LinkedIn recommendations hasn’t plummetted. I must mention here that neither do I have any recommendations on LinkedIn nor have I written any. To those corporate whores who haven’t realized that LinkedIn Recommendations have no value, my sympathies.

Update

Commenting on facebook, my junior from college Shrinivas recommends http://www.endorser.org/ . Check it out for yourself. It seems like this cribbing about linkedin recommendations isn’t new. I realize I may be late, but then I’m latest.

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.