FabIndia Koramangala

There are very few clothing stores that I can say I’m in love with. There are very few stores where I feel like buying a large proportion of merchandise on display whenever I visit it. There are very few stores where just the atmosphere makes you buy much more than you had planned to. And it’s a pity that on two of my visits to the store, I bought nothing.

I haven’t been to too many FabIndia stores outside Bangalore (only a handful of stores in Gurgaon and maybe one in Delhi) but having shopped a few times at the FabIndia store in Koramangala, I feel distinctly underwhelmed whenever i go to any other outlet. Having been several times to this beautifully designed house, I find FabIndia outlets housed in less spectacular buildings sad. Of course there have been times (including two days ago) when I’ve shopped at other outlets but the experience simply doesn’t come close.

The first time I went to the store was some four or five years back when Anuroop wanted to check out kurtas. I think we went there on Bunty’s recommendation but I remember that I hadn’t bought anything. I had quickly made amends for it a couple of months later when I bought a couple of shirts, and then a year later when I bought a dozen shirts at one go!

The only other time I went there without purchasing anything was yesterday morning, when I was visiting the store after a gap of some two or three years. The first thought was one of guilt – of having shopped in a less spectacular Fabindia store (the one at Kathriguppe) just the previous night, and then as I got over it I got overwhelmed with the variety on display. I suddenly got afraid that I might over-spend and made a dash for the exit.

I wasn’t gone for too long, though, as I returned in the evening with Priyanka, and this time we discovered something even more spectacular – something that I had completely missed during my hajaar earlier visits – the store cafe. The brownie was decent, and the coffee was just about ok, but that didn’t matter one bit. Once again, it was the atmosphere at play, and that the coffee shop had in plenty.

It’s something like a small arena. If you can perform some visual art (say a play or a dance) in a five feet square area, this is just the place for you! All around the 5×5 “well” (which is full of pebbles) are stone benches, at different levels. Cushions have been placed on some arbitrary benches, and we understood that that’s where it was supposed to sit. There wsa some music that I didn’t quite recognized but was quite pleasant, and the wooden trays in which the waiter brought our coffees were also beautiful – I might have bought something like that from the store had I been in a spendthrift mood yesterday!

If you are in Bangalore and are interested in cotton clothes you should definitely check out this store sometime. It’s in Koramangala, in the extension of the intermediate ring road. Make sure you go there leisurely, for there is plenty to see and buy (the inventory is about six times as much as that of an “ordinary” FabIndia store). And while you are there, do visit the cafe and lounge around there for a while. And think about Priyanka and me while you are there.

Orange Juice and Petrol

So I was reading this article by Ajay Shah about administered pricing for petroleum. He does an excellent (though it gets a bit technical in terms of statistics) analysis about what could go wrong if the government were to free pricing of petroleum products. He mostly argues in favour of deregulation, and that is a view that I completely endorse.

One of the big fears about deregulation that he mentions is the fear that volatility in retail prices of petroleum products might increase, and he argues that this is a good thing and is much better than the government artificially hiding the prices and subjecting the junata to major price shocks once in a while. While I agree with him on this, I don’t think prices will change frequently in the first place.

While I was reading this article, I started thinking about the neighbourhood Sri Ganesh Fruit Juice (yeah there are a dozen of those in every neighbourhood in Bangalore) center. About how the guy keeps the price of orange juice constant throughout the year, despite the price and availability of oranges themselves fluctuating wildly across seasons. Yeah he might do minor adjustments such as changing the proportion of water but he can’t do too much of it since he needs to maintain quality.

The basic funda here is that customers want certainty. Every time they go to the shop for their fix of orange juice, they want certainty in the prices. Even if you are on an average cheaper, you will lose customers if your price is more volatile than your competitor’s. Of course there are occasions when you can’t help it and are forced to change your price – and on these occasions your competitors are also likely to do the same. But as far as possible, you try your best to decouple the price of orange juice from the price of orange which is pretty volatile.

Now I don’t know if the volatility in crude oil prices is more than the volatility in orange prices (it’s likely to be) but considering that oil companies are supposed to be more sophisticated than your neighbourhood juice shop guy, I would expect similar behaviour from them – of keeping retail prices of petroleum products as stable as they can. Of course they are likely to follow long-term trends but they are surely not going to pass on the short-time noise in prices to the customers.

So this fear of increase in volatility of retail prices is unfounded, assuming of course that the oil marketing companies are good businesspeople!

Moron Astrology

So this morning I was discussing my yesterday’s post on astrology and vector length with good friend and esteemed colleague Baada. Some interesting fundaes came out of it. Since Baada has given up blogging (and he’s newly married now so can’t expect him to blog) I’m presenting the stuff here.

So basically we believe that astrology started off as some kind of multinomial regression. Some of ancestors observed some people, and tried to predict their behaviour based on the position of their stars at the time of their birth. Maybe it started off as some arbit project. Maybe if blogs existed then, we could say that it started off as a funda session leading up to a blog post.

So a bunch of people a few millenia ago started off on this random project to predict behaviour based on position of stars at the time of people’s birth. They used a set of their friends as the calibration data, and used them to fix the parameters. Then they found a bunch of acquaintances who then became the test data. I’m sure that these guys managed to predict behaviour pretty well based on the stars – else the concept wouldn’t have caught on.

Actually it could have gone two ways – either it fit an extraordinary proportion of people in which case it would be successful; or it didn’t fit a large enough proportion of people in which case it would have died out. Our hunch is that there must have been several models of astrology, and that natural selection and success rates picked out one as the winner – none of the other models would have survived since they failed to predict as well on the initial data set.

So Indian astrology as we know it started off as a multinomial regression model and was the winner in a tournament of several such models, and has continued to flourish to this day. Some problem we find with the concept:

  • correlation-causation: what the initial multinomial regression found is that certain patterns in the position of stars at the time of one’s birth is heavily correlated with one’s behaviour. The mistake that the modelers and their patrons made was the common one of associating correlation with causation. They assumed that the position of stars at one’s birth CAUSED one’s behaviour. They probably didn’t do much of a rigorous analysis to test this out
  • re-calibration: another problem with the model is that it hasn’t been continuously recalibrated. We continue to use the same parameters as we did several millenia ago. Despite copious quantities of new data points being available, no one has bothered to re-calibrate the model. Times have changed and people have changed but the model hasn’t kept up with either. Now, I think the original information of the model has been lost so no one can recalibrate even if he/she chooses to

Coming back to my earlier post, one can also say that Western astrology is weaker than Indian astrology since the former uses a one-factor regression as against the multinomial regression used by the latter; hence the former is much weaker at predicting.

Collateralized Death Obligations

When my mother died last Friday, the doctors at the hospital where she had been for three weeks didn’t have a diagnosis. When my father died two and a half years back, the hospital where he’d spent three months didn’t have a diagnosis. In both cases, there were several hypotheses, but none of them were even remotely confirmed. In both cases, there have been a large number of relatives who have brought up the topic of medical negligence. In my father’s case, some people wanted me to go to consumer court. This time round, I had signed several agreements with the hospital absolving them of all possible complications, etc.

The relationship between the doctor and the patient is extremely asymmetric. It is to do with the number of counterparties, and with the diversification. If you take a “medical case”, it represents only a small proportion of the doctor’s total responsibility – it is likely that at any given point of time he is seeing about a hundred patients, and each case takes only a small part of his mind space. On the other hand, the same case represents 100% for the patient, and his/her family. So say 1% on one side and 100% on the other, and you know where the problem is.

The medical profession works on averages. They usually give a treatment with “95% confidence”. I don’t know how they come up with such confidence limits, and whether they explicitly state it out, but it is a fact that no disease has a 100% sure shot cure. From the doctor’s point of view, if he is administering a 95% confidence treatment, he will be happy as long as his success rate is over that. The people for whom the treatment was unsuccessful are just “statistics”. After all, given the large number of patients a doctor sees, there is nothing better he can do.

The problem on the patient’s side is that it’s like Schrodinger’s measurement. Once a case has been handled, from the patient’s perspective it collapses to either 1 or 0. There is no concept of probabilistic success in his case. The process has either succeeded or it has failed. If it is the latter, it is simply due to his own bad luck. Of ending up on the wrong side of the doctor’s coin. On the other hand, given the laws of aggregation and large numbers, doctors can come up with a “success rate” (ok now I don’t kn0w why this suddenly reminds me of CDOs (collateralized debt obligations)).

There is a fair bit of randomness in the medical profession. Every visit to the doctor, every process, every course of treatment is like a toin coss. Probabilities vary from one process to another but nothing is risk-free. Some people might define high-confidence procedures as “risk-free” but they are essentially making the same mistakes as the people in investment banks who relied too much on VaR (value at risk). And when things go wrong, the doctor is the easiest to blame.

It is unfortunate that a number of coins have fallen wrong side up when I’ve tossed them. The consequences of this have been huge, and it is chilling to try and understand what a few toin cosses can do to you. The non-linearity of the whole situation is overwhelming, and depressing. But then this random aspect of the medical profession won’t go away too easily, and all you can hope for when someone close to you goes to the doctor is that the coin falls the right way.

Family Associations

I spent some time this afternoon looking at the address book released by the association of descendants of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather (yes, I’m serious; there does exist one such association). Since I didn’t have much else to do, I did go through much of the book in detail. The makers seem to have put hajaar fight in order to prepare it – calling up thousands of descandants and asking them for addresses and phone numbers. It also took quite long to make I suppose – my address and phone number that is put there are from last August.

The first thing I noticed about our family is that there is no such thing as a “family tree”. Us being Kannada Types and the customary incest being there, there are lots of cycles in the “family tree”. I noticed at least two cases of first cousins being married to each other. The book has handled this rather inelegantly – putting the same pair of names and addresses in two  places. However, I don’t know how they could’ve handled it more elegantly without embarrassing the incestuous couples – since the concept has become taboo only recently.

It was also interesting to look at the geographical distribution of the family. As expected, the maximum number of addresses are from Bangalore. Interestingly, Mysore also seems to have a lot of people from the family, with not too many people inhabiting other parts of India. There is an incredibly large number of people from the family in America, and they seem to be distributed in almost all parts – though with a bias to California (not just the Bay Area – I saw a number of southern California addresses.

Interestingly, other countries have little representation. There is one family in Australia and a couple of families in the Gelf. Interestingly, there is no one in England (the book lists two families with England addresses, but both of them have since returned to India (one of them is scheduled to move to the US soon) ). There also seems to be a high proportion of ABCDs – a large number of people seem to have emigrated in the 60s and 70s.

It seems like a large number of ABCD cousins and aunts and uncles have ended up marrying people of non-Indian origins, but it is hard to say where their spouses are. In true Kannadiga tradition, everyone has been listed by given name only (with a few initials thrown in here and there) which makes it hard to determine who is from where (talking about in-laws of the family).

Another interesting phenomenon is the strange names that have been given to people who seem to have been born in the last 10 years or so (I’m only talking of people with two Indian parents). Some people still continued to get named after Gods and other popular Indian names, but quite a few names of this generation seem to be the types that won’t be found in any Sanskrit dictionary.

I had a few other pertinent observations as I was going through the book, but I seem to have forgotten the rest. I’ll add them here if I remember any of those.

My Friend Sancho – Review

I had mentioned in my previous blog post that I’ll not be attending the My Friend Sancho launch in Delhi because it was on a weekday. I had also mentioned that since I have a huge pile of unread books I wouldn’t buy this for a while at least. My boss happened to read that blog post and mentioned to me that he was planning to drive to mainland Delhi for the launch at the end of work on Wednesday evening. Not having to drive all the way there relieved me of the NED and I went. And given that I went, and that I was planning to buy it some time, I bought it at the venue and got it signed by the author.

I just finished my dinner. I know it’s a bit late, but I started reading the book at 8pm today. And got so engrossed that I didn’t get up to cook till it was around nine thirty, when I had finished about half the book. I got up and put the rice to cook and sat down with the book again. And didn’t get up until I was done (oh yes – I got up once in the middle to turn off the pressure cooker, and to take a leak). All two hundred and seventeen pages of it. Extremely easy read, and extremely engrossing. The drop in quality of Amit’s blogging during the time he wrote this book can be forgiven.

Overall it is a nice book. But I wonder how well it will be appreciated by someone who doesn’t know Amit at all. I know that a large proportion of people who will be buying his book are regular readers of India Uncut (which finds half a dozen plugs in the book), but thing is there is so much more you can get from the book if you know Amit. Now – given that I know Amit, and not just from his blog – I’m trying to imagine how much less a person who doesn’t know Amit at all will get out of this.

One of ther more delightful sub-plots in the book is the speech given by a policeman about “the beast called the Government” – while speaking in bullet points. It is a fantastic libertarian speech, and it is even more fantastic that it is delivered by the possibly corrupt inspector. Now – the problem is that a person who hasn’t read much of Amit’s writing – either on his blog or in his erstwhile Mint column will simply gloss over this monologue as some random meaningless gibberish.

There are a few other such pieces in the book – where a prior reading of Amit’s work will make you enjoy things a lot more. So my recommenedation to you is tha tif you wnat to read MFS, you should first go over to indiauncut.com and read a few dozen of Amit’s blog posts. And then begin reading the book and you should enjoy it.

Another reason why I was initially sceptical about the book was that I was told it features a talking lizard. I inherently don’t like stories that cannot be real. So if you put in talking animals, or creatures that don’t exist, I am usually put off and lose enthu to read the book. Amit, however, does a good job of limiting the number of lines given to the lizard – he does it in a way such that it appears as if the lizard represents the narrator’s conscience.

Overall it’s a really good book, and I recommend you read it. The story is simple and gripping, and the sub-plots are also really good. It won’t take too much of your time, or too much of your money (very reasonably priced at Rs. 195).   Just make sure that you read some of Amit’s writing before you read the book.

Arranged Scissors 8: Culture fit with parents

That you are in the arranged marriage process means that your parents now have full veto power over whom you marry. Given that you don’t generally want them to veto someone whom you have liked, the most common protocol as I understand is for parents to evaluate the counterparty first, and the “candidate” to get only the people who have passed the parental filter. Then the “candidates” proceed, and maybe meet, and maybe talk, and maybe flirt and maybe decide to get married.

Hypothesis: The chance of your success in the arranged marriage market is directly proportional to the the culture fit that you have wtih your parents.

Explanation: Given that parents have veto power in the process, and given the general protocol that most people follow (which I have described in the first para above; however, it can be shown that this result is independent of the protocol), there are two levels of “culture fit” that an interested counterparty has to pass. First, she has to pass the candidate’s parents’ culture fit test. Only after she has passed the test does she come in contact with the candidate (in most cases, not literally).

Then, she will have to pass the candidate’s culture fit test. By the symmetry argument, there are two more such tests (girl’s parents’ filter for boy and girl’s filter for boy). And then in the arranged marriage setting, people tend to evaluate their “beegaru” (don’t think english has a nice phrase for this – basically kids’ parents-in-law). So you have the boy’s parents evaluating the girl’s parents for culture fit, and vice versa.

So right at the beginning, the arranged marriage process has six layers of culture fit. And even if all these tests are passed, one gets only to the level of the CMP. (given that very few filter down to this level, i suppose a lot of people put NED at this stage and settle for the CMP).

Without loss of generality, let us now ignore the process of boy’s parents evaluating girl’s parents and vice versa (the problem is complex enough without this). So there are basically four evaluations, made by two pairs of evaluators (let us consider parents as one entity – they might have difference in opinion between each other occasionally but to the world they display a united front). Now for each side it comes down to the correlation of expectations between the side’s pair of evaluators.

The higher the “culture fit” you possess with your parents, the higher the chance that you will agree with them with regard to a particular counterparty’s culture fit. And this chance of agreement about culture fit of counterparty is directly proportional to the chance of getting married through the arranged marriage process (basically this culture fit thing can be assumed to be independent of all other processes that go into the arranged marriage decision; so take out all of those and the relationship is linear). Hence proved.

Now what if you are very different from your parents? It is very unlikely that you will approve of anyone that they will approve of, and vice versa. In such a situation it is going to be very hard for you to find someone through the arranged marriage process, and you are well advised to look outside (of course the problem of convincing parents doesn’t go away, but their veto power does).

So the moral of the story is that you should enter the arranged marriage market only if you possess a reasonable degree of culture fit with your parents.

(i have this other theory that in every family, there is a knee-jerk generation – one whose “culture” is markedly different compared to that of its previous generation. and after each knee-jerk, cultural differences between this generation and the following few generations will be low. maybe i’ll elaborate on it some other time)

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

Arranged Scissors 6: Due Diligence Networks

Arranged Scissors 7: Foreign boys