Valuing a flexible week

For the last couple of weeks my wife has taken time off from work, and given that I’m freelancing, we as a couple now have a flexible week. Yesterday, we went shopping. We were at the Bangalore Central store in JP Nagar, and for the first time in a really long time, were able to shop without bumping into fellow-shoppers every other moment. My wife didn’t have to wait endless hours in the queue just to get into the trial rooms (yeah, this happens at large format apparel stores on weekends). We shopped at Food Bazaar sub-store, and could take our time in deciding what to buy, without sharing aisles with other shoppers. The checkout counter was empty, ABSOLUTELY EMPTY, and we had an extremely peaceful experience there. It was an awesome day of shopping.

There are certain things that are done so much easier on weekdays than on weekends. Shops are significantly less crowded. If you have to get work done in government offices, you are better off going there on a weekday than on Saturday (when there are more consumers, and the employees are pissed off at the end of a long week). You don’t need to book cinema tickets hours before. Restaurants aren’t crowded. If you go for a day trip, you can expect your destination to not be flooded with other tourists. Of course, there are activities which are so much easily done on weekends rather than on weekdays – this involves anything that involves driving across the city in “peak traffic” hours.

So it’s clear that the “flexible working week” that I have provides some intangible value. Of course, since my wife doesn’t have a flexible week, we as a couple don’t always get to enjoy my flexible week, but leave that aside for now. What I’m trying to understand is the extra value that I”m getting thanks to my having a flexible week, and if I can put a number on it.

One way I can think of valuing my flexible week is in terms of optionality. I’ve listed down some of the advantages of doing certain things on a weekday. Maybe I can quantify the value of each of them? Maybe the value of the time I save by not standing in a queue at a checkout counter? The economic value of buying more and better clothes because I can shop peacefully? The additional value I get by having the picnic spot to myself rather than sharing it with a hundred others. The option value of being able to walk into a movie hall and buy tickets a minute before the show. And so on. And all this multiplied, of course, by the probability of my wanting to do each of these activities. Sounds right?

Of course, I’m talking about a flexible week here, and not about a week where you have weekly holiday on a weekday, like my wife had earlier this year. Thanks to some power supply issues, the local electricity distribution company mandated different weekly holidays for heavy industries in different parts of the city, thanks to which my wife had her weekly off on Wednesdays. And they were among the two most disorienting months I’ve been through. We were unable to do all those things that we would have normally done on weekends (and which are more advantageous to be done on weekends). I couldn’t do a full day of work on Saturday to compensate for not working on Wednesday. And I would try to work on Wednesday but wouldn’t be able to because my wife had her weekly off that day. It was absolutely mindfucking.

So yeah, maybe the next time someone asks me how much I”m making as a freelancer, I must include the “value of a flexible week” in the number I tell them!

Metro Notes

One of the advantages of being jobless is that though you’re poor in terms of money, you’re rich in time. So you have all the time you want to do things that give you random kicks, such as riding the new Bangalore metro on the second day of operation. The reason I chose to go today was that I had to anyway go to the MG Road area on some work, but also that the second day is a good time to see things early, while not getting caught in a mad rush.  My decision to go today was reinforced by a report in today’s paper that while there was much clamouring to get on to the first train yesterday, the second train was half-empty.

The supposedly showpiece MG Road station is not yet complete. You still can’t get to the station from the Plaza theater side, which is the “logical” side to get in if you’ve come to MG Road for shopping or generally hanging out, or even if your office is there. You need to cross over to the parade ground side at the Cauvery signal and then make your way through some narrow barricades before you get to the entrance. You get frisked at the entrance (this might end up being a bottleneck) after which you get to buy tickets. There was a queue of about 10 people when I got there.

There is still scope for the ticket staff to become more efficient, and for people to learn to carry exact change (especially given that you have tickets for Rs. 12, Rs. 14, etc). However, I would imagine that in the long term, most people would end up using a travel card, so the pressure on the counters may actually decrease. One disappointing thing was that they didn’t sell return tickets. I would have to stand in queue again at Indiranagar.

You have escalators only for going up, and you have to take the stairs when you exit the station. I don’t know if this is a method to cut costs or lead-time, but it would be a letdown if you had to take the stairs down each time, especially since the stairs were a major bottleneck in exiting the station when I disembarked from MG Road on the return journey. Another bottleneck while exiting at MG Road was the turnstiles. On your way in, the ticket booths are the bottlenecks so the turnstiles are free. Not so on the way out. However, I don’t see much scope for putting more turnstiles there so I don’t know how the metro will cope with increased demand.

The train is quite small (3 bogies long) but I’m told it’ll be increased to 6 soon. Maybe the train wasn’t as full as expected but I found the temperature in the train too cold on the way to Indiranagar (it was ok on the return journey when the train was full).  The indiranagar station was incredibly convenient and not crowded at all. Entry, exit, ticket purchase and turnstiles were all extremely smooth, and the view from the station platform is stunning, especially towards the ulsoor side. Speaking of views from trains, the metro has now given scope for a new set of hoardings for the city. These hoardings can be put up at the “metro level” along the metro line. I’d be surprised if no businessman were to take this opportunity.

The train itself doesn’t move too fast, especially since there are so many curves on the route. On the straight MG Road stretch, however, the train moves well at a faster rate. The announcements on the train still need some work. The grammar of the Kannada announcements is atrocious, and the funniest bit is when they try and explain “mind the gap” in Kannada and Hindi. The hindi announcements also carry a very strong Kannadiga accent.

There are some other measures that the metro corporation has taken in order to get people acquainted with the metro. There is usually an officer standing at the turnstiles who tells you how you should swipe (on entry) or deposit (on exit) your token. Then, there are security guards at the platform itself who make sure passengers are standing back when the trains arrive, and that they are not blocking the doors when it’s closing.

The journey from MG Road to Indiranagar was extremely quick and painless. I believe that the metro has already demonstrated its ability in making the city smaller, and I can now only hope that the full stretch of the metro (including the underground stretch at Majestic) gets completed fast. I can’t wait for the day when I take a short walk to the Jayanagar metro station and do two quick journeys to reach MG Road or Indirangar easily, safely and painlessly.

When will people come?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Food Attack at Functions

While standing in line waiting rather impatiently for my dinner at Monkee’s engagement today, I was thinking of strategies that one can employ in order to get one’s food quickly in places where there are long lines. I’d faced the same question a couple of weeks back at Sharadha’s wedding, where again the lines were insanely long. On both occasions, I think I managed to figure out reasonable solutions.

The thing with most guests at functions like these is that they tend to approach the food in linear fashion. They start from one end and go through the whole line taking little bits of everything on the menu. Most people I know, especially from the older generation, don’t go back for a second helping. And so this means that they need to get everything the first time round.

The key to cracking the puzzle is to approach things in a non-linear fashion, as I realized at both Monkee’s and Sharadha’s functions. Like for example, today I managed to break down the queue into various sub-queues and with quick mental analysis understood the bottlenecks, and decided my diet for the night based on that.

For example, today I noticed that the main queue was for one table where you got the plates, pakodas, thair vade, jalebi and some salads. These things had all been arranged around a table which seemed non-intuitive to a lot of people because of which the crowd was heavy. And I realized that just to pick off the plate from the stack and scoot off, I could break the line without being impolite.

Next, analyzing the main course queues, I realized that one main line was at the dosa counter, and decided to forego it in the interests of getting my food quickly. Again I quickly ran this optimization algorithm in my head which told me that it was best to have rotis (involved a small wait) and curries in the first round and then rice in the second. It worked beautifully, and I had a hearty dinner without ever standing in line!

At Sharadha’s wedding too I had managed to spot and exploit arbitrage opportunities. For example, I realized that people never stood in queues to get second helpings, and that I could peacefully get around the line by taking the plate from the hardly-crowded salad counter and then going to the main line looking like I was going for second helpings.

The key at buffets is to keep your eyes and ears (yeah, I managed to “spot” that spoons had arrived by hearing their clanging) open to any sort of arbitrage opportunities, and once spotted to ruthlessly exploit them. And you need to be a little RG. If you try to take along too many people when you are implementing such plans, it will be self-defeating and your returns diminish.

And if you find yourself at a buffet which has lots of financial traders, I really pity you.

Search strings – last one month

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this and I’m feeling bored now so thought I should write this. It’s the same old usual thing – unusual things that people have searched for and landed up at my blog. I used to compile these stats on a daily basis earlier but nowadays due to NED have abandoned it. So here is an attempt to revise it. This time it’s not for a particular month. It’s just over hte last 30 days. Here goes:

  • travelling on general compartment on shimoga express
  • “ramnath narayanswamy” sex
  • doctor is that the coin falls the right way
  • is token system better than queue in reception of hospital
  • where is kodhi math in karnataka??
  • women in skimpy cut offs

Ok I know the list is smaller than the usual, but I think people aren’t being that crazy nowadays, or for some reason the crazy people are being repelled by my blog! Hopefully next month I’ll have better stuff.

An Inquiry Into Queue Lengths At Wedding Receptions

So last night once again I was at a wedding reception where there was a long queue for getting on stage, wishing the couple, giving gift and getting photo taken. In fact, last night, the queue literally extended to outside the hall (maybe the non-standard orientation of the hall – more breadth than length – contributed to this) – probably the first time I was seeing such a thing. Thankfully the wedding hall entrance was deep inside the building compound, else there might have been the unsavoury sight of the queue extending all the way on to the road.

This has been a problem that has been bugging me for a long time now – regarding queue length at wedding receptions. Apart from a handful, most wedding receptions that I’ve attended in the last 3-4 years have had this issue. You get to the hall and finding a long queue to get on stage, immediately go and plonk yourself at the end of it. By the time you get to the stage and do your business, you are hungry so off you go to the dining hall to probably stand in another queue. And before you know it, the reception is over and all the networking opportunity that you had been thinking of is now lost.

Udupa has a simple solution to this – introduce a token system like they have at commercial banks. Upon entry, you get a token with a number on it and you go take your seat or go around networking. And when your number gets flashed on a screen close to the stage, you go join what will be a very short queue, and you have done your business without really wasting much time. I’m told that this is the system that they had introduced at Tirupati in order to prevent time wastage at queues. However, it is doubtful if such a solution is practicable for the wedding case – people might get offended, people might get too busy to see their token number flashing, and all such.

A while back, I had raised this issue with my mom, and had casually mentioned to her about Udupa’s solution. She said that the whole problem lay with girls’ fascination for make-up nowadays, and that 99% of the problem would get solved if the reception were to start on time. This was never a problem during her time, she mentioned, when makeup was lesser and girls took less time to dress. And she also mentioned that the number of guests hasn’t gone up as significantly as one might expect.

Another solution that my mom suggested was to get the couple to stand at floor level, thus reducing the “distance” between them and the crowd, and making them more accessible. Apparently, she and my dad did that at their wedding – abandoned the stage in favour of the musicians and stood on one side at floor level, and this, she says, made crowds move faster. In fact, even at Katsa’s wedding last weekend, the couple were not at a great height off ground level, and this made them more accessible, and somehow prevented a queue from building up.

Next, we will need to look at the various processes that go into the “proceedings”. So you meet the couple. One of the couple introduces you to the spouse. You make small talk for a couple of minutes. You handover the gift. Then, you stand with the couple and wait for the photographer to make sure everything is ready, and then get your snap taken. And then put exit and head for the grub. So we need to figure out which part of this whole process needs to be reduced, or even done away with.

Gift-giving takes minimal time, so it stays. Introduction is the reason you are there at the wedding, so that also stays. Yesterday’s wedding, they took photos side-on while we were putting small talk. And that still did nothing for queue length. But still, I think that’s a good start – too much time is wasted anyways in organizing gumbals for photos. And the closer gumbals can wait for beyond grubtime.

Small talk? Is there any way that can be reduced? Two weddings recently, the couple has promised to put small talk post-reception but reception has carried on for too long making us put NED before the talk. People kept streaming in even after 10pm. Will the couple abruptly getting off stage at the closing time help? People who come later can seek out the couple wherever they are, and in the meantime they can put the small talk. And this promise means that they don’t have to put small talk when there aer 100 people waiting in the queue?

Any other bright ideas? This is a common problem. Only thing is no one party will pay you enough to come up with a brilliant solution for this – benefits of this are far too distributed. Anyways, your thoughts on this, please.

The Mata Temple in Amritsar

It seems to be a slightly obscure temple. I don’t think it is on the map of most tourists who visit Amritsar. Or maybe with the increasing breed of auto drivers turned tour guides, it is now. The Lonely Planet Guide to India calls it the “Mata temple”. Locals call it the “vaishno devi temple”. The Lonely Planet guide says it is a must-visit for women who want to get pregnant. Anyway, we went. On the way back from our trip to the Wagah border.

It is an interesting temple, to say the least. The ground floor seems to be a normal temple, but the presiding deity is an old bespectacled woman in a sari which made me think that it is dedicated to some cult. Apparently not, and this is the way that Vaishno Devi is represented in most places (that is what my mother tells me). The ground floor is again noisy as most north indian temples are. As I enter, I notice this staircase that says “vaishno devi cave” or some such thing. And I go upstairs.

The first floor of the temple has been designed with The Crystal Maze (remember that awesome TV show on Star Plus?) in mind. I don’t know if it was designed that way to attract children, or if they actually decided to model the place after some famous temples, or if they just made it that way to make the place more interesting.

So in order to reach the shrine of the main deity (again a Devi), you need to go through a large number of “tasks”. You need to climb up and down a total of three flights of stairs each way (I think I counted it right). And then there is a stretch where the ceiling is so low that you need to crawl on all fours to get past. And you need to get past a blabbering madman (an employee of the temple) in order to stand in a queue – which leads into a second cave.

This second cave has ankle-deep water, and you need to wade through that. i was wearing cargo pants whose legs could be detached at the knees, but then I was afraid of misplacing them so just rolled them up. And while you were wading through the water, you had people who started shouting slogans in favour of the Mata. Death only it was. But at the end of the passage where you waded through the water, there was a wonderful sight. A one of a kind.

There was a statue of udders of a cow, and placed directly below that was a statue of a snake, and a lingam. Interpret this ensemble in whatever way you like. I first told my mother that this was a good way of ensuring middleman-less ksheeraabhishekam. Anyways we noticed people in front of us touching the udders and the lingam and the snake (yes, unlike most temple deities, these things were available for touching for general public).

When my turn came, not knowing how to handle it, I ended up groping the udders. And then stroked the lingam below. It’s been a week since we visited that temple, but my mother is yet to stop ragging me about what I did there.

That turned out to be the last of the “adventures” as we soon came to the main deity. The pujaris there gave us kadlepuri (puffed rice) as prasad, and put some saffron marks on our foreheads (eccentrically). And we were soon back downstairs enduring the noise of the main temple.