Tag Archives: scope

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.

College Admissions

Why does the government require colleges in India to have “objective criteria” for admissions? I understand that such criteria are necessary for government-owned or run or aided colleges where there’s scope for rent seeking. But why is it that “private” colleges are also forced to adopt “objective criteria” such as board exam marks or entrance test scores for admission?

Abroad, and here, too for MBA admissions, admission is more “subjective”. While of course this has the scope to introduce bias, and is a fairly random process (though I’d argue that the JEE is also a fairly random process), won’t it reduce pressure on the overall student population, and bring in more diversity into colleges?

As a natural experiment I want to see a few state governments deregulating the admissions process for private colleges, making it possible for the colleges to choose their students based on whatever criterion. So what would happen? Of course, some seats would be “reserved” for those with big moneybags. Some more would be reserved for people who are well connected with the college management. But would it be rational for the college boards to “reserve” all the seats this way?

Maybe some colleges would take a short-term view and try to thus “cash out”. The cleverer ones will realize that they need to build up a reputation. So while some seats will be thus “reserved”, others will be used to attract what the college thinks are “good students”. Some might define “good students” to be those that got high marks in board exams. Others might pick students based on how far they can throw a cricket ball. The colleges have a wide variety of ways in which to make a name, and they’ll pick students accordingly.

The problem with such a measure is that there is a transient cost. A few batches of students might get screwed, since they wouldn’t have figured out the reputations of colleges (or maybe not – assuming colleges don’t change drastically from the way they are right now). But in a few years’ time, reputations of various sorts would have been built. Colleges would have figured out various business models. The willingness to pay of the collective population would ensure that reasonably priced “seats” are available.

And remember that I mentioned that a few states should implement this, with the others sticking to the current system of regulating admissions and fees and all such. In due course of time it’ll be known what works better. Rather, it’ll be known what the students prefer.

It’s crazy that colleges now require students to get “cent per cent” in their board exams as a prerequisite to admission. It’s crazy that hundreds of thousands of students all over India, every year, spend two years of their prime youth just preparing to get into a good college (nowadays the madness is spreading. A cousin-in-law is in 9th standard, and he’s already joined JEE coaching). On reflection, it’s crazy that I wasted all of my 12th standard simply mugging, for an exam that would admit me to a college that I knew little about. Madness, sheer madness.

Making guest list

So last night I sat down to do the presumably fun task of preparing my wedding guest list. This was just the first cut, where I just put down the names of people I want to invite in an excel sheet. In the second cut, I’ll parse the sheet and figure out how each person on the list should be invited – personally, or on phone, or email, and so on.

So there can be two kinds of error while making such a list – errors of omission and errors of commission. The probability of error or commission is quite low. After all there aren’t too many people who you explicitly don’t want at your wedding. And if there exist any such people, you will remember that only too well while putting their names down in the invite sheet.

Errors of omission is what I’m concerned about. There have been times in the past when people have gotten married, and I haven’t had a clue. It’s a different matter about whether I’d’ve gone or not, but I know that there is scope for hurt feelings if certain people are left out of the list. So one must be careful.

The problem is that I’m currently not in touch with a lot of these people. I would’ve been good enough friends with them at some point of time in life that I’d want to invite them to my wedding. But the fact that I haven’t kept in touch means I may not remember their existence, but when eventually they see my wedding pics on facebook it might result in a kinda hurtful “congrats” message.

The other question I must ask is that if I’m prone to forgetting about someone’s existence, if they are worth being invited at all. That I’ve forgotten about them means that obviously they are quite low in my list of people I want at my wedding. So am I generally paining myself by trying to remember people who I wouldn’t normally remember?

So far the easiest list I’ve made is from my batch of people from IIMB. We have a google doc with everyone’s names and personal details. So one parse through that meant I wouldn’t forget anyone’s existence. Much peace ensued. The problem is similar lists don’t exist for my other social networks. Anyway I’ll try my best.

Tangentially, another issue is about how “forcefully” I invite certain people who don’t live in Bangalore and have to fly down for my wedding. For a variety of reasons I happened to bunk their weddings, and now it’s a little embarrassing to insist that they be there.

PS: This old post of mine, I think, is pertinent.

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.

Telling Known Stories

I’ve always been skeptical when people have told me that they are telling known stories in their play. Whenever someone tells me something like that, I start wondering what the big deal about it is. About why anyone would want to watch a play that tells a story that they already know. A story where everyone expects the next move that the actors make, the next thing the actors say. I wonder what thrill the actors get when they know that they are contributing little to the audience in terms of story value.

But then, after watching a mindblowing rendition of the Ramayana by kids of Navkis Educational Centre (I was there at the invitation of a friend whose cousin studies in the school and played a major role in the production) last weekend, I must confess that I had been wrong. I must admit that there does exist tremendous value in telling known stories. In fact, from a pure artistic perspective, it is preferable to tell a known story.

There are two parts to every production – the story and the way the story is told. And unless the story is something absolutely mindblowing, or has enough twists and turns and thrills to keep the viewers always on the edge of their seats, it is the latter part that makes or breaks a production. Yeah, of course you need a reasonable plot, a good storyline, but if you look at all the great movies, books or stage production, the best part has been the way that the stories have been told.

So when you are telling a known story, it gives you more scope to experiment in terms of the way that the story is told. You get more freedom to do your own thing, knowing fully well that the viewers know what is happening. You can twist and turn the dialogues, or even dispense with them (as the Navkis kids did). You can leave things unsaid, knowing that the audience will fill in the gaps. In short, you can just freak out with the production, in a way you never can if the audience doesn’t know the story.

Of course it is a double edged sword. Because you are not adding any value in terms of the story itself, the way you present the story can make or break the production. So unless you are confident that you are telling the story in a unique way, you risk tomatoes.

Another thing I was thinking about during the performance on Saturday was about the commercial viability of productions such as this. It was a truly amazing performance by the kids, and for a school play you don’t need commercial success. The thrill of being involved (and each one of the 500+ students of the school was involved in the production) is enough incentive for the players to do a good job. The question is about scalability, replicability and commercialization. I don’t have any answers yet. If you can think of something, let me know.

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”.

Don’t use stud processes for fighter jobs and fighter processes for stud jobs

When people crib to other people that their job is not too exciting and that it’s too process-oriented and that there’s not muc scope for independend thinking, the usual response is that no job is inherently process-oriented or thinking-oriented, and that what matters is the way in which one perceives his job. People usually say that it doesn’t matter if a job is stud or fighter, and you can choose to do it the way you want to. This is wrong.

So there are two kinds of jobs – stud (i.e. insight-oriented) and fighter (i.e. process oriented). And you can do the job in either a stud manner (trying to “solve a problem” and looking for insights) or in a fighter manner (logically breaking down the problem, structuring it according to known formula and then applying known processes to each sub-problem). So this gives scope for a 2 by 2. I don’t want this to look like a BCG paper so I’m not actually drawing a 2 by 2.

Two of the four quadrants are “normal” and productive – doing stud jobs in a stud manner, and fighter jobs in a fighter manner. There is usually an expectancy match here in terms of the person doing the job and the “client” (client is defined loosely here as the person for whom this job is being done. in most cases it’s the boss). Both parties have a good idea about the time it will tak e  for the job to be done, the quality of the solution, and so on. If you are in either of these two quadrants you are good.

You can’t do a stud job (something that inherently requires insight) using a fighter process. A fighter process, by definition, looks out for known kind of solutions. When the nature of the solution is completely unknown, or if the problem is completely unstructured, the fighter behaves like a headless chicken. It is only in very rare and lucky conditions that the fighter will be able to do the stud job. As for “fighterization”, about which I’ve been talking so much on this blog, the problem definition is usually tweaked slightly in order to convert the stud problem to a fighter problem. So in effect, you should not try to solve a “stud problem” using a fighter process. Also, as an employer, it is unfair to expect a mostly fighter employee to come up with a good solution for a stud problem.

The fourth quadrant is what I started off this blog post with – studs doing fighter jobs. The point here is that there is no real harm in doing a fighter job in a stud manner, and the stud should be able to come up wiht a pretty good solution. The problem is wiht expectations, and with efficiency. Doing a fighter job in a stud manner creates inefficiency, since a large part of the “solution” involves reinventing the wheel. Yes, the stud might be able to come up with enhanced solutions – maybe solve the problem for a general case, or make the solution more scalable or sustainable, but unless the “client” understands that the problem was a stud problem, he is unlikely to care for these enhancements (unless he asked for them of course), and is likely to get pained because of lack of efficiency.

Before doing something it is important to figure out if the client expects a stud solution or a fighter solution. And tailor your working style according to that. Else there could be serious expectation mismatch which can lead to some level of dissatisfaction.

And when you are distributing work to subordinates, it might also help to classify them using stud nad fighter scales and give them jobs that take advantage of their stronger suits. I know you can’t do this completely – since transaction costs of having more than one person working on a small piece of work can be high – but if you do this to the extent possible it is likely that you will get superior results out of everyone.