Taking sides on twitter

Garry Kasparov versus Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Joe Weisenthal versus Balaji Srinivasan

These are two twitter battles that have raged (ok the latter is muted in comparison) on my timeline during the last few days. I’ve been witness to these battles because I follow all of these worthies, who are each interesting for their own reason. But I don’t like these battles, and fights, and I find that apart from quickly scrolling through my timeline, there is no way for me to ignore these battles.

I find all four of these people independently interesting, and so don’t want to unfollow any of them just for the sake of avoiding being witness to these fights. But in due course of time, if any of them were to focus excessively on these fights (which is unlikely to happen) at the cost of other interesting tweets, I’m likely to unfollow.

These episodes, however, have given me an insight into why there is some sort of a political division in twitter following – that people who follow a set of argumentative people with one set of beliefs are unlikely to follow members from another set with the opposite kind of beliefs. This is because if you follow argumentative people from both sides, you end up getting caught in their argument which can contaminate your timeline.

You tolerate it for a while, but then over time you start losing patience. And you realise that the only way of avoiding following these arguments is by unfollowing, or even muting, people from one side of the argument. It is more likely that you unfollow the people whose beliefs agree with less. And you do this a sufficient number of times, and you’ll end up only following people whose beliefs you fully agree with.

And then they say social media is an echo chamber!

Anyway, the moral of the story for me is that I shouldn’t engage in protracted flamewars on twitter, for each time I do, I run the risk of losing followers who might also be following my counterparty in such flame wars.

A Balance Sheet View of Life

The basic idea of this post is that interpersonal relationships (not necessarily romantic) need to be treated as balance sheets and not as P&L statements, i.e. one should always judge based on the overall all-time aggregate rather than the last incremental change in situation.

Just to give you a quick overview of accounting, the annual statement typically has two major components – the P&L statement which reflects what happened between the last release of the statement and the currrent point, and the balance sheet which reflects the position of the company at the point of time of release of the statement.

I think Bryan Caplan had made this point in one of his posts, but I’m not able to find it and hence not able to link it. The point is that you should look at relationships on a wholesome basis, and not just judge it based on the last action. The whole point is that there is volatility (what we refer to in my office as “the dW term”) and so there are obviously going to be time periods during which you record a loss. And if on each of these occasions you were to take your next course of action based on this loss alone, you are likely to be the loser.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the loss-making periods and just move on. You do need to introspect and figure out what you need to do in the next accounting period in order to prevent this kind of a loss from repeating. You will need to “work the loss”, not make a judgment to break the relationship based on it. I think a large part of the problems in this world (yeah, here goes another grand plan) stems from people using one-period losses in order to take judgments on relationships.

Another thing is not to generate the accounting statements on a shorter time period. This is similar to one funda I’d put long ago about how you shouldn’t review your investments at extremely short intervals since that will lead to a domination of the volatility term (dW) and thus cause unnecessary headache. You might notice that corporates rarely release their accounts statements more frequently than once a quarter – this has more to do with volatility than with the difficulty in generating these statements.It is similar in the case of interpersonal relationships. Don’t judge too often – the noise term will end up dominating.

One caveat though – very occasionally the last loss may be so bad that it more than wipes out the balance sheet and takes to zero (or even less) the value of the firm. In that kind of a situation, there is no option but to shut down the firm (or break the relationship) and move on. Once again, however, the clincher in the decision to break up has to be the balance sheet which has gone to zero (or negative) and not just simply the magnitude of the last loss.

Life based on a balance sheet view is a balanced life.

Outliers – Notes

Last evening I borrowed Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers from the library. Finished off reading it in one sitting this morning. I had been disappointed with his earlier book (The Tipping Point) and have been describing it as a blog post that has been written in 200 pages.

Outliers, on the other hand, is significantly better. For starters, there is a really nice narrative style which goes the book going. Having read the book, I still haven’t understood the central idea of it, but there are enough interesting sub-plots and side-fundaes that it’s worth reading. Some notes.

  • The second chapter of the book hints that you need to spend a considerable amount of time fighting it out at something before you become a stud in that. Gladwell claims there are no “natural studs” at anything, and people become studs at something only after reasonable effort. I think the key is on taking that step up to studness after you have put enough fight, and some people (pure fighters) don’t seeem to do that
  • There is tremendous non-linearity in the world, and this is a point that Nassim Taleb had also made in Fooled by Randomness. Basically, there are some discrete steps. For example, if I had applied the brakes even one second earlier, I could’ve prevented the car crash I was involved in this April. One extra mark here or there can change a candidate’s JEE rank by 500 places, and totally change his life. Etc.
  • Gladwell talks about “honor cultures” – where people tend to take offence easily. He claims that this kind of culture is more prevalent in pastoral communities where people need to be more aggressive and possessive. When I read about “honor cultures”, I was reminded of Rajasthan, and the Rajputs there going to war on one another on trivial “honour issues”, and Prithviraj Chauhan using “honour” as the excuse for supposedly pardoning Mohd Ghori in the first battle of Tarain in 1190. Was Rajasthan a traditionally pastoral society in those days?
  • The Power Distance Index that he talks about makes sense, but unfortunately India is not mentioned in the studies that he quotes. I would expect India to have a fairly high power distance index, but I’d also be interested in seeing if India’s PDI varies regionally – I would expect it to be higher in the north than in the south
  • A while back, I had written one reason as to why there doesn’t exist a strong breakfast culture in North India. Gladwell’s chapter on rice cultivation inspires an alternate reasoning. He claims that rice farming is much harder than wheat farming, and the former tends to take longer hours, and occupies a larger proportion of the year. Maybe due to the longer hours, south indians felt the need for three meals a day, while two were sufficient in the north. Also, rice digests quicker than wheat, so eating at more frequent intervals is warranted.
  • The epilogue, in which Gladwell talks about his mother’s family, gives an indcation about the “race system” in Jamaica. Compared to our caste system, which is discrete, Jamaican discrimination is on a continuous scale which has several shades of brown between black and white. Also, this continuous scale means that a child lies somewhere on the colour line between his father and his mother, and his standing in society is determined by his own colour. On the other hand, in the Indian caste system, rules dictate that the child belongs to either the father’s or the mother’s caste. Interesting to see how much of a difference this has made in general economic development.

I know a lot of this might not make sense to you if you haven’t read the book. I have just noted some headline points here. If you need more fundaes, leave a comment with your question and I’ll write about it.

And I would definitely recommend you to read the book. Nice quick read it is.

Lazy Post – Search Phrases Leading To This Blog

this is yet another “lazy post”. One for which I don’t really need to do too much work. Harithekid recently brought out a list of search terms that have resulted in people hitting his blog. Looking through my google analytics statistics, I find quite a few funny/unusual phrases that have led to people reaching my blog, so I thought I should share it with you.

I don’t want to make this list too long, since some good stuff might get lost in that case. So if you think you reached my blog by searching for a phrase that you thought was interesting and you don’t find that in this list, my apologies. Maybe next time I’ll include the phrase that you searched for in order to land up here.

The top spot of course goes for “pertinent observations”. This is closely followed by people searching for “noenthuda”. Maybe because I’ve never put my real name anywhere on this site, there aren’t many searches for “karthik” either as a word or in combination with other words that lead up to here.

Ok so getting to the gems:

  1. “iit madras” + blog + girls
  2. bitchy logos
  3. broken engagement second thoughts
  4. gay in iimb
  5. how to avoid absent mind with south indian food
  6. how to make my husband stop consuming alcohol
  7. positive black relationships
  8. top reasons marriage engagements break in pakistan
  9. why don’t northies learn a new language
  10. does mckinsey employee non iits
  11. hypothesis for muslims are not terrorist
  12. bleeding hearts by nassim taleb reviews

So I think this is a good time to ask you how you stumbled across my blog. Did you reach here by way of searching for something unusual? Or did you find link to blog on someone else’s blog? Or is it through twitter? Or facebook? Or through a friend’s google reader shared items? Do leave a comment and let me know.