Abou Ben Adhem

I’m a big fan of Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase). I don’t particularly consider myself religious but I like his philosophy (as described in the poem) about being a lover of fellow-men (no pun intended) being superior to a lover of god. I get extremely irritated by people who cause inconvenience to others by way of their religious acts.

Recently I happed to read this excellent (in my opinion) article in Open by Manu Joseph (Udupa, who referred the article to me, thinks it was written in my style. I would take that as a major compliment (to me, of course). It’s been ages since I’ve made arguments like those). The article is about Islam and cricket betting but Joseph makes some important points about religion itself. To quote my favourite part of the essay,

A religious person, having done his pilgrimage, having done his prayers and fasts, has no further motivation to be good in a way that is more useful to the rest of humanity.

I think on similar lines every time I’m invited for some pooja-cum-lunch where the lunch gets delayed beyond reasonable time because the hosts (who are also doing the pooja) are taking too long with the pooja; giving too much attention to God at the cost of the felllow-men and women who they have invited. There are several such examples you come across in daily life.

Thinking more about it, I wonder if this statement (from Joseph’s article) actually applies to a religion such as Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma, to be technically correct), given it’s Karma concept. The beauty of the Karma concept is that you accumulate points in God’s books (all well tabulated by the excellent Chitragupta) by being nice to your fellow men.

Now, with the Karma concept being around, and the efficient Chitragupta watching you, I’m not sure you need to “relax” and stop bothering to be nice just because you’ve said your prayers and generally been nice to God.

In this context, it surprises me further that supposedly deeply religious Hindus are nice to god at the cost of being nice to fellow men and women. Probably they just do some “religious things” blindly without really understanding what they are doing; mug up their prayers without understanding them properly. I think there’s a black swan risk in what they are doing!

In other news, during the Ganesha pooje today I tried my best to put my limited knowledge of Sanskrit to good use and actually understand the mantras that were being chanted while I was going through the motions. I’ll probably write in detail about that in another post.

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.

Lazy Post – Statistical Analysis

I call this a lazy post since I didn’t originally write it as a blog post. I had written this as an email to a mailing list, and now thought it might make sense as a blog post. The reference to context: a prominent and well-respected member of the group had written a fairly lengthy argument, and ended it by saying “Maybe this calls for a good regression analysis….” . My reply is here.

I need to mention here that this mail to the group wasn’t responded to (apart from one tangential remark by  Udupa). I don’t know if it simply got lost in the flood of mails on the list today, or if people on the group (in general, a very intelligent lot) don’t care for this kind of stuff, or if, for some reason, this caused discomfort of some sort. Anyway, I begin:

I think I had raised this point before in a similar context. it is about the use and misuse of statistical analysis. i think one lesson that ought to be learnt from the ongoing financial crisis and the events leading up to this is that statistical analysis, when misused, can have dangerous consequences, and this is not just for the people who are misusing the analyses.

there is this popular view that if there is data, then one ought to do statistical analysis, and draw conclusions from that, and make decisions based on these conclusions. unfortunately, in a large number of cases, the analysis ends up being done by someone who is not very proficient with statistics and who is basically applying formulae rather than using a concept. as long as you are using statistics as concepts, and not as formulae, I think you are fine. but you get into the “ok i see a time series here. let me put regression. never mind the significance levels or stationarity or any other such blah blah but i’ll take decisions based on my regression” then you are likely to get into trouble.

i think this is broadly the kind of point that is made by people like Paul Wilmott. that the problem is not with statistical analysis, but  with the way people use statistical analysis.

ok, now that i’m done with my rant, I’m very sceptical about regression yielding any kind of conclusive results here. i think the number of data points we have here is too small to produce any meaningful results. of course i’m saying this without really looking at all the data that you want to might want to include. and i won’t be surprised if a few tens of papers get published on this topic. all based on statistical analyses. and the results all being orthogonal to one another.

Disco Raaga – Taana – Pallavi

This is one of those posts that I’ve been intending to post for over a couple of months, but each time I think about this, I don’t happen to be in front of a computer, and even if I do, I don’t feel like writing about it. So here I am – finally blogging this. As I write this, I’m listening to the Ledzep Live Album The Song Remains the Same. This post is about this album, and other related stuff.

As you might have figured out from the title of this post, one thing I’ve noticed about this album is about the approximate Carnatic format that the songs in this take on. It may not be in the strict order that Carnatic music prescribes, but these songs are roughly there. I’m currently listening to Dazed and Confused, and after the first few lines of the Pallavi were sung, Page has now gone off into an extended Aalapana of whichever Raaga this song is set in.

Periodically, they return to the song, and play a few more lines. Now, Plant is doing his bit by improvising with a few lines of his own. Jones and Bonham are dutifully doing their background stuff – Bonham will get his footage later in the album – for Moby Dick features a full-blown Tani Avartanam. It ends the same way Tani Avartanams in Carnatic concerts do – with the main line of the Pallavi being sung at the end of it. I know I might be force-fitting some Carnatic concepts into this album; nevertheless, all these improvements make for extremely interesting listening.

A few days after I had first noticed this, Udupa told me that a large number of concerts in the 70s were like this – the musicians would simply jam on stage in the middle of the songs. Created music on the spot. Spontaneous stuff. Unfortunately, Udupa continued, the trend changed a few years back when less informed audiences started demanding that more songs be crammed into the three hour concert, thus reducing the scope for such improvisations.

The best thing about Carnatic concerts is that each one is unique. You might look at two concerts – played by the same set of musicians and with the same line-up of krithis, but there is a very good chance that the two are markedly different. This is because Indian Classical music, in its concerts, encourages the musician to innovate, to play whatever comes to his mind at that point of time – while adhering to the fairly strict rules. It is this element of innovation that makes each concert special, and an experience in itself.

Western Classical music differs in this regard – especially in the orchestra form – since the large size of the troupe leaves little scope for innovation and the musicians are literally forced to play it by the book. In that context, it seems like it was genres such as rock which brought in the spontaneity and innovation into western music.

Nowadays, bands don’t tour as much as they used to a couple of decades ago, which means that whenever they visit a city (which is once in a few years), the fans in the city will want to hear as many songs as possible. And that kills innovation. It is not the bands’ fault – they are simply responding to the market. And I don’t know what it could be that could get them back to their RTP days.

Here is one of my retirement plans. For each song that I like, describe a Carnatic Raaga into which it can approximately fit into. Tinker around with the stanzas, to create a Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charana format. Try to make the raagas as rigid as possible – Vakra scales will be preferred. And then put RTP. Use some Western instruments too – for example, I definitely want the Bass guitar to be a regular feature in Carnatic concerts. I think the result is likely to be phenomenal.

It’s been a few years since I picked up the violin. I plan to do it sometime. And implement what I’ve described here. Hopefully I’ll do a good job. In the meantime, if there are any bands out there which want to implement this concept, they can feel free and do it – I promise I won’t sue them later for IPR.