The Problem With a Common Engineering Entrance Test

… is correlation and concentration.

Like everything else, a student’s performance in a test can be divided into two – the predictive component (which can be explained based on preparation levels, general intelligence, ability to handle pressure, etc.) and the random component (which includes and is not limited to illness on the day of the exam, reaching the venue late leading to unsettlement, pure luck (or the lack of it) and so on).

Now, when you have a number of exams, what you expect is for a student’s “random component” to even out across these exams. If he outperforms his “predictive component” in one exam, you would expect that he would underperform in another exam. It’s like the “predictive component” of his performance is the expected “value” of his performance.

Thus, when you have a large number of entrance exams, it gives students the opportunity for their random components to even out, and take luck out to some extent from their college admission process. When you collapse all entrance exams into one, however, a student who happens to get a large negative “random component” on that given day is denied a second chance. Thus, the college admissions process will become much more of a crapshoot than it is now.

The other thing about uniform admission standards is why should every college have the same requirements for the students it wants to recruit? Having a common exam forces this upon colleges, unless they are allowed to change their weights allocated to different sections differently. If this doesn’t happen, it’ll only end up bringing all of the country’s education system to a uniform mediocrity.

The Jairaj Model

So finally here is the follow-up to the Union Square Park post. Basically most parks in Bangalore follow what I term as the Jairaj model. Even a number of parks that are older than 10 years old have been remodeled using this model in the last few years.

K Jairaj became the commissioner of the BBMP around the turn of the millennium. The story goes that his parents, who live in Banashankari 2nd Stage, complained to him that they had no place for their daily evening walks. And so Jairaj takes this piece of barren BBMP land (on 24th cross, close to the BDA complex) and converts it into a beautiful park. So the park provides for walking paths, lots of shrubs and flowering plants and a small play area for children. Trust me, it’s really beautiful.

This was soon followed by the development of the Hanumanthanagar park by then-corporator later-mayor K Chandrasekhar. It again followed a similar model – and given its greater area included fancies like a musical fountain (if I’m not wrong). Again a big hit among the residents, especially the middle-aged and elderly who now had a nice place for their morning and evening walks.

The trend was set. Following the success of these two parks, all small parks in Bangalore started to be remodeled based on these two. Trust me, they are all really good looking and most are quite well maintained. But it remains that the primary purpose of most of these parks is to provide a venue for middle-aged and elderly to go for morning and evening walks, and a small area for children with slides and swings, and little else.

Normally we take this for granted and wonder what else a park needs to do. But if you visit some of the better parks abroad (I’m taking the example of the tiny Union Square Park here) you’ll know what you are missing out on. Parks are now gated and shuttered, and don’t let people in during the day time (which is good in the way that it provides time for maintenance). And they are unidimensional, which is sad.

And I’m told that there is now a major battle in several areas between youth and middle-aged, with respect to proposals for playgrounds to be converted to parks.

And these parks are strictly “walkers parks” and not “runners parks”. Not so long-ago I used to go to the nearby Krishna Rao park for a run every morning. I gave up because of the traffic jam inside the park. Narrow pathways on which aunties and uncles would walk abreast in large groups, and so it became more of an obstacle race than a leisurely morning run.

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.

The Switch

Cafe Coffee Day is among the most unromantic places to go on a first date, or so they say. But then you need to understand that the venue can do only so much when it comes to creating the right “atmosphere” for the date. So if you think you are yourselves capable enough of doing a good job of creating a good “atmosphere”, you don’t need to bother about trivialties such as how “romantic” a place is or how good it is in creating “atmosphere” and just pick a place that makes practical sense.

There has been so much of One Day International cricket of late that it is difficult to keep track of various series and tournaments. One tournament that similarly got lost, mostly because the ultimate result was unremarkable (Australia won yet again) was the Champions Trophy, which happened (I think) in South Africa. I don’t remember much of the tournament; I don’t think I watched much of it. All I remember was that there was a game where India played Australia, and that Australia batted first.

Seating arrangement plays an important factor on a first date. Optimal seating arrangement ensures the optimal arrangement of eye contact. Sitting beside each other means you need to put too much effort to establish eye contact, and that is way too much energy. Sitting opposite each other can lead to overexposure – if things aren’t going that well, it’s tough to keep looking into each other’s eyes and that can lead ot awkward moments. It might be interesting to do some academic research in this matter but my hunch is that for a first date a ninety-degree seating arrangement is optimal.

For a few months now I have been on a diet. It has not been without results – my weight has come down by almost a fourth in the last six months. I haven’t done anything drastic, just a set of simple principles. And one of them is “no sugar in coffee”. I’ve given up on tea altogether since I can’t have it without sugar. When you are on a date, however, it is not nice to show off that you are on a diet, especially if you are a guy. it doesn’t give a good picture. So a good strategy is to order something like espresso, which you can claim tastes best without sugar!

I think it was an appeal for LBW that triggered it, but I’m not sure. I do remember, however, that it was a strong appeal that was turned down, but I don’t remember the nature of dismissal. Ashish Nehra was bowling if I’m not wrong. I have no clue who was batting. Maybe it was Haddin, or was it Paine who was opening in that tournament? Not that it matters.

Onlookers might have thought that the move was choreographed given how well we executed it. I don’t even remember their being too much eye contact as it happened. I don’t remember there being any conversation about it as it happened. All I remember is that one moment I was being distracted by Ashish Nehra’s appeal, and the next I was sitting with my back to the TV, comfortably settled where she had been settled a moment earlier, with her having taken my original place.

And I remember that our coffees had also exchanged places along with us!


I’m not sure if I’d prepared this as an answer to a potential interview question but if I were asked if there was one part of my life which I’d’ve chosen to live differently, I’d probably pick my four years at IIT Madras. In many respects, it represents some kind of a void in my life. Nothing much of note happened during that. It was during that time that I learnt to put NED. There wasn’t much value added to my life in those four years, either in terms of actual value or even in terms of bullet points. There was not much “growth” in those years.

I did nothing of note in terms of academics (I ended up as class median) and apart from a bit of quizing not much in the lit scene either. I didn’t go out on too many trips, nor did I go out too much. You might be surprised to know that I’ve never in my life watched a movie at a movie hall in Chennai! I went to Besant Nagar beach thrice during my four year stay, and to the Marina Beach once. I played only a peripheral role in organizing Saarang and Shaastra, and that too only in the latter half of my stay there.

On several occasions I’ve asked myself what kept me going through those four years that I consider to be my “dark days”, and the only reasonable answer that I get is “pat”. Pat. Sri Gurunath Patisserie. The coffee shop of IIT. The life and blood of my life at IIT. Perhaps the only thing I really missed about IIT when I moved to IIMB. The venue for much discussion, and fun, and bitchery, and long nights. Open air. Bad chairs. Broken tables. Non-existtent umbrellas. Breeze. Cheap and horrible nescafe. 5 Rupis lemonade. Etecetera.

When bitching about my life at IIT, I usually lay most of the blame on the fact that I was put in a mostly PG hostel. However, one advantage of being in Marnad was that it was right opposite Patisserie, and so it took little effort to go park there. I suppose it was no coincidence that the most prolific Pat-ers (Bhaand, Shamnath and I) were all Narmadites.

It was really simple. All that one had to do when bored was to walk across and go buy yourself a cup of Nescafe for 5 rupis. And park. If you found an interesting gumbal, you would park with them. If not you would park alone, and an interesting enough gumbal would build up around you as time went by. People kept coming and people kept going but the conversation would go on for a while. And some time in the middle, Satcho would materialize and molest Mani, the dog that had been much fattened on the Patisserie leftovers.

It was at the Patisserie that the editors of The Fourth Estate would meet the correspondents and collect ideas for bitchy stories. It was at the Patisserie that plots were hatched to bring down The Fourth Estate and start the rival (shortlived) Total Perspective Vortex. It was at the Patisserie that campus couples announced themselves (though after a while action in this regard moved to “spot” near the girls’ hostel). It was at Patisserie that cheap treats were given and cheap bets were settled.

It was at the Patisserie that I first started making Pertinent Observations, and telling them to people around me. When I didn’t have access to Patisserie any more, I started this blog.

Earlier, when people told me about the crazy things they’d done in their undergrad and all the fun they had, I’d feel bad. I’d feel bad that I’d missed out on something. Now I just ask myself if I’d’ve traded my sessions at the Patisserie for the “fun” things that they’d done. And the answer, usually, is no.

Alumni Dinner Pricing

So this is Anusmaran week. This is the week where all over the world, in over eleven cities, alumni of IIMB will meet in the annual alumni meet up. The venue for this is usually a convention hall or a lawn in a hotel, and people have to contribute an “entry fee” in order to pay for the dinner. Drinks are usually “extra” and you have to pay for each drink that you drink.

The problem with this is that for “pseud value” reasons the event is usually held in a reasonably expensive place. For example, in Delhi it happened at the India Habitat Center, with the “participation fee” being rupees eight hundred only. And on a Sunday evening, and you know how early or late parties in Delhi start. I didn’t go for it so I don’t really know about the response but I don’t expect it to have been spectacular.

The probelm with alumni meets is that the organizers (usually students doing their summer internship in the city where it is held) underestimate the elasticity of these meets. They don’t realize that people who want to be in touch with each other continue to be in touch with each other irrespective of efforts by the Alma Mater, and that there needs to be some sort of concrete incentive in order to come and attend the alumni meet up.

As I was discussing with Baada a short while ago, networking for networking sake does require a reasonably high level of enthu. It doesn’t come naturally for most people. You netwrok if you have a product to sell and need to meet potential buyers. You netwrok if you are looking for a job and hope to meet potential employers. You network if you are looking for some favour and there is a good chance you might meet someone who might do you that favour. You don’t naturally network for netwroking sake.

Given this, expecting people to shell out a not-so-inconsiderable amount to attend a networking event where food will probably be of dubious quality and you have to pay for each glass of booze is a bit too much. The more enthu people and people who want to network will turn up. The rest won’t. They will probably get together with their own little gang of people (maybe all alumni of the same college) and go elsewhere for good dinner and conversation.

The first time I attended Anusmaran was in 2005 when I helped organize it in London, where I was interning. All of us London interns were full of enthu for networking back then and turned up in good numbers. There were quite a few alumni also, and it was good fun. I attended Anusmaran in Mumbai in 2006, immediately after I’d joined my first job. I knew that a large number of people from our batch was in the city, and Anusmaran provided us a good opportunity to catch up. Extremely good fun.

In 2007, I had gone to the Bangalore meet and walked out looking at the extremely thin turnout. I went to the nearby Adigas for dinner along with Aadisht and GB. Was good value for money.

Yes I might be a cheap guy. But what the organizers need to keep in mind is that a large number of attendees are also cheap guys. So forget all the pseud value and hold it at a place where it doesn’t cost too much for the attendee in order to network.

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 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.