the hybrid pen

Back when I was in school, my father brought me two “Hero” pens. One brown and one green. Soon enough, the barrel of the brown pen was broken, and the nib of the green pen followed presently. I put made use of what was later to be called as ‘Genetic Algorithms’ and continued working. I don’t know what I did with the spare cap though. The cap was once shiny gold in colour, but through constant biting and chewing, it’s become quite dull now.

Two years later, I decided to classify this pen as my “lucky pen”, based on one data point. I had used it to write my IIT JEE. Everything I did that day became lucky. The navy blue shirt. MES College. The breakfast (onion upma). The car in which I traveled to the venue. The Sankey tank route to Malleswaram. All based on just one data point. It was some eight years before I read Taleb.

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Ranting and cribbing

Ok i’ve talked about this before. When you rant, you do so mostly to feel better. Get things out of your system. Just get rid of some trash so that you can structure the rest of your thoughts. And so all you need is a listener. A counterparty. A good listener. And it’s done. I’m not saying it’s easy to find a good listener. Those types are hard to come by. But it’s mostlty a generalist’s job. Whether you are pissed about your job or with your girlfriend or with the Prime Minister, and you want to rant, you need not find a different person for each!

Cribbing, as I’d mentioned earlier, is much harder. You need to find the right people to crib to. You need to organize your thoughts. You need to be able to ask the right questions. And you need to interpret people’s vague answers and figure out the component of their answer along the direction of your question. And then fit it back into the larger question.

Cribbing is also an art. First you need to find the right counterparty. Next, you need to make it clear to the other person that you are cribbing and not ranting, and so you need a solution. Then, as I mentioned in the last paragraph, you need to give the crib a good structure. And you should be able to objectively ask those right questions without letting your emotions and feelings come in the way. You should get over all those “I don’t want to pain this person with my rant” kind of feelings and think you’re just asking the other person for some specific help.

From a macro perspective, you need to keep separate accounts of rants and cribs. People are more likely to get cheesed of if you rant to them (unless of course they are close to you etc.) but not so much if you crib – I’m mostly talking about bad listeners (which is most of the people) here. If you are cribbing, the structure in your questions and statements helps the other person and it won’t be too heavy on them. also, they have something to do in the whole buisness -? to think of a solution, rather than to just sit and listen, so it’s more enjoyable for them.

Sometimes when I feel like cribbing to someone I feel “ok i’ve been cribbing to this person a lot nowadays and he/she may not like it”. I need to figure out if I’m going to rant or crib, and also filter the historical data on this parameter. And then apply the rule I put above. It’s going to lead to a much more optimal solution.

Asking for help

Sometimes I’m a bit hesitant to get back in touch with old acquaintances when I need a favour from them. I begin to wonder if they’ll think of me as one of those “duhkh mein sumiran sab karein… ” types. And sometimes I think ten times before mailing or calling them.

But then, I remember that I too keep getting lots of similar calls or emails. From old acquaintances who I haven’t kept in touch with for ages. And every time, if I’m in a position to help out the other person, I do so. When I think about this, just like it is supposed to happen with Gandhiji’s talisman, my doubts and myself melt away.

This reminds me of this batchmate at IIMB. Occasionally, you would get letters from her. Stuff like

Hi Wimpy!
How are you? How are you doing?
Hope you did yesterday’s exam well.
What did you have for dinner?


And it is an indication that she wants some help from you. For I had noticed that otherwise she would be very direct and to the point!

And in my experience so far, if you are trying to get in touch with someone after a long time (to ask for a favour of course), you shouldn’t apologize for not keeping touch or any such naatak. Just get to the point. Actually a subject line of “need help” is even better.

Let me know what you think of this.

Choosing my SIP Dates

Having decided that I’m exceptionally poor at picking stocks, for the last year or so I’ve been investing mostly in Mutual Funds. I invest a total of Rs. 12000 every month in three different mutual funds. The three SIPs take the money out on 2nd, 9th and 27th of each month, I think.

On a number occasions in the recent past, to my bad luck, the stock markets have chosen to move up heavily on the day that my SIP is due. For example, the markets hit a trough two days back, and chose to go up by 700 odd points yesterday – when my SIP was due. Of course, I understand that the concept of investing on a fixed day each month is to average out these daily movements and ensure that I buy on an average at the average market rate. Nevertheless, so far the luck has mostly gone against me.

I’m wondering if it would be a good idea for me to lock in the previous day’s prices in case I get the feeling that the market may go against me on the deduction day. For example, two days back I had a good idea that there was a good chance that the markets might shoot up yesterday, and I would’ve been quite happy investing at the July 1st levels. I wonder if it would’ve been a good idea to go short long on a market index “stock” such as Nifty Bees on July 1st evening. I would clear out this position on the evening of the 2nd which was when the level at which my SIP investment would be made would be decided.

Most of the MFs I invest in invest mostly in blue chip stocks, so I don’t think there’s too much of a basis risk by hedging using a market index. The only problem i have is that Nifty Bees aren’t very liquid, and don’t get traded too much. Also, I don’t know if short selling is allowed in this (can someone let me know?) “stock”. If not, can you suggest some kind of an alternative investment that I can make one day before my SIP day (I mean I need to sell short) which is more liquid? ( actually the short position thing in nifty bees doesn’t matter. I own a significant amount of that stock so I can sell some of it and buy it back without actually being short)

Let me know if this kind of a strategy is sound.

(if you aren’t able to leave a comment here, mail me at skthewimp [at] yahoo [dot] com)


Oops. What I meant was I go long in the market on the eve of my SIP and clear out the position when my SIP actually kicks in. I don’t know how but I got confused between long and short. It reminds me of this story in Hull where he talks about a trader who wanted to close out a long position in cattle and instead went longer, and had to go somewhere in the rural US to actually take delivery of cattle.

When two heads collide

Yesterday, after watching Radoi and Rat headbutting each other, I messaged Baada saying that it’s too funny when people from the same team get involved in an accident, despite it being very painful for the players. A moment later, I realized that I had no right to laugh about these things after I got into major trouble following this accident with


And Baada was right – on an average, same-team collisions have resulted in more serious injury than different-team collision. Remember Waugh-Gillespie? Now i hear Radoi needs eye surgery and has a broken nose. And I remember a couple of such incidents in the English Premier League also, last season, where injuries were fairly serious (warranting substitution at least).

The Romanians have this peculiar character that looks like a T with a tail, and is pronounced as “ts” or “tz”. So Rat is pronounced as Ratz. The coach is Pitzurca. The Czech, instead of inventing a character for this sound, use the otherwise redundant C for these purposes. So it is Rositsky and Tsech.

Death Markets

I wrote this in a mail to the Satin group. This was in response to a mail by Amit Varma talking about priests in Haridwar who conduct the pre-ashes-dunking ceremony, and their fees, and the bargaining, and what could be a decent solution for the problem. I thought it might make sense as a standalone post, so I’m reproducing it here.

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Weddings and getting back in touch

Traditional South Indian Wedding

Day 0 Evening: Groom and family arrive. They are welcomed and the bride’s parents worship the groom (vara pooje)

Day 1 Morning: Wedding

Day 1 Evening: Reception

Day 2 Morning: Some pooja, etc.

Day 2 Evening: Groom and family kidnap bride and go off

Modern South Indian Wedding

Day 0 Early Evening: Groom and family arrive. They are welcomed and the bride’s parents worship the groom (vara pooje)

Day 0 Late Evening: Reception

Day 1 Morning: Wedding

Day 1 Evening: Groom and family kidnap bride and go off

Today I went to my second ever North Indian wedding. Here is what I gathered from it.

Day 0 Early Evening: Groom and family arrive. They are welcomed and the bride’s parents worship the groom (vara pooje)
(of course here there’s full fanfare and naach-gaana and all that)

Day 0 Late Evening: Reception

Day 0 Night: Wedding

Day 0 Later Night (technically Day 1 morning): Groom and family kidnap bride and go off

At the wedding tonight, I bumped into her. After the initial pleasantaries and confirmation that we had indeed recognized each other after eight long years, there was nothing left to say.


I’m off on a pilgrimage tonight. My mom, for a long time wanted to visit Horanadu and Sringeri and for some reason she’s had to keep postponing it. Finally, taking advantage of my joblessness we are going tonight, along with two of my mom’s cousins.

We’ll be back on Saturday morning so till then my blog will be on? break (ok I haven’t been too regular of late so the break might not mean much). It’ll also mean that I’ll be off email and GTalk and BRacket and all that.

Nevertheless, I hope to be twittering continuously. I got my twitter to work (the helpdesk got back to me saying that the india short code is facing some problems nowadays so I should use the international thing). This is my twitter page:
And this is the RSS feed:

Being a jack of many trades

Earlier today, I had written that bosses are unlikely to trust employees who they think have the option of easily quitting their jobs. I had made the point back then that you shouldn’t take a job for which you are over-qualified.

Thinking about it, it strikes me that if you are versatile, you face a similar kind of problem. Suppose you have the necessary skill sets to do say four different kinds of jobs, and are doing one, irrespective of where you go, your boss will think there is a good chance you might take flight to one of the other jobs. Now, if the potential bosses think like this during the interview itself, there is a good chance that none of them is willing to hire you!

From the point of view of long-term stability, what most bosses are looking for is for focussed and committed employees. And unless your “skills vector” points broadly in the same direction of the required skills for the job, the cross product will be big enough to cause concerns over stability in the mind of the interviewer.

One option, of course, is to focus on one particular direction and forget your other skills, so that the component of your skills vector in this particular direction will dwarf the components in other directions, thus reducing the cross product when compared to the job profile skills vector. But what do you do if, at a particular point of time in your career, you are a jack-of-several-trades – like I am at this point of time? You need to be able to do something now before you are able to improve in a component.

You might appreciate the following analogy if you understand contract bridge. What do you do with a hand where in each of the four suits, both you and your partner are reasonably strong, while there is no single strong suit? You need to choose a trump, and may end up choosing the longest of suits. But due to this choice, you may not be able to use your high cards in the other suits to the fullest extent.

Bridge offers a way out for this, by allowing you to bid for a no trump contract. The challenge here is to find the equivalent of a no trump contract in the job market.

Speaking to Baada about this, we somehow thought this too might fit in with the seminal studs and fighters framework. It is likely (not guaranteed, but likely) that a stud boss may just look at the magnitude of the skills vector and the unique direction it points to and say “OK if i train this guy in my direction, i’m sure he’ll grow quickly along that and will be useful to me”. My little experience says that fighters are more likely to look for “proven track record in chosen field” and “focus” and would thus not be too appreciative of a big cross product.