Geek Talk

So I was talking to the wife using Viber when Viber acted up and disconnected. This happened a couple of times. Then I moved to FaceTime, but that too had problems, and started acting up. Finally I got irritated and decided I wouldn’t mind spending some money for uninterrupted conversation, so picked up my phone and dialled ISD.

And I told the wife, “I was getting damn irritated with packet switching, so I moved to circuit switching”. And then we got talking on why Viber was so irritating, and we talked about Tanenbaum (both of us really loved that textbook of Networking) and acknowledgements and transmission of messages on unreliable channels – which can only happen by introducing redundancy – which becomes painful in a human-to-human direct conversation.

I have an engineering degree, and am fairly good at maths, and read a fair bit of economics and history, so keep popping up concepts from these in my regular conversation. Some people find it abhorrent, and wonder if I’ve landed from another planet, given that I talk this way. For example, I remember using ┬áthe word “incentivise” while answering a question at a quiz (which had nothing to do with economics). I often rationalise purchases saying they offer “option value” – real options are one thing that I think I understand. And so forth.

From this perspective I think it’s really wonderful that I’m married to someone who not only tolerates this geek talk but actively encourages and participates in it! Like the wife has now become a big proponent of the concept of option value (though admittedly she has just joined B-school so is yet to appreciate the finer points of the Black-Scholes-Merton model). I’m not sure if before she met me she would quote as regularly from Harry Potter as she does now (or maybe I’m taking too much credit). And she keeps peppering examples from physics and astronomy and electrical engineering in her normal day-to-day conversation.

And speaking of physics and option theory and sporting analogies, I get damn irritated when people describe curves as the one below as “hockey sticks”.

I’m Indian, and the only hockey I know is “field hockey”, whose stick looks like a J. So whenever someone mentions “hockey stick” I start imagining a J-shaped curve. As for the above curve, I sometimes (especially when I’m hanging out with banker types) describe it as “call option payoff”. When I’m hanging out with more scientific types, I describe it as “photoelectric effect”.

I wonder how our kids will turn out!

Between Suits and Geeks

So you have suits and you have geeks. The problem with me is that I’m neither. I lie somewhere in between. So when I’m in the company of suits, I look like a geek, and in the company of geeks I look like a suit.

Problem is that suits don’t understand geeky stuff, or tend to get intimidated, or expect me to do magic. Geeks are usually dismissive of suity stuff, saying it’s all “globe” or “pfaff”. They think they are the masters of the universe and suits are dumb.

So. Suits to the left of me, and geeks to my right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

On Being a Geek

I’ve always been a “topper types”. I started topping class when I was in first standard (and no, they didn’t announce ranks before that), and as if that wasn’t enough, my parents made sure that all relatives, and all teachers in school knew about my superhuman arithmetic skills. And as if even this wasn’t enough, I became the first guy in my class to wear spectacles. In a few years’ time, I went on to represent my school in supposedly intellectual pursuits such as quizzing and chess. I had been consigned to living life as a geek.

There were several occasions when I wasn’t really the topper; wasn’t even close to being a topper. However, something or the other ensured that I managed to maintain that geeky aura. In school, and at IIMB, I was supposed to be really good at math, and that made me geeky. Things were differnet at IIT – since a number of my classmates who trumped me in acads were also better than me at other geeky things. However, I think the fact that I was studying CompSci made me feel geeky, and I never lost any opportunity to show off my geekiness.

In this context, the last two years were quire awkward, as I was in a couple of non-geeky jobs. For the first time in almost twenty years, I had to go out of my way to demonstrate my geekiness, and given that those jobs didn’t need me to be a geek, things didn’t go quite well. I used to try and shove in lines into my conversation such as “we used to play chess in the classroom at IIT. since we couldn’t carry in chessboards, we used to imagine a board and play on that”.

It was very awkward. Thinking back, maybe that was one of the major contributing reasons to my not being too happy in the jobs. I wasn’t able to play my natural game. I had to invent a new me that would go to work daily. And it wasn’t just about the geekiness factor, but this was one of the important reasons, I believe.

Now, working as a strategy guy in a quant hedge fund, I feel I have every right to be geeky, and am well and truly back in form. I lose no opportunity to crack geeky jokes. I try to bring in analogies from various geeky fields I’ve been acquainted with – math, computer science, finance, and even physics. And I don’t mind making things complicated just so that I can slip in that geeky analogy that I think is “beautiful” and “elegant”.

Two days back, i was talking to Baada on the phone, and I smelt an opportunity to crack a geeky joke. We were discussing football while watching Liverpool play Chelski. And then suddenly I asked him if he knew the concept of inversion in geometry. When he replied in the negative, I spetn the next ten minutes explaining the concept to him, all so that I could slip in that one little geeky joke.

Beware of me, I would say.