Career Progression

I’m close to two thirds my way into my “Project Thirty”. Parts of it aren’t going so well. I’ve hardly traveled, for one, save a bike trip across Rajasthan. My to-be-read pile is as tall as it used to be, and my DVR hard drive is almost full with movies that I’ve wanted to watch, but haven’t been able to watch. Despite this, at this stage I must say Project Thirty is heading to a success.

Soon enough, I should be signing my first really large consulting deal. That should keep me busy enough for the next six months, though I think I’ll have some time to do other interesting stuff. The interesting thing about this is that it all started off with an “incoming lead”. One of the senior managers at my prospective client reads this blog. So that can be considered as my blogging career’s second big achievement – this blog’s predecessor was instrumental in my getting acquainted with the woman I’m currently married to.

I’ve structured this consulting assignment in a way that I spend just over half my time on it, and I’ve decided to use the other half to do things that I find interesting, without really having a monetary objective. So I’ve built a new graphic for cricket, which I’m trying to hawk around. I’ve built a whole system to simulate cricket matches. I’ve taught myself R, and more R, and have now learnt to scrape data off the interwebs.

I’ve rediscovered my love for programming (through that cricket project), and have now started dabbling with some stock market data trying to figure out if I can come up with a statistical arbitrage based strategy (in which case I’ll try sell it to some hedge fund). I’m teaching a course for the Takshashila Institution and if things go well, I might be teaching more than that, and elsewhere. I’ve started doing corporate workshops. Later this week I’ll be attending a conference for networking purposes. I meet people over coffee, just to get to know them. And so forth.

Now the problem is sustainability. Being a lone wolf, trying to find six-monthly consulting projects that take half your time is not an easy task. You need to be careful about how much you commit, for you have no resources at hand if you are over-stressed, but then you need the pipeline to flow, if you need your life to flow. That tells me that the logical step is to recruit, and build a team. That way, I can spend my time doing more quality things, but that also means that I spend time doing employee-management, something I don’t particularly look forward to. I like my current life as a freelancer but sustainability issues mean that I might need to “settle down”.

Some of those over-a-cup-of-coffee meetings have been with old friends/bosses who are insanely brilliant people. These conversations have given me a real high, and I never seem to have had enough of them! The amount of positive information flow and idea flow that happens when I meet one of these people is phenomenal. Unfortunately I don’t get to meet them too often, given our respective busy-ness. However, it would be wonderful to find co-workers like that, who would keep me mentally stimulated all the time.

Another cup of coffee was downed last week with a couple of acquaintances who needed my help in analyzing a particular data set they were looking at. They are individually intelligent people (though neither belongs to the category I mentioned in the previous paragraph), but a little different from me in terms of world-views and backgrounds and expertise. It turned out to be another phenomenal conversation, though, as we exchanged notes on how to attack the data, with each of our views educating one another. We were different people, but we were comfortable working together, and there seemed to be a lot to learn.

Anyway, the point is that I’m looking for partners now, to run my consulting business. Of course, they need to be people who share my world-view in terms of quant and data analysis, but I do think there needs to be some diversity in terms of world-view and way of thinking. Again, they need to be self-motivated to pursue this field of quant consulting, and they need to remember that they won’t be drawing a salary – since they’ll be partners. The most important bit, though, is that I need to be able to work with them. I hope that over the course of the next few months I’m able to identify and convince one or two people who fit this description and who I would want to share revenues with.

I’m also looking for a mentor. I have a number of things I’m doing and I need to focus. I have a friend who has worked in consulting who is mentoring me with respect to the general stuff regarding my consulting assignment. However, I need someone who can guide me in a larger perspective. In terms of how I need to approach life, how I should go about building a partnership, building my business, building my team, etc.

I’m excited at this point in time, and I hope I can make things work in terms of my new-found career. I’ll keep you updated on this.

Site Allotment

In Bangalore, you have two kinds of residential layouts, BDA Layouts and Revenue Layouts. The former are layouts that have been created by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) or its predecessor the City Improvement Trust Board (CITB). These agencies acquired land from villages which were then on the outskirts of Bangalore, planned layouts with sites of different sizes, roads, “civic amenity sites”, etc. and then “allotted” them to applicants based on certain criteria.

To get a site allotted, you had to declare that you didn’t own a house in Bangalore, pay an upfront amount and wait for a few years before you would get your plot at a fairly subsidized amount in what was then the outskirts of the city. There were also layouts that were created and allotted to different PSUs. For example, you have ISRO Layout near Banashankari where sites were allotted at low prices to employees of ISRO. Similarly there are several “bank colonies” all over Bangalore. These sites were again allotted at subsidized rates. The government would acquire land from villagers, pass it on to the PSU employee association who would then allot them to employees. Interestingly, the resultant sale deed would be between the original owner of the land (typically a farmer) and the employee. The government and PSU’s name would be absent.

Revenue layouts did not have a government middleman. Original owners of the land (typically farmers) would cut it up into plots, allot area for roads and sell it directly to people to build houses there. Initially these areas would be deemed “illegal” thanks to their violation of zoning laws. In due course of time, they would get “recognized” by the BDA or BBMP and then BWSSB would provide water supply and drainage (till then people would rely on borewells and septic tanks).

If you drive a few kilometers out of Bangalore, especially in the eastern direction, you are likely to see a few mini Gurgaons. There has been absolutely no planning here, and so you have skyscrapers (either apartments or office complexes) interspersed with vast tracts of empty land. It is a sprawl out there, and there is no way one can live in these parts without a car. The vast empty spaces also mean these areas are ripe for criminal activity, and the buildings usually have private sources for their public goods (such as water or drainage).

While this makes a case for planned urban development (with its associated “site allotments”), there is also the issue of corruption. If you look at some of the corruption cases that have been filed recently against Karnataka politicians and bureaucrats, you will notice that they mostly have to do with land use and site allotments. Yeddyurappa went to jail in a “land denotification” case – that corrupt act was made possible because the government controls zoning. Former Lok Ayukta Shivaraj Patil had to resign because he got allotted a site when he already owned a house in the city.

So on one hand you get well planned and manageable cities, but significant scope for corruption and rent seeking. On the other, you have chaos and unplanned development, and several mini Gurgaons rather than proper cities. It seems like we have a no-win situation here. How do we handle it?

PS: I know that revenue layouts also involve heavy corruption, in terms of “regularising” or changing land use. However, surprisingly given the amounts involved, this kind of corruption seems to have remained at the lower levels of bureaucracy

Sergei Bubka and Academia

There is this famous story that says that the Soviet government promised pole vaulter Sergei Bubka some huge sum of money “every time he broke the world record”. Being rather smart, Bubka would break the world record each time by one centimeter (the least count for pole vault measurement), utilizing the fact that the nature of the event (where you set the bar and try to clear it, where success in each attempt is binary) to his advantage.

The thing with academia is that ‘paper count’ matters. And it appears that the quality of papers cannot be objectively measured and so the quality of the journals in which they are published are taken as proxy. And I hear that for decisions like getting a PhD, getting tenure, reputation in the community, etc. there is some sort of informal “paper count” that one needs to clear. You don’t progress until you’ve published a certain “number of papers”.

What this does is to incentivize academics to publish more. The degree of “delta improvement” shown in a particular paper over it’s predecessor (assuming each paper can be seen as an improvement over one particular previously known result) doesn’t matter as much as the number of improvements thus shown. Hence, every time the academic notices a small epsilon improvement, he finds it significant – it gets him a paper! The actual practical utility of this improvement be damned.

This is all fine in academia where one doesn’t need to bother about lowly trivialties such as “practical utility”. But it does start to matter when the academic migrates to industry, and there is no shortage of people doing this movement. Now, suddenly, what he needs to think about it practical utility. But that doesn’t come naturally to him. The academic strives for delta improvements. And each time there is a delta improvement he finds it significant – after all, that is what he has been trained to do during his long stint writing papers.

I must confirm I’m not saying here that ex-academics strive only for delta improvements, but just that they find each delta improvement significant, irrespective of the magnitude of the delta. In that way, they are different from Bubka.

But take that out and there is no difference. Both are incentivized by the number of delta improvements they make, rather than their magnitude. In the first case the Soviet Government ended up transferring more than what was perhaps necessary to Bubka. Similar flawed incentives can lead to corporations losing a lot of money.

PS: I must admit I’m generalizing. Of course there exist studmax creatures like Cat, who refuse to publish unless they have something really significant (he told me of one case where he refused to add his name to a paper since he “didn’t want to be known for that work” or something like that). But the vast majority gets its doctorates and tenures by delta publishing, so I guess I’m allowed to generalize.

The National College Flyover

What will happen to the controversial National College Flyover when the Metro gets built? If I remember right, the proposed Metro goes from Lalbagh West Gate up Vani Vilas road, and is supposed to take a right turn on to K R Road at the National College circle. Surely there is no space on VV Road to for the metro and the flyover to exist side by side. They can’t take the metro underground there since the ground there has to bear the additional weight of the flyover.

So what will become of the flyover? Yet another example of the BBMP’s shortsightedness.

I don’t remember the forum (it might have been this blog, or its predecessor) but I had once mentioned as to how the National College Flyover was useless. And I had gotten shouted down by a bunch of people saying “go in the evening and see the number of vehicles on the flyover, and you’ll know it’s not useless”. I’ve gone there a few evenings after that (over the last 2-3 years) and watched the traffic in the evening, and still believe that it wasn’t necessary.

It wasn’t necessary because the traffic at the intersection isn’t enough of a reduction in petrol and time cost of going over the flyover to pay for the flyover in a reasonable number of years (if I remember my minor subjects right, this is the standard reasoning by transportation engineers). People on K R Road, and the traffic going towards Jain college from “north road” (the western part of VV Road) still have to spend an insane amount of time at the signal. People on VV Road have it easy but then they get stuck at the new signal that has been installed at the junction of VV Road and Shankar Mutt Road.

And to consider the amount of controversy that the flyover created when it was built. And the fact that it’s most likely going to get pulled down for the metro construction.


When this blog was young, I used to crib a lot. Ok let me correct that. When my livejournal, which is the predecessor of this blog, was young, I used to crib a lot. At least half my posts were “crib posts”. They would go on the lines of “oh i’m feeling so crappy. everything’s awful with the world”. I’d occasionally get comments. They’d either be of the “yeah you’ve done wrong” variety or “ok i empathise” type. Most such comments didn’t get any posts at all. Sorry, I meant that most such posts didn’t get any comments at all.

I decided to obey the market and moved away from crib posts. i still do crib once in a while, and use this blog as a personal rant, i don’t crib here as much as I used to. This “adjustment  to the needs of the market” has had its own problem. It sometimes makes yo ugo to the other extreme. Where you are just not able to crib at all. You feel guilty about cribbing. Everytime you crib, you think yo uare bothering someone and so you should stop. You stop.

Cribbing is an art. Not everyone is a master of cribbing. The biggest problem with the lack of ability to crib is what I call as the “two-person theory”. It is something like each of us is a superposition of several people. And at each point in time, we “collapse” to one of those people. All of us live in the form of a dynamic equilibrium as me. We share a hard disk, but we don’t share memory. And usually, there is no coexistence. Ok I suppose the name two-person theory is some kind of a misnomer. It is actually the trivial case where you are made of a superposition of just two people.

When you are low, you want to crib. You want to pour out all your woes to the world. You want to cry. You want to be cared for. You want to be  cuddled. But you can’t speak. You don’t have the confidence to speak. You just don’t feel like speaking. Speaking is an effort. And you end up not cribbing, though you really wanted to crib.

You recover. And you are now not who you were when you were low.  You are in a different state (no, this is not like going from Delhi to Haryana). You are able to communicate now. You remember that you needed to crib. That much has been coded into the hard disk. However, the details of that were left in the memory of the other you. You don’t know what to crib about. You don’t understand the other yourself. You trivialize your body-sharer. You decide you are better off not cribbing. And you are happy that you didn’t feel. Each time you think about it, you feel happeier that you didn’t crib; until you want to crib again, and are too low to communicate.

Now you blame the other you for not speaking out for you. Effectively you blame yourself. You feed in into the downward spiral. You want to crib even more now. And you can’t communicate. You wait till you get better. And then you wait till you get worse. You cycle. You oscillate.

One of you is dumb and cna’t communicate. The other of you can’t understand the other of you. This other doesn’t want to speak for the other other. One of the others is unable to communicate. And like the mythical Bherunda birds (also the state bird of Karnataka) one of the other consumes poison, taking the other other down with him.