Monday, December 23, 2013

The problem of the world

The problem of the world is that we humans only see the USP of something.

We only see the one thing that lets us make a decision. And we ignore all else.

We get into the wrong job, shift to the wrong place, move in with the wrong person (not me at least, not yet at least).

We choose a religion, a sports club, a social networking website, a programming language, a political ideology etc. based on one or another USP, and then we stick to it no matter what. I bet at least 1 person is reading this line ONLY because they found the title of this post interesting.

Maybe it is not just humans. Many flowers lure insects by their color. Many female insects lure seduce the males, procreate and then eat them up. Biology has its explanations, but I am not that intelligent :-)

I am not saying that there is something wrong with USPs. Sure something good is needed to get us attracted to something. But that should not result in defamation, bullying, hypocrisy etc. You know,

All this means that if we can get past this USP thing, we can be more knowledgeable and insightful. And this can lead to better decisions and actions. Or at least better retrospection.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Indian journalism issues

 There are 2 problems with our journalism, whether print or electronic. 

Firstly, we need a better standard, which is only possible if we as consumers demand it. A rather famous Hindi newspaper here in Punjab is kind of famous for printing just about anything. 

Secondly, we need better a regulatory environment for the media. 
  1. Ownership should be printed on each newspaper. Currently, as per law, only the name and address of the editor/producer is printed. Many news channels are owned by Maruitious based companies. 
  2. Reports, surveys, exit polls, opinion polls etc. should have mandatory disclosure of methodology, sample size, sample demographics etc.
  3. Paid news should be controlled. Maybe a money amount 'cap' can be set up, under which excessive surcharge can be imposed. For example, if the 'cap' is set at Rs. 100 Crore/day, then any company spending more than this amount on a single news channel should be forced to shell out 10% or 20% of amount exceeding the 'cap.'

We need proactive regulators and not reactive or complaint-based ones like now.
Anything you would like to suggest is welcome.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Space and Time and Stereotypes

The world at a time is not defined by what it lacks in, but by what it has too much of. As persons, we don't define ourselves as poor, or lacking in intelligence. We define ourselves in being too lazy, or being too good for our own good.  Similarly, the current world is not lacking in environmental knowledge or effort, we are very good at industrialization.

Space and Time mean Geography and History, respectively.

There was a time when there was too much space. It is another way of saying that there was no good transport. People could not go beyond certain distances. For many people today, going to another continent might take less effort, time and money (converted to money in old times), than what it might have taken someone to go a few tens of kilometers.

Currently, we have too much information. This means we have too little time to consume it. Maybe that is why governments are going for things like PRISM and Five Eyes instead of 'normal' espionage. 

Too much information and too less time makes us forget past things. We have limited minds. Maybe this is why we get so happy when USA gets a new black president, but we forget that the same country has had Afghanistan and Iraq as its neo-colonies. Most people will forget their bully acquaintances when they get famous, at which stage the 'bully' will be substituted with 'naughty friend'.

Our stereotypes are changing to reflect this change. What earlier used to be on the lines of "People from xxx area are  bad/mean", is now "I should use less electricity. But first I should reboot my computer, it is on since the past week."

[The idea for this post came when I was chatting with my friend, Arpit Rawat.]

Friday, November 29, 2013

What is satisfaction?

Satisfaction is the feeling of having done something and knowing that we could not have done it better.

Of course, in the same circumstances and with the same information as we had at that time.

Am I satisfied with my career choices right now? Yes. Could I have done it better? Yes. But not if I am in the same situation again with the same thoughts and advice.

In other words, the more permutations and combinations you have in your head, the less satisfied you are going to be. Don't you think?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Enough with the young

A lot of our life today revolves around the media: newspapers, internet, TV. Even chatting with friends is more and more about a movie, a game/match or a blog post. OK, not blog posts.

The media is two things: First, things that hook us, and second, things that target us. News, sports, series, movies, yoga, cartoons, Nat Geo etc. are the things that hook us. Every 5 minutes or so, we are targeted. By advertisements, opinion, religious propaganda, national propaganda, organisational propaganda (Uninor, Google, HP, BP et. al.)

What surprises me is how much of this targeting targets young people. People in the ages of 15 to 25, mostly. If it does not target this age group, it targets people who somehow want to feel like being in this age group. Beauty products, health products, medicines-that-revitalize.

Why the hell is that? Because young people are vulnerable to making uninformed choices. Someone in their 30s or 40s is more likely to have set habits. Maybe that is why Pizza and Coffee shop ads show young people partying at these places.

Additionally, young people are normally moving out. This means they need everything. Need bed? Yes. Need car? Yes. Need microwave? Yes. Need TV? Why not, where else will I get the ads?

Friday, November 8, 2013


There is nothing perfect. And it is not a big issue.

The big issue is always trying to pretend that everything is perfect.

All pretend they are perfect. Or sometimes, all pretend that they are in a perfectly bad situation. Its the same.

On the other hand, we can't forego the pursuit of perfection, or excellence. In the worst case, we are donkeys and it is a carrot hanging in front of our noses. Gets things done and all.

The biggest thing, in my opinion is to remember that
1. Perfection is a long term thing, not the next thing I am to do.
2. The only perfect thing to do right now is to do something.
3. Procrastinating for the perfect moment/thing/task is worse than the not-so-perfect I have right now.
4. As long as I am in a better position than yesterday/last week/last month etc., I am doing fine.

There was a book I read a few years back, called To Kill a Mockingbird. It was about racial tolerance in an American town. Not exactly related to what I tried to put up here, the children's dad (the lawyer and shooter, Atticus) said something like this:
Courage is when you know you are licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

7 things

Over the past 5-6 months, I have been offered awards by fellow bloggers approximately 2.00000000001 times. But I kind of ignored them because of my own vanity and laziness. I still don't like awards but it feels disrespectful of these guys when you just don't say anything on it.

This post is dedicated to "ME" and "I-Heard-U". Thanks to both of you for considering me worthy of it. Turns out I am not :-)

And from now on, new agenda: shorter blog posts. Consider it more of a constraint :-)

Here are 7 things about me:

1. Messed up mind

I tend to think too much. So much that sometimes I am in a mentally blank or numb state because of so many things. And it is a very peaceful state of mind. I am able to feel happy and guilty for the same thing. Similarly, angry and forgiving, and, remorseful and past-rationalizing. Its a bit complicated ... and great :-)

2. Love for Hindi and Punjabi

I totally love these two languages. If it was socially acceptable to say that your mom had two tongues, I would surely say that I have two mother tongues :-) 

3. Love for food

This one, I am sure everyone who knows me, knows. Though lots of people and my dad tell me I am missing a lot by being vegetarian and not drinking etc., I love what I can have.

4. Love for my mom

This one has been stamped on me. I love my mom just like any other person, but my friends seem to have taken an exception to it. This all can be credited to one Navdeep Toor. 

5. Love for reading... randomly

This one I suspect is true for every blogger. Though I am not sure about the random part :-)

6. Love for hypocrisy

With growing up as a person, I am slowly and a bit hesitatingly starting to accept that I am a hypocrite. This is because I have different standards for others and for me. I am thankful for my life to have provided me with situations to discover this aspect of mine, though. Something to change in myself, even if a lofty ideal, is welcome.

7. Love for lazing around

This is so true that it did not need mentioning. I can do something, and keep on doing it, just to avoid doing something else.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Posting for the sake of posting

Since our beloved Google reader won't be with us tomorrow onwards, one last post that gets people here from it is in order.

I will be using bloglovin from now on.

When I started reading blogs, what I loved the most was watching a lot of blog posts on people's blogs, and then reading them one by one. Most of these guys were programmers, and I like to think I learnt a lot from them. I spend a whole weekend, 48 hours with a few hours of sleep here and there reading almost everything on Joel Spolsky's blog in last semester in college. I want my blog to be something like that for someone new.  Exciting and addicting.

Digressing for the sake of digressing
I have been in Delhi from some time now, and have been using the Metro quite a lot. I have found that people normally ignore the CISF staff, who most visibly check our baggage, and well, ... us.

So, since the last 2 weeks or so, I have started asking them how they've been. It is still a weird experience for me and the CISF  uys, but what the hell. Mostly it is only the guy with the body checking metal-detector thing who gets asked how he is. Something like 'aur sirjee, kya haal hain?' sure surprises the CISF guys.

Coming to think of it, most of us here are kind of thank-less when it comes to mostly invisible or taken for granted people. I remember going somewhere with my mom and a cousin last year, and being on the wheel (being a control freak) and not knowing the way. So, after asking people about the next town etc., I was thanking them saying 'shukriya' (Hindi). And both ladies thought it was funny, and made sure I knew it, and that I remembered it for a few days. How can thanking someone be a silly thing to do?

But whatever, that does not mean I am gonna stop saying 'thanks' anytime soon.

It is time to bloglovin for the sake of bloglovin. Or to get to some other blog feed. :-)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Diary entry for May 27

Thanks to a comment by I-HEARD-YOU, here is what I wrote in my diary thingy on 27th of the last month.

Nothing personal in it, and no swearing!

Vikas Ruhela is a senior from college, an intellectual character, and a cool photographer, who discussed a few things with me and who was made to click this photo because apparently, neither me, nor my Galaxy ace are good enough for this.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts on thoughts

I normally think and discuss with friends, or acquaintances, or anyone who will listen/speak. But owing to a bit of staying at home for the last few days, all ideas I get are forgotten before I get the chance to discuss them. This means no great discussions, and no additional ideas. Additional ideas are the ones I thrive on. Might as well call them derived or (mentally) copy-pasted ones :-)

Watching a few other bloggers, I decided to start writing a diary thingy. I got the content for my last post (movies and all) from around 2 days of diary entries on movies and video games. This post comes from a few more days of thought. I don't know how accurate it will feel, because it hasn't been tested with discussions, so to speak.

By the way, word for the day: maybe.

What exactly are thoughts?

Nothing in and of themselves. Thoughts are simply signals from the brain, to some body organ(s) or (for the purposes of this post) to itself.

Let us say there are two kinds of thoughts: voluntary and involuntary. Feeling hungry is involuntary, but actually getting up and cooking something requires voluntary thought. It is borderline voluntary, but it is voluntary in my opinion.

We human beings have been blessed with the ability to let our brains communicate with themselves. This means that instead of just eating, sleeping, excreting and otherwise surviving, we think about ourselves and our surroundings, both physical and in time.

That is not to say that it is only humans who think. Dogs and cats too feel things like affection and anger, but I do not think that they can think at our level.

Thoughts and our quality of life

How we evaluate the quality, or level of our lives depends on the kinds of thoughts that we have. Two people in the same situation might think drastically different things about themselves. A bank robber now in prison might think of his bad luck. Another bank robber in prison might consider himself lucky because at least he is alive. Not the best example, but hopefully good enough.

I had problems thinking about this before, but then I thought about so many people in rather developed countries who still face depression. They do not have any scarcity, but still feel unfulfilled.

How highly we think of ourselves and our situations depends on who or what we compare ourselves with. As a not-even-amateur actor, I can compare myself with a friend who simply cannot lie, or with the Amitabh Bacchan. In which case do you think I will be happier?

I am not forcing everyone to just stop thinking about improving and all, but that you will face disappointment if you want everything to be perfect. Especially when perfection means different things for different people. And no matter what we do, our lives are a work in progress all the time. 

The biggest curse

As I maybe mentioned before, we humans are thinking beings. As such, what we think matters a lot to us. So, the biggest curse anyone can have in this world is not being able to think what they want.

Looks like a silly statement, but it is true. We like to think of good things. We like to feel good. But a lot of times, reality tries to convince us otherwise. Maybe this is why ageing hurts. At 23, I definitely want to be a child. Or at least a teenager anyway :-)

When a poor, malnourished child is hungry, it hurts him/her because he/she would rather be playing or doing something else at least. When a handicapped person feels bad for not being able to play some sport, it is because they want to feel the rush and enjoyment of playing, not the helplessness of their condition.

Maybe this is why choice, or the what-if nature of our minds boggles us. Also, maybe this is why many doctors who deal with problems of the mind would rather have their patients stay as they are. 

The good part about the curse

I don't know what you think about it, but the best thing about being emotionally fucked up is knowing that someday you will be able to laugh at it. We all have had the time in our childhoods when we were sick, and thought we were gonna die. This has to happen because our minds can only see so far, like you can only see a few tens of metres ahead with the help of your car headlights at night. The silly part is, at times of crisis, it is foggy so your visibility gets greatly reduced.

Everyone has only one brain, and it has limited capacity, so it can only process so much information. When a lot of that information is emotional or otherwise disappointment, it becomes really hard to focus on the good parts or at least trying to improve the situation. Maybe this is why emotions like love and anger are said to make us weak, or at least distracted.

Needless to say, having a clear mind is one of the best feelings in the world. Thinking that one has everything and needs nothing more, at least in the current moment is a state of mind that we should get more and more into. The question is, how? The answer eludes us. Too damn bad.

The need for constant (positive) reinforcement

Since we live in the real worldTM, it is obvious we come across more bad than good, or at least more superficial/needless than useful. And since our minds are nothing but reflections of what we see and feel, it is obvious that we tend to focus more on the bad than the good.

Instead of keeping up with this vicious cycle, I think it is better to constantly remind ourselves about the good in our lives. No matter what it is. The local team winning a game, a friend's phone call after a few months, or the neighbor who always smiles. 

In addition, it is also great to visualize things from a positive perspective. Thankfully, this is a situation in which the Anna Karenina principle is useful. You can fuck up a presentation or meeting in infinite ways, but the way to get it right, at least while visualizing is to believe in yourself and think that you are going to do it with confidence and grace, or whatever it is that these silly MBA-types do.

Maybe this is why sportspersons and performing artists and military people practice so much. After doing something over and over and over and over again, it kind of becomes second nature, that is, implied reinforcement in the belief that you are going to pull it off no matter what.

Not only ourselves, but we need and get reinforcement from others too. In fact, I will go as far as saying that positive reinforcement and the need for it is what makes us social beings. In most of the world's cultures, young people are supposed to seek blessings from elders. In a way, this is just a way of letting the elder and more experienced person reinforcing in you the fact that what you are doing is right in their opinion.

Another kind of reinforcement

I read somewhere about it being customary in the British army to tell new recruits to keep a watch on their seniors, and select one senior without telling anyone who that is. Then, whenever in a real time situation involving a decision and clueless-ness at the same time, the new recruit has to think what his/her favorite senior would do and the end result is more likely to be better.

Maybe this is why young people are encouraged to pick role models, and perspective role models, like movie stars and sportspersons are encouraged to keep their shit together. My personal opinion is kind of different, because I do not have a role model as such, and I think most people don't. Also, maybe this is why we believe in God. God is a kind of inbuilt good/bad filter for out thoughts and actions. I am not a non-believer, but I think this is the relevance of God in our lives. 

This kind of thinking, that is, thinking what someone else would do in certain situations can save your life, and more importantly, save your mind. I can't give any examples right now, but suffice it to say that whenever faced with an unknown situation, the best thing shy of being able to ask someone for help/guidance is thinking what they would do if they were in our place.

Spread it all around

The thing about all good things is that they normally increase when spread. This positive reinforcement crap is no different. Just like commenting on other people's blogs and then watching new, mostly encouraging comments on yours.

So, next time you get the chance, make sure you compliment your family members, neighbors, coworkers, the next person in the train. Ok, maybe not the next person in the train.

One more thing I would add is that you crying over your situation only makes you look silly. People are not interested in some idiot who just laments about life. One way around it is to focus only on the good parts, but another, way better way is to have a laugh at your situation. Have you read Jon Varga's blog? Or John Gray's blog? A few days back, Gray made his scerlosis problem seem funny. So funny that I initially thought it was a kind of joke. If you cannot do that, then at least try looking and narrating it from a third person perspective.

Taking the edge off

What is it that makes us feel pressure whenever we start something? Most would call it a fear of failure. What is this fear thingy? It is nothing but our insecurity regarding losing something that we have. That something is normally our self-esteem or pride (or the fear of letting someone down), and sometimes something physical like money or some bonus or a raise. Mostly, these two things are linked because, for example, people realize their self worth only in proportion to their performance at a silly office.

Assuming that you have nothing to lose really takes the edge off. Or, in most real situations, thinking what is the worst that can happen, can work wonders too. Our fears are mostly amplified versions of the worst of the results of the permutations-and-combinations games that our brains play. Thankfully, around 99.999999% of people reading this are not bomb squad specialists :-)

The best part of having a nothing-to-lose mentality is that it makes you less vulnerable to your self-imposed limitations.


This is all for today. Hope it was worth the read.

Do you have any thoughts on thoughts?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How to watch movies

So, the title should have been something like How "I" watch movies, but.. whatever.

I don't watch a lot of movies, so the onus is on watching only the good ones, and in the best manner possible :-)

Where to watch movies?

I try not to go to a cinema/theater/multiplex etc., because I am lazy, and because I am a miser. But when friends and family put too much pressure, I have to oblige, with lawyer-like conditions. An example: No more movies for this year. On an average, I go to the movies twice a year, once with family and once with some friends.

There are two options then. Either download via torrents or watch movies part by part on youtube. Torrents are kind of illegal in most parts of the world, including India. The thing about youtube is that movies normally have too many parts, and the bad video quality. But movies are things involving emotions and comedy, and the occasional thrills and action. What the hell has video quality to do with that?

Also, number 1 rule of doing something illegal: don't blog about it. If you got the idea, good.

Going with the only-good-ones logic, any movies that I go to have to be really, really good. Mostly great reviews or recommendations are required. The last one I watched was Jolly LLB, with my brother and a cousin, only because of the very different idea.

A problem with this approach is that I miss movies that are not purely commercial, but why the hell should I care? People are free to recommend good documentaries too. But my friends mostly fail me on this.

One more problem comes around when a movie is highly recommended by many people, and it fails to live up to my expectations.

Why I can't enjoy most movies?

First of all, remember what a movie is: just a simple story. A video game is a movie too, but it lets you play a character. So, making movies and video games, and of course writing books is a kind of story telling. Yes, I know, sweeping generalizations and all.

Almost all movies come in a simple plot style. There's a backstory, a plot-changing event and then the reaction to that. For example, in Kung Fu Panda, the backstory is the dream that Po has about fighting with the 5 masters against a wolf (and alligator?) army. The plot-changing event was when Master Oogway selected Po as the dragon master. And the rest of the movie followed in reaction to that. Maybe this is the reason why movies that don't follow any chronological order of events seem fun to me sometimes (don't remember the word for that)

The thing about this approach of story telling is that in addition to being boring, it can take some time before the plot-changing event occurs. And people get bored in that time. People leave the theater, switch channels etc., you get the idea.

Some movies are very different in this regard, in that they do the plot so well that people just can't leave. Like the Dark Knight.

Another thing is that sometimes you don't really need the backstory. For example, not many people get bored watching sports movies. Reason: if someone is watching a sports movie, they are pretty interested in it to be let off by initial boredom. It will take some really twisted and intentionally bad sports movie to make people dislike it. Or I am too much of a sports movie fan. :-)

The premise here is this: if a movie can fit in a backstory and the plot-changing event within the first 20 minutes, there is a high probability people are gonna like it.

Is there a law against writing content matching the headings?

If you are wondering about the part titled Why I can't enjoy most movies, you are probably right. Thing is, I always keep on looking for inconsistencies in the plot, the characters, the props, the smallest of things basically. This makes me enjoy it less.

Another thing is the tendency to predict the next scene, the next action, the next dialogue etc. Especially if I am made to watch someone else's favorite movie or series.

Two great KK-esque movie viewing anti-patterns

So, some movies are _dumb_as_shit_. And surely you can't spend two hours or even more on such stuff. I am sharing two remedies here, since there are two 'k's in KK :-)

First, in case of movies that are too boring to watch, but too interesting to leave, what works best is watching for 15-20 minutes (or until you establish the previously written precondition), and then reading the plot summary on wikipedia or imdb. This is what happened when I tried to watch Green Street Hooligans 2. When there was no football for more than an hour, and no going to matches or anything like the previous part, I was left with no option but to look at my great friend wikipedia. Sometimes uncyclopedia helps too.

Another case when this approach works really well is when you need to watch really emotional movies. I have never been able to watch Mother India beyond the scene when the hero (Raj Kumar) tries picking up his mother's load, but realizes he is an amputee.

The second approach is to watch a movie for 5 minutes, then skip 20 minutes, then again for 5 minutes, rinse and repeat. Then trying to predict what happened is fun. Works really well with movies like Dabang and Yamla Pagla Deewana.

Please feel free to recommend any movies etc.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Real life needs Moneyball

Disclaimer: I possess NO knowledge of baseball whatsoever. Neither is this a baseball-related post.

Moneyball is a concept used in sports, especially baseball, and has an eponymous movie starring none less than Brad Pitt. It is something that apparently is being taken up by other sports too.

To all my real-life  friends: Yes, I saw the movie. Twice. On TV of course!

Money + balls = Moneyball... wait, what?

You probably know how the league system in today's professional team sports runs. I think it is a great lesson in mixing people's interest in something and generating commercial benefits out of it, not necessarily in a bad way. Here's my stab at it. The word team is equivalent to sports club, the word mostly is equivalent to.... uh.. mostly.

Different teams playing the same sport at the same level in a playing hierarchy play against each other. See an example of hierarchy as I meant it, called the system here. Winning means gain of points for the winners, and losing mostly means the losers' points stay as they were. Teams are mostly (always?) defined according to their geographical location, more specifically the location of their venue (mostly stadium). Each team plays each other team twice: once at their venue and once at the other team's venue. At the end of the season (mostly of near-annual duration), the points of each team are calculated and the one with the most points wins the league/trophy etc.

Most leagues, especially the professional ones, work in a way that teams can trade players for money and sometimes other things.

At higher levels in league hierarchies/systems, there is a lot of money involved in terms of players' and other staff's wages, marketing, TV rights, player-named shirts and other merchandise etc. This money comes from fans. As one of my friends, the great and funny Hemant Dhir, who was quite active in college politics once told me, a few people are always interested in the thing (here it being some particular sport), but are neutral when it comes to picking sides (read teams). These people are the ones all marketing tries to lure, because more fans means more money. The best way to gain such followers is to win more. Since  (playing is all about winning, and also since) money (or the lack of it) is the root of all evil, all teams want to win more and more. That is, winning more is the best marketing strategy for teams to attract more fans, and by extension, more money.

Now, like any kind of business, all teams know that in simplest terms, the best way to make more cash is to invest more cash. Teams invest in players, non-playing staff and facilities for players like kits and equipment etc. It goes without saying that mostly players are the most  costly to get, and the most well paid part of a team. So, teams spend the most on players. And of course, the teams with the most money end up buying the best players!

But, again, since it is business, teams need to be sure of the players they are investing in. For this, a set of heuristics is considered according to the sport and a player's specific attributes in terms of skill and physical prowess. The problem with this approach is that while every team wants a good player, only one can have him/her at a time. So, there are two ways to get a player: either pay more than others, or change the way you measure players.

The second way seems a bit odd, but it is exactly what Billy Beane did at a team called Oakland Athletics, building on the theoritical foundations laid down by Bill James.

I don't know much about baseball, so if you are interested in it, please use internet search. About a bit of moneyball in soccer, see this page that I linked before too. Or, you can just watch the movie :-)

Sports aside, what is Moneyball?

The world loves statistics. Any and every consumer product that we use has at least some part of  its time, effort and/or budget allocated to statistical research. Apparently, getting the right balance between minimum quality and maximum payoff from customers is a big deal. 

Statistics in itself is a pretty useless thing. What is useful is the inferences that can be drawn from the loads and loads of data that is with us. Archives lying in a big library or in a database on some server need to be analysed in order to find patterns in it. These patterns can be extrapolated to get useful insights, which can be used to improve existing processes for better results etc.

It might seem too complex, but we as individuals do the same thing. When we need to get tickets to some game, we first contact friends who watch too many games and are cooperative. If these ones can't get it, we look for the ones having either one of these qualities. And if it still does not work, we just contact as many friends as possible and hope we get tickets anyhow. By the way, this was just an example, and not the best one. Buying tickets, either online or offline works too :-)

The catch here is that like in life as usual, perspective matters more than actual information. Sometimes we keep worrying about silly, nonexistent things, while other times, ignorance is bliss and it helps us coast through almost anything.

In the same way, in statistics, what you look at and what you ignore will be different from what someone else looks at and ignores. This difference will ensure that what different people learn from the same information and how they use it will be different. (I am trying to shorten my sentences, its a work in progress)

For example, the amount of time that we spend on working or studying etc. is a heuristic. The more it is, the better results we expect to get. But is this heuristic accurate? Mostly: Yes, always: No. For someone trying to uproot weeds off their garden, the amount of time spent on it is a very good indicator of progress. But for someone researching on something, it might not be as good an indicator because it usually takes a few weeks to a few months (sometimes even years) of work just to know that you've been wasting your time on a dead end.

So, for the purpose of this blog post, Moneyball is an approach to look into better heuristics rather than the statistical status quo. The rest of this post is me coming up with some examples on use of better heuristics.

Decisions we make as individuals

It is obvious that the amount of work we put in, or the money we invest, or the things that we do are directly related to the result that we get.

What is not really obvious is something that Paul Graham says: if you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will get what everyone will get. Too bad I was unable to locate the exact place where he wrote that, so no link and not an exact quote.

Going against the wind, or doing something that most people are not doing, is normally thought of as something silly. And it sometimes is. But it is the only way to get unusual results. Had Mark Zuckerberg and his friends joined some silly software company after graduating, instead of continuing on their dorm room project, we would have no facebook. They would be a normal programmers, working for a paycheck and blogging about ruby-on-rails or something on weekends. And I would have saved a lot of time from not having facebook. Not exactly right, because in that case some other social website would have come up.

This is the reason why politicians and advertisement campaign managers always want something different in terms of content. Same old stuff never gets attention. 

The need for reinventing ourselves

A big corollary of trying-to-do-different is the need to constantly reinvent ourselves. In most sports, a new player will play their heart out, but get out of form after a few games. Reason: they have now been analysed by other teams/players. 

You know something thats really good at reinventing itself? Viruses. Almost everyone has heard that flu has no medication. Some say existing common cold medication is just an attempt at fighting the symptoms and waiting for the virus to subside by itself. You know why this happens? Because every organism has a certain genetic structure. It usually takes some time (a few hundred generations at least) before any organism evolves. But in case of viruses, it happens within a few generations. Add to that a few days' or weeks' lifecycle, and drug research, something that takes at least a few years for a drug to come up, just can't keep up.

Decisions we make when we choose other individuals

Here are two situations when we get the chance to choose other individuals: choosing a suitable mate and choosing a employee,coworker or business partner.

The choosing-a-suitable-mate part makes me seem like a student of anthropology, but all I know about it is the spelling: a-n-t-h-r-o-p-o-l-o-g-y. Apart from that, have you ever noticed how animals, including humans choose mates for reproduction? We all have some heuristic or a set of heuristics that we look for. In humans, the most used factors are beauty and resourcefulness in that order. While these would have been good about two hundred years before now, these are not exactly deal makers or breakers now, at least to me. In this time of technology and knowledge, intelligence and understanding should matter more, but what the hell.

Same goes for situations when we choose people to work with. This does not look like an exact science, more like a work in progress. Some people just want trust to be the sole factor for choosing employees, coworkers and business partners, while some others consider only skill or expertise. Yet some more consider previous reputation of individuals as the most important factor, and there certainly are factors I am not even thinking of. While I don't know what exactly the deciding thing should be, it is funny that people and organisations with very different choosing and hiring ideologies are successful across different fields. So, this is something that needs more thinking, certainly more than the coin toss or dice roll (take your pick) we have been doing upto now, especially when success is an important thing, or just an assumption.

Analyzing police performance

Police and its role in India has been a point of debate since British times. While people might argue about the role of police everywhere, here is something I think about them.

Police in India at least is judged on the basis of the number of cases they get and the number of cases they solve. This means that a police station getting lesser cases is one in a place with good law and order credentials. But what if the police at that place are insistent on not registering any cases just to look good? What if instead of solving cases, the police just focus on getting the opposing parties to a compromise, mostly by the use of force?

What can be a better way to judge the police's work? For one, just like the government tries to audit everything, it should audit police work too. If the crime statistics in some area are just too good to be true, they probably are. If it takes a media report or public pressure to get a case registered, surely there are more such non-cases that need attention at that place.

Funny thing, the Supreme Court's ruling in the 2006 PIL, Prakash Singh vs. the Union of India looks to be full of Moneyball-like points, but has been gathering dust in almost all states. (I can't even think of any state that is implementing it)

Two pointers, both stolen

First, Siddhesh Agashe, in a blog post titled The Over The Top Economist, writes about economics:
.. Firstly, it is highly theoretical with no applications in the real world. Even the basic supply demand relationships do not work in the real world. Ask any baniya(businessman) in Delhi and he will give you a simple economics law – “The price of any good is determined by the bargaining (not purchasing) power of the consumer” If the store keeper finds you to be a new one time customer not adept at bargaining, he will charge you exorbitant prices covering his entire margins so that he can provide huge discounts to the not so friendly aunty of the neighborhood (who is also a repeat purchaser btw). This philosophy of the local kirana stores is responsible for kicking ass of all fixed price modern retailers. 
Clearly, it is Moneyball at its best.

The second small thing became clear to me while I was sitting with two people who were arguing over something. Now, they were polite and both seemed right as each spoke their points, but the equal or bound-for-a-tie nature of their arguments bought me to something: it is not the right point that wins an argument, it is the louder person. Not something I would like to stress too much, but the older I get, the more office politics and yelling bosses I see, the more I support this one.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Randomness is a pattern in itself

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." 

                    - Alice and the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.
In short, if you don't know where you want to go, all roads will take you there. You would think I read the book, but you would be wrong :-)

I wonder what Lewis Carroll's blog would have looked like if he lived in our times. Maybe minimal or no design but great content. (Him having a blog is almost axiomatic to me)

Wikipedia defines randomness as lack of pattern or predictability in events. 

But a way to think of randomness, in any field or manner of thought is not being able to predict what lies in front of you.

At the most basic level, there are only two choices or possible outcomes: either there will be some thing, event etc. that we expect, or something else. The something else part can be anything. Maybe the opposite of what we expected, or (a bit recursively) something else.

So, what does this mean?

First a Punjab Police joke:
How do you catch a tiger without a gun or any other trap for that matter? 
 - Newton's Method: Run faster than the tiger in the direction it is running, and you will eventually get close to it and catch it. 
 - Einstein's Method: Run in the direction opposite to the tiger, at the speed of light. Due to some obviously obvious relativity physics thing, you will end up in front of the tiger. Cool! 
 - Punjab Police's Method (refer to their service rules for further details): Catch a kitten, and beat it up until it says, "Yes, I am a tiger!"

And yes, I have no idea about relativity, but since it is "said" that only 12 people understood Einstein at that time, I am in the majority! Consensus can.... lets just keep it at that.

What I am trying to say here is that true randomness is something that eludes and will continue to elude us, just like the speed of light or something.

What the hell does it really mean?

It means that whenever we try to predict things without a good enough knowledge of what will happen, we will fail. What is good enough knowledge? To be sure about something, I think we need to be sure of what that thing will be. Cent percent surety would mean being witness to that situation beforehand, and assuming such a thing is possible, we wouldn't need predicting then, no?

Some might think on the lines of when do we predict.. A better question would be on the lines of when do we not predict?

As people, we think if we could pass a test, or if it would rain today, or what that person from the opposite desired sex thinks about us. Where should we invest our money, when should we get out from an argument, or why read blog posts from people who do not even know what they are writing about. If you are thinking about the last part of the last line right now, you are probably right :-)

Organisations/governments need to predict the weather, know about the economy 6 months into the future, and whether or not they are going to be victims of silly bomb blasts targeting normal folks rather than the leadership or the military.

Even if we had proper or sufficient information/knowledge/data, could we guarantee about using it properly?

What now?

As Russel Peters says in a made-up Indian accent, nothing!

As I already wrote before, randomness is a pattern in itself. If we don't know what might happen, it does not matter what the outcome is. The problem is choice. And it will take a few years of medicine research to fight the mental problem called "what if".

As far as I am concerned, I am gonna take all my predictions with a grain of salt from now on. At least the ones I make consciously.

Randomness, predictability, disorder, entropy, probability et. al. can ... again, lets just keep it at that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Whats worth what

As a soon gonnabe 23 year old who wants to further their career, there are a few things I would love to remind myself all the time. Here they are:

  1. There is no hard work, only small goals. The more I am experiencing life, the more this resonates with me. The only way to keep at something is to divide it into smaller things and do them one at a time. Like with making small points in this blog post and writing them one at a time.
  2. If you are working too hard, something is wrong. Maybe you are only looking at the big picture, forgetting the nitty gritty details. Or maybe you are working too much or too hard on a small goal. For example, in a test worth 100 marks, no matter how much or how good you try attempting a 5-marks question, the most you will get is 5 marks. And most probably you are missing out on time and mental capacity for the other 95 marks.
  3. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, try taking a break. In computer programming, there is the more-psychological-than-real problem called just 5 more minutes. Can't find the error/bug, no matter, I'll just have it by the next 5 minutes. And you are still banging your head after 2 hours! Not because you are an idiot, but because you have spent not one but many 5-minute cycles. Try taking a walk, chatting to a friend, reading something (preferably not on the web, lol) or anything else that is different from what you are doing, but is not addictive enough to make you forget what you were doing.
  4. If you are still not enjoying what you are doing, is it worth doing? Worth a bit of introspection. Many times, it is our subconscious telling us about something else that we should be doing. The mind thinks in infinite terms, while there is only so much that a person can do. Mostly not enjoying what one is doing comes with that particular thing not being in sync with the big picture. 
  5. If you don't have a big picture, you have bigger problems. Because you are letting yourself be tossed around by your job, other people or just life. Slacking or not doing anything (except when on a break) is an example of being tossed around by your own laziness.
  6. The world does not care, and that is a good thing. Some people think positively, the world wants me to succeed. Others, not so much, the world wants me to fail. In truth, the world just does not care. What matters is what you think and do together. Only thinking/doing as individual acts are not good enough.
  7. Always remember what AI is at the most basic level. (1) Doing something systematic, and (2) making progress towards your aim, in no matter how small amounts, will get you somewhere. Just keep at it.
  8. Make sure there is only wheat, no chaff. Do I really need to remember the lyrics for every song I have heard till now? Only if I am going to play antakshari. Other than that, it is just bullshit taking space (as in a hard drive) in my mind. Do I need to remember what that girl told me about politics in her office? Should I be thinking about how hard it is to be an international level athlete, when I have to read about the stock market and invest? (From what I've heard, stock market people need to make really thought out and well informed decisions or risk losses)
  9. Don't underestimate the value of human contact, and don't overestimate it. Talking to a friend about some issue you are facing, even though they do not know even a bit about it, always helps. Talking to strangers about themselves helps even more (personal experience). But making sure that the talking/meeting/chatting/mailing etc. does not take you off your focus is also important. Maybe talking to a college crush in time of disappoint is not the best thing.
  10. Know your triggers, both ways. For example, if you are a good cook and promise me something, I will do anything for you. But, if I have some good, tasty food lying around and need to do something just now... let us say it is not gonna happen.
  11. Try to keep your dependencies to a minimum. If it needs loud verbal encouragement from your coach to just stay in the fight, maybe you don't like amateur wrestling as much as you think. If you need to ask permission before doing the smallest of things, maybe this company is not worth it. If you need to look out for your roommate agreement before everything, maybe you should rent a room for yourself.
  12. Fake it till you make it. Amy Cuddy Zindabad! And not only in terms of power poses. Thinking that you can do something before trying can make the difference between actually being able to do it and failing. Faith can move mountains.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why depend on Big Pharma? And work, and fun, and decisions, and the proverbial long term

A few weeks back I was telling I-HEARD-YOU about not splitting posts, and here I find myself guilty for the same. But I think it is fine, since I got some new ideas after publishing the previous post.

To read further, make sure that you know about the Novartis issue in India. I would prefer if you could read the post I wrote a few days back, but it is not required. Here is another post on the issue, more like an editorial.

Before I start the post, remember that there are two ways to hold your right ear. The first is to bring your right hand up and hold the damn ear (simple). The other is to take your left hand across and use it to hold your right ear (somewhat complex). Believe me when I say that I am writing this post according to the second way.

Customary sex/hierarchy/work/fun joke

If there is one thing I learnt from noticing (only noticing, not listening or reading etc.) the Presidential debates in US, it is that you should open with a joke when starting some kind of presentation or writing. So, here goes:
An Indian Army Colonel is dining with a Major and a Lieutenant. The Colonel purposes: "I think sex is 20% fun and 80% work." The Major says: "No sir, I think you are mistaken. Is is actually 50-50." The Lieutenant chips in: "Sirs, in my experience, it should be 80% fun and 20% work." 
Just then a Sahayak comes around the room. The Colonel asks him the same question. His answer: "Sirs, it is 100% fun and no work. None at all." 
Other three (somewhat surprised): "How can you say this? What is your logic?" 
Sahayak: "Sirs, if there was even an iota of work in it, you guys would have me doing it in place of your honorable selves!"
I do not remember where I read it from, but it is a great joke. By the way, as of April, 2013, the sahayak system is a system in the Indian Army under which trained non-commissioned soldiers are made to do the personal work of seniors. (Sahayak: orderly, from British Army.) The funny thing about this system is that all the armies of the world have abolished this system, including even the Pakistan Army a few years back. Kudos, Pak Army! In the meantime, our Indian Army has the distinction of being the only Army in the world to still follow this tradition.

From what my Sainik School friends tell me, people in the Army are kind of serious when it comes to traditions. I thought of another word in place of serious, but there is only so much profanity I can handle in a blog post I am writing, especially when I live under the illusion that maybe someday, I will be able to persuade my parents to come and read it. They made me read to them the SSC interview post with interest, the rest of the blog, not even a cursory look :-)

What was that all about?

First some groundwork.

We all work in life. For the purpose of this post, even slacking/not-working is work, like zero work or something.

At individual as well as organisational levels, people have two natures with  respect to work. Some people like to take initiative and decide what to work on. Others like to be told what to do, whether because of their lack of initiative or plain old laziness. For the most part, I belong to the second category :-)

Again at individual and organisational levels, we do not exactly belong to one of the two natures. This is because it is not possible to define a fine line between the two.

How we think or act in a situation, whether we stand back or bite the bullet depends on a lot of things in addition to our nature, like previous experience and prejudices, the gravity of the situation and our mood at the time.

Similarly on an organisational level, the same things matter in almost the same way. Some organisations take risks and succeed once in many tries, some others just don't take as much risks as they can, settling for less but sure returns every time.

I cannot stress enough the importance of the thing I called prejudice that can be considered as a factor in a person or organisation's short-term or long-term decisions. It is something that comes from the group, demographic, area or industry or some other unifying/opposing factor that defines a person or an organisation. For individuals, it will look like I am creating stereotypes, but it is very easy to see this for organisations.

Suppose that a person swears a lot. This person will not think badly of some other person, who swears as much or more than him/herself. But someone who does not swear, might take offense to another person swearing at the top of their voice. Here, we are talking about the group of people who swear a lot, and belonging or not belonging to that group might be a major factor when you try to judge someone who swears. (I personally swear a lot, mostly in Hindi/Punjabi, but am fighting it currently and hopefully will get over it in some time)

For private companies, it is normally about the industry they belong to and the target group, or customers/clients. For example, Novartis (a Swiss company) and Bayer (a German company), both a part of what we call Big Pharma, have a similar stand on most issues, like pricing and patents etc., but Cipla and Ranbaxy are Indian companies that have a similar stand on pricing and patents, but one different to Novartis and Bayer etc. For governments, you will see that the considerations are mostly of the politics and business-approach kind. North Korea is near to China/Russia and South Korea is near to US/Europeans, because of left and right-wing governing ideologies, respectively. (My personal view, as of April, 2013, is that there are only two kinds of governing ideologies: wings and center. You see, both left and right wings try to focus on providing all power to a few people while making others dependent on their whims and fancies, groups called the politburo and the capitalists, respectively. Again, as of April, 2013, as you might have noticed, I am the king of sweeping generalisations)

That is fine, but what does it have to do with the pharmaceutical patents issue?

Something about decisions that I probably should have mentioned earlier, but did not in order to keep the flow of nature, is that these are broadly of two kinds: short and long term decisions. A morally and logically consistent person or organisation will try to keep their short term goals in sync with their long term goals, unless it is an emergency or otherwise unusual situation, like, you know, a few months before elections.

And as with everything, logical/moral consistency between short and long term goals again depends on things like prejudice, gravity of the situation and mood or mental state (and a few other factors I cannot think of). For example, you are likely to get your weird-noise-making vehicle checked next Sunday (short term) so that you can drive it comfortably for many weeks to come((relatively) long term). But sometimes we just keep eating like animals (short term), even when we know we will have a hard time losing the excess weight (long term).

The million-tablet question

Since we had work and fun in the beginning of this post, now it is actual decision time.

What to do? Should I/we even be doing something? When should I/we start? To what limit am/are I/we to proceed? Questions, questions. Where are the decisions answers?

A big question is, should I/we even start? This one is normally simple. You feel hungry. Should I eat? Yes. Your company is making losses. Should we cut losses? Hell yes! Your government is not exactly the most liked one. Should we be doing something about our public image? Duh!

An even bigger, rather biggest, but more ambiguous question is, should I/we do it myself/ourselves, or let someone do it for me/us?

In the software industry, Joel Spolsky takes care of it in a great post: In Defense of Not-Invented-Here Syndrome. Quoting him:

The best advice I can offer:
   If it's a core business function -- do it yourself, no matter what.
Pick your core business competencies and goals, and do those in house. If you're a software company, writing excellent code is how you're going to succeed. Go ahead and outsource the company cafeteria and the CD-ROM duplication. If you're a pharmaceutical company, write software for drug research, but don't write your own accounting package. If you're a web accounting service, write your own accounting package, but don't try to create your own magazine ads. If you have customers, never outsource customer service.

The million tablet answer

Master Oogway's short answer: There are no accidents answers.

Long (and not really an) answer:  Lets consider two kinds of organisations: private ones and governments. What is the difference between the two? 

Both exist to serve people. Both want to stay the longest. Both exist according to the people's pleasure (Not exactly true for governments, but remember, companies need to be thrown off like authoritarian regimes too. What am I trying do with Novartis (albeit unsuccessfully) right now?)

The difference is in terms of their target. No matter what they tell you, companies' primary target is profits mostly, and secondary target is people's happiness (there are non-profits/NGOs etc. too, but let us ignore them for this post). Government's primary target, on the other hand is people's happiness (responsibility towards people), and the secondary target is revenues.

I know both the targets are the same if we forget which is primary and which is secondary. So, here is an example. Going by their prices, Novartis want money. They sell medicines for that. But if an epidemic comes up, will Novartis consider selling their drugs cheaply? I think not. Because some parts of Asia and most parts of Africa are in a perpetual state of epidemic, and Novartis have not done anything for anyone there. But this does not absolve the governments of these nations from their responsibility of helping their people. And therefore the governments will do what they can, hopefully. What it means, in the end is that when they need to change their priorities, different people/organisations are more likely to ignore their secondary targets than primary.

See, two birds with one arrow: explained my point and made fun of Novartis while doing it!

So, what I am saying is that it is upto the governments to decide what they should do and what not, and that by deciding to not create medicines themselves, the governments are in a way outsourcing this by accident. According to Joel's logic and my (admittedly sparse) common sense, I think that it should be upto the governments to research and develop medicines etc. And I am not talking of silly NIPER thingies. Just making institutions does not do the trick, what does it is actually doing it.

A lot of people would like to point out Left wing countries that have public health as one of their core things, and no private health infrastructure etc., and still have bad overall health. The reason is that these countries too take public health as seriously as we Indians take it. Also, when a country like North Korea has problems feeding its people, do you really think they would invest properly in the people's health?

I do not know about the rest of the world, and for a while forget about competing with GPS, GLONASS and Beidou. When a country like India can invest in IRNSS, spending I don't know how much, then I think it should not be a problem for our government to invest in medicine as much as in space programs. I know we have companies like Cipla and Sun and Ranbaxy and many more, but still, due to any reason, what if these companies try to increase their rates? Obviously, these companies did not enter the market for charity.

Is it over yet?

The point I am trying to make here is not just about Novartis. It is about our governments and the way these governments make decisions.

What is the Indian government doing for protecting farmers against Biotech seeds? For our tribals, whose natural resources are being mined and used by foreigners. I am as much a foreigner in a tribal area as an Indian or foreign mining/timber company. What kind of an example is the government setting by not helping Ashok Khemka?

So, in conclusion, it is probably most definitely a good idea to create cheap heart disease hospitals, but not a good idea at all if the the government is using people's money to build a new spa for rich people.

Feeling guilty

I spent the last 4 hours writing this post, and on weekends I go to the Rebol room and tell the great people there that I did not do any rebol over the week. Kind of sucks.

I wrote this post, with almost 75-80% part as the introduction, but am gonna sleep just when I came to the actual thing.

One thing I do not feel guilty about is writing about economics without knowing anything about it. There was an economics class in college, but we took it more like an aerodynamics or aeronautical class, making paper planes and all :-)

And I did not even talk about the proverbial long term, mostly since I don't know what the hell it is. Especially when everybody thinks in terms of 5 years!