February 19, 2018

Losing my Identity

I type this as I fly above the Tyrrhenian sea, between Naples(Italy) & Porto(Portugal). The blueness of the skies and the ocean below are only separated by the thin clouds that are in suspended animation. The horizon is almost non-existent. The perfect uniformity outside the airplane is only broken by the mental reverberations and gyrations that causes it's own mini typhoons. 

Why does karma always work? All fame, riches or relationships that have been gained by the wrong means is always lost. Not once has ever anyone lived to see the personal zenith one would aspire to with such means. As an engineer, and more importantly as a rational person, this is beyond my cognition or reasoning. The non-quantitative aspects of such an unscientific phenomenon are beyond the scientific rigour of any laboratory.

Karma, beyond religions, has always worked; constantly churning it’s own predicaments and influencing life. Karma doesn't see gender, age or economic status but affects one and all. Despite all this humans go down paths or prefer choices that are detrimental to their own well-being or their loved ones.

Can a choice that looks right in the short term, be wrong in the long term? Does that mean that morality is based on the time window that it operates on? 

But what's right and what's wrong? Things look right or wrong only in retrospect. Laws cannot define such a clear boundary. Laws change as societies change. What was illegal a few years back will be legal in no time. So, laws do not give us the best scale for personal laws, nor do they establish the right precedence for morality. What is morality?

Why morality? Why does a society need moral laws? Why should kids be taught morals when they are in school? Does morality also change with the passage of time? A kid who has grown with thieves and cheats will know nothing else but to steal and cheat. In that case, there is no blame on the child but that of the context that the child grew under.  The apocryphal laws only disappoint me.

A man attaches himself to something only when he feels that the object under consideration is going to satisfy him and is going to fulfil his ambitions and dreams. According to him, this will lead him to his goal and will help him realize all his wants and desires; and probably the ability to differentiate between the two. He also perceives his association with an object as a means of furthering his own interests.

The belief that we possess the necessary intellectual wherewithal and the continuous commitment and efforts that he/she puts forth towards achieving the same is one of the fundamental powers that we human beings have.

December 12, 2016

Playing to Lose

Right from Swordfish wherein Gabriel(Johan Travolta) laments the lack of realism in portraying villains in movies to Rochester(Johnny Depp), in the Libertine, commencing the movie with his monologue and bluntly stating that he is  not a likeable character; why do certain characters stand out from the ordinary.

Why is it that all games have to have winners and losers? Why is winning important? Why is surviving/survival critical? Why do the primordial instincts kick in? Why do we float? 

What if you start playing to lose, just so that you get to see the other side win. You just want to watch your opponent win and beam with joy while you bask in your so called 'sacrifice'. Why has it to be a sacrifice? Letting the other win is a joyful thing, but goes against the tenets of the basic game theory. Leaving aside cooperative games, why is winning always celebrated; the limelight is far away from the losers.

What if you play to lose. What if you play to just understand the game and its different outcomes, and winning or losing was just part of it.
That is it. That is my prologue, nothing in rhyme, no protestations of modesty, you were not expecting that I hope. 

May 19, 2016

Love and Fear

Niccolò Machiavelli, in his seminal 'The Prince', CHAPTER XVII : "Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared" writes:
Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.  Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.  And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

[Sidenote: the book did not actually have a title when it was written by Machiavelli]

In Economics, we call this as a Matching Market. Love belongs to the Matching Market whereas Fear is not. In a Matching Market, there is a willingness to sell a service or good by a Seller, and a willingness on the side of the Buyer to buy the service or the good at the said terms. The transaction does not happen otherwise. Organ Trades, and others are examples of such Matching Markets.

Other examples of matching markets include Jobs, Organ Transplants, Room Allocations, Marriages, Loans etc.

In Love, this commonality of needs or wants is necessary. But Fear is a one way street. Fear is inculcated by the Perpetrator onto the victim. It can so happen that Victim need not fear the actions by the Perpetrator, and hence this equation is purely based on the magnitude of the actions by the Perpetrator. Fear is also a perception and is determinant on the Perceiver; what can be otherwise 'normal' actions by a do-er can cause fear in the minds of the Receiver/Victim.

But both Love and Fear, suffer from a serious handicap. Handicap of Impermanence; that is, the feeling of Love and Fear is temporary and can either fade or strengthen with the passage of time. You might Love something today, and something else tomorrow. Fear is similar; what you are afraid of today, need not make you cringe in fear the day after. Impermanence is a beautiful concept and is the underlying theory that causes more trouble in the hearts of Humans. We abhor Impermanence as we do not understand it. We are never taught of Impermanence in our education and hence most of Humanity(especially the Western World) fears Death.

In Bhaja Govindam, this is stated beautifully:
ma kuru dhana, jana , youvana garvam;
harathi nimeshat kalat sarvam
Do not be proud of your wealth, relationships or youth. Time can snatch them away from you in no time.

March 14, 2016

Book Review : When to Rob a Bank: A Rogue Economist's Guide to the World

When to Rob a Bank: A Rogue Economist's Guide to the World By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

(This story was published in BW | BusinessWorld Issue Dated 19-Oct-2015)

Why things are the way they are?

The economist-journalist duo is back and they have packed their multiple punches that they delivered over the last few years of blogposts into this wonderful compendium, quirky titled 'When to Rob a Bank'. The authors have bucketed their blogposts from their hugely famous ‘Freakonomics’ blog into 12 chapters with each chapter maintaining its own distinctive theme.

Have you ever wondered social costs of mediocrity? Did you know that most books can be bucketed into 7-template theories? Or what would be your
modus-operandi if you were a terrorist? Or did you know that there is load of behavioral-science hidden behind designing menus? These and many other mundane observations from the real-world are dissected by the author duo and the evidences are broken down in an unconventional manner and woven into a story thereby stimulating the reader.

The book is another freakingly fantastic read from the author’s stables after their hugely successful earlier titles : “Think like a Freak”, “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics”. Stephen J. Dubner is the journalist while behavioral-economic thinking is brought to the table by Steven D. Levitt. The author-duo truly demonstrates ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and the thought-patterns after reading the book would truly leave an indelible mark on the reader.

The duo's casual, personal and opinionated style of writing is a treat for any ardent reader and more so if you are a behavioral economist. The biggest win of the authors is their brilliant and captivating storytelling which makes the reader think beyond the norm and present to him some facets that the reader would not have otherwise thought about. So, the next time when you do not tip the air-hostess or catch someone lying or cheating, you can reason beyond the norms of morals and ethics and also think about the economics of the act that drives many of the decisions.

An enthusiastic reader of the Freakonomics blog can probably complain that the blogposts are already available for free on the public domain, but the artful curation of the blogposts into themed chapters makes the book a salivating read. But the complaint that many authors are resorting to publishing their blogposts into books is a valid complaint coming from the web-savvy.

February 19, 2016

What's in my Backpack?

I moved from a Quechua Forclaz 70L backpack to a a 38L backpack. I got the new backpack in Nepal, which I I did (totally impromptu trip) in late 2014. It is a fake NorthFace-logo'ed backpack that has backsupport as well; bought it for 1000 Nepalese Rupee(i.e, 1600 Indian Rupee or 24USD). There is a gap between the back-support and my spine which prevents the back of the backpack from getting wet due to perspiration. It also has a rain cover that sits folded at the bottom of the pack. The backpack works wonders anywhere from a 10-day to a 45-day trip.

So, What does the new backpack contain in a typical month long trip?

- 5-7 Quick Dry T-Shirts
- 2 Quick Dry Trousers/Pants(1 of them being detachable)
- 2 Quick Dry Shorts(that also double up as swimming trunks)
- 1 Quick Dry Foldable Cap
- 3-4 Underwears
- 1 Thin Towel(indian-style)
- 1 Sunglass
- Arpenaz 15 Ultralight Backpack - used for day trips and walks.
- Phone Charger
- Universal Adaptor
- Small pouch for medicines(tablets for loose-motion/Diarrhea/vomiting/headache/fever, lozenges for soar-throat, band-aid, gauze)
- Pouch containing - Washing soap, Mosquito Repellant cream, Sun-screen cream, 1 shaving razor, tissues, toothbrush, toopaste.
- Pouch containing - mint, chocolates, chewing gum
- Pouch containing - 1 head-phone, 1 rechargeable mechanical torch, few clips
- 1 carabiner+2 locks+keys
- Passport + Photos + 2 Pens + Few copies of passport and identity-proofs.

The total weight of the above is around 7kgs(or less) - perfect for flight cabins. Around 30% of the backpack remains empty with the above packed well - and this space is used to keep fruits and snacks bought locally. The Arpenaz 15 Ultralight Backpack folds to a fist size ball and works well for walks and day-trips when you want to carry the bare minimum. The backpack has 1 main compartment, 2 smaller ones which holds the smaller items. Other than this there are 2 side pockets and small pockets along the waist band.

The Quick Dry apparels have been the best investment, as it has reduced my load by a significant factor. Also, I can wash clothes every few days and wear them fresh. Haven't travelled or trekked in shoes for a long time now; but I think I will invest in a good pair of shoes that are easy to wear and is all-weather. I have stopped carrying camera(no more DSLR or point and shoot) for more than a year now, but carry my mobile. Am thinking of ditching my mobile also in the future. All clothes are packed in plastic covers so that they can withstand heavy rains. I carry a jacket on a need basis. I do not carry a swiss-army knife(though would love to) as it is not allowed in flights. I buy water-bottle locally and refill it whenever and wherever possible; I might change this in the future and move to a flask. I am also thinking of carrying an inflatable pillow henceforth, so that I can sleep anywhere without straining my neck. I am using a big plastic sheet as a poncho for now, but need to buy something more rugged.

I need to buy papersoap, a headlamp ... And a good automatic sports wrist watch that can withstand atleast 18m depth. I suspect a snorkeling gear will soon join forces later this year(unless i learn free-diving!), depending on where the vacation is. Washing the backpack after every sojourn keeps it grease and dirt free and the zippers remain operational. Understanding the different clips and straps in your backpack helps especially when you least expect it. I had discounted a few straps earlier on, but when I realized their use, I could compress my backpack further and reduce it's thickness. One needs to be in a relationship with their backpack(NOTE!!!); so comfortable with its design that you can operate it even when its utter dark.

So .... now I can avoid airport checkin luggage altogether and do not have to throw in my backpack in some corner of the bus or truck; it always stays with me. Am more mobile and agile with this setup and can move into and out from any place in matter of no time. The bag fits into most lockers at the dormitories as well. And a slew of other benefits!!

I do not think the current backpack will last more than a year or two with frequent travels; the next one would be the same class of backpack with similar capacity and size, albeit of a much better quality. Changing backpacks is not easy, especially when you have a name for your backpack!!! I call mine as 'Karma' (no intended puns!).

So, why this post? Well, I realized how much 'stuff' we always carry with us. 'Stuff' that just occupy space and are worthless. By letting go and carrying the most basic 'things', we not only have a lighter backpack but also gain from the other benefits. I do not buy 'stuff' during travels; if at all, I buy anything, it has been postcards and fridge magnets which sit easily inside the backpack, in the corners.

The important thing while choosing what to pack is to remember and understand your priorities first. What works for you, works for you alone. All the other blog posts(like this one) are just sharing their own details and can reveal a lot about the person's travel style.

If the backpack were set on fire, I will not be in a hurry to get anything out.....err..wait..I will run to get my passport out! But only the passport, and that too if I am in a foreign country.

Everything else is a copy of a copy of a copy.

January 02, 2016

The 50 Books Project

The idea was to make sure that my complete bandwidth in 2015 was put into books, other than the usual time spent on work and other sundries. And Oh Boy! It was indeed a fabulous year. So much learning - both indoors and outdoors - just by observing people and playing the cards suitably. I can safely vouch for the fact that 2015 was indeed one of the best years of my Life wherein I started understanding Life and the various nuances associated with it. I think this year wouldn't have been possible, had it not been for the escapade in end-2014 that took me to Amritsar and Nepal. The days spent in the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the Monastery in Lumbini(Nepal) made me realize what I was doing wrong and more importantly -- what had to done; and prepp'ed me suitably (This needs a blog post in itself, but we will save it for later!).


Target was to read 50 books this year - and restrict it to Non-Fiction so that I learn something in the due course. Started off the year with a few readings on Strategy, but soon Economics pulled me in and before I knew it, I was neck-deep into my field of interest -- namely Behavioural Economics. Read a dozen odd books on this topic and my thirst has only increased since then. A Masters degree in Economics or Philosophy would be really nice, but let's see where the journey takes me to. A few courses on Coursera also added the much needed fire to this otherwise subdued interest.

So, the first question would be, which was my best read in 2015? Michael J. Sandel's book on "Justice" was probably the best for it completely opened my eyes to the idea of Justice and how it is different from Law. The cross-correlation between Justice, Law and Ethics has intrigued me for quite sometime as I see people behave in ways that are not totally rational and how the frameworks in the society are established to safeguard the interest of the collective and establish a certain order and decorum. Reading this treatise on Justice and understanding the behavioral aspects of Economics made me realize how we humans are not entirely rational and certain, if not all, make decisions that are not in the best interest of the society, or in other words - are not value maximizing decisions or transactions, and how the society has to deal with it.

Clayton M. Christensen's books on Innovation were a pleasant surprise to me and helped me theorize certain innovation cycles as I see them unfold in the industry. "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz and "Sources of Power : How People Make Decisions" by Gary Klein were other notable reads. My readings since November, were mainly on the digital medium, as I had many TO_BE_READ articles and wanted to reach a count of zero unread articles in my feed reader. As the year came to an end, I found solace in Bhagvad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. This is a 3 part series, and am already quite intrigued by Volume-1.

So, next question is : Did I finish reading 50 books? Well, technically, I read close to 38 books (click here for the list) , but on top of this, I read close to 15 text books relating to various management disciplines. To add to this, my feed reader(I use Feedly) presents close to 400 articles from my various subscriptions on a daily basis, out of which I end up reading dozen odd long form articles on weekdays and double that on weekends. So, well yeah! A year of good reading indeed.

Go Exploring!

So what's in for 2016? I will prefer to do as per the flow(as has been my style in travelling as well), but I think I am going to keep the track on Bhagwad Gita on and finish the trilogy. I also intend to read some titles by our former President S.Radhakrishnan. And read more of Behavioural Economics. "Irrational Exuberance" still evades me and few other titles related to innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership are in my TODO. I would also like to read Aristotle and Plato this year; while 'Meditations' by Marcus Aurelius has been in my TODO for a few years now. I also have to catchup on the pending reads on Anthropology and Neuro-Psychology. A few reads related to Design and Visualization would keep my appetite going while understanding Law and Justice will keep me closer to many practical realities.

So, let's see where 2016 takes me. Some in my wishlist, though :

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  2. Phishing for Phools - The Economics of Manipulations and Deception by George A Akerlof , Robert J Schiller 
  3. The Hard Thing about Hard Thing: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
  4. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein
  5. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  6. Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists by Raghuram Rajan
  7. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics by Richard H Thaler
  8. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg 
  9. Irrational Exuberance by Robert J. Shiller
  10. Who Gets What - And Why The Hidden World of Matchmaking and Market Design by Alvin E. Roth
  11. Your Strategy Needs a Strategy: How to Choose and Execute the Right Approach by Martin Reeves
  12. Theory of Justice by Rawls 
  13. What Money Can't Buy by Michael J. Sandel
  14. 10 Judgements That Changed India by Zia Mody