Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The TRY Index When Things Aren't Going Your Way

Being the victim of a series of unfortunate events, mostly exasperating, some troubling and some downright regretful, it was only a matter of time before I vented my frustration. My Dad, never short of a wise comment, had this to say:

"When I was in IIT we had recognized such happenings (as also the fact that good things also seem to happen all at once) by inventing a TRY index. The TRY index had a scale of 0 to 10. When everything was falling apart for a person, we would say wryly that his TRY index had hit 0! Regardless of what the person did, things just seemed to keep going wrong. I guess your TRY index is also pretty low at the moment. The thing to recognize is that there are sometimes mysterious, inexplicable forces and happenings in life. The outcome varies from ecstasy to agony. Their essence was sought to be captured by the TRY index."

Two things, then. The first is that the Try Index measures bad times *as well as* good, so it might put bad times in perspective if we keep in mind that there were times when we were on a roll. Second, there are 'mysterious, inexplicable forces' at play. It doesn't matter if one is religious, or atheistic, or agnostic (as I am), but what is important is to remember that a lot of the bad times are due to forces out of our control, so there's scant basis to bash ourselves up about it excessively.

The Music in Our Lives

"Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is enough to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music - not too much, or the soul could not sustain it - from time to time."

- 'An Equal Music', Vikram Seth

What is the music in your life? Has it been taken for granted? Have you listened to it lately?

Monday, September 12, 2005

India: A Note of Caution

"Until every citizen of India has economic and personal freedom, we should focus on building the road ahead, and not on celebrating the footpath behind."

Thus goes an rather relevant post by Amit on India Uncut. I largely agree, and these are my thoughts on what I've been seeing in, and hearing about, India :

Amidst all the hype and euphoria that surrounds India's progress in the post-dot com economy, we tend to overlook some pretty sobering facts. Some of these facts are obvious, as is the huge strain on infrastucture that is apparent in any of India's metros (more so Bangalore, I would venture to guess). Some of these we are not affected by by virtue of us being born lucky, such as the endemic problems that confront the country vis-a-vis basic healthcare, education and women's rights in rural India. All of this is overlooked in the hype that India is the world's next superpower by virtue of being the backoffice of the world at this point of time.

I am not, in any way, opposed to whats happening in India with respect to market reforms. I do believe that the way forward for us (in the long run) is for us to empower the huge Indian middle class by opening up the market to its own devices and allowing Indians to be masters of their own destiny in creating the best future for themselves. I agree that we are not distributing the rewards of such a venture equally amongst all Indians, but at the same time, we are definitely increasing the size of the economic pie. If the poor only has x% of an economic pie, we can atleast hope that their x% remains relatively stable in the context of a larger economic pie, however small x may be. From that point onwards, it is basic mathematics, with x% (or close to x%) of a larger economic pie being better than the (x+1)% that the Left can optimistically hope for with a stagnant pie. X+1 is optimistic indeed, as is evidenced by their tragic failure to redistribute wealth by creating more 'social' (aka anti-free market) policies. The problem has as much to do with the definition of 'social' within the policy as it is with the implementation of the 'social' in a bureaucracy riddled with corruption (but that is ripe material for another debate).

But, that does not mean that we take India's progress for granted, and assume that we have reached the destination when the journey's just begun. India is on its way to becoming a superpower, yes, but we have to realize that even in terms of areas where we are supposedly on par with the rest of the world, there are some disconcerting facts to face. People say that India is the next IT and healthcare innovation powerhouse, but people forget that it is the *next*, and not the current, powerhouse, as is witnessed by the appalling state of cutting-edge research and innovation in India as compared to much smaller countries such as Sweden. We are on the right path, but the path ahead is strewn with obstacles, and we need to put our current position in proper context, lest we are misled into thinking that we're at a position that is still not attainable in the near future. How can we know where we want to go, if we dont accurately judge where we are now?

My better half and I spoke about a concept over the weekend called confirmation bias, in a different context. The essence of confirmation bias is that people look at the evidence in the world world with tinted lenses. Their view of facts is colored by their view of what they want the facts to mean. Thus, if we think that India has already reached a place that we want it to be at, we will only look at that aspect of the evidence (aka, MNC's research centers in India, increased offshoring, strong manufacturing) that supports our biased view of India's position. And that, in my humble opinion, tends to distract from that fact that our progress is still in its nascent stages, and we need a lot more willpower and long periods of stable, progressive governance to ensure that every step forward isnt too steps backward.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Not Robert Louis Stevenson's book. This is my boss's version, which, apart from being funnier, is arguably more grievous too:

Me: Boss, this (customer of ours) sucks!

Boss: Yes,'s &*%#*$& lose-lose. We can't bend over and take their *&^% endlessly. We can try to appease them once, twice, but after a while we are just locked in a downward spiral. We take their rubbish, accomodate their endless requests, and, in addition, we're made to bear the cost for doing so too!

Me: I agree...

Boss: It's like being kidnapped, but with a twist. The person who's been kidnapped also has to pay the ransom while in custody.

Boss: What's more, his support system (family, friends, etc etc) looks on. No, worse, it asks the person being held for a cut of the funds too.

Me (imagining a situation in my mind): Person gets kidnapped, miraculously finds a phone with which to call out for help. Dials 911.

911 Operator: Hello, 911.

Kidnappee: Help, I've been kidnapped!

911 Operator: Oh, kidnapping. Please hold the line.

Automated Voice Response: This is no longer a free service. The following instructions will cost you $5000. Press 1 to pay by VISA, 2 by MASTERCARD, 3 for additional options. Thank you for your business.

Kidnappee (aghast), presses 1 and gives his credit card details

Automated Voice Response: Thank you for your contribution. Please do not agitate your captors by not being a slave to their every whim and fancy, as it does not bode well with future kidnappers. If your kidnappers demand a ransom, please proceed to pay the same by cash yourself. If unable to do so, please press 1 to make a payment to your kidnappers via us using your credit card with a 10% service charge. For additional options, press 2. To speak to an operator, press 0.

Kidnappee (cant believe his ears, and wants a refund), presses 0.

911 Operator: Hello, 911...

Business as usual. Customer is king, they say. I better go be a customer for a while now. Retailers, beware!

Video Killed the Radio Star?

One of the unusual things about radio in Australia (in Melbourne, at least) is the aggressiveness with which radio advertises the benefits of, well, advertising on radio. Driving the 10-odd km stretch from Williamstown to Port Melbourne (and not having an inclination to listen to endless coverage of footie), I preferred the endless commercials on other radio channels, which gave me ample opporunity to get to hear the benefits of radio advertisements touted by Harvey Norman's Aussie boss.

It was refreshing to hear radio taking the battle to the telly, so maybe we can find hope for radio in a world where the Buggles sang:

"They took the credit for your second symphony.
Rewritten by machine and new technology,
and now I understand the problems you can see...

I met your children

What did you tell them?
Video killed the radio star.

Pictures came and broke your heart..."

- 'Video Killed the Radio Star', The Buggles

P.S. Thinking about this, I just realized how nascent FM radio advertising in India really is. Of course, this has not stopped the number of advertisements that appear during peak hours from blossoming (rather, exploding). But don't you think it interesting that most of us were exposed to cable TV's ads before FM radio, if chiefly for the reason that FM radio made its debut in India a few years *after* cable TV? Travelling abroad, I see how much FM stations are a part and parcel of everyday life. But in India, where 22 FM channels square off against 5000+ print publications and 180 TV channels, is it a small wonder then that FM radio is considered a novelty?

Maybe we should be singing, "Radio killed the video star" instead?

Friday, July 08, 2005

History Was Made When We Weren’t Looking

This question is directed at all tennis aficionados. Who is the greatest doubles tennis player of all time, who also announced his retirement from the professional game after a mixed doubles final during this Wimbledon?

I’ll give you some statistics about the player:
Professional since: 1988
Number of Career Doubles Titles: 83
Number of Grand Slam Doubles Titles: 22
Number of Wimbledon Doubles Titles: 9

Who is this guy? And why are we, as tennis watchers (myself included), besotted with Agassi, Sampras, Federer, Kuerten (as we rightly should be), not filled with the sense of awe at what Todd Woodbridge has done in a truly outstanding career?

Part of it has to do with the fact that doubles are nowhere close to as high profile as the singles game. But I do not accept that in the case of people who are close to Indian tennis. We’ve followed, supported and cheered Paes and Bhupathi to the top, and the top then consisted of Woodbridge and Woodforde, so I can’t see how we failed to notice. And yet we did. I mean, we all know that Woodforde and Woodbridge were an awesome doubles pair, but did we know just how awesome? Looking at that record up there, I suspect not.

Woodbridge deserves to be considered as an all-time great. As great as the men I mentioned above. In fact, going by pure record, greater that all of those men mentioned above except Agassi, because of his fantastic tournament record (he’s won all four grand slams, just like Agassi) and his sheer longevity (he’s lasted as long as Agassi). And, to add some spice, Woodbridge has also been in twice-victorious Australian Davis Cup Teams and a gold medalist at the Atlanta Olympics as well.

And when I look at the news, he gets less mention than Roger Federer, who played the perfect game to win Wimbledon again. Media persons are obsessed with the moment, and the moment has been harsh to Todd Woodbridge. He deserves more recognition than he’s got, more plaudits and, most of all, remembrance as the greatest men’s doubles player of all time.

Here’s to a great, in the hope that he does not get forgotten in all the record-breaking activity that Federer promises to be involved in over the coming years!

Given to Fly

Picture Perfect? Roger that.

The most perfect tennis game from a singles player that I've ever seen. Roddick captured the essence of what he was up again by saying something akin to 'I attacked the net and he passed me on the forehand. Then he passed me on the backhand. And then I was getting passed at the baseline.' He went on to add that Roger Federer is the measuring stick for today's men's players, which puts what Safin and Nadal did in perspective.

"And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky
A human being that was given to fly
High.. flying
Oh, oh
High.. flying
Oh, oh
He’s flyingOh, oh"

- 'Given to Fly', Pearl Jam

Monday, June 20, 2005

It takes a Wedding... have a reunion. Should one then be happy, for one has gotten a chance to be an attendee at such an event and meet past acquantainces whom it would otherwise be impossible to draw to one place all at once, or should one be sad, for such is the day that it takes a marital affair for people to make a commitment to meet those they grew up with?

Being largely affected by the optimism bug, I'd rather look forward to the numerous weddings in store over the next few years, with abundant opportunities to meet long-lost (and I really mean it!) friends, rather than mull over the fall of the pure reunion in the social calendar.

Knock Knock.
Who's there?
Hey, how about upping the pace, as I haven't met some friends in a while?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Comedy Central

'Tis been a good year for the funny bone (apart from a horrible first job, where, I did, in the end, have the last laugh, so that counts as tickling my bone as well). My well-read aunt introduced me to Tom Sharpe's writings last year, and I was hooked on his stuff.

After Sharpe, it seems, there's been no turning back. In rapid succession, friends, acquaintances and miscellaneous readings have led me into the hilarious worlds of Nick Hornby, Carl Hiaasen and David Lodge. I highly recommend each of these writers. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Games in the Theories of Life

What interests me more in my chosen field (for the moment) is not so much the intricacies of the algorithms and constructs that go into making good software, as observing (and trying to influence) the effects of organization-wide software on the people who actually use it. This is hardly a new interest, as I can testify after having spent a significant chunk of my last year as an undergraduate in dissecting the nuances of Structuration Theory, and the applicability of such a theory in social situations involving interactions with information technology (specifically, enterprise systems, my pet subject).

Structuration Theory (and the occasional excursions into other social theories like Actor Network Theory) went a long way in (temporarily) sating my appetite for the social consequences of situated action. Thesis done, I took a leave of absence from theory and, by way of my current job, had the immense pleasure (and an equal amount of frustration) in the rather pragmatic concerns of real-life situated action.

But these are qualitative theories, and I've always felt that there was a chunk of understanding missing somewhere. Like a piece of a jigzaw puzzle that needed completing. (Roshan and I have repeatedly talked about (and slammed) people who deal purely in quantitative worlds, relying on fancy spreadsheets, time series, data mining and forecasting models to inform their decision making). Going by the same logic, there must be something equally wrong if I ignored quantitative contributions to the theory of human interaction situtations altogether. With that nagging thought, I decided to take the leap into the world of elementary Game Theory.

And, it seems, there are few better ways to foray into Game Theory than through a gem of a book entitled 'The Compleat Strategyst' by one J.D. Williams. Apart from a very lucid (and eminently understandable) treatment of the theory of games, Mr Williams makes no bones about the limitations of Game Theory as he understood it (at the time of writing), at the same time arguing for more research in and acceptance of the field, as the excerpt below shows (which I've taken the liberty of copying from an aptly named section titled 'Sectarian Remarks on Method'):

"It is sometimes felt that when phenomena include men, it is tremendously more difficult to theorize successfully; and our relative backwardness in these matters seems to confirm this. .. These (amateurs who lead the impetus towards simple theory) are often viewed by professional students of man as precocious children who, not appreciating the true complexity of man and his works, wander in wide-eyed innocence, expecting that their toy weapons will slay live dragons as well as they did inanimate ones..."

"The motive force that propels the game theorist isn't necessarily his ignorance of the true complexity of man-involved conflict situations; for he would almost surely try to theorize if he were not so ignorant. We believe, rather, that his confidence - better, his temerity - stems from the knowledge that he and his methods were completely outclassed by the problems of the inanimate world...since he has had some success in that field, he suspects that sheer quantity and complexity cannot completely vitiate his theories..."

"He (the game theorist) is also aware that his successes occur spottily so that his knowledge is much less complete that the uninitiated suspect - the uninitiated including of course those who believe that the animate field must be vastly harder than the inanimate because the latter has done so well(!) For example, modern physicists have only the foggiest notions about some atomic constituents - though they designed successful A-bombs. Their favourite particle, the electron, is shrouded in ignorance...they have decided that this information is in a strict sense forever unknowable. The mathematicians are likewise a puny breed. Item: after centuries of effort, they still don't know the minimum number of colours needed to paint a map (so that adjacent countries will not have the same color); it's fair to add that they suspect that number is four, but they haven't proved it."

He goes on to ask, "So what are the reasonable expectations for us to hold regarding Game Theory? It is certainly much too simple a theory to blanket all aspects of interest in any military, economic, or social situation. On the other hand, it is sufficiently general to justify the expectation that it will illumine certain aspects of many interesting conflict situations."

So there it is, then. Game Theory as a theory to illumine, to inform. That seems about right. This world needs more integrative thinking. And there has been some progress in this direction. Psychosociologists, biochemists, biotechnologists, international political economists and technopreneurs form but a small chunk of individuals who've looked beyond the boundaries of one field to illuminate their understanding of a facet of life.

Geopolitical-socio-cognitive-engineering, anyone?

Caveat: Integrative thinking should, of course, have its limits, and not result in the kind of rubbish described so aptly in this article entitled Postmodernism Disrobed.