Topography of Bangalore

My day on Twitter didn’t start out too well today. I wrote this:

As I’ve stayed on for longer, with more data, things have improved today. I’ve learnt a few things, had a few conversations, and watched some fights. But so far, my day has been made by this article about Bangalore’s topography and development.

I’m halfway through reading it, so can’t say yet if I can agree with its conclusions. But what I really really like about the article is the maps. The main map they have is a topographical map of Bangalore (unfortunately, focusses on the cantonment area, so my areas are left out), and then zooming in to bits to explore development.

Topography of Bangalore, from the India Forum article

So many insights already from this:

  1. There is a clear correlation between areas that are perceived to be “posh” and elevation. The better planned areas of Bangalore are built on higher ground than the worse planned.
  2. “High grounds” lives up to its name
  3. While the article (so far) is mainly about construction of the cantonment, the preference for high areas post independence is also evident. From the bottom of the map seen above, you can broadly identify the northern boundary of the area that is now Jayanagar and Basavanagudi. Similarly, the Vidhana Soudha is built at pretty much the highest part of Bangalore (before the Metro came up, you could see the Vidhana Soudha by standing on top of the Trinity Church spire)

Later on in the article there is a more zoomed-out map of Bangalore. And that confirms that Jayanagar is indeed on lofty land.

Jayanagar is right at the bottom of this image. It’s interesting that parts of Banashankari (a rather hilly area) are actually low-lying

Progressing in the article, and it goes off into the (not unexpected) caste and class conflict territory. In any case, I’ve got my value from it. These maps are absolutely fascinating! I hope you like them as well

Friends

This is a story written by my daughter, who is now 4 5/6 years old. She typed this up on this computer, so I’m just copy pasting things here. 

I find something weirdly magical about this story. No, it doesn’t only have to do with the fact that it was written by my daughter. The format of the story makes it seem like there’s some weird literary quality about it. So it makes sense to share this with the wider world.

Read and enjoy. 

 

ones simon says hi

ylou says hi

vrala mogyvoshy  says hi

vlala sintti says hi

vgurule hn says  hi

ltha says hi

mugda says hi

kartik says hi

pinky says hi

adya says hi

jeje says hi

grulmnikan says hi

fivesix says hi

tykrs says hi

cheche says hi

cunti says hi

rats says hi

ujis says hi

xeon says hi

oganesson says hi

de end

You might be wondering who the character in the second last line is. You can find it on the periodic table 🙂 (and “xeon” is a typo. She says she meant to write “xenon”)

Goldilocks and Barbells

Most children learn the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks finds the bears’ home, and tries out random things there. Pretty much for everything she tries, there will be three versions (each belonging to one of the bears), with one being <too extreme>, the second being <too extreme at the other end> and the third being “just right”.

The basic message can be summarised as “extremes bad, means good”. In fact, even if you didn’t learn the story as a child (I didn’t), the message of “doing everything in moderation” gets impressed upon you from various quarters. “Don’t eat too much, don’t eat too little, eat in moderation” is possibly the most prominent example of this.

And in some way we have all internalised this messaged. That both too much and too little of everything is bad, and it’s the middle path that is the right one.

And then on the other side, a concept that has always existed but formally articulated fairly recently, is the “barbell“. First articulated by Nassim Nicholas Taleb as an investment strategy, it talks about investing in a combination of extremes and eschewing the means. In Taleb’s original case, it was about an investment strategy that is a mix of low-risk bonds and high-risk (long) out-of-the-money options, that together give a low-risk winning portfolio in the long run. This ran contrary to “modern portfolio theory” that tries to get a mix of assets that maximise expected returns and minimise standard deviation (note I’m saying standard deviation and not “risk” – they’re not the same).

And this strategy applies pretty much everywhere in life. There are a lot of things where the only way you can benefit is by “being all in”. Doing things in moderation can actually be hurtful, and combinations that have a “little bit of everything” can be suboptimal to a simple superposition of extremes.

My breakfast is a barbell, for example. I either skip it completely (nearly zero calories from black coffee only), or have a big breakfast with at least two eggs. A light breakfast completely messes up my day.

My exercise is a barbell (no pun intended). I either lift heavy weights (attached to a barbell) or do nothing. Exercises with light weights make me feel miserable.

In my nearly eight month long return to corporate life, I haven’t taken many days off. My philosophy there is that if I take off, I should be able to completely take off (no “one email here”), and have done so only when it’s easy to do so.

You can think of corporate strategy and a company’s focus being a barbell.

The list goes on. The point is – life is full of barbells, or we can make the most of life by using barbell strategies. Do either this extreme or that extreme, but don’t get confused and do something in the middle.

The problem, however, is that we get brought up on goldilocks, not barbells. And think that the middle path is superior to the extremes. It isn’t always so.

Losing My Religion

In terms of religion, I had a bit of a strange upbringing. My father was a rationalist, bordering on atheist. My mother was insanely religious, even following a godman. And no – I never once saw them fight about this.

Both of them tried to impress me with their own religions. My mother tried to inculcate in me the habit of praying every morning, and looking for strange patterns (“if this flower on this photo falls, then it will be a good day” types). My father would refute most of these things saying “how can you be a student of science and still believe this stuff?”. I suppose I consumed a lot of coffy bite when I was a kid.

In any case, with a combination of influences, both internal and external, in my early youth I was this strange concoction of “not religious but superstitious”. I had both a “lucky shirt” and a “lucky pen”. Back in class 12, I had convinced myself that “Wednesdays are a particularly bad day for me”.

I really don’t know if this has anything to do with my upbringing, but I would see patterns everywhere. I would draw correlations between random unconnected things, and assume causality. I staunchly refused to admit that I was religious, but allowed for strange patterns and correlations nevertheless.

When I had five minor car accidents during the course of 2007 (it wasn’t a great year for me, and I was quite messed up), I believed (or maybe was made to believe) that it was “my car’s way of protecting me” (I wasn’t hurt in any of those, though the car took a lot of beatings and scratchings). I had come to believe that a particular job didn’t go well because on the first day of work, I had splashed water on a kid on my way back by driving fast through a puddle.

The general discourse nowadays is that religion improves people’s mental health. That it helps people see meaning and purpose in their lives, and live through tragedies and other kinds of unhappiness. A common discourse on the right, on social media, is that it is the lack of religion that has led to the mental health epidemic that we have been going through for a while.

The way I see it, based on my own experience, this is completely backward. The basic thing about religion, at least based on my mixed upbringing, is “random correlations”. A lot of religion can be explained as “you do this, God will be happy with you and give you that”. Or that something was just “meant to be”, maybe based on actions in one’s past lives.

Religion is about “being a good person” and “karma”, and that all your mistakes will necessarily get punished, if not in this life in the next. The long period over which karma operates significantly increases the scope of random correlations that you can draw from life.

First of all I’m good at pattern recognition (something that has immensely helped me in my academics and careers). The downside of being good at pattern recognition is that there can be LOTS of false positives in patterns that you recognise. And when you recognise patterns that don’t really exist, you learn the wrong things, and after that live life the wrong way. And I think that was happening to me for a very very long time.

And so came the lucky shirts, the lucky pens, the precise order in which I would check websites at work every morning and many other things that were actually damaging to life, especially mental health. The pattern recognition was making me miserable, and the religion and superstition that I had come to believe in gave credence to these patterns, and (with the benefit of hindsight) made me more miserable.

In 2012, after having burnt out for the third time in six years, I began to see a psychiatrist and take antidepressants. It was the same time when I had started my “portfolio life”, and one of the items in that portfolio was volunteering with the Takshashila Institution, where I was asked to teach a class on logical fallacies.

That’s possibly a funny trigger, but hours of lecturing about “correlation not implying causation” meant that I started finally seeing the random correlations that I had formed in my own head. And one by one, I started dismantling them. There were no lucky days any more. There wasn’t that much karma any more. I started feeling less worried about things I wanted to say. I started realising that being “good” is good for its own merits, and not because some karma recommends that you should be good.

And I started feeling happier. Over the course of time, it seemed like a big load had been taken off my head. And so, whenever I see discourse on social media (and in books) that religion makes people happier, I fail to understand it.

In January 2014, I met an old friend for dinner. While walking back to the parking lot, he casually asked me what my views on religion were. I thought for a minute and said, “well, I firmly believe that correlation does not imply causation. And this means I can’t be religious”. That’s when I became convinced that I had lost my religion, and had become happier for it. And I continue to be happy because I’m not religious.

The Misfit Job Market

Exactly 15 years ago, I was looking for a job. I had graduated from IIMB four months earlier, taken my first ever full time job 3 months earlier, and was already serving notice. Very quickly on, I had figured that I was not a good fit for the job that I had taken up, and so decided to cut my losses and move on.

The only problem was job hunting was hard. Back then, most people I spoke to seemed suspicious of me because I was getting out of my first job so early. For the longest time (years later), people spoke to me as if there was something wrong with me because I had quit my first job within three months. Finally I ended up taking a 20% pay cut to take another job where I seemed a better fit.

Thinking back, I don’t think I’m alone. The sheer randomness of the campus placement process means that a lot of people end up in jobs that they are ill suited for, purely based on a bit of bad judgment here and a lucky interview there. And most smart people figure out quickly enough that in case they are in jobs they are not a good fit for, it’s better to cut losses and move on. If it is their first ever jobs (applies for undergrad jobs, and for MBAs without prior work experience), the desperation to get out of their misfit jobs will be high.

I think this is a highly underserved market. Companies fall head over heels over themselves to access premium slots in the random process called campus placements, without realising that a significant part of the same pool will (theoretically) be available for a proper interview just a few months hence.

5-6 years back, an old friend of mine had started a company which was essentially a clearinghouse targeted at this precise market – to enable companies hire people in their first years of employment. Unfortunately the company didn’t take off, suggesting that the market design problem is not easy to solve.

Anyway, in case you are a just-graduated student who believes you are a misfit in your first job, and instead want to do analytics, get in touch with me. Having been on the other side, I’m more than happy to fish in this pool, and I know that I’ll get some temporarily undervalued talent here.

Just that I don’t know what sort of market or clearinghouse I need to go to to tap this supply, and so I’m putting out a bid here in the form of this blogpost.

PS: In case you’re a recent reader of my blog, I’ve written a book on market design.

Wokes and Jokes

Q: How do you know a woke is losing an argument?
A: They start talking about privilege.

No, this is not a post that seeks to make jokes about wokes. Instead, here, I seek to explore what kind of jokes wokes like, assuming there are jokes they like, that is.

A long time back, I had written here that the problem with the woke movement is that it denies people their jokes. Because jokes are inherently at the expense of someone (a person or group of people or thing), and because extreme political correctness means that making fun of a person or group of people is not polite, political correctness means a lot of jokes go out of the window.

Think of all the jokes that you enjoyed when you are in high school – it is likely that you won’t be able to put most of those jokes on social media nowadays – since it’s not kosher to make fun of the people / groups of people they make fun of.

And so, one day recently, I started thinking if wokes laugh at all – if making fun of people or groups of people is not done, how do they get their laughs? And then I realised that if you look at standup comedians, there are a bunch of them who can be broadly described as “woke” (as per today’s standards – I have NO CLUE how well this will hold up). So what gives? How can wokes have their jokes when most of our old jokes are not valid any more?

The interesting thing about the woke movement is that they largely depend on group identities. One <insert oppressed community (on whatever axis)> person gets beaten, it is seen as an act of violence against the community. Everything is spoken in group terms. The individual’s individuality doesn’t matter. Everything is analysed in group terms.

Except for the jokes.

Wokes get their jokes because they target particular people. And identification of such people is rather easy. Start with choosing a politician (or politicians) who are definitely anti-woke (Modi, Trump, Johnson, Jair, Orban – at the time of writing). And then build a social network around them, on people who hang out with them, agree with them, retweet them, get retweeted by them, and so on. All of them are worth making fun of.

If you make a joke about Modi, you are NOT making a joke about Gujaratis. If you make a joke about Trump, you are NOT making a joke about builders, or blondes. And these jokes are kosher because the target of the jokes are reviled, or are strongly associated with the reviled.

And a person’s status on whether they can be made fun of or not depends on their associations. You cross the proverbial political floor, you can suddenly gain indemnity or get exposed to being made fun of, spending upon the direction in which you’ve crossed the floor.

I’ve never really been a fan of standup comedy (I think it has a rather low “bit rate”). But this possibly explains why I find it even less tolerable nowadays – most of the jokes are political, and it gets boring after a while.

Then again, as the wokes say, everything is political.

Ranga and Big Data

There are some meeting stories that are worth retelling and retelling. Sometimes you think it should be included in some movie (or at least a TV show). And you never tire of telling the stories.

The way I met Ranga can qualify as one such story. At the outset, there was nothing special about it – both of us had joined IIT Madras at the same time, to do a B.Tech. in Computer Science. But the first conversation itself was epic, and something worth telling again and again.

During our orientation, one of the planned events was “a visit to the facilities”, where a professor would take us around to see the library, the workshops, a few prominent labs and other things.

I remember that the gathering point for Computer Science students was right behind the Central Lecture Theatre. This was the second day of orientation and I’d already met a few classmates by then. And that’s where I found Ranga.

The conversation went somewhat like this:

“Hi I’m Karthik. I’m from Bangalore”.
“Hi I’m Ranga. I’m from Madras. What are your hobbies?”
“I play the violin, I play chess…. ”
“Oh, you play chess? Me too. Why don’t we play a blindfold game right now?”
“Er. What? What do you want to do? Now?”
“Yeah. Let’s start. e4”.
(I finally managed to gather my senses) “c5”

And so we played for the next two hours. I clearly remember playing a Sicilian Dragon. It was a hard fought game until we ended up in an endgame with opposite coloured bishops. Coincidentally, by that time the tour of the facilities had ended. And we called it a draw.

We kept playing through our B.Techs., mostly blindfold in the backbenches of classrooms. Most of the time I would get soundly thrashed. One time I remember going from our class, with the half-played game in our heads, setting it up on a board in Ranga’s room, and continued to play.

In any case, chess apart, we’ve also had a lot of nice conversations over the last 21 years. Ranga runs a big data and AI company called TheDataTeam, so I thought it would be good to record one of our conversations and share it with the world.

And so I present to you the second episode of my new “Data Chatter” podcast. Ranga and I talk about all things “big data”, data architectures, warehousing, data engineering and all that.

As usual, the podcast is available on all podcasting platforms (though, curiously, each episode takes much longer to appear on Google Podcasts after it has released. So this second episode is already there on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, CastBox, etc. but not on Google yet).

Give it a listen. Share it with whoever you think might like it. Subscribe to my podcast. And let me know what you think of it.

Podcast: All Reals

I had spoken here a few times about starting a new “data podcast, right? The first episode is out today, and in this I speak to S Anand, cofounder and CEO of Gramener, about the interface of business with data science.

It’s a long freewheeling conversation, where we talk about data science in general, about Excel, about data visualisations, pie charts, Tufte and all that.

Do listen – it should be available on all podcast platforms, and let me know what you think. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. New episodes will be out every Tuesday morning.

And if you think you want to be on the podcast, or know someone who wants to be a guest on the podcast, you can reach out. datachatterpodcast AT gmail.

More on status and wealth

Playing zero-sum status games is down to our animal instinct. We have evolved to play those. But the way we can be more human is to seek wealth.

Last week, an old friend from high school sent me this podcast, based on all that I’ve been writing here of late on status-seeking, wealth-seeking, and zero and positive sum games.

I haven’t listened to the full conversation, but only a small snippet (the bit that my friend asked me to listen to, from minutes 20 to 30).

Then, on Sunday night, I started re-reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life. I’m in the middle of the first chapter now (one of my favourites from the first reading, and which I’ve read multiple times). This is the one about depression and serotonin. And that triggered further thoughts on status and wealth and all that.

So some pertinent observations based on these:

  • Mating is a status game. Across species, creatures desire to mate with the highest status members of the opposite sex. And you maximise your chances of that by increasing your own status.

    A high status individual (of whatever species) will have greater access to mates, and greater access to high-quality mates, and thus greater chance of propagating their genes.

    Thus, we have evolved to seek status, not wealth

  • You may argue that in human society, wealth is also an avenue for getting superior mates. However, the problem with this is that we are simply using wealth to buy status in this case. The fundamental reason your mate wants to mate with you is your status, which, in this case, you have got on account of your wealth.
  • Status seeking is zero sum, as Naval Ravikant says in that viral podcast. As the above linked podcast (which is about Rene Girard and mimetic desire) says, when we seek status, we seek to imitate people with higher status than us.

    There are two problems with this kind of approach. Firstly, by doing things that higher status people have done, we don’t necessarily get that kind of status. Especially when the things we do are things that involve power-law payoffs.

    Secondly, if everyone imitates the same kind of high status individuals, everyone ends up seeking the same thing. If you and I are seeking the same thing, we don’t trade with each other. And thus we don’t make each other better off.

    If we are seeking wealth (an unnatural thing, as explained above), rather than status, we go about it in our own ways, and that makes it easy for us to trade and all get ahead towards our respective goals.

  • The podcast talks about how people with conditions such as Asperger’s (or anything on the spectrum, or anything that reduces empathy) have inferior empathy, and that means they see less need to conform, or to imitate. And this can lead to them achieving superior outcomes since they do things their own way (I add that this can also lead to them achieving inferior outcomes – basically “vol goes up”).

    Sounds good to me 😛

  • When we imitate others too much, they become rivals to us. Whether you consciously think of them that way or not. And this can lead to misery to all parties (unless you are high-status, or wealthy, enough to not care)
  • At the beginning of Pink Floyd’s Keep Talking (Division Bell), Stephen Hawking comes on and says “for millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learnt to talk”.

    And when we learnt to talk, one of the powers of our imagination that got unleashed was the ability to trade. We figured out that by trading, we can build wealth. And by building wealth, we have an easy means of cooperation. And the ability to play positive sum games. And not having to futilely play status games all the time.

In some sense, trade, commerce and wealth are the fundamentals of what makes us human. It just happens that we’ve evolved to seek status instead, and so we keep pulling each other down.

 

Covid-19 recoveries in Bangalore

Something seems off in terms of the Covid-19 statistics for Bangalore. The number of “active cases” just don’t seem to be going down in line with the drop in the number of new cases. It seems like we’re not counting “recoveries” like we used to.

Active covid-19 cases in Bangalore in the second wave

In terms of active cases, covid-19 cases in Bangalore peaked in the middle of May. And then active cases started dropping rapidly. It seemed (when I ran this analysis towards the end of June) that active cases would drop well below 50,000 in the middle of June. However, as the graph shows, that hasn’t happened. The reduction in active cases has come down to a trickle.

Now it might well be that the way down is more gradual than the way up, but the thing is that the drop in active cases doesn’t square at all with the number of daily cases.

One metric we can look at is – how many days back do we have to go (in terms of newly infected cases) to get the current number of active cases? This is not correct – it assumes that infection is “first in first out” – but a good enough assumption for our analysis.

I’m writing this on 20th of June. As of today, there are 71000 odd active cases in Bangalore. And we have to go back 26 days to total up 71000 NEW INFECTIONS (assuming none of these people have died). This means that the average recovery period is far more than 26 days.

It wasn’t like this. I graphed this (I’m apologising for using a weird metric here. I thought of dividing active cases by new cases but thought that’s less accurate than this).

At the beginning of June, the number of active cases was equal to the number of new cases in the preceding 18 days. And notice that through June that number has gone up steadily. For whatever reason, the number of days after which a patient is considered “recovered” has been going up. It seems like we’re not counting the recoveries like we used to earlier.

I don’t know why we are doing this.

For the record, if the number of active cases has continued to be in the range of the number of new cases in the preceding 18 days, then we would have about 35,000 active cases in Bangalore right now. That is half the official number of active cases right now.

Again – I’m indulging in curve-fitting of some kind. Just that the data doesn’t tally.

PS: All data in this post from the brilliant covid19india.org .