Monetising volatility

I’m catching up on old newsletters now – a combination of job and taking my email off what is now my daughter’s iPad means I have a considerable backlog – and I found this gem in Matt Levine’s newsletter from two weeks back  ($; Bloomberg).

“it comes from monetizing volatility, that great yet under-appreciated resource.”

He is talking about equity derivatives, and says that this is “not such a good explanation”. While it may not be such a good explanation when it comes to equity derivatives itself, I think it has tremendous potential outside of finance.

I’m reminded of the first time I was working in the logistics industry (back in 2007). I had what I had thought was a stellar idea, which was basically based on monetising volatility, but given that I was in a company full of logistics and technology and operations research people, and no other derivatives people, I had a hard time convincing anyone of that idea.

My way of “monetising volatility” was rather simple – charge people cancellation fees. In the part of the logistics industry I was working in back then, this was (surprisingly, to me) a particularly novel idea. So how does cancellation fees equate to monetising volatility?

Again it’s due to “unbundling”. Let’s say you purchase a train ticket using advance reservation. You are basically buying two things – the OPTION to travel on that particular day using that particular train, sitting on that particular seat, and the cost of the travel itself.

The genius of the airline industry following the deregulation in the US in the 1980s was that these two costs could be separated. The genius was that charging separately for the travel itself and the option to travel, you can offer the travel itself at a much lower price. Think of the cancellation charge as as the “option premium” for exercising the option to travel.

And you can come up with options with different strike prices, and depending upon the strike price, the value of the option itself changes. Since it is the option to travel, it is like a call option, and so higher the strike price (the price you pay for the travel itself), the lower the price of the option.

This way, you can come up with a repertoire of strike-option combinations – the more you’re willing to pay for cancellation (option premium), the lower the price of the travel itself will be. This is why, for example, the cheapest airline tickets are those that come with close to zero refund on cancellation (though I’ve argued that bringing refunds all the way to zero is not a good idea).

Since there is uncertainty in whether you can travel at all (there are zillions of reasons why you might want to “cancel tickets”), this is basically about monetising this uncertainty or (in finance terms) “monetising volatility”. Rather than the old (regulated) world where cancellation fees were low and travel charges were high (option itself was not monetised), monetising the options (which is basically a price on volatility) meant that airlines could make more money, AND customers could travel cheaper.

It’s like money was being created out of thin air. And that was because we monetised volatility.

I had the same idea for another part of the business, but unfortunately we couldn’t monetise that. My idea was simple – if you charge cancellation fees, our demand will become more predictable (since people won’t chumma book), and this means we will be able to offer a discount. And offering a discount would mean more people would buy this more predictable demand, and in the immortal jargon of Silicon Valley, “a flywheel would be set in motion”.

The idea didn’t fly. Maybe I was too junior. Maybe people were suspicious of my brief background in banking. Maybe most people around me had “too much domain knowledge”. So the idea of charging for cancellation in an industry that traditionally didn’t charge for cancellation didn’t fly at all.

Anyway all of that is history.

Now that I’m back in the industry, it remains to be seen if I can come up with such “brilliant” ideas again.

The Office!

For the first time in nearly ten years, I went to an office where I’m employed to work. I’m not going to start going regularly, yet. This was a one off since I had to meet some people who were visiting. On the evidence of today, though, I think i once again sort of enjoy going to an office, and might actually look forward to when I start going regularly again.

Metro

I had initially thought I’d drive to the office, but white topping work on CMH Road means I didn’t fancy driving. Also, the office being literally a stone’s throw away from the Indiranagar Metro Station meant that taking the Metro was an easy enough decision.

The walk to South End Metro station was uneventful, though I must mention that the footpath close to the metro station works after a very long time! However, they’ve changed the gate that’s kept open to enter the station which means that the escalator wasn’t available.

The first order of business upon entering the station was to show my palm to one reader which took my temperature and let me go past. As someone had instructed me on twitter, I put my phone, wallet and watch in my bag as I got it scanned.

Despite not having taken the metro for at least 11 months, the balance on my card remained, and as I swiped it while entering, I heard announcements of a train to Peenya about to enter the station. I bounded up the stairs, only to see that the train was a little distance away.

In 2019, when I had just moved back to Bangalore from London, I had declared that the air conditioning in the Bangalore Metro is the best ever in the city. Unfortunately post-covid protocols mean that the train is kept at a much warmer temperature than usual. So on the way to the office, I kept sweating like a pig.

The train wasn’t too crowded, though. On the green line (till Majestic), everyone was comfortably seated  (despite every alternate seat having been blocked off). I panicked once, though, when a guy seated two seats away from me sneezed. I felt less worried when I saw he was wearing a mask.

The purple line from Majestic was another story. It felt somewhat silly that every alternate seat remained blcoked off when plenty of people were crowding around standing. I must mention, though, that the crowd was nothing like what it normally is. In any case, most of the train emptied out at Vidhana Soudha, and it was a peaceful ride from there on.

40 minute from door to door. Once office starts regularly, I plan to take the metro every day.

The Office

While the office was thinly populated, it felt good being back there. I was meeting several of my colleagues for the first time ever, and it was good to see them in person. We sat together for lunch (ordered from Thai House), and spoke about random things while eating. There was an office boy who, from time to time, ensured that my water glass and bottle were always filled up.

In the evening, one colleague and I went for coffee to the darshini next door. That the coffee was provided in paper cups meant we could safely socially distance from the little crowd at that restaurant. The coffee at this place is actually good – which again bodes well for my office.

And then some usual office-y things happened. I was in a meeting room doing a call with my team when someone else knocked asking if he could use the room. I got into a constant cycle of “watering and dewatering”, something I always do when I’m in an office. The combination of the thin attendance and the office boy, though, meant that there was no need to crowd around the water cooler.

I guess this is what 2020 has done to us. Normally, going to office to work should be the “most normal and boring thing ever”. However, 2020 means that it is now an event worth blogging about. Then again, I don’t need much persuasion to write about anything, do I?

The Law is an Ape

I’ve always known that I have long arms relative to the size of the rest of my body. I think I discovered this sometime in the late 90s, around the time I both stopped growing vertically and started wearing full arm shirts. I remember being forced to buy shirts one size too large for my shoulders because otherwise the sleeves wouldn’t reach all the way down.

My father had the same problem as well, and so he wore shirts one size too large as well. Over time, I managed to find brands that fit both my shoulders and my arms properly (the Aditya Birla stable is good for this -Loius Phillippe, Van Heusen, etc. Arrow never fits me). And then I took to getting my formal shirts tailored. Last year I bought a bunch at Gap, after I found that they fit me well.

Only recently, while I was trying to analyse my performances at the gym, that I realised that my long arms might be affecting stuff apart from my attire as well. For the longest time now, I’ve been trying to learn to power clean, and have never quite managed it.

The power clean involves, among other things, holding the bar with your arms outstretched where it touches the fold in your waist (where your torso meets your groin). The idea is that as you pull the bar up past your thighs, you make it touch the fold in your waist while performing a “triple extension” and jumping, and that will power the bar up.

And I recently discovered that I can’t make my bar touch the fold of my waist unless I hold it really really wide, like you do for a snatch. “Maybe I have long arms”, I thought, and then remembered my troubles with buying shirts.

And then I started wondering if I could quantify if I actually had long arms. Looked around a little and found that there is the concept of the “wing span” or “arm span“. I figured how to measure it, and got my wife to measure it for me. It’s 192 cm. My height is between 179 and 180 cm. This means my arm span is 12-13 cm, or nearly 5 inches longer than my height.

Most humans have their arm spans about the same as their height, or just a little longer. According to this article, my long arms mean that I could have been an elite basketball player or a swimmer, since these sports are good for people with long arms. That perhaps explains why I was a decent defender in basketball in school, though I was among the least athletic people you could find.

I kept looking, and reading articles. I thought of myself as being “the Law” (long arms, get it?). And then I came across this measure where rather than subtracting your height from your arm span, you take the ratio. The ratio of your arm span to your height is called “ape index“.

Most humans have an ape index close to 1. NBA players have an average ape index of 1.06. My ape index is higher than 1.07. Shortly after she had measured my arm span, I told my wife about this. “Well, I always knew you were an ape”, she said.

So yes, for my height I have really long arms. This means I find it hard to buy shirts that fit me. This also means I find it relatively easier to deadlift. Long arms also mean that I find movements where I have to lock out my hands upwards, like the bench press or the overhead press, really difficult. Maybe this explains why I have piddly bench and overhead numbers compared to my squat or deadlift? Long arms also make it harder to do pull ups, which possibly explains why completed my first ever pull up in life at 37.

You could think I am the law. You could also think I am an ape. Or maybe, the law is an ape?

Hinge koDaka

Being married to Marriage Broker Auntie means that I sometimes get to participate, either directly or indirectly, in some of her “experiments”. Her latest experiment was to get on to dating apps, to see what the hell they are all about, so that she can advise her clients better about them.

She has written about her experience on these apps in the latest edition of her newsletter. Oh, and you should totally subscribe to her newsletter if you haven’t already. You will get some very interesting relationship insights, which you can appreciate even if you aren’t looking for a relationship.

Anyways, once she started her latest experiment, I asked myself “why should girls have all the fun?”, and got curious to get on these apps myself. I spoke to her about it, and she suggested that I check out Hinge. “It’s the most decent among all the apps”, she said.

I mean, this wasn’t my first time on a dating app. Though they all appeared well after I had got married, I remember trying out Tinder a few years back, possibly as part of another of my wife’s experiments. I remember getting disillusioned by it and deleting it in less than a day. I had even forgotten about it, except that when I was searching for Hinge on the app store, I found that I had already “bought” Tinder in the past (I now realise I’d tried TrulyMadly in the past as well – yet another unmemorable experience).

Anyways, I quite liked Hinge. I spent a whole week on it, before I decided that people who don’t know what’s happening might think I’m a creep and deleted my account.

What makes Hinge so nice is the way it is structured and the user experience. For starters, there’s no easy swiping left or right – there are (fairly small) buttons to either like or dismiss a profile, and in case  there has been a mutual like, then there is a “match” and you can start chatting.

Also, from one little experiment (where the wife and I decided to like each other on Hinge), I found that Hinge has implemented something that I have always believed in – basically don’t tell both parties that there is a match immediately after the second person has liked. That way, the pair know who liked whom first and that can set an unhealthy prior in the relationship. Instead, if the app waits for a “random period of time” before announcing the match, you don’t know who liked whom first.

Back to Hinge – what I liked about it was how the profiles had been designed. You are asked to upload six photos of yourself doing different things, and also answer a few questions. The answers to these questions are displayed in bold on your profile, and this means that anyone who pays some amount of attention is likely to see these answers.

This means that you don’t need to impress your potential counterparties with your photos (or one photo) alone – you can show off your “well rounded personality” (if you have one that is). For example, I found this girl whose profile seemed unremarkable until I saw that she “got turned on by probability and maths”. That, of course, grabbed my attention and I immediately paid much more attention to her full profile. This kind of information (conveying your possibly unusual interests) is a little hard to get across on other dating platforms.

The other nice thing about Hinge is that you can choose what part of a person’s profile you want to like. You could choose one of the pictures, for example, or one of their answers to some question. Like if I were actually in the market (and not casually “researching”) I would have tried to start a conversation with the above mentioned person by liking (and possibly commenting on) her interest in probability.

This specific liking provides an automatic conversation starter. And in a congested market (see chapter 4 of my book here), anything that can help you distinguish yourself can be a sure winner. So it helps that you can write about your interest in probability. It helps that you can tell someone you like her for her interest in probability and not for her tattoo. In marketing jargon, it allows you to be “a qualified lead”.

I had fun for about a week. I must mention that I had used my real name (rather, my oldest nickname that everyone knows me by), and my real photo (my wife picked that one) on the platform. And then I got likes from two women (apart from the one from my wife).

Given that I’m not actually looking for a relationship, that made me feel like I’m doing something wrong. I felt horrible about myself for putting myself on a dating app when I’m not looking to date. There was also the thing that people who found me on the app and knew me would think of me as a creep (or get the wrong kind of ideas about my marriage). So I deleted it.

However, if you are in the market and looking to date, I strongly recommend Hinge. Among the apps that I’ve used, it’s easily among the best.

Ten pertinent observations, ten years later

It’s been ten years since this happened:

So we spent the morning watching our wedding video (yes, you might think wedding videos are useless, but they do come in useful once in a while, so you better get them taken) with our daughter. Here are ten pertinent observations about our wedding after watching this video, in no particular order.

  1. The whole thing seems way too long drawn out (the official wedding itself lasted seven sessions, or three days and a half). I remember being incredibly tired and stressed out by the end of it. A lot of things we did seem rather meaningless, in hindsight, as well.

    Given a choice now, I’d do it in a registrar’s office, followed by a party.

  2. For our reception, my niece, who was then barely a teenager, was wearing a “cold shoulder” dress. I had no clue that cold shoulder tops/dresses were already a thing in India in 2010, or that it had already gotten popular with teenagers.
  3. We had invited lots of people. It was absolute chaos at our wedding, especially since it was on a Sunday morning. Guests at the wedding included aunt’s school friends, my grandfather’s cousins (some of whom I didn’t know at all), the priest at a temple near my wife’s house, the bhelpuri guy with a cart down the road from my wife’s house, parents of a friend I’d long lost touch with, the  guy who supplies coffee powder to my in-laws, etc. Now you know why Indian weddings (pre covid-19, at least) are big and fat.
  4. Some of the guests whom neither of us know well – we have over the years tagged them by the gift they gave us at the wedding. “This is my dad’s cousin who gave us that clock”, or “this is the family that gave the plate”, etc. Sometimes we think that if we don’t know the hosts well, what gifts we give doesn’t matter. Not always true.

    On the other hand, you don’t remember the gifts that people close to you gave you. Your relationship with them goes far beyond a wedding gift.

  5. The funniest part of reception photos is when groups get mixed together. Given that we had long lines (see 3 above), taking a photo with just one guest was a sort of waste of time. So in some cases, people were arbitrarily (based on their position in line) clubbed together for photos. It’s fun to see these combinations, in hindsight.
  6. The only way we know that someone attended our wedding is if they gave us a gift (they’re all tabulated in a diary), or if they came up on stage (braving the crowds) to wish us during the wedding or the reception. So if you think that your “presence is itself a present”, then you need to make sure that you clearly register your presence.

    The evening of my wedding, I saw two emails, from friends saying “I was there at your wedding. I’m not sure if you saw me”. Smartphones weren’t a thing in 2010, but if you’re going to do this now, you better attach a selfie as well.

  7. There’s a reason I’ve put a picture from our wedding, and not from our reception, as part of this post. We both look absolutely atrocious at our reception. Both heavily over-made-up. Every time we look at our reception photos, we end up laughing loudly at each other.
  8. I’ve worn my wedding suit only once in the last 10 years – for my wife’s MBA graduation. My wife hasn’t worn her reception sari even once after the wedding (I had completed my MBA before we got married). At the time we bought them, they were our costliest ever suit and costliest ever sari respectively.
  9. It’s fun to watch these photos and videos to see how some people have changed over the years. A lot of people have visibly gotten older in the last 10 years. Many others look exactly the same. And some people actually look younger now than they did at our wedding (maybe a function of fitness?).

    The funnest to look at are those who were kids at the time of our wedding, but who are adults now. And those who had hair at the time of our wedding, and don’t now.

  10. Over the years, the influence of Bollywood has meant that South Indian weddings have borrowed a lot from North Indian weddings. Like mehndi is a common thing in South Indian weddings now. Maybe shoe hiding as well. However, we’re extremely proud of the one thing we “imported”, and which not too many others have done (even ten years down the line).

    On the eve of our wedding, at the wedding hall itself, we had a dance party. Yes, really. We had a DJ. No choreography nonsense. Just a good old post-dinner dance party. Among other things, we got to see a side of some relatives that we hadn’t otherwise seen. It was great fun overall.

 

Number fourteen

I killed another rat this morning. The fourteenth of my life. This came six years after my thirteenth. And it was also the hardest, forcing me to take the help of “unnatural support” to trap and kill it.

Unfortunately this was the best picture we could get, since I had decided to close the sticky mat after killing the rat on it

I first noticed the rat on Monday night when I was talking to a friend. I had stepped out of the bedroom to take the call, and we were barely done with pleasantaries when I said, “shit, there is a rat in my house”. “Oops, do you need to go? Are you scared?”, he asked. “Not scared, but I need to kill it”, I said, and ran.

As it happened, I was wearing my AirPods, and I ended up running too far away from my phone, and the call got cut. I had seen the rat going under the dining table, and then into the kitchen. By the time I fetched a stick broom (the one usually used to sweep outdoors – they are excellent for killing rats – see my left hand in the picture above), the rat had disappeared.

The fundamental principle of killing rats is to isolate it in one room, that is preferably “open” (without too many nooks and corners where it can hide). Our living room in this house is especially unsuited for this purpose since it has too many orifices, and many of these orifices can’t be shut.

In any case, I saw the rat hiding inside the back of the refrigerator. The idea was to move the refrigerator and whack it as soon as it ran out. Unfortunately, with my reflexes not being what they used to be, I wasn’t able to whack it adequately and the rat ran into my daughter’s room (she doesn’t sleep there yet).

This was both a good and a bad thing. The good thing was that the rat could be isolated inside this room. The bad thing was that there are too many things in this room, making it impossible to trap a rat there. I tried anyway, with a broom and a stick, for twenty minutes before giving up and calling back my friend.

Yesterday was an attritional battle. We woke up to the sight of the rat having tried to gnaw at the room door. It was nowhere to be found, though. I went to a nearby shop and got some rat poison (in the form of “cakes”), and for good measure also got a rat sticky board.

Representative image of a rat glue trap

I left some old potato chips in the middle of this pad, and spread the poison cakes throughout the room. Every two or three hours through yesterday I kept going in to check if the rat had eaten the cakes or otherwise been trapped. There was no luck.

This morning there was evidence once again that the rat had tried to gnaw the bottom of the room door. It was time for more proactive measures. The first step was to empty out the room. The amount of stuff (toys, dolls, games, etc.) that my daughter has is insane. Having made a mental note to “Marie Kondo her stuff” later today, I went on to finding the rat.

Despite mostly emptying the room, the rat was nowhere to be found. This reminded me of computer programming. Sometimes you know there is a bug, but you just aren’t able to find it. Finally, after more than an hour of search, I found that the rat had made itself cosy in the window curtains.

In computer programming, once you’ve found a bug, fixing it is relatively easy. With physical rodents, it’s not so straightforward. The rat started giving me a hard time.

Out (of the room) came the curtains. Out (of the room) came these boxes in which my daughter stores her toys. It was to no avail, as the rat cleverly used the mattress as a shield (irrespective of how I placed the mattress – horizontal / vertical / whatever). Finally, having made sure that the rat wasn’t in the mattress, that was pushed out of the room as well.

In general, catching a rat needs two people. One person prods from one side and the other person whacks from the other. My first ever experience of killing a rat (it’s counted in the 14) came as an assistant to my father, who had handed me a cricket bat when a rat had dared to come to our bathroom.

On subsequent occasions, I’ve used my aunt, my aunt’s housekeeper, my mother-in-law and others as my assistants. Today, there was no such help coming. My wife was too scared, and she had convinced the daughter as well that rats can be scary, so I was left to my own devices.

And it was my devices – one that I had purchased yesterday, to be precise – that came of use. I had noticed that the rat kept running under a chest of drawers every time I attacked it. So I strategically left the sticky mat under the chest of drawers, and kept chasing the rat under it. And one time, it stuck.

A couple of whacks with the broom finished it off. “Fourteen”, I shouted. I admit I sort of “cheated”, by using “unnatural aids” (the sticky mat) in this process. In my defence, I didn’t have any human support so was forced to use this.

Start the game already!

Join a boss or join a company?

“You don’t quit your job. You quit your boss”.

Versions of this keep popping up on my LinkedIn with amazing regularity. People have told me this in a non-ironic way in personal conversations as well, so I assume that it is true.

And now that I’m back in the job market, I’ve been thinking of a corollary to this – basically, if you apply “backward induction” to the above statement, then it essentially means that you “join a boss” rather than “join a company”?

I mean – if the boss is the reason why you quit a particular job, then shouldn’t you be thinking about this at the time when you’re joining as well? And so, while you’re interviewing and having these conversations, shouldn’t you be on the lookout for potential bad bosses as well?

In that sense, as I go through my hunt, I’ve been evaluating companies not just on the basis of what they do and what they might expect me to do, but also on the basis of what I feel about the people I talk to. In some places, I have an idea on who I could potentially report to, and in some I don’t. However, I treat pretty much everyone I talk to as people I have to potentially report to or work with at some point of time or the other, and evaluate the company based on these conversations.

Sometimes I think this might be too conservative, but at other times I think that this conservatism now is worth any potential trouble later.

What do you think about this approach?

Trump, Tamasikate, NED and ADHD

My friend Ravikiran Rao has written a blogpost about how “Trump is Tamasik“. In this, he has used the Tamasik-Rajasik-Satvik framework from ancient India, modelled how most leaders are Rajasik, and how Trump is not, and is actually a Tamasik.

One of the hypotheses in the post is that a lot of commentators make the mistake of analysing Trump through a Rajasik lens (which they are used to since most other leaders are Rajasik), and so get him wrong.

The blogpost, like a lot of Ravi’s blogposts, triggered off a lot of thoughts in my head. My first reaction after starting to read was that “hey, can we compare Tamasikate to NED (noenthuda)”? The idea of Tamasik that I have is that it is about “doing nothing”. And “no enthu da” of course vocalises that philosophy – you don’t have enthu to do anything. And so Tamasikate is like NED.

That was the first thing where I found myself describing myself as a possible Tamasik.

And then Ravi goes on.

Trump, as I was saying, is Tamasik. He is driven by his impulses, and in his case, the impulses are all negative ones. Now, to be fair, all of us struggle with our impulses and emotional drives, but becoming a functional adult involves learning to rein them in, and converting them into higher order goals. We all have sexual desires, for example. The Rajasik nature involves sublimating them into a higher order emotion called love, and pursuit of love involves choosing one person and forgoing others; not giving into the impulse of going after every woman you find sexy. Trump has not made that transition at all. A Clinton may give into his impulse; Trump is his impulse.

I was thinking about the common theories about ADHD, which I’ve been diagnosed with. One theory is that ADHD leads to a “lack of executive functioning”. If we were to describe this using the Tamasik-Rajasic-Satvik framework, we can say that all of us have a “Tamasik base”, which is about our emotions, about our impulses and all that.

And then on top of the Tamasik base is a Rajasik “executive function”. It is this function that allows us to plan, think long-term, suppress our impulses when they are suboptimal, and do all the rest of things that society expects of functioning adults. However, the thing with ADHD is that this Rajasik executive function is impaired. So you are unable to plan well. You give in to your impulses. You frequently change plans. You are impulsive.

Sometimes I think that a lot of my theories are my attempts to rationalise myself and my own decisions. For example, after I first got diagnosed with ADHD in 2012, I realised that my seminal studs and fighters framework was an attempt to rationalise that.

Now Ravi’s post about Trump’s Tamasikate makes me think – I instinctively associate Tamasikate with NED. And your Tamasikate comes out in fuller light if your Rajasik executive function is impaired, which is what they say happens to someone who has ADHD.

So through this, is NED also a symptom of ADHD?

Sugar and social media

For the last one (or is it two?) weeks, I’ve been off all social media. For the last three weeks or so, until a friend baked a wonderful brownie on Wednesday, I was off sugars as well. And I find that my mind reacts similarly to sugar and to social media.

Essentially, the more frequently I’ve been consuming them, the more receptive my mind is to them. I’ve written this in the context of twitter recently – having been largely off Twitter for the last one month or so, I started enjoying my weekly logins less and less with time. Without regular use of the platform, there was no sense of belonging. When you were missing most of the things on the platform anyway, there was no fear of missing out.

So when I logged in to twitter two weekends back, I’d logged out within ten minutes. I haven’t logged in since (though this has since been coopted into a wider social media blackout).

It is similar with sugar. I’d written something similar to this eleven years back, though not to the same effect. Back then again (in the middle of what has been my greatest ever weight loss episode) I ran a consistent calorie deficit for two months, being strictly off sugars and fatty foods. After two months, when I tasted some sweets, I found myself facing a sugar high, and then being unable to have more sugars.

While I got back to sugars soon after that (massive weight loss having been achieved), I’ve periodically gone on and off them. I’m currently in an “off” period, though I’ve periodically “cheated”. And each time I’ve cheated I’ve felt the same as I did when I logged in to twitter – wondered what the big deal with sugar is and why I bother eating it at all.

Last Sunday it was my father-in-law’s birthday, and I broke my “no sugar” rule to eat a piece of his birthday cake. I couldn’t go beyond one piece, though. It was a mixture of disgust with myself and “what’s the big deal with this?” that I felt. It was a similar story on Tuesday, when I similarly couldn’t go beyond one piece of my daughter’s birthday cake (to be fair, it was excessively sweet).

On Wednesday, though, that changed. My friend’s brownie was delicious, and I ended up bingeing on it. And having consumed that much sugar, I continued thulping sugars for the next two days. It took some enormous willpower yesterday morning to get myself off sugars once again.

With social media that is similar. Whenever I go off it, as long as my visits back are short, I fail to get excited by it. However, every time I go beyond a threshold (maybe two hours of twitter in a stretch?) I’m addicted once again.

This may not sound like two many data points, but the moral of this story that I would like to draw is that social media is like sugar. Treat your social media consumption like you treat your consumption of sugar. At least if you’re like me, they affect your mind in the same way.

Dog breeds and caste

On Sunday I took a very long walk with a very old friend. We talked about several things during the course of the two hour conversation, including dogs.

We passed by a couple of dogs that seemed rather friendly and were tugging at their leashes to come and greet this friend. Now, this guy is an animal lover and photographer, and spent the next twenty minutes educating me about dog breeds, and about why “indie” dogs are great.

Now I don’t know if it is a coincidence that at around the same time we were taking our walk, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on his radio show Mann Ki Baat extolling the virtues of Indian dog breeds.

“Their purpose is to make Indian breeds better and more useful. Next time when you think of keeping a dog then you must bring one of the Indian breed dogs home. When self-reliant India is becoming the mantra of the masses then no area should be left behind,” Modi said in his monthly Mann Ki Baat address.

In any case, the reason indie dogs are preferable to pure breeds is that the latter go through a whole load of inbreeding. You must be aware of this common “doubt” about the Old Testament – Adam and Eve had two sons Abel and Cain. Cain killed Abel. How did Cain then propagate his genes?

If you believe in evolution, this isn’t much of a joke – it can be simply assumed that Cain found a near-human species to propagate his genes with. If you don’t, there is a bit of a, er, problem.

In any case, the way dog breeds are created (over several generations) is that dogs that possess certain traits (over and above their friendliness to humans – which is what makes them dogs and not wolves) are interbred. This desirable trait gets a wee bit stronger. In the next generation, another pair of dogs that have this wee bit extra of this desirable trait get interbred. And the process continues.

Now, it’s likely that if you take a boy dog and a girl dog who both have a high degree of this desirable trait, they share a fair bit of their ancestry. So within a few generations of starting the breed, you will have a fair degree of interbreeding.

It’s a bit like the royals of the Middle Ages – thanks to their insistence on preserving their blue blood, they only wanted to marry other royals. Soon, they ran out of royals to marry, unless they married their aunts and cousins and nieces that is. And that’s precisely what they did.

And so you had emperors such as Charles II of Spain who “was so ugly he scared his own wife”.

Charles II of Spain could barely walk because his legs could not support his weight. He fell several times. Marie died in 1689 without producing an heir for Charles II. The Spanish monarch was depressed after his first wife died.

Depression was a common trait among the Habsburgs. So was gout, dropsy, and epilepsy. The lower jaw was the kicker, though, as it made Charles II seem stunted. His ministers and advisers suggested the next move in Charles II of Spain’s reign: to marry a second wife.

He was apparently the descendant of “16 generations of Habsburg inbreeding”. Now you know why pugs have spinal problems, and why ____ (forget the breed, my friend mentioned on Sunday) have heart issues. Inbreeding, apart from selecting for the desirable traits, also unwittingly selects for some undesirable traits.

In any case, dog breeds are created when dogs with some desirable traits are forcibly mated with other dogs with similar desirable traits by some “higher power” (the human master). In some ways, you can think of dog breeding as similar to arranged marriage – rather than letting street dogs bonk whoever they want, dog mates are carefully arranged in the breeding process.

Now, “being forced to mate with someone desirable by a higher power” – what does that remind you of? Isn’t it like traditional Indian arranged marriage (the sort where you don’t even see your spouse until the time of marriage)? And what do you get when a “higher power” forces arranged marriage upon you for a large number of generations? The caste system, of course.

The basic feature of the Indian caste system, you might remember, is endogamy – caste rules largely meant that Indians married within their own caste. In fact there is research that has shown that for some 2000 years or so a large number of Indians have mostly married within their own caste.

Now, you can think of this as some Lamarckian quest to create the perfect breeds for humans for each profession (remember that castes started off as job divisions). So if two blacksmiths marry, their offspring will be a better blacksmith. And by thus marrying within the blacksmith community, over a few generations, they will create the “perfect breed of blacksmith” (this applies to all other professions, of course).

Of course, given that a large part of the skill that goes in being good a profession is learned rather than inherited, this inbreeding hasn’t done much to create the perfect breed of human for any particular job. Instead, what it has done is to saddle us with lifestyle diseases.

Having written nearly 900 words, I realise that I’m not alone in comparing dog breeds to caste, or Hinduism. Aadisht Khanna, my friend from business school, had written a blogpost to the same effect a few years ago. That’s enjoyable as well. Read it.