Why I never became a pundit

It’s been nearly a decade since i started writing in the mainstream media. Ahead of the Karnataka elections in 2013, I had published on this blog a series of quantitative analyses of the election, when R Sukumar (then editor-in-chief of Mint) picked it up and asked me if I could write for his paper on the topic – quantitative analysis of elections.

And so Election Metrics (what my pieces in Mint – they were analysis and not editorials, which meant it wasn’t a strict “column” per se, but I got paid well) was born. I wrote for Mint until the end of 2018, when my then contract ran out and Sukumar’s successor chose not to renew.

Having thus “cracked print”, I decided that the next frontier had to be video. I wanted to be on TV, as a pundit. That didn’t come easily. The 2014 national elections (when Modi first became PM) came and went, and I spent the counting day in the Mint newsroom, far from any television camera. I tried to get my way in to IPL auction analysis, but to no avail.

Finally, in 2018, on the day of the Karnataka elections, I got one guy I knew from way back to arrange for a TV appearance, and went on “News9” (a Bangalore-focussed English news channel) to talk about exit polls.

“I saw the video you had put on Facebook”, my friend Ranga said when he met me a few days later, “and you were waxing all eloquent about sample sizes and standard errors”. On that day I had been given space to make my arguments clear, and I had unleashed the sort of stuff you don’t normally see on news TV. Three days later, I got invited on the day of counting, enjoyed myself far less, and that, so far, has been the end of my career in punditry.

Barring a stray invitation from The Republic aside, my career in TV punditry has never gotten close to getting started after that. Of late I haven’t bothered, but in the past it has frequently rankled, that I’ve never been able to “crack TV”. And today I figured out why.

On my way to work this morning I was listening to this podcast featuring noted quant / factor investors Jim O’Shaughnessy and Cliff Asness. It was this nice episode where they spoke about pretty much everything – from FTX and AMC to psychedelics. But as you might expect with two quant investors in a room, they spent a lot of time talking about quantitative investing.

And then somewhere they started  talking about their respective TV appearances. O’Shaughnessy started talking about how in the early days of his fund, he used to make a lot of appearances on Bloomberg and CNBC, but of late he has pretty much stopped going.

He said something to the effect of: “I am a quant. I cannot give soundbites. I talk in terms of stories and theories. In the 80s, the channels used to give me a minute or two to speak – that was the agreement under which I appeared on them. But on my last appearance, I barely got 10 seconds to speak. They wanted soundbites, but as a quant I cannot give soundbites”.

And then Asness agreed, saying pretty much the same thing. That it was okay to go on television in the time when you got a reasonable amount of time to speak, and build a theory, and explain stuff, but now that television has come down to soundbites and oneliners, he is especially unsuited to it. And so he has stopped going.

There it was – if you are the sort who is driven by theories, and you need space to explain, doing so over voice is not efficient. You would rather write, where there is room for constructing an argument and making your point. If you were to speak, unless you had a lot of time (remember that speaking involves a fair amount of redundancy, unlike writing), it would be impossible to talk theories and arguments.

And I realise I have internalised this in life as well – at work for example, I write long emails (in a previous job, colleagues used to call them “blogposts”) and documents. I try to avoid complicated voice discussions – for with my laborious style I can never win them. Better to just write a note after it is over.

Computer science and psychology

This morning, when I got back from the gym, my wife and daughter were playing 20 questions, with my wife having just taught my daughter the game.

Given that this was the first time they were playing, they started with guessing “2 digit numbers”. And when I came in, they were asking questions such as “is this number divisible by 6” etc.

To me this was obviously inefficient. “Binary search is O(log n)“, I realised in my head, and decided this is a good time to teach my daughter binary search.

So for the next game, I volunteered to guess, and started with “is the number \ge 55“? And went on to “is the number \ge 77“, and got to the number in my wife’s mind (74) in exactly  7 guesses (and you might guess that \lceil log_2 90 \rceil (90 is the number of 2 digit numbers) is 7).

And so we moved on. Next, I “kept” 41, and my wife went through a rather random series of guesses (including “is it divisible by 4” fairly early on) to get in 8 tries. By this time I had been feeling massively proud, of putting to good use my computer science knowledge in real life.

“See, you keep saying that I’m not a good engineer. See how I’m using skills that I learnt in my engineering to do well in this game”, I exclaimed. My wife didn’t react.

It was finally my daughter’s turn to keep a number in mind, and my turn to guess.

“Is the number \ge 55?”
“Yes”

“Is the number \ge 77?”
“Yes”

“Is the number \ge 88?”
“Yes”

My wife started grinning. I ignored it and continued with my “process”, and I got to the right answer (99) in 6 tries. “You are stupid and know nothing”, said my wife. “As soon as she said it’s greater than 88, I knew it is 99. You might be good at computer science but I’m good at psychology”.

She had a point. And then I started thinking – basically the binary search method works under the assumption that the numbers are all uniformly distributed. Clearly, my wife had some superior information to me, which made 99 far more probable than any number between 89 and 98. And s0 when the answer to “Is the number \ge 88?”turned out to by “yes”, she made an educated guess that it’s 99.

And since I’m used to writing algorithms, and  teaching dumb computers to solve problems, I used a process that didn’t make use of any educated guesses! And thus took far many more steps to get to the answer.

When the numbers don’t follow a uniform distribution, binary search works differently. You don’t start with the middle number – instead, you start with the weighted median of all the numbers! And then go on to the weighted median of whichever half you end up in. And so on and so forth until you find the number in the counterparty’s mind. That is the most optimal algo.

Then again, how do you figure out what the prior distribution of numbers is? For that, I guess knowing some psychology helps.

 

Girard and reunions

Thanks to my subscription to Jim O’Shaughnessy’s Infinite Loops podcast, I have been exposed to some of the philosophy of Rene Girard. A few times, he has got philosopher Johnathan Bi on the show, to talk about Girard’s philosophy.

 

Bi has also done a series of YouTube lectures on Girard’s philosophy, though I haven’t watched any of them.

In any case, Girard’s basic thesis (based on my basic understanding so far) is that we are all driven by “mimetic desire”, or a desire to mime. This means we want to do things that others want to do.

So you see an instagram post by a friend who has gone to Sri Lanka, and you want to go to Sri Lanka as well. Your cousin has invested in Crypto, so you want to invest in crypto as well. Everyone in your class wants to do investment banking, and so you want to do that as well.

(actually now that I think of it, I was first exposed to mimetic desire by a podcast episode sent by my school friend Hareesh. In a way, Bi’s appearance on Infinite Loops only enhanced my liking for this philosophy).

 

This is yet another of those theories that “once you see you cannot unsee”. You see mimetic desire everywhere. Sometimes you copy the actions of people who you want to impress (well, that’s how I discovered Heavy Metal, and that has now turned out to be my most-listened-to genre of music, because it turned out I like it so much).

The theory of the “mirror neuron” is unclear (at least I’m yet to be convinced by it), but either by gene or by meme, we are conditioned to mime. We mime people’s actions. We mime their desires. We do things because others do them.

As the more perceptive of you might know from my previous post, we had our 16th year IIMB reunion this year. Not many turned up – about 30 from my class (2006) and 45 from the class of 2005 (thanks to covid both our 15th year reunions had been postponed, so we ended up having our 16th and 17th year reunions respectively).

It was an amazing experience. I don’t know what it was, but I liked it far more than the 10th year reunion.  One major thing was the schedule – the 10th year reunion lacked a focal point on the main day (I’ve written about it) because of which we were rather scattered around campus. The 10th year reunion also had a much more formal structure, with “sessions” which meant we had less time to chat.

This time round, the Saturday schedule was very good – an interaction with the current director RTK from 10 to 11, and then NOTHING. That interaction was enough of a focal point to get us in one place, so everyone was accessible.

Then, fewer people having turned up meant we ended up having deeper conversations. We spoke about life, philosophies, kids, spouses, divorces, other people’s divorces, random gossip and all such. Absolutely no small talk, and infinitesimal work talk, and that made it more satisfying.

This morning, Bi tweeted again about Girard and mimetic desire.

One of the corollaries of Girard’s theory is that people get into conflict not when they are different but when they are similar. And mimetic desire means that people will try to become more similar to each other, and that increases conflict.

If not anywhere else, that is true in a business school, especially one where the class is rather homogeneous. Mimetic desire means everyone wants the same jobs, the same grades. And so they compete. And get into conflict.

16 years post graduation, we have drifted apart, and not in a bad way. Over this period, a lot of us have figured out what we really want to do and what we really want, and understood that what we want is very different from what others around us want. Not really being around our former peers, we have no desire to mime them any more, and that has freed us up to do what we really want to do, rather than just signalling.

And so, when we meet at a reunion like this, we are all so independent that we just never talk about work. There is no sense of competition, and we just focus on having fun with people we went to school with. The time apart has helped us get out of our desires to mime, and so when we get together, we compete less.

Maybe I should read / understand more philosophy. Or is this desire just mimetic?

 

 

Hanging out with the lads

One of my favourite podcasts this year has been The Rest is History with Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook. It is simultaneously insanely informative and insanely funny, and I’ve been listening to it as regularly as I can this year.

A few months back, a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings called “Rings of Power” came out on Amazon. To commemorate that, Rest is History did a few episodes on JRR Tolkien. It’s a fascinating profile, but one line especially stood out.

Holland was talking about how Tolkien found himself a steady girlfriend when he was 13 (and got himself excommunicated from the church in the process – he was Catholic and she was Protestant, I think). And then he said “that part of his life having been settled, he now focussed on other things, such as hanging out with the lads”.

I find this to be a rather profound line. “Hanging out with the lads”. And having found myself a steady girlfriend for the first time relatively late in life (when I was nearly 27), I can look back at my life and think of the value of this phrase.

When you are single, among other things, you become a “life detector” (this phrase comes from one friend, who used it to describe another, saying “she is a life detector. She puts blade on anything that moves”). Especially if, as a youngster, you have watched good but illogical movies such as Dil To Pagal Hai.

You may not realise it until you are no longer single, but being single takes a toll on your mental health. Because you are subconsciously searching for a statistically significant other, you mind has less time and space for other things. And you miss out on more enjoyable things in life.

Such as “hanging out with the lads”.

I have written (forgot where, and too lazy to find the link now) about how being no longer single was fantastic in terms of simply appreciating other women. You could say they were nice, or beautiful, or intelligent, or whatever, and it would be a simply honest comment without any “ulterior motives”. More importantly, you could very simply tell her that, without worrying whether she will like you back, what caste she belongs to (if you were into that kind of stuff) and so on.

I listened to the podcast on Tolkien when it came out a few months ago, but got reminded of it over the weekend. I spent most of my weekend in IIMB, at our 15th year batch reunion (ok, it’s been 16 years since we graduated but our party was postponed by a year due to Covid). As part of the reunion (and unlike our 10th reunion in 2016), we had a real “L^2 party” (check here to see what L^2 parties used to be (for me) back in the day).

So effectively, this Saturday I was at my first ever L^2 party after I had graduated from IIMB. In other words, I was at my first ever L^2 party where I was NOT single (my wife wasn’t there, though. Pretty much no one from our batch brought spice or kids along).

However, despite the near 17-year gap from the last L^2 I had attended, I could feel a different feeling. I found myself far more willing to “hang out with the lads” than I had been in 2004-6. I had a lot of fairly strong conversations during the time. I held random people and danced (thankfully the music got better after a while).

Through the entire party I was at some kind of perfect peace with myself. Yeah, you might find it strange that a 40-year-old guy is writing like this, but whatever. Early on, I sent a video of the party to my wife. She sent back a video of our daughter trying to imitate the way I was “dancing”.

And it was not just the party. I spent a day and a half at IIMB, hanging out with the “lads” (which included a few women from our batch), having random conversations about random things, just laughing a lot and exchanging stories. Nobody spoke about work. There was very little small talk. Some conversations actually went deep. It was a great time.

With the full benefit of hindsight, I had as much fun as I did in this period (ok i might be drawing random connections, but what the hell)  because I was secure in the fact that I am in a steady relationship, and have a family. And it took me a long time to realise this, well after I had stopped being single.

 

 

 

 

Animals in motion and animals at rest

We are back in moshi now after a 4 day safari across northern Tanzania. We did one safari each in tarangire national park and ngorongoro crater, and two whole days of safari at Serengeti. During that time we even spent the nights in (luxury) tents inside the Serengeti park.

In terms of animal “sightings” there was absolutely no comparison to what we’ve seen in india (Bandipur / kabini / Bhadra). Back home we’ve failed to see a single big cat in the wild, across 10 safaris. We very easily went into double digits on this trip.

The main difference I think is the terrain. Karnataka is all thick forests which means that visibility is low. An animal needs to be within a couple of tens of metres from the road for you to be able to see it.

In the African savannah (will come to that in a bit, or in another blogpost), though, you can literally see for miles and miles and miles and …

https://open.spotify.com/track/64SFBGTQvXgEHds3F01rpc?si=_sYbcLzZQ5eCaJGGZ1T09Q&context=spotify%3Asearch%3Ai%2Bcan%2Bsee%2Bdor%2B

On the first day in tarangire I spotted an elephant from at least a kilometre away. Turned out it was a herd, drinking water from the tarangire river stream. And we could keep our eyes on it while our driver-guide navigated the paths and bends to take us close to them. This kind of visibility would have been impossible in the Karnataka forests.

It was more stark with the big cats. If you go on any safaris in Karnataka and ask the guides about potential sightings they talk about it in terms of “movements”. Stuff like “there has been good movement of tigers in the last two days but not so much of leopards” etc.

This is important because in the thick forests of Karnataka pretty much the only time you can spot big cats is when they are moving. When they are at rest (as big cats are wont to be a lot of the time) they are resting away from the roads, and because of the terrain they are impossible to spot.

Things can’t be more different in the East African savannah. Our first sightings of lions, on Saturday afternoon, for example, was of a pack sleeping right next to the road.

My fingers added for context, to show how close they were

Even when the animals are resting away from the tracks, the nature of terrain means that you can still spot them. And this – the fact that you can see for miles in the savannah – means that the chances of spotting an animal at rest are significantly higher.

We saw at least four other packs of lions resting under bushes. Our only leopard sighting was of one sleeping on a tree (from what I hear it was there for so long – obviously, since it was sleeping – that pretty much everyone who was in Serengeti on Sunday afternoon managed to see it). Our first cheetah sighting was of one resting on a termite hill. And so on.

So the main reason you see more big cats in Tanzania, compare to india, is that the terrain allows you to see them at rest. And the cat lifestyle is based on short hunts followed by long periods of rest, which means this massively ups the chances of seeing them.

Now I wonder how it is in grassy areas in india, such as Assam.

Tanzania – initial thoughts

This is our first overseas holiday since august 2019 and it still hasn’t sunk in that we’re not india. It’s been 4-5 hours since we landed at Kilimanjaro international airport, and while thjings have been nice there is very little evidence so far that we are in “forin”.

Vehicles drive on the left side of the road. There are plenty of motorcycles. Trucks are brightly painted. Buses look like those in our city, though a lot of them seem smaller.

The weather is also similar – we’ve swapped 12.8 degree north and 920M above sea level for 3 degree south and 1000M above sea level. It was sunny in the afternoon but there has always been a nice breeze blowing – from the nearby Kilimanjaro!

The place is dry though. there is a lot of dust. And dusty winds. And very little vegetation (outside of our hotel). Our guide, on the way from the airport to the hotel, informed us that rains have been delayed this year and so things have been dry.

So all put together, it’s so far been like being somewhere in india itself, just a part that is drier and dustier than bangalore. The only differences so far have been –

Our guide drove far more carefully than I’ve seen Indian drivers. very measured in overtaking. No honking. Etc.

Looks like liquor licences here are far more liberal than in india. There is some charm sitting at a tiny hotel bar drinking. India’s restricted liquor licenses (Im told there have been no new liquor licenses in Karnataka since 1993 or something) means you need a certain scale to operate a bar. So you have few quaint dribbling places.

But that’s about it. Midway through this blogpost the power supply at the hotel went off. and this post will get published when the power gets restored. And I don’t even know if the hotel here has power backup!

Hybrid events

In general I’m short tempered and have a short attention span. One thing that annoys me more than anything else is if someone I’m talking to gets a phone call and moves away from the conversation.

In fact if I think about it more than 90% of my fights with my wife have been triggered by phone calls she gets while she’s taking to me, as a result of which she abandons me for the moment.

I’m writing this from a “hybrid event”. My wife is giving a talk at the Goa project, and this event is happening both online and offline. I’m offline, as are some twenty others. Another dozen people are online.

As an offline audience member I’m finding this damn annoying. The most annoying thing is that the moderator is online. And the way the event has been set up, online seems to take precedence over offline. The online moderator can interrupt. He can ask a speaker to repeat the last five minutes of her talk. And as a live audience member I find this insanely irritating.

The other problem with hybrid events is there is no scope for banter. Small offline events with 20 people can be rather intimate and have a high scope for banter. Like I cracked a wisecrack a few minutes back. People around me seemed to like it. And then one of the local moderators had to repeat the wisecrack to the zoom audience.

I wrote until this point in the first of the three talks. After that I decided writing this blog is not enough and protested (a tad too) loudly that the hybrid format was boring.

Then someone figured a simple nudge. They muted the zoom while talks were on. The remote people couldn’t interrupt as much as they used to. And the event became so much better.

So I guess, like everything else in design, its just about the defaults. Then again I don’t know if the online people were happy with the new default. Not that I care.

Though: the quality of CP is far superior from people in the room than from those who can hide behind a screen without camera on

A day at an award function

So I got an award today. It is called “exemplary data scientist”, and was given out by the Analytics India Magazine as part of their MachineCon 2022. I didn’t really do anything to get the award, apart from existing in my current job.

I guess having been out of the corporate world for nearly a decade, I had so far completely missed out on the awards and conferences circuit. I would see old classmates and colleagues put pictures on LinkedIn collecting awards. I wouldn’t know what to make of it when my oldest friend would tell me that whenever he heard “eye of the tiger”, he would mentally prepare to get up and go receive an award (he got so many I think). It was a world alien to me.

Parallelly, I used to crib about how while I’m well networked in India, and especially in Bangalore, my networking within the analytics and data science community is shit. In a way, I was longing for physical events to remedy this, and would lament that the pandemic had killed those.

So I was positively surprised when about a month ago Analytics India Magazine wrote to me saying they wanted to give me this award, and it would be part of this in-person conference. I knew of the magazine, so after asking around a bit on legitimacy of such awards and looking at who had got it the last time round, I happily accepted.

Most of the awardees were people like me – heads of analytics or data science at some company in India. And my hypothesis that my networking in the industry was shit was confirmed when I looked at the list of attendees – of 100 odd people listed on the MachineCon website, I barely knew 5 (of which 2 didn’t turn up at the event today).

Again I might sound like a n00b, but conferences like today are classic two sided markets (read this eminently readable paper on two sided markets and pricing of the same by Jean Tirole of the University of Toulouse). On the one hand are awardees – people like me and 99 others, who are incentivised to attend the event with the carrot of the award. On the other hand are people who want to meet us, who will then pay to attend the event (or sponsor it; the entry fee for paid tickets to the event was a hefty $399).

It is like “ladies’ night” that pubs have, where on a particular days of the week, women who go to the pub get a free drink. This attracts women, which in turn attracts men who seek to court the women. And what the pub spends in subsidising the women it makes back in terms of greater revenue from the men on the night.

And so it was at today’s conference. I got courted by at least 10 people, trying to sell me cloud services, “AI services on the cloud”, business intelligence tools, “AI powered business intelligence tools”, recruitment services and the like. Before the conference, I had received LinkedIn requests from a few people seeking to sell me stuff at the conference. In the middle of the conference, I got a call from an organiser asking me to step out of the hall so that a sponsor could sell to me.

I held a poker face with stock replies like “I’m not the person who makes this purchasing decision” or “I prefer open source tools” or “we’re building this in house”.

With full benefit of hindsight, Radisson Blu in Marathahalli is a pretty good conference venue. An entire wing of the ground floor of the hotel is dedicated for events, and the AIM guys had taken over the place. While I had not attended any such event earlier, it had all the markings of a well-funded and well-organised event.

As I entered the conference hall, the first thing that struck me was the number of people in suits. Most people were in suits (though few wore ties; And as if the conference expected people to turn up in suits, the goodie bag included a tie, a pair of cufflinks and a pocket square). And I’m just not used to that. Half the days I go to office in shorts. When I feel like wearing something more formal, I wear polo T-shirts with chinos.

My colleagues who went to the NSE last month to ring the bell to take us public all turned up company T-shirts and jeans. And that’s precisely what I wore to the conference today, though I had recently procured a “formal uniform” (polo T-shirt with company logo, rather than my “usual uniform” which is a round neck T-shirt). I was pretty much the only person there in “uniform”. Towards the end of the day, I saw one other guy in his company shirt, but he was wearing a blazer over it!

Pretty soon I met an old acquaintance (who I hadn’t known would be at the conference). He introduced me to a friend, and we went for coffee. I was eating a cookie with the coffee, and had an insight – at conferences, you should eat with your left hand. That way, you don’t touch the food with the same hand you use to touch other people’s hands (surprisingly I couldn’t find sanitiser dispensers at the venue).

The talks, as expected, were nothing much to write about. Most were by sponsors selling their wares. The one talk that wasn’t by a sponsor was delivered by a guy who was introduced as “his greatgrandfather did this. His grandfather did that. And now this guy is here to talk about ethics of AI”. Full Challenge Gopalakrishna feels happened (though, unfortunately, the Kannada fellows I’d hung out with earlier that day hadn’t watched the movie).

I was telling some people over lunch (which was pretty good) that talking about ethics in AI at a conference has become like worshipping Ganesha as part of any elaborate pooja. It has become the de riguer thing to do. And so you pay obeisance to the concept and move on.

The awards function had three sections. The first section was for “users of AI” (from what I understood). The second (where I was included) was for “exemplary data scientists”. I don’t know what the third was for (my wife is ill today so I came home early as soon as I’d collected my award), except that it would be given by fast bowler and match referee Javagal Srinath. Most of the people I’d hung out with through the day were in the Srinath section of the awards.

Overall it felt good. The drive to Marathahalli took only 45 minutes each way (I drove). A lot of people had travelled from other cities in India to reach the venue. I met a few new people. My networking in data science and analytics is still not great, but far better than it used to be. I hope to go for more such events (though we need to figure out how to do these events without that talks).

PS: Everyone who got the award in my section was made to line up for a group photo. As we posed with our awards, an organiser said “make sure all of you hold the prizes in a way that the Intel (today’s chief sponsor) logo faces the camera”. “I guess they want Intel outside”, I joked. It seemed to be well received by the people standing around me. I didn’t talk to any of them after that, though.

The “intel outside” pic. Courtesy: https://www.linkedin.com/company/analytics-india-magazine/posts/?feedView=all

 

Go East Policy

When you take time off work, one thing you want to do is to explore the world – go to parts of it that you haven’t been to before.

The original idea for this week was to travel – we wanted to do an impromptu road trip starting the past Sunday, booking only one hotel at a time on each day. As it happened, on Friday, daughter’s school sent an email that offline classes would begin on Monday, so we didn’t travel.

Instead, I decided to do a “staycation” – continue to be off work but be at home and vegetate. However, not going anywhere didn’t seem right. The whole point of taking time off is to go see parts of the world you haven’t seen before. And so I decided to set aside today for this purpose, apart from meeting people. Thanks to the pandemic and the latest round of lockdowns and school closures, I hadn’t seen too many people outside my family since the beginning of January.

And so I set off east, to parts that I hadn’t really seen or explored in a very long time.

  1. Bellandur
    First stop was Bellandur, to meet a friend who I hadn’t seen in over two years, and who’s recently moved back to “Bangalore”. We were to meet at a sort of a mall that’s part of this absolutely massive office complex.

    Despite all the metro construction going on, I got to Bellandur in quick time (the only wait being at Madivala checkpost). However, getting to Bellandur was only half the story. To get to the “bay” (as the mall was called) I had to turn off outer ring road, and into what felt like a strange road, with random barricades and private security personnel every 100 metres. Both sides were office complexes.

    Finally, at the end of the road (2-3 km in), I found the “bay”. It’s a sort of strip mall with a food court, and coffee and tea shops, and even an Apple reseller store. Maybe because most offshored businesses (which largely populate this area) haven’t got back to office yet, the place was largely empty. I had a bit of an embarrassing incident, though, as rather confusing signage meant I had opened the door to the women’s restroom (a janitor stopped me).

    I found the entire area sort of unreal and weird – even if the metro comes to ORR, it is going to be a massive pain to get to these offices and apartment blocks (and “mall”). There is no sense of redundancy in the roads. Security personnel every 100 metres is disconcerting.

  2. Windmills
    Next on the agenda was  Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield, where I was meeting someone for lunch. It was going to be my first time there, so I simply followed Google Maps.

    I was pleasantly surprised that this drive took only 25 minutes, again because most offshored staff have not returned to office. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a reasonably wide road that connects somewhere in the middle of nowhere in outer ring road to Graphite India.

    The location of the brewery is a bit strange – being located in a middle floor of a commercial building! The person I was meeting is a Whitefield local, and the thing that invariably happens in a microbrewery happens – he ran into others he knew. The food was good. I didn’t have much of the beer (since I was driving), but the IPA sampler was good as well.

    The valet was strange. When I got off the car, I was asked for my phone number and name, and got an SMS. When I was done, I simply clicked a link sent in the same SMS – by the time I came down, the car had arrived.

    On another note, I was thinking of all the places that were collecting my number – the valet, the restaurant above, some random shop I’d been to yesterday, etc. I was wondering what can be done with all this data. At one level, it scared me. At another, I thought it would be exciting to work with all this data and see what can be done with it!

  3. Sheraton Whitefield
    I was meeting someone at the coffee shop here. Being tucked away inside Prestige Shantiniketan, the hotel was a bit hard to find, and given that offices in the area have not yet been staffed, the hotel was empty.

    The hotel seemed nice enough and the coffee was good. And there was very little traffic in the usually rather busy road in front of it. I don’t expect this to last once people are back in their offices.

    _____________________________________

The way back was largely uneventful. Again I trusted Google, which took me on yet another random road to get from whitefield back to ORR. This was narrower and involved going through some rural areas.

Apart from some sections where the metro was being constructed, the drive back through ORR into Koramangala (I was meeting yet another friend after getting back to town) was quick and peaceful. And I noticed that the one-way systems in Hosur Road and Sarjapur Road have been reversed yet again. If there is a road (or pair of roads) deserving to be a “Tughlaq” in Bangalore, it’s this system. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve made these roads one-way and two-way (going back to at least 2004).

So the “exploring new areas” part of my week-long vacation is done. I want to step up on meeting people, but I’ll possibly do it on “home ground” in the days to come.

PS: The general convention I’ve settled on in life is that when one person travels to meet the other, the latter pays for the food / drink / coffee. As it happens, EVERYONE I met today offered to pay, and I simply let them without once insisting that I take the bill or we split it.

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.