Sweet nothings

The problem with a long-distance relationship is that there is only one way you can spend time with each other – by talking to each other. Of course there are many ways of doing this now, given the advances in communication technologies – text chat, voice chat, video chat, …

But as you can see, the common thing to all this is chat. And to chat, you need things to chat about. Which means that the amount of time you spend with each other is limited by how interesting your days have been and what you have to say to each other.

It is a rather common occurrence that you want to spend more time with each other than what what you have to say to each other dictates, and in such times, you have a few options.

You could talk about everyday happenings like the weather or some news or sports (extremely unlikely, though, that a couple will spend time discussing sports). Another popular option is repeatedly saying lovey-dovey things such as “I love you” or “I miss you”, so that you prolong the conversation. You could even tell each other the mundane details of your lives that day, like “and then I got into bus 37 and … “. Else you could talk about your respective mental states, like “I got so psyched out while writing this algorithm this morning” or “I felt so happy I answered that question in class”. And so forth.

While all of these make for excellent fillers, and help you spend more time with each other by way of creating things to talk about, the problem is that they seldom add value (except perhaps for small doses of lovey-dovey talk). And when you over-indulge in filler conversations, they end up subtracting value from your conversation by overemphasising attention on the mundane at the cost of talk with positive information content.

Contrast this with a “normal” relationship where there are so many other ways of spending time with each other other than talking – I don’t need to enumerate them here.

In other words, when you do long distance, you only have access to a small subset of your relationship. Which makes long distance hard. And occasionally makes you go mad.

PS: tools such as FaceTime allow you to “virtually be with each other” by dialling and then going about with your own lives. But you are still stuck to the fixed point which is the computer, and that means whatever life you go about is unreal, and that can further add to the pressure! And hence subtract value.


Why Petromax is Repugnant

Every time I talk about the concept of “Petromax”, people give me looks as if I’m from some other planet. Sometimes they shudder. Sometimes they think I’m uncouth. While I believe that the “problem” is just that I say things like they are (rather than couching them in niceties), given that everyone reacts in a negative way when I talk about Petromaxes implies that there’s something repugnant to it. And I think I’ve found the answer – the answer lies in Option Theory.

First of all, a recap on what petromax is all about. The concept was invented by Anant Nag in Golmaal Radhakrishna back in 1990. It goes “the wife is like the lamp you light in front of God. When the wife is not at home, the house plunges into darkness, and that’s when you need a petromax”. Those of you who understand Kannada might want to watch this youtube video from the movie:

Now that the definition is out of the way, let’s come to why the concept is repugnant. It is repugnant because being a petromax is like writing an option. And in the relationship business, nobody likes being a writer of options – it makes them look “cheap” and desperate. Let me explain.

I live in Bangalore. My wife lives abroad. So I’m in a long-distance marriage and going by the Petromax theory my house is “filled with darkness”. And the theory posits that I need a Petromax. Let’s say that you are interested in filling this gap and being “my Petromax”. So far so good. Where is the problem?

The problem happens when my wife comes home, and “fills it with light”. Remember that I’m still married to her, and deeply in love with her, and that I only took you on as a petromax. So for the duration when she is here, I don’t need you any more, and don’t bother about you! So in effect, I have an option of “being with you” whenever I want, while you don’t have the same option (unless you are also using me as a Petromax, but then I won’t be available whenever you want so I won’t be a reliable petromax). So under the petromax arrangement defined above, I have the right but not the obligation to be with you. You, the petromax, have the obligation but not the right to be with me. Effectively you’ve sold me an option!

Now, in the relationships business options don’t work. The writer of the option will start thinking that the “buyer” is using him/her. Being used is not a good thing in the relationship business. Among other things, showing the world that you are willing to be used reduces your “value” going forward. So you don’t want to do this. So you don’t like to be the petromax. So the deal doesn’t work for you. And so it doesn’t work for me, since when I’m looking for a Petromax I’m looking for optionality.

And so when you say that someone is someone else’s petromax, it is an implicit admission that the said person is willing to get “used”, and is thus willing to lower his/her value. Which is not a nice thing from the point of view of this person. And hence the term petromax is repugnant. And the concept of the petromax is also thus repugnant.

But the petromax concept has been seen to work in real life. How does it work then? Being part of a small community helps, since the valuation drop is seen only in that particular community. Then, there can be some restricted structuring where neither sells each other an option, and set up an “and condition” (being together if and only if both are available and interested at the same instant).

Ok I realise that this post itself might be repugnant to some of you but these things need to be explained!

Back to bachelorhood

Starting tonight I’ll be a bachelor once again. For the next nineteen months or so. No it’s not that I’m returning my post graduate diploma and hence getting this downgrade (it’s been a while since I cracked a bad joke here so I’m entitled). It’s that the wife is going away. To get herself an MBA (yes I know that after this she will be better qualified than me since she’ll be getting a proper MBA while i have a post graduate diploma only. Maybe I can retire soon? ).

She’ll be going off to Barcelona tonight. The original plan had me moving there too. But then classic old NED happened and I ended up not looking for a job or assignment there and since it’s not an inexpensive place to stay I’m staying back. Plan to visit her every once in a while. And even though tickets to Europe are prohibitively expensive I now have a place to go to in case I need a break.

But for that I need to first get myself a visa. I guess one of my chief tasks in the next few days will be to get this bit of business done. But then I have my own business.

Regulars on this blog might be aware that I haven’t had formal employment for close to three years now. I freelance as a quAnt consultant – helping companies figure out how to make use of the volumes of data they collect in improving their business decision making. It’s been doing quite okay but my plan is to use the next few months when I don’t have any domestic commitments to see if I can take it to the next level.

It might also be pertinent to mention here that the first bit if business I got for this particular venture was through this blog – the last time I put out a post like this one a long time reader who was looking for quant assistance left a comment here and that led to a rather fruitful assignment. Perhaps mentioning this here might result in a repeat?

Now that I’m blogging more than I used to in the recent past I’ll also be using these pages to keep you updated on the long distanceness. I’ve also noticed that since I last put the update on leaving twitter and Facebook that there’s some more activity here. Keep that flowing and I hope for some good conversations on the comment pages here.