Heisenberg, Murti and Oil

The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.
--Heisenberg, uncertainty paper, 1927

To paraphrase this statement, the current state and movement of something cannot be determined precisely and more precise the tool of observation (read high frequency radiation), the greater would be its impact on the particle's current position/momentum thereby changing it.

Mapping this to predictions; Predictions (can) impact what they predict.


Goldman Sachs analyst Arjun Murti predicts that oil will trade at 200$ in a year or two time frame. Having successfully predicted the oil spike that took it beyond $100 from a meager 40 a year before, Mr Murti is no longer a regular guy but carries a lot of weight.

Since its him, would market take heed to what he is saying and react to it thereby creating a self serving cycle of spikes and super spikes making his predictions come true.

Or on the contrary, would it make the consumers wiser since they can sense further strengthening of prices and hence start cutting their demands, and in the process making the prediction wrong?

While there are can be several possible reactions to Mr Murti's statements which are as difficult to predict as the oil price, I wonder if he should start taking into account the effect of his predictions while coming up with them. Or who knows, being the smart cookie he is, he may already be doing it!

Terrific Traffic

This post is six months late pointing an accusing finger at the state of affairs of clog :-)

A friend of mine used to like driving in Gurgaon. It was because he considered it a mental exercise and truly it is. So, by the way of driving he was getting the much needed mental exercise which he could never manage during his full day in office. I believe driving in metros would account for a good portion of stress we have.

There are lot of factors that contribute to the bumpy state of affairs of our traffic like
1) poor roads (quality and quantity)
2) bad traffic discipline
3) Ineffective enforcement of rules.

In any situation we will always have a people factor contributing and I believe it has the maximum impact and can be fixed easily if we all decide to. However, before we go there, I have tried and categorize the ones who contribute to our traffic nightmares. Here goes the list of top offenders.

Misleaders: Our life puts us through a lot of choices/crossroads, sometimes it happens in the middle of the road. Which way should I turn, and these dilemmas create disruptive twists on the road. Indicating left and turning right isn't an uncommon sight to the extent when we see a signal only thing you can be certain is that the vehicle will not go straight and can turn either ways. On second thoughts I am not sure of even that part.

Headless Chickens: Acts of great risks are done by people who are either extremely courageous OR utterly naive (naive enough to ignore the danger). When faced with a challenge of crossing a busy road, some people get desperate and just jump into it assuming others will take care of them by not hitting them. They are completely oblivious of things going around them which are vehicles in this case.

Self Appointed traffic police(wo)men: The mantra of headless chickens would sound like "I would rather be dead than be on this side of the road". These guys are no headless chickens for they know that getting run over by a vehicle can kill you and it isn't worth risking your life for crossing the road. They come in cautiously and then try and manage the traffic around them. They would let some of them pass, ask some of them to stop and wait or others to go around them from their fronts or backs as would be prudent.

Communicators: I think I have taken a fancy on communicators because this is not the first time they have found a place in my writings. Here I think there are some sub-categories.
  • Sudden Slowers: Cars suddenly slowing down on the middle of roads apparently for no reasons form the first category. They are people who fiddle around with their headsets/phones in an attempt to take all those urgent calls they need to take.
  • Rajesh Khannas: They are people on two wheelers with their heads strategically tilted to support a mobile phone. It also, implies that they don't wear helmets. The ones with helmets are mellowed down RKs needing a lesser tilt for the cushion of helmets makes it easier to support phones.
  • Loosely coupled cars: This is a pair of two two-wheelers going parallel like Jai and Veeru would have done if their bike didn't have a sidecar.
  • Head Turners: This happens when the pillion rider is a girl. Not willing to lose even a moment of conversation with the pretty girl at the back the rider would perilously turn his head to listen to her every syllable. Love knows no fear.
The Foreigners: I have read about foreigners complaining of sad state of affairs of Indian traffic. Its about time I take the war back to them. They are the ones who contribute to the worst of it. Look at all these Bangladeshi rickshaw pullers. In Gurgaon traffic, travelling in a rickshaw pulled by a Bangladeshi is akin to riding Yamraj's buffalo. These vehicles with zero turning radius have the capability to 'turn' any traffic situation on its head and more often than not they do so.

If I stop at this post, I will have to accept myself as a complete whiner which I am not ;-) and hence I will be writing a post to put a simple plan that we can use to improve the situation.

Delhi-NCR celebrates Road safety weeks sometimes in the year, I guess the need of the hour is to celebrate Road Safety Years.

We like playing games

This post is inspired by a book I read many years ago on a bus journey. I hope I remember it well enough to quote its content correctly. The book was called "The Science of Getting Rich" and was about principles for getting rich. (Ok Ok, I read this kind of books also!, for that matter I would read anything readable if I have time at my disposal and nothing else to do). Well, since I am not blessed with an exceptional memory I could remember only one big message from the book and everything else got eroded over years.

The message is simple, "there is more than enough in this world for the population that it supports". I remember this, partly because, this is quite a contrary statement to what is common knowledge. Starting with the definition of economics in simplest terms as the study of limited resources to fulfill unlimited desires; to the fact, that very soon we might run out of all the oil in the world.

So, the point that there is enough in this world for all of us remained with me since then. Having this perspective and my (limited) knowledge of Game Theory, I related the two.

Game Theory defines many kind of games (and classifications). In one of the classifications we have zero and non zero sum games. For this post, I have put them in three different categories.

Zero sum games: The net profit of the "system" is always zero. In short the amount of "reward" (for the lack of any better generic word) is constant and by taking more than your average share you are depriving someone else of its average share. Gambling/betting and even trading in derivatives falls in this category.

Positive Sum games: The overall outcome of the system is positive. They can be called win-win scenarios also. Trade by definition is one such case.

Negative sum games: The system's outcome is dwindling and as a group its getting worse. Some people might still gain thereby causing some others to lose more than the average.

The Game
Having set these definitions in my mind, even though I never wrote them down before this entry, I try and analyze any situation using these parameters. If the pie to be had is constant or shrinking, you are in a wrong situation. It is already a sinking ship and you will need to work much harder to get the same returns as in a Positive sum game.

The Play
It's not only about choosing a situation (game) but also about what you make of it. You can play in any situation assuming it to be a zero or a negative sum game. If you play with that assumption you are guilty of making the world a worse place than it could/should be.

As kids, we are all born with a zero sum game mindset. Most of the times siblings compete for affection, toys, space and practically everything. However, thanks to our parents, they try to make us more agreeable as we grow, but do we really grow? Sometimes, the opposite may also happen based on where and how we grow up.

In negative and zero sum games, your gaining profit has a very high correlation to others incurring losses; to the extent that it may appear to be one and the same thing - "others loss is my gain". With this we may start focusing on just increasing the losses to others because that might seem easier than working harder to increase your own advantage.

Having all the kinds of games at hand, and applying the principle from the book, it isn't unlikely that almost every game can be played as a positive sum game thereby converting it into one.

The Mismatch Problem!

An interesting talk by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink" about hiring processes in various professions. The one about University of Michigan lawyers is the one that surprised me most!


A little long, so watch it when you have time at your hand. Enjoy!

Doing the right thing for the right reason?

An year back at a Mother Dairy in Gurgaon, I witnessed an incident. A kid was taking some fruit from the shop while he was leaving with his mother. The mother asked him to put it back telling him that if uncle spots him, he will get scolded. Well, the kid put it back and they left. Now, what happened was right, the kid didn't take something he shouldn't have. But was it for the right reason? Apparently if the kid can fix the "uncle spotting him" problem, her mother sees no problem in stealing the fruit. I am quite sure that this is not the case, but the messaging sure gave that impression. I would have let this incident pass as just an aberration had I not witnessed the same over and over at my workplaces and otherwise.

Is right deed right even if it is done for the wrong reason?

While talking about compliance or about "donts" in the workplace, most of the people talk about the monitoring systems and their ability to generate implicating statistics as the factor. I think, the systems should be in place as safety nets to handle aberrations. The norm should be that people should not do "donts" because they understand they are wrong. Now, relating the two incidents, I am wondering if our nurturing during our formative years actually led to this mindset.

Mistakes smart people make: Opening Post

The intended title of the post was "The mistakes smart people make and smarter people avoid".

I have read too many blogs about how incompetent and less smart people are a bane to software industry. I fully agree with all of them, for if I disagree, it might mean I am one of them. Well, I may be, but I am not willing to admit it, that too in public on my own blog, no way :-)

Before I started writing it, I thought I will do a google search on "incompetent developers" (wanted to have blog in the search string as well which got missed) and got some real estate company websites on the first page that have 15-20 years of experience in Real Estate Development. Little did they know, this is how the 15 year old world wide web will treat them.

So, to all those smart people who have been suffering because of the scum of the earth working in the cubicle next to theirs, here is a series which aims at bringing out some of the follies of your ilk [OR as Kapil Dev would have said in the boost ad "our ilk" ;-) ]. The smarter ones soon start seeing the pattern of those follies and overcome them, by the time they have good exposure in the industry and get into positions of power, they turn into gods whom people idolize.

For this series (calling it MSPM based on the title) I am planning to put up one folly per post.

Restroom Personas

As a guy having an experience of more than two decades using public restrooms, I have come to understand (long time ago), the unwritten rules of men's restroom. However, it isn't uncommon to find people violating some of those rules giving rise to a variety of aberrations which are listed here as restroom personas. The aberrations can fall in more than one categories and in extreme case where they fall into too many such categories it may give rise to an extreme situation like this.

I have been thinking for and against publishing this post for quite some time because at some (or may be every) level it sounds too silly. But, lack of any other post (my job change blog is taking more energy and time than I thought it would) is making me post this one. Like Theodore Roosevelt said

In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing

So here are the categories, in no particular order, in which I have broadly divided people found in bathrooms:

The diligent ones: This the most common category of all. These people come quietly, pick the right spot (this is important), do their due diligence in getting in the position, follow all the rules/steps of the chore, deliver the result and go back quietly, oblivious to anything happening around them. As focused as Arjun while shooting the bull's (fish') eye.

Auto-pilots: These guys break one of the most fundamental, unwritten and rarely discussed rule of peeing, they go auto-pilot. I hope you know what I mean. Now this is quite risky and makes you wonder what is it that is making them take this risk. Well, there are a few more categories that might help demystify their motivations.

Communicators: These guys don't shy away from accepting calls while doing it. Implicitly they are also auto-pilots most of the time or at least partially all the time while they talk. The extreme ones even initiate calls, may be in an attempt to save time. Talk about multi-tasking.

Balancers: This is a very rare category but since I have seen more than one such case, I am making it a category. Generally, this category will be found only in India, because it needs separators around the urinals to come on to their own. These guys love to put both of their hands (elbows) on the partitions for support apparently 'hanging'. Obviously they are auto-pilots too.

Socializers: Talking while peeing has the same equation as drinking and driving. One must eliminate the possibility of the other. In worst case scenario, if people have to, they just smile or make a small talk. In short they try and minimize it. However, not the case with socializers, they not only get engaged in animated discussion but sometimes even stand in the urinal longer than required waiting for the other person to finish and continue the discussion.

The Curious Crows: They look around to see who else is there in the area, sometimes turning their head sideways and even backwards. If they are socializers too, they might even strike a conversation with an acquaintance.

Invaders: This is again a very rare category rarer than the balancers, but again, since I have seen more than one such case, it gets listed. It is more evident in Indian restrooms where there are separators between urinals. For these James Bondish guys, one urinal is not enough, so they spread their legs wide (I tried unsuccessfully to think of an alternate phrase for this), sometimes reaching the neighboring urinals, making the fellow pee-ers uncomfortable. In an ideal world, you won't have anyone in your adjacent urinal, but let's face it, we don't live in an ideal world.

Farters: Without sounding discriminating, this category seems to enjoy a bigger population outside India, at least in the circles in which I go around. They come to restroom on the pretext of pissing, though they have an ulterior motive which understandably doesn't remain private for long. Well, its still better than doing it at the place where you sit. If it sounds unbelievable, I have heard of such people from a first hand victim. The case in point comes within US jurisdiction.

Having written about these categories, the next logical question that may come to anyone's mind is what category would I fall into. I sure, wouldn't like to be called a pee-ping tom because I clearly am not. To all my fellow men who are ardent believer of men's room rules like me, let me clarify my position. All these observations are not a result of any act of active curiosity or invasion or socializing in restroom, but comes from in-your-face-couldn't-help-but-notice (not literally) experiences that the writer has been through.