Notes to Myself


Notes to Myself

Anatomy of A Blowup

I read the following news about Jet Airways:

  • JET AIRWAYS posts loss after 11 straight quarters of profits
  • Loss higher than past 6 quarters of profit combined
  • Fuel costs and higher other expenses dent numbers

It reminded me of the following side explaining Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s assertion of “Anatomy of A Blowup”

Few days ago, Prof. Sanjay Bakshi had tweeted the same image with another example.

Great insight! The pattern is not as rare as it appears to be. Maybe, we should factor the Black Swan event as a certainty…given a long enough period.


AIB: Honest Engineering Campus Placements

If you are/were an Engineering student in India and/or familiar with Engineering Campus Placements, you would love this 3-part funny series by AIB (All India Bakchod).

Warning: Foul and indecent language and references at many places. Viewers’ discretion is recommended

Good Read: What’s Hard? And Other Thoughts

A Talk By Gladwell , The Language Issue And Connection With Arranged Marriage

I recently watched an interesting talk by Malcolm Gladwell on the Pitfalls of Market Research and found it very interesting!

I particularly liked the piece where he talked about an experiment by Tim Wilson at UAV which he called as the Poster Test.

OK, those of you who are too lazy to watch the whole video and understand what I am referring to, jump to 22:50 minutes and watch the part.

For those who are lazy enough to even do that, let me briefly explain the experiment.

Tim Wilson got together a bunch of students and divided into two group. He had few posters to give away. To one group he said: “Pick any poster you want and take it home”. To the second group he said: “Pick any poster you want. Tell me why you want that poster and then take it home”. A couple month later Tim called the students and found that students in the first group (who didn’t have to explain their choice) all liked their posters. While the students in the second group who were asked to explain their choice, now hated the poster! Also, the people in the first group picked a different kind of poster which was abstract impressionist art work, while the second group picked very trivial and less arty poster (that of Kittens hanging on bar)

So, the observation or finding was that when people are forced to talk about their choices and justify/defend them, their preferences change – in a negative way; that is, they gravitate toward the less sophisticated choice. And the insight from the experiment was that it’s actually “Language problem”. It is possible that people in the second group did not have right vocabulary to explain the abstract impressionist poster, even though in their heart they liked it. It would have been easy to come up with a reason to justify why they selected a trivial and less arty poster – for example, they liked Kittens as a kid. So just by adding a condition of having to articulate their choice the preference could be changed. People in the first group did not have this burden of articulating why they chose it.

Now this experiment may not be generic, or it could be too far-fetched to develop any common “wisdom”, but the experiment itself was very thought-provoking.

It immediately made me draw parallels with another domain – which I unfortunately developed a lot of knowledge of – that is Arranged Marriage.

Now, the non-Indian readers may not exactly know what “arranged marriage” is, as opposed to Love marriage. So here are couple of lines. Arranged marriage is alliance sought based on particular parameters such as Horoscope match, Height, Weight, Body Type, Education, Job/Career, Hobbies, Religion/ Caste, Location and many other factors. It is also a form in which lot of discussion and argument and reasoning takes place among two families before arriving at “Yes/No” decision.

Did the last part ring bells (not wedding bells!)? It is the discussion, reasoning part where I could draw parallels with the Poster Test and the Language problem. People engaging in Love Marriage are like Group 1 students. They are rarely required to “explain” their choice – unless it goes against some fundamental belief or expectation set by the larger family. E.g. Religion or Education level etc. But by and large Love Marriage is like Group 1 students – they can just walk away with their choice. People condemned to go for Arranged Marriage (yes, nobody willing goes for Arranged Marriage of the kind I described. It is mainly because they do not have the necessary persona and skills to fall into love) are like Group 2 students. If they find a match suitable they have to explain it to their family members (and often relatives) before they can walk away with “poster of their choice”. And that is where the language problem is often seen. Lot of people don’t know what they are looking for – their ideas are usually shaped by someone else, or based on what is on “generally preferred” list. So they have no idea how to explain why they found a particular match suitable. And as a consequence, some may even lose out on making the right decision – if they take too long to explain. It also impacts the negative choice. When you don’t find an arranged marriage proposal fit, usually you are expected to give some reason and say No. Honestly telling that reason could be brutal! So people sugar-quote things and convey a polite No. Again, the language problem. I would also imagine some really unfortunate instances where you end up saying “Yes” (and regret whole life) because you couldn’t articulate your “No”. Just the necessity of explaining your choice can have such a devastating effect! 😊

Anyways, I think I am drawing unnecessary parallels when there exist none. The tormenting process of Arranged Marriage can create a permanent thinking handicap! But the core idea of “Language problem” is very interesting; and I have talked about it with my friends often in a different way.

For example, can we think without a language? Will I be a different person if I start thinking in different language? Because my ability to “express” effectively in another language could be limited. So it might impact my true choice – of feeling, words and action. I have seen that people who don’t speak a certain language as well appear silent, introvert and thoughtful when they are in group of people speaking that language. Whereas the same person may appear talkative, extrovert, reactive when he is talking in his native language – because he can better express his true feelings, and actions.

Do you agree? Or have I completely messed up the idea while translating my thoughts from my native language to English? In either case, I have made my point! 😊

Euthanasia, David Goodall, Himanshu Roy and “102 Not Out”

Of all topics or subjects I am passionate about, the two that occupy the maximum space in my head are – (1) Life, and (2) Death.

And they are connected in so many ways…

The purpose of this post is to write about confluence of news/events related to Death in this week or past few days.

Few weeks ago, the Supreme Court of India passed a historic verdict allowing Passive Euthanasia. The Supreme Court defined Passive Euthanasia as “a decision to withdraw life-saving treatment by a patient who is competent to take decision as well as with regard to a patient who is not competent to take decision can be termed as passive euthanasia, which is lawful and legally permissible in this country.

The definition is very specific and narrow – it doesn’t cover voluntary suicide of all kinds. Though it was a significant decision after years of lobbying. It was the unfortunate Aruna Shanbaug’s case that changed euthanasia law in India.

Today I came across a news that a high profile Mumbai Police Officer Himanshu Roy committed suicide. At first glance I thought it was a suspicious plot – because Himashu Roy was ex-head of Anti Terror Squad in the state and had pursued many such cases. However, after reading the article I understood that he was suffering from a late stage cancer. He was a fitness freak and couldn’t handle the suffering anymore and hence decided to end his life. Did his case fit Passive Euthanasia? Not sure. However, he chose his own way.

This news struck me hard because of another news that happened yesterday. David Goodall (age 104) Australia’s oldest scientist, David Goodall, ended his own life at a clinic in Switzerland, surrounded by family and while listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Though very old, Goodall was fit and fine and was not suffering from any terminal disease or illness. On that ground Australian Government had denied him permission for euthanasia. But Goodall’s view was that why should he be forced to live? Goodall had seen his eyesight and mobility deteriorate considerably in recent years and said that his life stopped being enjoyable “five or 10 years ago”. He was fed up with life and hence he decided to go to Switzerland where medical assisted suicide is allowed.

Goodall ate fish and chips and cheesecake and listened to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in final hours yesterday. He was surrounded by his family members. He even spoke publicly at a press conference before embracing death:

In fact his last words were: This is taking an awfully long time!

What a courageous man!

Interestingly, just last week a Hindi movie released in India titled 102 Not Out which has a humorous take on old age and death. It is a story of a father (102 years old) and his son (75 years old). Father reads in the news that world’s oldest person (116 years or so) has died and gets excited that he can now have a shot at that record if he lives till 116. However he feels that his son, the 75-year old man who is very pessimistic and naysayer is a stumbling block in his ambition. So he decides to send his son to Old Age Home! To avoid that, the son agrees to change his behavior and world view. Interesting plot! (Based on a stage play in Gujarati).

This story is good for a movie, however the real world story is totally opposite – as confirmed by the two news quoted above. A lot of people want to live with dignity, and a lot of them also want to die with dignity.

There is a beautiful poem/song in Marathi which summarizes this feeling in perfect manner. It says:

संधीप्रकाशातअजूनजोसोने, तोमाझीलोचनेमिटोयावी

While there is twilight (while I am healthy and agile), I should breathe my last…Great thought!

CNBC’s Warren Buffett Archive

Yesterday I posted a short blog post with link to 2018 Annual General Meeting of Berkshire Hathaway.

I watched the Live telecast of the AGM till very late night (as per India Time). Some days back I posted a blog on Charlie Munger and shared some of his videos. Few days later I wrote another blog on my idol and his mental models.

Warren Buffett is (almost) 88 years old and Charlie Munger completed 94 years on 1st  January 2018. Since the time I have discovered the duo I have been trying to read everything written or spoken by them. But video adds one more dimension – it also shows the body language and composure. I have not wasted any opportunity to find and watch any video where either on them has featured. There are plenty of videos of Warren Buffet. But there are very few of Charlie Munger. I think I have watched all…

Since last 2 years Berkshire Hathaway started live streaming of their AGM – first in 2016 and then in 2017.  And I watched it again yesterday. It has been a wonderful experience watching the two holding marathon meetings.

One sad feeling I get is that both these great people are slowly approaching the inevitable – the end of life. They themselves talk about it often and that too in light, humorous tone. When you know that someone who you are close to is about to vanish forever you tend to spend every possible minute with that person, collect as many memories as possible. (This is also true of the person who is about to leave your life and become stranger after spending precious few years with you)

So with that feeling I try to read/listen to / watch everything featuring Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger – even though at times it becomes repetitive and predictable. I always wondered that Berkshire started Live streaming of their AGM very late, only 3 years. I have read all previous Letters To Shareholders since 1965 (you can download them here). I have also read some interesting quotes and discussion from some of the AGMs. But I always wished I could watch those AGMs or listen to the audio recording.

And my wish came true today!

I found out that CNBC has released definite collection of Warren Buffet – 24 years of Berkshire Hathaway videos, over 120 hours of videos and 2600 pages of transcripts!

This is amazing! To borrow Warren Buffett’s analogy, I felt like a kid in a candy store…

Here is the link to the Warren Buffett Archive: The Warren Buffet Archive (since 1994)

Check out the 1994 AGM clip where WB quoted “You don’t fin who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out”. Or, when asked “What is your next goal in life now that you are the richest man in the country?” Buffett’s instant reply was: “That’s easy. To be the oldest man in the country” 🙂

Well, I hope he and Charlie go on to become the oldest men alive…by a huge margin!


Cooking, Gordon Ramsay and Indian Cuisines

I like cooking. In fact the very first prize in my life which I received in kindergarten was for cooking (पाकशास्त्र). I had made, actually helped my teacher make, दडपे पोहे (Dadpe Pohe).  And the prize I had received in the Annual Day function was a hanger 樂 . Yes, my school was famous for giving such totally mindless and irrelevant and demotivating awards/gifts to kids and kill innovation at nascent stage. Probably they wanted me to stay away from cooking. But I didn’t!

My interest in cooking continued, though at very slow pace. It was only when I started my career and went abroad that I got plenty of opportunities for cooking (at home my mom wouldn’t let me hover around kitchen!). And cooking became a valuable asset while staying with my flatmates! They would happily cut vegetables and clean utensils only to get a decent meal.

Though I liked cooking I never followed cookery shows – until 2007. Then while studying in the UK my flatmate Ajay (who was a foodie who could not cook!) introduced me to Gordon Ramsay – the celebrity chef! He showed me few episodes of his show and I was hooked on to them. Gordon’s was not a cookery shows, it was a reality show on “food business”, and I really liked the concept and the way Gordon conducted (except the F-word barrage).

The very first episode I watched was about a vegetarian restaurant in France. Since I am a vegetarian, my friend Ajay thought that I should get started with that episode. I am not able to find that episode. But here is one on an Indian restaurant which I liked a lot:

Recently I came across a sort of documentary featuring Gordon Ramsay on Indian cuisines. It’s really engaging 3 part series. It shows how an outsider (Gordon) looks at India and what fascinates him. Here it is:


As I said, his show is not about cookery – how to cook. It is about how to run a restaurant business. There are so many things to learn from the show. After having completed MBA and more importantly after having got a first-hand experience of running a (mock) food stall, I was able to relate with Gordon’s show far better; and only then I realized all the great nuances of his show.

I have been thinking about my experience with food stall at IIM-A and the lessons in Marketing. It was a great experience for me, because the more I think about it the more learning I can gather. A day spent on such activities is far valuable than a week spent in classroom analyzing the “case studies”.

OK, then let’s call my Food stall experience a “case study” in Marketing/Entrepreneurship. I will write about it in detail in my next blog. Meanwhile, do watch Gordon’s shows posted above.

The Book I Lent You…

Today (23rd April) is observed as “World Book Day“.

I came across an interesting bookshelf with shelves that made me think.

Could you update following bookshelf with your choices?


It is an interesting one and I’ll try to fill up and post my version sometime soon…

But I can immediately mention “The Book I Lent You” section since the list is long and I have really lost (?) few good books. So here is the list:

  • The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
  • How to Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen
  • Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Romancing the Balance Sheet by Anil Lamba
  • How Life Imitates Chess by Garry Kasparov
  • Games of Strategy by Prof. Avinash Dixit, David H. Reiley, and Susan Skeath
  • बोर्डरूम – अच्युत गोडबोले
  • अर्थात – अच्युत गोडबोले
  • युगांत – इरावती कर्वे
  • खिल्ली – पु. ल. देशपांडे
  • गणितातील गंमती – वा. म. कोळेकर
  • थोरांची ओळख (माझे इयत्ता ४ थी चे इतिहासाचे पुस्तक!)

Well, in some cases “Can I have it back?” is not really an option. Because the people are not part of your life anymore. And maybe the book serves as a memory, or probably they might have already disposed off the book long back (when they got rid off you). In any case, “Can I have it back?” is irrelevant.

By the way, imagine the deeper meaning of “Can I have it back” in such cases. What is one implying by asking back the book which he once lent to his near and dear ones. If the book is used by the friend and has some notes, scribbles written by that friend who is no more a friend, will it be troublesome to have that book back?

On the other hand, if the friend doesn’t have that book (or doesn’t want to return your copy), and if he buys a new copy and gives it to you, is it the same thing? Worse still…if the friend just sends the money-equivalent of that book to your wallet or Amazon Gift account and asks you to purchase it yourself…how insulting would that be?

“Can I have it back?” is a futile question in case of a dear (ex-) friend who you lent book to. It is like asking “Can I have my memories back?”. If they are “shared memories”, you cannot (and should not) have them back. You can do whatever you want with “your version” of it, and that is it…

So let them keep the book…maybe they’ll read/ interpret it differently.

As Edmund Wilson said — “No two persons ever read the same book.

Seneca on The Shortness of Life

Read this before you sleep tonight, and think about this when you wake up tomorrow

(Source – Seneca on The Shortness of Life)

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